January 14, 2007
INTRODUCTION – Last week we began a discussion about how our Lord and Master prepared for His short but intense three and a half years of ministry. We learned that He did not rush right into it unprepared. Rather He laid a wise foundation that His ministry could stand on. We learned that to become like Him and to minister in power like Him, we need to be three things. 1. Be a righteousness pursuer 2. Be anointed and empowered by the Holy Spirit 3. Be secure in the father’s love and approval.
This morning I want to discuss with you further this idea of preparing adequately for the complete fulfillment of God’s destiny and call on your life. Many prophetic folk are prophesying that this is going to be a year of significant breakthrough and release of power through God’s people. I’ve had a couple of non prophetic pastor types say a similar thing to me in recent days. We as a church want to be poised and ready for every opportunity to reflect Him, proclaim Him, and obey Him as He sends us out to minister to a broken world – whether there is a unusual move of God or not.
To help us continue in our preparation, I would like for you to turn with me in your Bibles if you would to Matthew chapter 4.
The Great Contrast Last week – we saw at the end of chapter 3 – that great heavenly affirmation from the Father to His son Jesus. Now we are going to see a very sudden and sharp transition to an encounter with the most evil and menacing being in the universe. In the last verse of chapter three we find the Father lavishing His love and pleasure on His Son. In the first verse of chapter four we find God – the Holy Spirit leading Jesus into the wilderness for the express purpose of being tempted by the devil – who is also called in scripture the accuser, the murderer, the destroyer and many other such endearing names.
If you ever find yourself scratching your head at how you can be so aware of the Father’s love perhaps in your personal time alone with the Lord or in a worship time with the brethren, and then hours or days later wondering how the awful circumstances you find yourself in are congruent with such love – – well Jesus Christ has been there as well.
Last week I told you that the biblical explanation of how Jesus lived the amazing life He lived and did the amazing miracles He did – was not because He was God – since He willingly laid aside His attributes of deity while on earth – but rather because He was led and anointed and empowered by the Holy Spirit. But the first thing I thought when I read this first verse of chapter 4 is why in the world would the Holy Spirit lead Him into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil? Doesn’t Jesus Himself tell His disciples in the sermon on the mount to pray daily that God would not lead us into temptation?
I. Temptation and Testing Well the answer is found in the difference between temptation and testing. The confusing thing to us English speakers is the greek word “peirazo” translated “tempt” is also sometimes translated “test”. As Dr. Harold Hoehner explains, “This one word has two shades of meaning. When used of God tempting (or testing) man, it carries a good intention. However, when it is used of men or Satan tempting someone, the word carries the idea of a desire to bring out bad points.” And in fact for believers – every time you are tempted by the devil, you are at the same time being tested by God. Satan’s intent and objective is that you will fail and fall. God’s intent and objective is that you will pass and stand, and be stronger after the test.
One of the passages where periazo is translated test is Heb. 11:17-19. Let’s turn there. Whose idea was it for Abraham to offer Isaac as a slain burnt offering? Why do you think God did this? To strengthen Abraham’s faith and to develop in Him immediate, absolute, unreserved faith – for that is the kind of faith it would take for Abraham to not only please God in his life, but to be the father of faith – or exhibit A to those of us later who want to know what a life of faith looks like.
Now we are not told if Satan joined this exhibition. But my guess is he walked the whole distance with Abraham whispering to him how ridiculous this command was, and how it would make God’s promises impossible to fulfill.
So when Matt. 4:1 says “Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil” – what he wants us to see is that the Holy Spirit knew – that for Jesus to be able to pull off what He had to pull off in the next three plus years – as one who was fully man – and while on earth – refusing to draw on the attributes of deity that Had been His for all eternity – for Jesus to be ready to absolutely fulfill His ministry – he must carve out for Himself an extended time to be alone with his father to strengthen His spiritual muscles – and any fitness trainer knows that strength only comes through resistance.
Satan’s objective was to trip Jesus up and keep Him from fulfilling His ministry. God’s objectives in allowing Satan to come and tempt His Son were two fold. One was for His Son to first experience temptation so he can better identify with us in our humanity. As the writer of Hebrews explains, “For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted.” (2:18)
God’s second objective was to enable His Son to overcome temptation so he can go into his ministry with a pure faith, pure motives, and absolute authority and confidence that God at every point would empower Him, deliver Him, protect Him, provide for Him and vindicate Him. Satan’s objective was to destroy Him and His mission. God’s objective in allowing this temptation was to develop His Son’s endurance and strength through the test of satanic opposition.
When the Union –Pacific railroad was under construction, an elaborate trestle bridge was built over a large canyon in the West in an effort to connect St. Louis and California. Before it was open for commercial use, the builder wanted to test things out. He loaded a train with extra cards and equipment to double its normal payload. The train was driven out to the middle of the bridge where it stayed for an entire day. One worker complained, “Are you trying to see if we can break this bridge.” “No way”, said the builder; “I’m trying to prove that the bridge won’t break.” God is seeking to prove to us, to the devil and to the world that our faith will not break; but instead will enable us to live a supernatural life and fulfill the purposes of God on our lives.
Please understand that while God may lead us into a time of testing, which includes allowing us to be tempted by the devil, He Himself never tempts us. James 1:13 says, “Let no one say when he is tempted, I am being tempted by God; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone.” Satan tempts; God tests.
We are not going to move into the specific temptations of Jesus in the wilderness today because it is crucial that you and I understand the sovereignty and goodness of God in the way He deals with us, and in the way He allows Satan and his demons to deal with us.
Let’s look at some more examples. Turn with me to Job 1:6-12. (read it)
You know, we do not have time to really explore this theme, but as a side note, please observe that you do not live your life in a vacuum. When the writer of Hebrews exhorts us to “lay aside every encumberance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and to run with endurance this race that is set before us” – – his motivating reason is the cloud of witnesses that surround us cheering us on – which at least in this instance in Job ch. 1 includes the living God and Satan and whoever the sons of God are. There is far more at stake in our daily decisions than any of us are probably aware of. God deliver us from this tunnel vision that thinks my decisions just affect me.
One might look at this interchange in the heavens between God and Satan and think – was this really necessary just to prove something? Well all I can say is #1. God created us in His image and likeness and He tirelessly works in our circumstances to bring that likeness about. Job was righteous man, but he had not arrived. #2. Other than some of the Psalms where David shares of his own trials and tribulations, I know of no other book that has brought more comfort and perspective to millions of believers down through the centuries than this account of Job’s life. Was it really necessary? Well the theological answer to that question is because God is holy and there is no mixture in Him, He is unable to do anything that is unnecessary. But again the practical explanation is the comfort and strength and example this story has brought to millions.
What about Jesus and Peter? Luke 22:31-34 (read it) I guess what strikes me about this story is that God sovereignly gave Satan permission to tempt Peter. Jesus seems to know he would fail initially. But Jesus also knew as a result of the intercession he had made for Peter that Peter would recover from his fall, and would be able to further strengthen the other disciples through his experience. God never meant for him to fail. But God was bigger than his failure and Satan’s apparent victory and used it for good. Perhaps at this point it would be good for me to address a thought pattern that I know at time crosses our minds. And that is – if God is so sovereign and is able to bring good out of bad – and if resisting temptation strengthens our spiritual muscles, why not look for challenges? Maybe based on this truth I ought to spend a few evenings at the Merrimaker or Sweet Springs Saloon each week?
Well the Bible also commands us to “Hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form or appearance of evil.” (I Thess. 5:21,22) If the Holy Spirit wants to lead us into some situation to be tempted by the devil – that’s fine. But I don’t think He needs our help.
What about Paul and his thorn in the flesh? II Cor. 12:7-10 (read it) Clearly both God and Satan are involved. The context is that Paul had received from God some revelations that were almost indescribable. Evidently God saw that the potential for pride to develop from these was great. So God allowed Satan to oppress him with what Paul describes as a “thorn in the flesh.” Now we don’t know what that is. But Satan’s goal was to torment and thwart Paul’s ministry. He would have loved to have totally taken Paul out of the picture. God – knowing something that Satan doesn’t – that is – that in the kingdom of God – God’s power and strength are best appreciated and appropriated through human weakness – God refused to remove the thorn – because he knew it was exactly what Paul needed in his life to keep him humble, dependent and thus usable. Satan’s objective was to stifle if not snuff out Paul. God’s objective was to strengthen him through adversity as he learned to depend on God and not his own abilities or perfect circumstances.
So how can we prepare for these times of testing and temptation? Well I see a few things here. Let’s look at them briefly. 1. Learn to follow the Spirit’s leading. His objective is to put you in the Master’s gym where you can get the workout you need to obtain the spiritual fitness that you need. If you are fat and flabby spiritually it is probably because you are not sensing and following His leading. And He is having a tough time getting you in the gym – or perhaps keeping you in the gym.
2. Learn to be alone when the Holy Spirit leads you to be alone. Barclay in this commentary describes this wilderness in Israel as a desperately lonely seemingly God forsaken place. But it was the perfect place for Jesus to be alone with the Father. If we truly want to become like Jesus and minister in power like Jesus, we have to learn to carve out those times alone with the Father like Jesus did.
3. Learn to incorporate fasting into your lifestyle. I’ve talked to a couple of people since our 7 day fast ended who are still engaged in some kind of fast. As long as the bridegroom is away from us, we need to fast.
4. Learn the kingdom principle – that strength is made perfect through weakness. Now you also need to know that Satan often attacks us when we are weak. In this case He waited until Jesus was weak with hunger. But God allowed that, and developed character in Jesus’s life through that weakness. God wants us to experience His power in our weakness. He wants us to be able to resist the evil one – not by our strength – but by God’s, which is not dependent upon optimal circumstances on our part.
5. Learn to rule and reign with Christ through the encouragement and confidence that comes through I Cor. 10:13. (read it. Then read amplified and tell of Jim Hamann).
CONCLUSION – personal time in prayer in keeping with Paul’s example in II Cor. 12 Re: areas of temptation or testing that might be going on.