‘Jesus in the Wilderness’ – Luke 4:1-13 – December 2nd, 2018


I wanna start with a question that seems kinda out of left field: why didn’t God abandon Israel? He disciplined them – and often – and he even exiled them. But he never abandoned them. Why is that? Genesis chapter 15, verse 6, says that Abraham – y’know, “Father Abraham had many sons, and I’m one of them, and so are you,” you know the song – Abraham “believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness” (Gen. 15:6).

And just like their father, Abraham, the faithful in Israel were “credited” with a “righteousness” that didn’t come from themselves. But “righteousness” is personal – a chair isn’t righteous. It’s a chair. It’s functional. It might be beautiful. But it can’t be “righteous” or “unrighteous.” Only persons can be “righteous,” and Abraham wasn’t, and Israel wasn’t, kind of like how you and I weren’t.

So the “righteousness” that God credited to Abraham, that he credited to Israel, had to come from somewhere. And, more specifically, it had to come from someone. And what we’re going to learn throughout the four gospels – the books that tell the story of Jesus’s life – is that the “righteousness” that is credited to Abraham in Gen. 15:6, that is credited to Israel because of God’s covenant with them, is the righteousness of Jesus. And when we talk about the “righteousness of Jesus,” I think today’s passage is a good window into what we mean.

So if you have your Bible, please turn with me to Luke chapter 4, verses 1 through 13:

Then Jesus returned from [being baptized in] the Jordan, full of the Holy Spirit, and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for 40 days to be tempted by the Devil. He ate nothing during those days, and when they were over, He was hungry. The Devil said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.” But Jesus answered him, “It is written: Man must not live on bread alone.”

So he took Him up and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. The Devil said to Him, “I will give You their splendor and all this authority, because it has been given over to me, and I can give it to anyone I want. If You, then, will worship me, all will be Yours.” And Jesus answered him, “It is written: Worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.”

So he took Him to Jerusalem, had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down from here. For it is written: He will give His angels orders concerning you, to protect you, and they will support you with their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.” And Jesus answered him, “It is said: Do not test the Lord your God.” After the Devil had finished every temptation, he departed from Him for a time.

Now, I have a difficult time going six hours without eating something, and Jesus went 40 days. So if you wanna step into his shoes, you could not eat for six hours and then multiply that feeling by 160. So that’s 960 hours. And that’s weird, right? It’s not normal to go 960 hours without eating. And it’s not normal to go out to the wilderness for 40 days all alone. But that’s miles away from being the strangest thing that Jesus ever did, but it’s very not-normal.

But context is important, and it makes this passage a bit less weird – not a lot less, just a little less: So Jesus was born in Bethlehem – so, the promised land, right? But a guy named king Herod, at least on paper, was the “king of the Jews,” but he was appointed by Caesar, not by God, so he was, kind of, a Pretend King of the Jews.

And Herod was famous for executing anyone he suspected of posing a threat to his position as pretend King of the Jews, and he caught word that a child had been born who would one day take up the throne in Israel and fulfill all of God’s promises to Abraham, to Moses, and to the prophets.

And if you’re Herod, and your position as pretend King of the Jews is heavily contingent on the real King of the Jews not being around to replace you, what would you do if some “wise men” came to your court and announced that the person God had sent to fulfill all of the promises to Israel had been born in Bethlehem? You’d send some assassins to Bethlehem. So Herod sends some assassins to Bethlehem, and an Angel wakes up Mary and Joseph in the middle of the night and tells them to run away to Egypt ‘till it’s safe to return.

And when his assassins don’t find anything, Herod gets desperate, so he orders every Hebrew boy two years and younger to be slaughtered. If this story sounds familiar, it should. The language that the gospel writers use here is almost exactly like the language Moses uses in the book of Exodus when he says that Pharaoh ordered every young Hebrew boy to be slaughtered as a way of keeping the Hebrew slave population under control. So this is a great look for Herod. Herod ends up looking kind of like a “new Pharaoh,” and Jesus ends up looking kind of like a “new Moses.” But we’re gonna see that Jesus is more than just a new Moses.

Because this is just the first of a long line of situations where Jesus actually undergoes the same struggles and temptations that Israel experienced throughout the Old Testament: so he was exiled to Egypt, just like Israel was exiled to Egypt at the end of Genesis; then he returns from Egypt back into the promised land just like God brought Israel back to the promised land in the book of Joshua.

And then – you might know the story – he makes John the Baptist baptize him in the Jordan River, just like God brought Israel through the Jordan River and into the land that he’d promised them. And then, Jesus exiles himself to the wilderness just like God exiled Israel to the wilderness when they refused to obey the good commands that he gave for their flourishing.

So Luke and the other gospel writers are telling the story of Jesus in a way that emphasizes all the parallels between Israel, as a people that God adopted,and Jesus himself. Luke is painting Jesus as the Israel that Israel wasn’t.

And so Jesus spends 40 days in the wilderness, kind of reenacting Israel’s 40 years in the wilderness. The problem is they don’t have Bojangles in the wilderness. They have birds and cactuses. And it’s hard to catch birds, and it’s hard to eat cactuses. So he’s fasting – he’s not eating – and he’s hungry. And the devil offers him bread.

Now, remember what we just talked about: Jesus is intentionally walking through the struggles and temptations that Israel succumbed to – these are the things that destroyed Israel, right? – Jesus is facing down the temptations that his people succumbed to, and he’s overcoming them on our behalf.

So the devil offers him bread, which is the same thing he offered Israel when they were in the wilderness, and it’s the same thing he offered Israel throughout the whole Old Testament. Because bread’s not the only thing you’re hungry for, right? It’s not the only kind of appetite you’ve got, it’s not the only thing you crave.

And the devil will weaponize your appetites – he’ll offer you the things you think you want; kind of like he offered Adam and Eve the things they thought they wanted, kind of like he offered Israel the things they thought they wanted, because it feels like God’s withholding them from you; but it’s a bait-and-switch; it’s a worm on a hook; it’s a stick-a-carrot-and-a-string; the devil will offer to satiate your appetites, and it’s a bankrupt promise.

So Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 8:3, and says “Man can’t live by his appetites,” “Man can’t live on bread alone,” because that’s what God said to Israel to wake ‘em up out of their sleepwalk in sin. So Jesus obeyed where Israel failed. Jesus obeyed where Adam and Eve failed, and he obeyed where you and I failed. He was faithful on our behalf. Jesus is the God of Israel, and he was obedient in all of the ways that Israel wasn’t.

And when Abraham believed God, the righteousness of Jesus was credited to him, and all of his sin was nailed to the cross with Jesus. Because that’s what happens when you throw yourself on the mercy of God. And that’s good news for Abraham, and that’s good news for Israel, and that’s good news for you and me.

So if you’ll look at vv. 5-8, Luke writes:

“So he took Him up and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. The Devil said to Him, “I will give You their splendor and all this authority, because it has been given over to me, and I can give it to anyone I want. If You, then, will worship me, all will be Yours.” And Jesus answered him, “It is written: Worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.

So Jesus is walking through all of the things that Israel succumbed to. He was obedient when the devil offered to satiate his appetite instead of obeying God’s good commands, and he was obedient when the devil appealed to that kind of universal desire that we have to own the world.

Y’know what I’m talking about? We were created to “bear God’s image” as we steward the world together – and so God put Adam and Eve in charge of the plants and animals in the garden, so they’d take care of them under his authority, and they’d take care of each other under God’s authority, but Satan offered them what they thought they wanted – he offered them an opportunity to own the world.

So in Genesis 3, Satan approaches them at the tree that God told them not to eat from – “The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil” – and says “You know God’s lying when he tells you that you’ll die if you eat this.” Right? “God’s withholding this from you, because he knows if you eat from this tree, you’ll be like him. You’ll own the world.”

And they believed him. Which is really a significant part of that passage: they believed the tree snake – who was talking, for some reason – instead of believing what the Lord had told them. There’s a lot to that, right? Because reading through Genesis 3, you get the sense that Adam and Eve believed the snake because Adam and Eve wanted to believe the snake. Like, this wasn’t just a case of getting tricked by an unusually clever reptile. The devil offered them the world in a fairly obvious lie, and they believed him, on purpose.

And that’s a real thing. I relate to that passage on a pretty personal level, because I do that all the time. The list of things that I will and won’t believe at any given time are pretty heavily dependent on the extent to which I believe in my heart-of-hearts that they’re gonna help me own the world.

And that doesn’t mean the same thing for everybody. Right? Like, I’m not ambitious. Not one ounce of me wants to “climb the corporate ladder,” or make a six-figure salary, or have a big house, or even leave my small apartment most days. But I try to own the world every time I rationalize my sin. I try to own the world every time I “rewrite the rules” – you know what I’m talking about? – every time I “move the line” so it fits with whatever I’m already doing. There’s something in us that wants to own the world, and we’ll redefine whatever we need to to make that happen.

Adam and Eve knew exactly what God wanted from them; he made his demands absolutely clear, and there was no reason to think that he had anything else in mind besides their flourishing and their joy when he told them not to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil; but they did exactly the thing that you and I do when we “move the finish line” to wherever it is that we already are, when we recalibrate our moral code so that we fit comfortably inside it by doing whatever it is that we’re already doing; they did the same thing that you and I do when we try to own the world in any number of ways: they believed the tree-snake on purpose.

And that’s a real thing. They weren’t dumb. They weren’t just gullible. They had an agenda. They had an endgame. The talking snake offered them an “alternate narrative” where they could own the world without submitting to God’s authority, and they believed that narrative on purpose, just like you and I do every time the devil offers us the same thing. So the Garden of Eden happened – literally – way back in the dawn of man, but we rehearse that same sin that got Adam and Eve expelled every single day of our lives, just like Israel did time after time throughout the Old Testament.

That’s why it’s not silly that we’re still expelled from God’s presence even though we weren’t there when Adam and Eve chose to disobey. Like, you do belong here, outside of Eden, with the rest of the exiles; you do belong here, with the rest of “fallen humanity.” Because if Adam and Eve hadn’t rebelled in the garden, it would’ve been you.

Specifically, you. I’m sorry to be the person to break that news to you. Even if somebody else would’ve beaten you to it, that doesn’t help your case. Because if the person who beat you to it hadn’t beaten you to it, then it would have been you. You’d be the person who beat somebody else to it. That’s where we are. There’s something in us that wants to own the world, and the devil offers it to you and to me every day of our lives, and he offered it to Jesus in the wilderness.

So Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 6:13, this time, and says: “Worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.” Which is interesting, because Jesus is the God of Israel. He is the God of the universe. Right?

Colossians 1:16 says that the whole world was created through Jesus and for Jesus; and Revelation 13:8 says that Jesus is “the lamb slain before the creation of the world,” which is a very poetic way of saying that the world was created through Jesus and for Jesus because the Father, Son, and Spirit decided – before they laid the foundation of the world – that if Jesus had to die in our place to redeem us from our sin, to rescue us from our desire to own the world, that he would. The world was created by Jesus, for Jesus, because of Jesus.

So as Jesus is arguing with the devil in the wilderness, he’s doing what he set out to do from the beginning. He’s not out in the wilderness because he just loves peace and quiet, and he’s not there just to see how long he can go without food. He’s in the wilderness so that he can walk through all the things that you and I and all of God’s people through history have succumbed to – so he can be obedient on our behalf.

So Jesus was righteous in our place when the devil offered him a chance to own the world. And when we believe God, when we throw ourselves on God’s mercy, the righteousness of this Jesus is “credited to us” like it was credited to Abraham, and our sin is nailed up to the cross with Jesus. This is the God we tried to dethrone in the Garden – the God who exiled us from Eden – and now he’s exiled himself to the wilderness to pass the test in our place. And that’s why the devil makes his last offer, in verses 9 through 13:  

“So he took Him to Jerusalem, had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down from here. For it is written: He will give His angels orders concerning you, to protect you, and they will support you with their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.” And Jesus answered him, “It is said: Do not test the Lord your God.” After the Devil had finished every temptation, he departed from Him for a time.”

So Jesus remains obedient while the devil offers to satiate his hunger, and he remains obedient while the devil appeals to that universal desire to own the world, so the devil changes course and tries bait him into abusing the privileges that come with being God’s beloved son. Right? Like, when Jesus came up out of the water when John baptized him in the Jordan, the Holy Spirit descended from the clouds and the voice of God basically quotes a handful of verses from the Old Testament. He says, “This is my beloved son, with whom I am well-pleased.”

And that’s a quote from Exodus 4:22 when God told Pharaoh, “Israel is my beloved Son, and I’m taking him to the promised land, whether you like it or not.” Because Jesus is God’s beloved son, and you and I become God’s sons and daughters by throwing ourselves onto his mercy. The righteousness of Jesus is credited to us, like it was credited to Abraham, and we become God’s beloved children instead of God’s enemies. And when the righteousness of Jesus is credited to you, none of your sin – past, present, or future – can ever keep you from the love of God again.

So your sin is dealt with. Christ’s obedience on your behalf means that you’re free from the guilt that rightly comes with your sin. But there’s also a danger that comes with that, because the devil will try to bait us into abusing the privileges that comes with being God’s beloved sons and daughters. So the devil will offer you a very different “freedom” from guilt.

Because when you throw yourself on the mercy of God, you are forgiven for everything you’ve ever done, and you’re given an absolute commission to right the wrongs that used to define your life. So you’re set free from the guilt that used to consume you, but that is not the freedom from guilt that the devil offers you.

He tried to tempt Jesus into abusing his privileges as the son of God, and he does exactly the same thing with us today: The devil offers you a pretend freedom from a very real guilt, by making you numb to the gravity of your sin; and if you let him, he’ll set you free from your guilt by slowly changing your heart so that you roll your eyes at the thought of repentance, or you get real clever in finding ways to lie to yourself about your lifestyle. That’s a real thing.

He’ll offer you a pretend freedom by coaxing you toward seeing your sin as not particularly problematic, so you can redirect your guilt towards other people – so when the Holy Spirit convicts you, you can say “I think I’m pretty low on the list of things to worry about.” Right? “If you wanna convict sin, y’know, think a little more about Janet, over there.” The devil will offer you that pretend freedom from your very real guilt, by enticing you away from hating your sin.

And this is important, because hating your sin is nothing like hating yourself. Hating your sin is completely different than hating yourself. And when you hate your sin, you know that, because you remember when you didn’t: You remember the days when you were taking up the devil’s offer of pretend freedom from your very real guilt, because those were the days when you did hate yourself. Right? You were endlessly inventive in finding ways to avoid looking your guilt in the eyes, but that constant denial just turns into self-loathing – you know what I’m talking about? So every time the Holy Spirit would convict you and draw you back into communing with the Father, you’d shrug it off and carry on business-as-usual, but that does something to you.

Because you weren’t created to carry on in sin. You weren’t created to break God’s commands. But more importantly than that, you weren’t created to live out of fellowship with the Father. And that does something to you. When you’re a slave to sin – like we talked about last week – the love of God feels like dread, or it feels like sickness, so you avoid it like the plague. But you weren’t created to avoid God like the plague, and that messes with your psyche.

So the devil offers a pretend freedom from your very real guilt, but it’s a bait-and-switch. It will not do the thing you want it to do. And you have two options: you can hate your sin or you can hate yourself; and however counterintuitive it sounds, hating your sin is the only pathway toward enjoying a genuine freedom from your very real guilt.

Because hating your sin comes from throwing yourself on the mercy of God. And when you throw yourself on the mercy of God, the righteousness of Jesus becomes your righteousness. And that doesn’t just “take you off God’s ‘hit-list’ – right? – you get God. The thing you get when you throw yourself on the mercy of Jesus is you get God in a way you couldn’t beforehand. Because you were exiled from the garden so you lived for your appetites and you tried to own the world out from under God – and when that’s who you are, you can’t commune with the Father, because you won’t. When we were exiles in the wilderness, it was what we wanted. So Jesus came into the wilderness and got us.

But if you haven’t thrown yourself on the mercy of Jesus, you’re still in the wilderness. And maybe you’re starting to realize that now – that your throat’s dry, and your lips are parched, and you’re homesick for a place you’ve never been. Or you’re just homesick for something that’s not the wilderness. I’ll be down at the front as we begin to sing. If that’s you, and you wanna get got out the wilderness, if you wanna throw yourself onto the mercy of God, then come talk to me. I’d love to walk you through that process. Or, if you’d simply like to talk, or pray together, I’d like that, too.

Let’s pray.

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