Pastor Chris Tweitmann
Tests. We all face them.
The challenge of being tested starts early in life.
Within a few years of being formally schooled, we find ourselves regularly examined in order to test our understanding of what we are being taught.
To continue into higher levels of learning, there are tests to be taken.
Even if we stop the formal education process, we will be tested in order to secure a job or to enter into a specific profession or vocation.
Cutting hair. Fixing cars. Flying a plane. Getting to work the cash register. It doesn’t matter. First, there is a test to be taken.
If you want to legally drive a car, then you first have to pass both a written and road test in order to get a license.
These days, depending on where you go and what you want to do, in some situations, you need to show proof of a negative COVID test.
And then, of course, there are the informal tests we must take.
Going out on a first date – all while evaluating if there’s going to be a second one.
Meeting that special someone’s family – their parents. Do they like you? Do they approve?
Being asked to offer an opinion, to share an idea, to confess a secret without offending someone, without stepping on any toes, without breaking some unwritten rule or coming across the wrong way.
Tests. Today’s message is about being tested – how testing can lead to temptation.
More specifically, it’s about who is being tested, tempted, and why.
The One being tested is the One named Jesus.
Jesus, who last week, we witnessed embracing a baptism of repentance that he did not need in order to take the first step in a much longer journey of willingly bearing all the brokenness of our humanity – and the inevitable consequence of death to which all sin leads.
Jesus, who thereafter – as heaven opened and the Holy Spirit descended – also was declared to be, by an audible voice from above, the beloved Son of God.
As we discovered last Sunday, that moment is not just about who Jesus is.
In fully identifying with us, what is declared about Jesus becomes a reflection of our true identity – who we really are.
We are not strangers or even enemies with something to prove or to earn – for whom God settles or tolerates.
We are all God’s children, sons and daughters whom our Heavenly Father is pleased to love.
And now, that identity – for Jesus and by extension for us – is about to be tried and tested.
Let us look and listen carefully to what happens next. (TEXT)
We’ve all heard this one before.
It’s one of the those bible stories known even to those out of the faith.
It’s is an encounter which seems pretty straightforward.
Jesus and the devil once had a showdown in the desert. Good versus evil. And the good guy, as always, triumphs.
While the bad guy walks away shaking his fist, swearing revenge, looking for an opportune next time.
But there’s a lot more to this story than meets the eye. This isn’t fiction. This is history. This is a moment in time. And yet what happens here is more than an isolated incident.
The nature of this battle – this testing and temptation – goes all the way to our beginning, our origin as a species – as the children of God – in a Garden called Eden.
That Luke has this in view is evidenced by his placement of Jesus’ genealogy right before his recording of this episode – a family tree that links Jesus all the way back to the first child of God named Adam.
But this is more than a throwback and a second chance in terms of humanity’s original fall from grace.
This scene also echoes a pivotal defining moment in Israel’s exodus from centuries of slavery.
It’s not a coincidence that most of where Jesus goes toe-to-toe with the devil happens to be where Israel’s failures began and left a generation wandering in the wilderness.
Listen careful to everything that is said here and you can’t help but notice Jesus is following the script out of Deuteronomy, chapters 6 – 8 by which Israel not just in the wilderness but throughout her history did not abide.
Is Jesus, the new, perfect Adam – the representative of all humanity – as the apostle Paul will later write in his letters?
Is Jesus, the new, faithful Israel – the means of light and blessing to all nations of the earth?
That’s what the devil aims to sabotage and invalidate through the temptations that follow.
And what of this Adversary, the leader of the opposition – this devil?
Is this a fallen angel? Or the personification of the forces of darkness within?
As we study the scriptures we notice there are various characterizations of the evil in this world – manifestations both external and internal.
The point is not for us to get hung up on the figure of the devil as much as it is to recognize there is both in and among us – strong, defiant, violent opposition to the character and purposes of God – to love, health, wholeness, and peace of all creation. It is important, however, to notice – even here in this scene – that the entity or the force of evil – while in opposition to God – operates not apart from but within the sovereignty of God.
As Christians we do not hold to a dualistic view of creation – good and evil separate and apart from each other – constantly going head to head – the balance between them fluctuating back and forth – the final outcome of the battle ever in doubt.
The biblical understanding is that our Creator allows for the possibility of evil.
The possibility of evil and wrongdoing is a byproduct of giving humanity free will.
Evil’s power and manifestation derive from humanity’s choice to give evil authority in our lives.
To act against the goodness of God is to choose evil and to give evil substance, tangibility in life.
Biblically, God’s permission for the possibility of evil does not mean our Creator simply stands back and watches bad things happen.
We worship a just God wherein evil bears eventual consequences – a reckoning. At the same time, as our Creator actively governs all creation, God works to bring good out of evil – to fulfill His purposes for us despite all that goes wrong.
A quick and powerful example of this reality is the work of the Cross.
In Acts, chapter 2, the apostle Peter as he preaches makes it clear the most evil act in history—the crucifixion of Jesus —was carried out by men with evil in their hearts and yet God in Christ willingly handed Himself over to die for us all.
Back to this story, notice the devil is not the instigator of this encounter. Luke emphasizes twice that it is the Holy Spirit – the Spirit of the Lord – that leads Jesus into the wilderness to be confronted by evil.
“Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness…” -Luke 4:1
In other words, this is not a surprise spiritual attack – an ambush on Jesus.
This is a divinely orchestrated conflict – a necessary experience that Jesus must walk through.
Does this mean the Holy Spirit is leading Jesus into temptation?
No. The Holy Spirit is leading Jesus to be tested. The temptations that follow are the work of the Adversary, the devil.
“…where for forty days he was tempted by the devil.” -Luke 4:2
Confused? Let’s break down the distinction between testing and temptation.
In verse 2, the Greek verb used to describe what Jesus endures, peirazo, can refer to testing – in a positive sense – as in to reinforce or strengthen or it can refer to being tempting – in a negative sense – as in to be weakened so as to be broken.
In other words, biblically, a test is a situation God sends or allows in our life with the intention of building up and maturing our faith in Him.
Faith, remember is a gift from God.
Through grace, God gives us a measure of faith.
The Lord, of course, knows the power of that faith.
We, on the other hand, need to learn how durable and reliable the faith we have received is, so God allows that faith to be tested.
Just as we exercise our bodies for them to grow stronger, it is the exercise of the faith we have been given through the tests and trials of this life – that enable that faith to be reinforced and built up.
If we turn to the Book of Psalms, the testing that God allows also is spoken of as a means of purification – of exposing and removing that which is not of God from our lives and thus bring us closer to God.
In the same way that the appropriate pruning of a plant does not hinder but rather leads to deeper growth, the testing of our faith is intended to deeper and mature in our reliance upon the Lord.
Jesus’ stepbrother, James, in his letter to the Church, writes our response to testing of our faith is to be joy. Why?
Because, James insists, such testing ultimately leads to being able to persevere, to becoming “complete” in our relationship with God, lacking nothing.
Temptation arises in the times of testing because when we are being tested we are exposed and vulnerable.
Temptation is the stirring up of the desire for a way out of being tested – to shortcut or shortchange the examination process.
Biblically, a temptation is an enticement to do something wrong – something against God’s will.
Hence, the Scriptures emphatically assert the temptations we face are not of the Lord’s making.
They are the snare of evil, of the devil, of those forces opposed to God.
However – and this is very important, evil, the devil – cannot force or compel us to do what is wrong.
All the forces opposed to the Lord can do is propose, seduce, and entice. Human moral agency – it is our choice – to give in to temptation.
So having made this distinction, let’s return to the passage.
The Holy Spirit leads Jesus into the wilderness to be tested – to strengthen and reinforce Jesus’ faith in the assurance and security of the words just spoken over him from heaven – the authority and power of his identity as the beloved Son of God.
And it is in the exposure and vulnerability of the wilderness, as Jesus fasts – depriving himself of food for forty days,
“He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.” -Luke 4:2
that the devil perceives an advantage and tempts Jesus to bypass the testing he must undergo.
While each temptation Jesus faces is distinctive, together they revolve around a single objective.
“The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God…” -Luke 4:3, 9
When the devil suggests not once but twice, “If you are the Son of God…,” Jesus’ identity is not in question.
The devil knows the reality of who Jesus is.
When Jesus begins his ministry, demonic forces will have to be silenced by Jesus as they will scream and shout their awareness that he is the Son of God.
And Jesus knows who he is.
This is not in doubt as his identity has been spoken over him by family members like Mary and Elizabeth, by strangers like Simeon and Anna, and most recently, divinely affirmed after his baptism in the Jordan.
The “if” here is better translated as “since” for what is at stake is not whether Jesus is the Son of God but rather HOW will Jesus live out his identity as the Son of God.
Satan’s goal remains unchanged from what it was in the beginning with Adam, from what it was in the Exodus of Israel.
The objective is to disrupt the relationship between God and His children – to encourage their independence rather than dependence.
In this case, it is to sever the relationship between the Father and the Son.
At the heart of all of temptations put before Jesus is the enticement for Jesus to exercise, to exploit the authority and power of his identity as the Son of God for his own benefit.
Something we might not notice at first is Luke’s account is the final three temptations that Jesus experiences.
Forgive me for going into full grammar nerd mode for a sec but Luke uses a present participle indicates ongoing action
“where for forty days he was tempted by the devil.” – Luke 4:2
to underscore Jesus was tempted by the devil for the whole forty days in the wilderness.
What Luke shares with us is the grand finale – the final temptations put before Jesus.
There are the BIG THREE – the universal temptations put before us in our calling, in our identity, in our dependence as the beloved children of God.
The first of the big three relates to Jesus’ immediate gratification.
Like the original temptation at the tree in the garden, Jesus, who has been fasting and who is hungry, is enticed to eat something.
“The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.” -Luke 4:3
But the temptation is broader than turning stones to bread. It is the seduction of Jesus using his authority and power as the Son of God to satisfy his personal needs and desires.
We all know that temptation, don’t we?
When we’re hungry not just for food but to fill the emptiness inside. Comfort or emotional eating is a real thing. But again, this temptation goes beyond the food we eat. It’s about the allure of that little something to get us by and make us feel better. It could be food. It could be alcohol. It could be sex. It could be shopping.
Whatever it is, it is the temptation to find our satisfaction, our fulfillment in our appetites, what we can consume.
It’s a temptation Jesus rebukes by doubling down – in his very real, physical hunger – in his dependence not upon bread but upon whatever God provides.
“Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’” -Luke 4:4
Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” – Matthew 4:4
In the second of the big three temptations, the devil shows Jesus all the kingdoms of the world
“The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world.” -Luke 4:5
and offers what we might consider a gentlemen’s agreement.
There has been a long-standing, age-old conflict between the forces of evil and the purposes of God.
This little skirmish is but another in an ongoing demonic campaign of attempted undermining and disruption of all creation.
But give me what I want, the Adversary offers, as his waves his flimsy worship contract.
“And he [the devil] said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. If you worship me, it will all be yours.” -Luke 4:6-7
Give the devil his due and this can finally all be over.
I’ll return back to you all the authority and glory over them that humanity repeatedly has put into my hands – making it my dominion.
If we don’t recognize this universal temptation, shame on us. Because it’s alive and well today – especially in the Church.
This is enticement is of playing politics rather than walking by faith.
It is allure of avoiding conflict through the art of the deal. It is the ever-present seduction of compromising for the sake of success.
It is shaking hands with evil while attempt to lift our hands in praise of God.
It is looking the other way or holding our nose when it comes to the character of the authority and power we elect all for the sake of being in control and for getting our agenda passed.
It’s playing politics not just on the national or state level but in our daily lives. Working the system. Finding the loopholes. Cutting corners.
If it’s there, why shouldn’t I take advantage? Someone else will. Everybody does it. No one got hurt – no one that I noticed.
What this second of the big three teases out is how there always is some good to be gained in the temptations put before us.
When we give into temptations like this one – to take shortcuts, to ignore the fine print – whatever that “some good” is in the given situation is what we appeal to in making excuses for our actions.
Why doesn’t Jesus accept the authority and the splendor of all the kingdoms of the creation? They are rightfully his anyway.
Why not shake hands with the devil and then turn around and take out the Adversary right then and there?
What this temptation exposes is the ends don’t justify the means.
Jesus refuses to take the easy way out
“Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’” -Luke 4:8
– not just in this moment but all the way to the Cross.
This is only the beginning of how Jesus will reject how we exercise authority, how we rationalize our conceptions of power.
Again and again, rather than do whatever is expedient, whatever gets results, whatever wins the crowds over, Jesus will remain steadfast in his devotion, in his uncompromising loyalty to do everything the Lord’s way – for God’s glory.
The last of the big three takes Jesus out of the wilderness to Jerusalem, the city of David, is the very epitome of Israel’s identity.
The centerpiece of this royal city was the Temple – the heart of Israel’s worship life.
Previously destroyed, a second version of this Temple was continuing to be both renovated and expanded by Herod the Great.
The devil has Jesus stand on the highest point of this Temple
“The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple.” -Luke 4:9
and then provokes Jesus to fling himself from its heights.
“If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here.” – Luke 4:9
This time around, however, the Adversary turns the tables a bit.
Following Jesus’ lead in the last two temptations, the devil uses the Bible as a part of the temptation.
Quoting Psalm 91, verses 11 and 12,
“For it is written: “‘He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’” – Luke 4:10-11
the Adversary goads Jesus to jump by assuring Jesus of a little divine intervention – that God will protect him and not let him perish.
This last temptation is a tricky but crucial one.
One that, despite all the rhetoric and appeal to theatrics, that is inherently religious or spiritual nature – which becomes obvious through both its setting and the devil’s quoting of Scripture.
In essence, the enticement is to trust but verify.
Since you are the beloved Son of God, Jesus, God is supposed to protect you – to ensure your well-being.
But wouldn’t it be ideal to have a little proof of that?
Why not free fall into the arms of the angels in order to get just a small practical demonstration of the Lord’s reliability?
C’mon, Jesus, isn’t this the biggest struggle that most of God’s children have – believing that God is good, that God will protect, that God will not leave or forsake us?
Why not take a leap of faith right here, right now and prove to yourself and at the same time prove to others that God really can be trusted?
We relate to this temptation, don’t we? The temptation to test God.
Aren’t there times in our lives when we try to negotiate, to bargain with God?
Just give me, show me this sign Lord and then I’ll believe.
God just grant me this one request and then I promise I’ll follow You.
Father, if You really loved me, then You’d answer this prayer.
And if You don’t answer this prayer, then You are not a good God.
We all come up with tests for the Lord to pass.
We’ve even created a whole category of Christian thought, apologetics – to proof that God is real, that God is good.
Ask someone why they believe, whey they follow Jesus and the first answer you’ll get is not about the character of Christ – Jesus for Jesus’ sake – it’ll likely be about what Jesus has done for them – the Cross, the Resurrection, and a list of prayers that have been answered, a string of miracles they’ve witnessed.
Do we believe in and follow God because of who God is or because of what God has done for us – what God keeps doing for us?
When our belief is primarily based on what God has done for us, then we aren’t walking by faith, we are walking by verification.
Our trust in the Lord only goes as far as what God has done for me lately. And that’s not trust in a relationship; that’s testing a relationship.
But in this final of the big three, Jesus doesn’t take the bait.
“Jesus answered, “It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” -Luke 4:12
Jesus refuses to attempt to manage or provoke the Father even though He is the Son.
Jesus rejects the devil’s scriptural based premise not of fear of crossing an angry God but out of respect and complete trust in a good God.
For Jesus, throughout his earthly ministry, Jesus will never put God to the test. Instead Jesus always will act out of abiding, listening, and following God’s will.
For Jesus, the Father doesn’t need to be tested; the Father needs to be trusted. For when we trust the Father, we receive all the verification we need that God is good.
Beloved, following Jesus means that we, like Jesus, will be tested.
But again, the duality we create between good and bad, right and wrong, passing and failing, often underlies our understanding of being tested by God.
We see the tests and trials of this life as the Lord’s pop quiz. We think of it like tests we took in school.
We’re on our own. And it’s cheating if we look at or take someone else’s answers. And so as we take each test, God waits for the results and we wait for a grade.
Yet, this is not how or why God tests us.
Our Heavenly Father tests us not to render a final grade or judgment upon us – to tell us we pass or fail.
Our Heavenly Father tests us so that we learn and grow into the fullness of our true identity as God’s beloved children.
The Lord tests us so that we can see ourselves – so that we can recognize the direction our life is headed and who we are becoming.
Tests and that kind of learning is rarely pain-free but unlike most of the tests we create, we aren’t intended to take them alone.
We’re expected, we’re encouraged to look at Jesus’ work and copy Jesus’ answers.
In fact, we are empowered by the same Spirit Jesus was endowed with – in order to do so – together.
Hence, the Lord tests us not only so that we can see ourselves but also so that we can see Christ at work in and through us – so that our awareness and appreciation for God’s presence and provision can be deepened.
We need to be clear that not all testing automatically leads to temptation.
However, it is when our faith, our identity in Christ is being tested that we can find ourselves most exposed and vulnerable to temptation – of living independently of rather than vigilantly dependent upon God.
Once again, these will be the enticement to satisfy our own needs rather than to rely on God’s provision, the seduction of achieving the right thing the wrong way – in the name of God but miles apart from the character and will of the Lord, the allure of constantly verifying God’s goodness before we trust and follow God’s goodness.
Testing turns into temptation when we take our eyes off of the Lord and convince ourselves it’s all up to us.
Testing turns into temptation when we want the glory and are no longer willing to be followers but seek to become the Lords of our own lives.
Testing turns into temptation when we refuse to be saved and instead try to become saviors – saving ourselves or saving others.
Testing turns into temptation when we alone have to find the answers, when we must overcome evil by ourselves.
Testing may lead to temptation. But being tempted does not cut us off or divorce us from God.
For every temptation, the Bible promises God provides a way out if we look for it, if ask for it and then choose to take it.
And in the broadest of terms, the way out of temptation is following Jesus.
Part of the Gospel – the good news – is that Jesus has been tempted in every way that we are.
Just as with every test, with every temptation we can and should look to Jesus and follow Christ is resisting temptation rather than giving into it.
The same resources Jesus had at his disposal, by the grace of God, have been entrusted to us: the Word and the Spirit.
Very little of what Jesus said was new.
As the Word of God made flesh, much of what Jesus had to say was expressed through the vocabulary, the grammar, and the wisdom of the Scriptures.
Jesus modeled for us that being immersed in the Bible – regularly reading, studying, memorizing, and meditating on God’s word is both how to correctly discern the nature of the temptations we face in life and the proper way to respond to those temptations when they come.
Likewise, Jesus depended on the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.
The leading and guidance of the Spirit was the basis for Jesus’ every insight, every teaching, every miracle, every healing, and every action.
When we hear Jesus say that he says or does nothing other than what the Father tells him, the Holy Spirit is the conduit of that inseparable union.
All Christians have the Word in their hands and the Spirit residing within them.
But not every Christian is regularly rooted in the Word and allows the Spirit not merely to reside but to reign within them.
To have the Spirit reigning in us – is to consciously place ourselves under the Spirit’s management and control; it is to abide and keeping in step with the Spirit’s leading throughout each day.
Armed with the Word and the Spirit, carefully and honestly look at what tempts you.
What voices lead you to stumble and fall? What distracts you?
In what vices are you getting caught and trapped?
What circumstances are you finding yourself that are calling forth a response other than the one Jesus is calling you to reflect?
Instead of blaming people, situations, or things, armed with the Word and the Spirit and accompanied by Jesus, discover what exactly is filling and directing your life and then be set free, be strengthened in your identity as a beloved child of God.
Spending time daily in the Bible and prayer in the Spirit are not optional.
Both are essential practices to following Jesus, renewing our minds, recognizing and learning to do God’s will and dealing effectively with temptation when it comes.
Unlike Jesus, we doubtlessly will give into temptation at times.
While we are equipped to and therefore ought to seek to avoid succumbing to temptation, it will happen.
But when it does happen, the Gospel, the good news for us, does not change.
The grace of God still remains greater than our sin.
Something I want us to notice is Jesus entered into the wilderness to be tested and ultimately tempted AFTER his affirmation as God’s Son whom the Father was pleased to love.
In other words, Jesus’s relationship with the Father was established BEFORE anything else happened.
Jesus’ identity was declared APART from ANYTHING Jesus had yet done or not done.
To be even more explicit, how Jesus responded to the test put before him, whether or not Jesus said “Yes” or “No” to each temptation, it did not determine of change who He is – the beloved Son of God.
Jesus could neither earn or lose his relationship with the Father.
Jesus could only choose not to live, to live exclusively out of his relationship with the Father.
Thanks to the Gospel, the grace of God, our brother Jesus who claims us, who goes before us in all things, the same holds true for each of us.
Our identity as beloved children of God is declared first. We are proclaimed sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father apart from whatever we do or don’t do.
That’s the reality before any test we endure, any temptation we face. That’s the promise before any results are in.
Grace always precedes and follows testing and temptation.
If grace is the basis of our relationship, then who we are in Christ and our accessibility and proximity to God do not change.
If can’t earn our identity, then we can’t lose our identity in Christ.
We can only choose not to live into and out of our identity – the relationship we have with God through Jesus.
The tests we endure and even the temptations we face do not determine whether God knows us, whether our Father claims us.
The tests we endure and even the temptations we face determine whether we truly know ourselves – that we are chosen, that we belong, that we are accepted, that we are loved – that our Father claims us as His own even when we turn our backs on Him.
In the wilderness of this life, we will be tested, we will be tempted.
There will always be voices that are quick to offer an answer, an idea, a way.
But the only voice we need to listen to the voice of the One who goes before us – who was tested and tempted in every way as are we.
In following Jesus, every test and even every temptation becomes an opportunity to rediscover and to live out the unchangeable truth of the Gospel – our sacred identity and calling as beloved children of God, whom our Father is pleased to love. Amen.