Sunday, November 7, 2010

Field Sermon delivered on the Lord's Day, June 13, 2010


I would like to greet you this morning and invite you to come, hear the Word of the Lord, and to bow before His throne. He is God, there is no other.

Greetings also from the members of our local church congregation in Moscow, who also love the Lord and serve Him.


Father in heaven, we are assembled here today in Your name and by no other authority. As You are King and Lord over all, we seek to submit ourselves, our hearts, minds, bodies, and souls. Teach and exhort, strengthen and try us according to Your own good purposes. May we hear the voice of our Great Shepard as we consider what Your word presents to us. Teach us through the person and power of Your Spirit, for we ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.


Text: Matthew 4:1-11

“Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungered. And when the tempter came to him he said, If you be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread.

But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.

Then the devil taketh him up into the holy city, and setteth him on a pinnacle of the temple, and saith unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone.

Jesus said unto him, it is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.

Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and showeth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; and saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me.

Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.

Then the devil leaveth him, and behold, angels came and ministered unto him.”

In order to better understand this account of the temptation of Jesus, we first need to affirm and understand some basic facts concerning His nature and the Incarnation.

The Bible asserts authoritatively that Jesus Christ is God. He is referred to in a number of ways that show this. The opening of John’s gospel account declares that He is the eternal Word, who has always been God in His nature, co-dwelling with the Father and the Holy Spirit. This is the foundational understanding of the Trinitarian doctrine declared in the scriptures. John further explains that this eternal Word, this person of the eternal God, was fashioned into flesh through His birth via a woman, and displayed the glory of the Father as the only begotten Son. He lost none of His nature in the incarnation. Yet he walked among us as a man.

This, of course, raises a number of questions concerning the temptation of Jesus in our text today. For instance, if Jesus is God, could the temptation be real and not a mere pantomime to make a point? The author of the New Testament book of Hebrews answers this question head on. “For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succor them that are tempted.” (Hebrews 2:18) And again in chapter 4:15 he says, “For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.” These statements necessitate the fact that the temptations we are looking at were real temptations, and not hypothetical.

Let’s examine the nature of the temptations themselves.

Note that the first two temptations are taunting demands for proof of Jesus’ identity. To paraphrase them, “If you are the Son of God, prove it. And here is the proof required.” Notice that the devil wants to shift the responsibility of proof to Jesus, and allows no inquiry as to the legitimacy of his demand for proof. This is an even more profound and bizarre demand when we consider that the devil is a created being actually brought into existence by Jesus himself. They knew each other from the beginning point of the devil’s existence, and that particular knowledge was present at this account of the temptations. Of course, the devil’s rebellion and fall substantially altered the relationship between the two, but didn’t alter the knowledge of who the other was. Here is the devil, once again assuming the position of superiority, rebelliously making demands for proof.

The first temptation is an obvious one. Jesus had been fasting for forty days and nights. He would have been in a state of hunger and physical weakness. The devil appeals directly to His weakened condition. “How about some bread made out of stones?” This is something Jesus could do, the mere rearranging of atoms into something that would satiate His real, personal need. Yet He would have to submit to the tempter’s juggernaut, meeting his requirements for demonstrable proof.

How does Jesus respond? He responds with the authority of recorded Scripture, and with an application that the tempter didn’t anticipate. “It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 8:3, showing that life is predicated on, and maintained by more than morsels of food.

The second temptation is a little more subtle. The tempter quotes Scripture back to Jesus, citing a portion of Psalm 91, where the Lord promises to watch over and protect those who seek Him. The problem with the devil’s approach is that he quotes this as if it completely isolated from the rest of God’s revelation, and as if these promises actually indicate that they are absolute for every situation. However, in the same collection of Psalms, various authors express their concerns over their enemies’ abilities to harm them, as well as various frustrations that the wicked sometimes have the upper hand. So, as we take note of this, it is obvious that the tempter’s lack of overall context perverts the actual place of these promises, and how they should be appropriated. So the devil’s temptation is essentially one dealing with the credibility of God’s promises, and the level of trust in them. “Go ahead,” he says, “Jump. God has promised He will never let harm come to you.”

Jesus refutes this twisted logic, again adding overall Scriptural basis and context, “…it is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God,” here quoting from Deuteronomy 6: 16. In short, God’s promises are not to be presumed upon, and men are forbidden to arbitrarily press the limits of His sovereign authority. It is also plainly obvious that faith is required in order to please the Lord, and efforts to prove, in a theoretically absolute manner, any precept about Him from a basis other than faith will be futile. He requires faith.

The third temptation deals with the desires of political power and its attendant wealth. “Here,” says the devil, “I will give you all of this. Just one condition. Fall down and worship me.” At first blush, this seems to be the most incoherent of the three temptations. After all, Jesus (with the Father and the Spirit) created everything that exists. It continues to exist by virtue of the power of His declaration. In numerous places, Scripture declares the message that “the earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof; the world and they that dwell therein.” So if the cosmos belongs to God by virtue of it being His creation, He, as creator, has inherent title to it. Further, the Creator is obviously superior to that which He creates. This is apparently lost on the tempter, a created being. The Lord has never, in any place or time, conveyed ultimate rule and authority to any other being.

But there is other subtlety at work here. Jesus came into this world with an express mission and purpose; to provide the redeeming atonement for the sins of men. The process of accomplishing this was also expressly ordained. The path to victory lay through the suffering of the cross. This was a path that any rational being would find difficult, or even undesirable. Yet this was the only possible route for the salvation of sinful men. No atonement, no forgiveness of sins. The devil was trying to offer Jesus a painless alternative to accomplish the position that He already held, but without the salvation of men. The account of Jesus’ agony in the garden just prior to His arrest and crucifixion is no fabrication. This temptation was a diversionary tactic the devil was seeking to employ. Only there was one small, but significant, problem. He was requiring Jesus to deny the Father as the only true God, and idolatrously worship a substitute. A very clever bait and switch. “Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve,” Jesus responds. (Deuteronomy 10:20) To fall to this temptation would be to deny the very person of God, His own status as the second person of the trinity, and to condemn all of mankind without hope of redemption. Only the Lord God is worthy to be worshiped and obeyed. And Jesus was willing to submit to the ordained method of accomplishing redemption despite what He knew He would have to endure. The author of Hebrews explains this in the following manner, exhorting us to “… (look) unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Chapter 12:2)

So, what can we gain in practical application as we ponder these things?

First, we should understand that temptation is universal. Even Jesus was tempted, yet without falling to sin. Living in a world that has not yet been fully transformed and restored guarantees that we, ourselves, will be subject to temptations of various sorts.

Second, we have been given the means to oppose and rebut these temptations. We have been given the inspired Word of God in Scripture, and the Word of God incarnate in Christ. But we need to take special care that we do not fall to the error of viewing particular portions of this declaration in isolation from the overall context of the total revelation He has given to us. Used properly, the Word of God is a potent defensive weapon.

Third, we need to recognize that temptation works in concert with the nature of the worldly system. The apostle John wrote, “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world”. (I John 2:16) We need to scrupulously avoid the traps that are set for us that come with appealing and worldly facades. We need to be able to see past the disguises to the essence of the matter. We can only do this if we understand Scripture in the same context as Jesus.

We need to also consider what James says in Chapter 1 of his letter. “…every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death. Do not err, my beloved brethren.” We need to be familiar with the nature of and enticements that temptation presents to us. Temptation takes root in the fertile ground of our culpable hearts. In the end, what looked appealing brings forth deadly consequences. No wonder we are advised to always be vigilant.

We are, I believe, engaged in the greatest struggle of our lifetimes. The contest is over whether godly and just government, and the liberty it helps to foster, will continue to exist in this land. To ensure that it does, it means that we must rely on the God to Whom the whole creation actually belongs. As we continue to seek means and methods to bolster and reestablish liberty in our nation, we need to be very, very cautious that we not fall to any of the worldly temptations that appear in our path, or appear to be expedient or helpful. We need to avoid biting on the bait of convenience, compromise, and the lure of power lest we find, suddenly, that the hook concealed in it is set in our jaws. We need to appeal to God to help us as we seek victory in a just cause. May He deliver us from all evil. Amen.

Closing Prayer/Benediction

Psalm 91

He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in him will I trust.

Surely he shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler, and from the noisome pestilence. He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust: his truth shall be thy shield and buckler. Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night; nor for the destruction that wasteth at noonday.

A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand; but it shall not come nigh thee. Only with thine eyes shalt thou behold and see the reward of the wicked. Because thou hast made the Lord, which is my refuge, even the most High, thy habitation; there shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling. For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways. They shall bear thee up in their hands, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone. Thou shalt tread upon the lion and adder: the young lion and the dragon shalt thou trample under feet.

Because he hath set his love upon me, therefore will I deliver him: I will set him on high, because he hath known my name. He shall call upon me, and I will answer him: I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him, and honor him. With long life will I satisfy him, and show him my salvation.

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