Saturday 16 February 2013

Turn with me to Luke’s gospel in Chapter 4 verses 1-11, the story of the temptations faced by Jesus in the wilderness. We read that Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.

In the Old Testament the Israelites were led into the desert to be tested and humbled to prove to God that they were able to keep God’s commands. Here at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry He is going to prove that He will obey every word that comes from God and be faithful. It was important for Jesus to be tested for if He had succumbed to temptation He could not be our Saviour.

When we talk of the devil people conjure up an image of some wild eyed creature with horns and a flaming mouth. What is meant by the term devil we mean that evil spirit which comes upon us and tries to influence our thoughts and consciences so making us do evil things. There are times when we have to decide a course of action. In our minds we know one way is right but the other is more appealing, and whilst we know what we really should do, we succumb to temptation, and do the wrong thing.

When you listen or read news reports you can readily appreciate the powerful influence of evil, for the stories are frightening. When we read, ‘the devil said to Jesus’. or the devil took Jesus, we are to understand that in a vision Jesus had these temptations put into His mind. It is through our innermost thoughts and desires that the tempter comes to us and puts such evil thoughts into our minds.

There are occasions when people feel the devil is very real. Martin Luther was once so convinced of a presence of the devil that he threw an inkwell at his wall.

We read that Jesus fasted for 40 days and nights so would be extremely hungry. Forty is a significant number in the Bible. Moses and Elijah spent 40 days fasting when they were seeking God’s purpose for them in the wilderness.

The first temptation was when the devil called on Jesus to turn the stones into bread. Jesus was in the desert situated between Jerusalem and the Dead Sea, known as the place of devastation. It was an area 35 miles by 15, an area of yellow sand and crumbling limestone. There could be no lonelier a place. The desert would be littered with little round pieces of lime stone, each of which was exactly like a loaf of bread, so for someone in a starving state and who had supernatural powers, the temptation was there.

There is always the temptation to use powers God has given us for the wrong reason. God has given us all gifts and we have to ask not what I can make for myself out of them, but what can I do for others. A person may have a talent for making or doing something but will only do so for personal reward. It is perfectly acceptable to make profit for an ability but wrong to do so exclusively. Jesus could have turned the stones to bread, He would later turn a few loaves into food for thousands, but replied as in each temptation it is written, then He quoted Scripture. In this case He said that we live not only by bread, material food, but also by spiritual food, God’s Word. One sure way to get a following is to offer people something for free, but Jesus did not come to bribe people, and nor should His Church ever think of doing so. Jesus called people to give and not just to get to feed the hunger in the heart.

Then the tempter tried in a different manner. In a vision Jesus was taken to the top of Mount Sion where there was a level plateau and the Temple buildings were there. There was a drop of 450 feet and Jesus was asked to jump in order to capture the people into following Him with devil recognising the power of Jesus saying ‘you are under God’s control.’ A gospel founded on gimmicks is bound to fail, as we have seen in our time as Churches sometimes resort to silly ideas. Faith which needs entertainment is not real faith.

Finally the devil calls on Jesus to worship him. There seems to be a similar call now as we are being asked to compromise and follow society in being modern, 21st century etc. Jesus laid down the uncompromising nature of the Christian faith, and we should never be ready to answer the call of those who are prepared to change our faith to be popular. The devil has already claimed millions for his own.

Seventy years ago men fought the Battle of Britain and now we are fighting the battle for Britain, and the enemy is more powerful than the Luftwaffe ever was, he (or she) is right among us not many miles above us. The moment you become a Christian, you are facing opposition. The Bible says, ‘be vigilant, be sober. because your adversary the devil is like a roaring lion seeking who he may devour’.

The temptations in this passage could only have overcome b y someone with special powers. Only Jesus would have known of these temptations, so the story must have originated from Him. Jesus made it clear He would live by the Scriptures and Christians and the Christian Church should do the same.

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