According to the Scriptures
By Dr. Randy L. Hyde
PART ONE: “Jesus Knew His Bible Too”
I’ll bet Jesus was a precocious child. We can’t know for sure because we only have the one account of him during his childhood, the one about his being left behind in Jerusalem when his parents assumed he was in the larger company of their traveling caravan. He was twelve years old, we are told, when he and his parents attended the Passover celebration in Jerusalem.
For the most part, people traveled in rather large groups, for safety reasons generally. On their way home they had gone a day’s journey when his parents discovered he wasn’t with them. Forgetting the safety of group travel, they hustled back to Jerusalem as quickly as possible and found their son in the temple listening to the rabbinic teachers, probing them with questions. “All who heard him were amazed,” Luke says, “at his understanding and his answers.”
“And his answers.” That means he did more than just ask questions, doesn’t it? Here he is, a young boy, fielding the questions of the rabbis. That’s pretty stout stuff… keeping in rhythm with the learned temple teachers, matching them verse-by-verse, showing them insights they’ve never considered before. At the ripe old age of twelve! Jesus must have been a precocious child.
From an early age he obviously studied the scriptures carefully and gave them great value in his life. In his first sermon before his hometown folk in Nazareth, Jesus read from and interpreted – interpreted very personally, in fact – the prophet Isaiah. Even on the cross, as he died for the sins of the world, his last words were quotations from the Psalms. In this story we read earlier from Luke’s gospel, where Jesus is tempted by the devil in the wilderness, in a scriptural give-and-take that would literally help shape the focus of his public ministry, Jesus quotes readily from the book of Deuteronomy to support his resistance to the temptations.
Because this account is also recorded in Matthew and Mark, we can’t help but draw comparisons to the way these three writers depict what happened. There are some differences, as there usually are, in the details. But perhaps the one that sticks out the most is that both Matthew and Mark say Jesus was attended by the angels. In Luke, there are no heavenly visitations in the wilderness.
That seems a bit odd, doesn’t it? All you have to do is look at Jesus’ birth narratives to see that Luke doesn’t have a problem with angels! Why, they’re all over the place! But not here. Oddly enough, they’re not in this story. Just Jesus and his scriptures. That’s all he has to resist the devil. But evidently, to Luke, that is enough.
Right now, The Da Vinci Code, by Dan Brown, is the number one bestseller on the New York Times’ best-seller list, has been for several weeks, and isn’t showing any signs of letting up. I’m sure you’ve heard of it if you haven’t read it. It’s a novel about the underworld machinations of the Catholic Church, and makes for intriguing reading. I’m reading it right now myself. It has created quite a debate over whether there is legitimacy as to what the story says. But despite its success and long run on the bestseller list, give it some time and it will eventually be forgotten.
Not the Bible. It’s going to be around for a long time. And as long as the Bible is around, there will be people who debate it and argue among themselves as to its meaning. It’s just as true that anybody, with a little knowledge of the scriptures, can manipulate it – can twist it and tweak it – to mean pretty much what they want it to mean. They use the Bible instead of letting the message of the scriptures direct and inspire and challenge them. As one rather misguided seminary president put it when he was touting his favorite version of scripture, saying it was superior over others, he and those who were like him finally had a Bible they could control!
Mercy me! You can’t control the Bible! Who wants a Bible they can control? The devil does, that’s who. When he tries to get Jesus to come around to his way of thinking, that’s the approach he takes to the scriptures. He finds a passage he thinks he can control, can use to tempt Jesus into coming into his camp. But as we will see, Jesus knows just a little bit about the Bible too. After all, he lived according to the scriptures.
PART TWO: “Stones to Bread”
“If you are the Son of God,
command this stone to become a loaf of bread.”
Imagine that you haven’t eaten for forty days (forty days!). That means you wouldn’t have had a bit since about the middle of January.
Of course, the number forty hearkens back to Old Testament days. There’s a lot of symbolism in that number, at least in the Bible. Believe it or not, Jesus isn’t the first person in the scriptures who did this, who went such a long time without food. When Moses spent his forty days on the mountain, he did it. So did Elijah when he fled from Jezebel and spent forty days on the mountain of God. Israel spent forty years wandering around in the wilderness. Needless to say, they had to eat something during that time, but it wasn’t what they wanted or thought they needed. Forty is a big number in the Bible.
So try this, just try it… forty days, let’s say, without television. For some of you, that might not be so difficult, so let’s keep going. How about a newspaper? (For me, a real sacrifice would be doing without my crossword puzzles.) Or, don’t listen to the radio in your car for forty days. No desserts for forty days. Take something you really enjoy, or something that feeds you, if not physically, from a mental or sensory standpoint. Give it up for forty l-o-n-g days. What would you crave when the forty days are over? Uh huh. The very thing you’ve done without.
“If you are the Son of God,
command this stone to become a loaf of bread.”
Jesus answers, by quoting the Bible, Deuteronomy to be exact.
“One does not live by bread alone.”
That quote comes from Israel’s wilderness wanderings, the forty years.
It seems so easy for Jesus! Just quote a little scripture and your hunger will go away. Who says his hunger went away? Forty days he’s gone without food, and the first thing the tempter does is flash a loaf of bread under his nose! It’s not as if Jesus doesn’t know about bread. Later, he will tell his disciples that when they pray they are to ask for their “daily bread.” “This bread is my body which is broken for you. “Jesus knows bread!
But he also knows a stone when he sees one. And he knows there are more important things than physical sustenance. The most important consideration of life is depending on his heavenly Father to supply for him all he will need. That’s a tough one for us, isn’t it? Especially when the temptation appeals to our highest nature.
How would the tempter address you and me? He would approach us at the level of our greatest desire. “If you are the Son of God,” he said to Jesus. What would he say to you? What do you consider your most important role? “If you really are a good mother, you would do this…” “If you are truly my friend, you would do that…” It might even go as far as this… “If you really loved Jesus, you would believe this…”1
Stones to bread. There are a lot of stones out there posing as bread.
PART THREE: “Glory and Authority”
“If you will worship me,
it will all be yours.”
All the kingdoms of the world. Jesus and the tempter were able to see all the kingdoms of the world. What a temptation it would be to lord it over them! Greater than Alexander, certainly more benevolent than Hitler, kinder than Stalin. These last two seem to have taken the devil up on his offer, seeking to own the world, didn’t they? Jesus could have had it, as the devil offered, with just the snap of his finger. “If you will worship me,” the tempter says, “it will all be yours.”
His timing is perfect. Jesus hasn’t yet preached a sermon. He hasn’t cast out a demon, cleansed a leper, or healed a crippled person.2 He hasn’t yet had the opportunity to see how the crowds of people will react to his teachings. It would be tempting to have it all without having to work for it.
But Jesus isn’t interested in having the world. He came to save the world, and he knows the only way for that to happen is by means of Golgotha.
The temptation would be something like this… A young man begins a career in business. It is his dream, of course, to make money; lots of money. One day a man walks into his office and says to him, “I will give you a cashier’s check for five million dollars if you will promise to do everything I tell you. But here’s the catch… you will no longer be the master of your fate. You will have to follow my every order. No minute of time will be yours, everything you have and do will be at my beck-and-call. But, in exchange, I will give you wealth beyond your wildest imagination.” In other words, his life will not be his own. But instead of having to work hard for years and invest his sweat equity in the business, he can have everything he wants right up front, right now.
Just think: Jesus will be able to lord it over all the people of the earth. He won’t have to endure the scorn of his subjects for he will be king. No common people with diseases and demon-possession and sins to deal with, no high priests to wrangle with, no cross to die on. All he has to do is bend his knee to the one who is whispering in his ear.
And Jesus replies, “Worship the Lord your God and serve only him.” The moment he says it, he seals his fate.
The quick route to success. There’s some conflict going on in Major League Baseball. The season hasn’t even started yet, and already there are problems. Turk Wendell of the Colorado Rockies has accused Barry Bonds of using steroids to enhance his performance, not to mention bulk up his body. People are taking sides, but the issue is clear: would Bonds have broken baseball’s home run record without chemical help? The issue is clear; the answers are not.
Shortcuts. We’re all tempted to take them, aren’t we? In our jobs, with our families or other significant relationships. Think of what might have happened if Jesus had chosen a shortcut.
<h2″>PART FOUR: “The Test Is Over”
“If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here,
for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’
and, ‘On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.'”
Twice now Jesus quotes scripture in response to temptation. So, the devil gets into the act. And, the tempter is good with scriptures. Knows the Bible backwards and forwards. But so does Jesus, who matches him verse for verse.
Yet, knowing what the Bible says, as good as that is, is not what matters the most. That which informs and transforms our interpretation of scripture is the willingness to cede our hearts and minds to God’s direction and will. What set Jesus apart from the Evil One, among other very important things, was not his greater knowledge of scripture, as good as it was. It was his willingness to follow the Father.
The key to this passage might not be found in the scripture verses Jesus quotes to the devil. It may be found in what Luke says as introduction to this story. He says that Jesus was full of the Holy Spirit. I take that to mean he was never any closer to God than he was at that very moment.
You see, for all his shrewdness, the devil missed the mark. He thought Jesus would be vulnerable. Forty days without anything to eat?! Anybody would go for a bite of bread under those circumstances. At the beginning of his ministry, why wouldn’t he go for the quick fix instead of the long, painful journey to crucifixion? And now, with this third temptation, to throw himself off the temple and see if the angels will save him just to prove that God is on his side, Jesus knows that you don’t push God around in an attempt to get him to prove himself. You trust God to fulfill his promises.
There is evidence in the scriptures, not to mention in our own experiences, that there are forces which stand in opposition to the intention of God. What is God’s will? Love, peace, wholeness, grace. Those evil forces met Jesus one day in the wilderness. If Jesus was tempted by the devil, why should we think that we are immune to such possibilities?
When that happens, does it help to know what the Bible says? Absolutely. But to know the scriptures is just the start. We must also be filled with the Holy Spirit and be willing to yield ourselves fully to God. That, more than anything else, is how Jesus is our model of faith. To follow his example, to be filled with the Spirit, is to live according to the scriptures.
Lord, fill us with your Spirit that we might live in harmony with you and resist that which keeps us from fully being your children. In Jesus’ name we ask it, Amen.
1The idea for this comment came from Richard Donovan, SermonWriter, 2/29/04.
2The idea for this comment came from Fred Craddock, et. al., Preaching Through the Christian Year:
Year C (Trinity Press International: Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, 1994), 139.
Copyright 2004 Randy L. Hyde. Used by permission.