Monday, July 5, 2010

Three Rounds with the Devil (Jesus and the Word, Luke 4)

Luke 4:1-13, message focus
Romans 10:6-13, selections, call to worship
Genesis 3, children

This passage is not just about temptation. It is about Jesus, the focus of the gospel. We’re going to start by revealing some of the layers of meaning in the passage itself and then focus on what this reveals to us of Jesus.

Some analysis of the passage:
This passage follows the genealogy of Jesus in Luke, which works backwards from Jesus to Adam and ends, “son of Adam, son of God” (Luke 3:38).

Twice the devil specifically appeals to Jesus’ Sonship – to make bread, to fling himself from the temple pinnacle. In each case, however, the devil is trying to get Jesus to focus on privilege, exception, rights, rather than faithfulness to the Father. In each case, the devil attempts to subvert him, to make him into a rebellious son (Bock, 128).

The story of Adam and Eve in the Garden, and their failure before the devil’s temptation, hang in the background here. In that story, the devil asked the woman, “Did God really say . . . don’t eat the fruit of any tree in the garden?” (Genesis 3:2-3). Eve, and Adam, whom the story says was “with her”, show an amazing lack of recognition as to what God actually does say. Jesus in the temptation story, however, is very clear about what the Word of God says.

The passage also contrasts the faithfulness of Jesus as the Son of God with the faithlessness of Israel as “my firstborn son” (Exodus 4:22). Each of the Scriptures Jesus quotes to the devil, all of them out of Deuteronomy, refer in their original context to failures of God’s people in the wilderness (Fitzmyer, 510-512).

Israel grumbled about the lack of food in the desert and wanted to go back to Egypt. But, “we do not live on bread alone” (Deut 8:3), and God supplied them with “manna” from heaven.

Israel erected a golden calf and held a “festival to the LORD” – as if the LORD of all the earth was embodied by a man-made statue (Exodus 32:5). But, Jesus quoted, “Worship the LORD your God and serve God only” (Deut 6:13).

Israel complains about water and “tests the LORD” by saying, “Is the LORD among us or not?” (Exodus 17:7). But, “do not put the LORD your God to the test” (Deut 6:16).

The three temptations have an interesting correspondence with the beginning of the “Lord’s Prayer” or “Our Father” (Fitzmyer, citing Rengstorf, 507).

“Hallowed be your name”. Don’t diminish God’s honor with tests.

“Your kingdom come”. Our prayerful objective is not our reign over the world and its kingdoms, but God’s.

“Give us this day our daily bread”. Receive what we need as a gift from God, rather than becoming a free agent, independent and needing no one else. We need God, first and foremost.

There is also some correspondence between the temptations and the universal ethical problems faced by human beings: the traps of wealth, sex, and power. Though, in this story, they are addressed in a different order – wealth (supply of bread), power (authority over the kingdoms of the world), sex (as sensation-seeking, as a “fling” – “fling yourself from this pinnacle”). In the ancient church, these concerns were addressed with the monastic vows of “poverty, chastity, and obedience”. Here at Bethany, we have vows of “generosity, fidelity, and integrity” or, being “giving, faithful, and real”.

The passage has many layers of meaning – one of the fun things about the Scripture. But I promised that we are focused not on clues for beating temptation (which are certainly there to be found) but on the gospel of Jesus Christ, that is, on how Jesus is revealed in this passage. Jesus is revealed to us as “son of Adam, son of God”. As any human, he experiences the force of temptation. More than any human, he experiences the full force of temptation. We give in, but he does not . . . and the pressure he experiences only escalates. As Son of God, he remains our blameless Savior. There are three dimensions to his sonship that are demonstrated in this passage:
Sonship as faithfulness to the Father
Sonship as filling with the Spirit
Sonship as formed by the Scriptures

First, Sonship as Faithfulness to the Father. It is so easy to identify ourselves by privilege instead of promise. No matter our resources or status, we find ways to fixate on what makes us special, better than other people, exceptional – so we don’t have to live by the rules that “lesser mortals” must observe. This doesn’t just afflict the arrogant and powerful whose lives and families so often self-destruct publically. Even “good folks” can find this insidious evil at work in our souls: “I’m good, therefore I deserve . . . or, therefore I can make an exception for . . . .”

I was born in Singapore with dual citizenship – in the USA and in Singapore. When I was 18 I appeared before a justice and took the oath of citizenship, something every citizen should have to do. There were no references to the Bill of Rights – the right to freedom of assembly, the right to freedom of the press, the right to freedom of religion. There was only responsibility, promise rather than privilege.

Jesus identified himself by his promises, not by his privileges. He was willing to give up every privilege in order to live by those promises, to remain faithful to his Father. For him, Sonship meant faithfulness to the Father, not more privileges – whether bread or authority or thrills – for the Son. In the second temptation, he responds to the temptation to power and authority with the Scripture: “Worship the LORD your God and serve God only”. He has no craving for power, but a commitment to serve his Father faithfully.

What privileges am I willing to give up to be faithful to the Father?

Second, Sonship as filling with the Spirit. One of the unique aspects of how Luke tells this story is that he underlines, by two phrases in the first verse, this aspect of Sonship. Jesus is “filled with the Spirit” (Fitzmyer, 507) and “led by the Spirit”.

As a man filled with the Spirit, he did not need to test God as Israel did, asking, “Is the LORD among us or not?” He knew that he was not alone, knew that God was with him, and did not need to prove it by presumption and testing. This need to test God, to presume upon God, shows up most often when we are struggling. We want answers, and we want them now. We want miracles, and we want them now. When they don’t come on our schedule, we ask, “Is the LORD among us?” We become bitter, we are fixated on absence rather than presence. We quench the Spirit of God rather than trusting God. Notice that Jesus, filled with and led by the Spirit, was led directly into extreme testing – 40 days and nights of matching wits with the devil, all on an empty stomach.

When I am tested, will I fixate on the struggle or on the Spirit?

Third, Sonship as formed by the Scriptures. Jesus identity as son of Adam/Son of God was formed by the Scriptures. If you want your identity to be clearly formed as a child of God, it will be formed by the Scriptures. Jesus knows that he is not just one more economic entity, whether having no bread or lots of bread. He is not formed by our world’s definitions of economic need, he “does not live by bread alone”. The verse he quotes continues to say, “but by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD” (Deut 8:3). Jesus understands that the way to “advancement” (if there is such a thing in God’s kingdom) is through serving, not through exercising authority. Jesus understands that he does not need to question God’s presence with him by elaborate and faithless tests.

If the identity of Jesus, son of Adam and Son of God, was formed by the Scriptures, how much more should we endeavor to immerse ourselves in the Word?

Resources on Luke:
Darrell L. Bock, 1996, The NIV Application Commentary: Luke, Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Joseph A. Fitzmyer, 1970-, The Anchor Bible: The Gospel According to Luke I-IX (volume 28) and X-XXIV (volume 29), Doubleday/Yale University Press.

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