TRICK OR TRUTH
Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
February 12, 2017
1 And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness 2 for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing during those days. And when they were ended, he was hungry. 3 The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” 4 And Jesus answered him, “It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone.’” 5 And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, 6 and said to him, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. 7 If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” 8 And Jesus answered him, “It is written,“‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.’” 9 And he took him to Jerusalem and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, 10 for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,’ 11 and “‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’” 12 And Jesus answered him, “It is said, You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 13 And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time.
— Luke 4:1-13, ESV
The synoptic Gospels tell of the great confrontation between the Prince of Peace and the prince of darkness at the outset of Jesus’ public ministry. Mark majors on brevity, but Matthew and Luke give the full details, albeit in slightly different order. Only Luke includes the poisonous promise of the devil’s return.
In one corner stands Jesus, freshly baptized and on the heels of a forty day fast. Forty days is a period of preparation in the Bible, as is fasting, for an important spiritual journey or task. Christ’s task is monumental in both a redemptive and exemplary way. He has to remain sinless in order to redeem us from our sin, and He has to set an example for believers to follow. He accomplishes both perfectly in this episode, as one might expect from the Lord.
In the other corner stands the veritable enemy of God and the saints. Simply called “the devil” by Luke, he has aliases such as Satan, Lucifer, Beelzebub, Slew Foot, and so on. Famous authors have noted the greatest lie the devil ever told is that he does not exist. But, here he is, fighting against Christ. He and his allies return time and time again to carry on the fight against Christians and the church.
Jesus, being God, has a perfect understanding of His enemy, while the devil cannot completely comprehend the Christ. The devil attacks at the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry, as he did mine and probably yours, for to stop Jesus in His tracks would be to stop the salvific plan of God and keep people captive to do the devil’s will. The devil’s weapon is a bag of tricks. Jesus strikes back with absolute truth.
For the devil’s trick of lust, God’s truth is faith.
Lust, or strong desire, is not always a bad word. Yet almost always it speaks of something we want but don't need, something pleasurable that ultimately causes pain, or the satisfying of a rightful desire in the wrong way. The latter trick came out of Satan’s bag and was offered to Jesus.
Jesus certainly had a strong desire, a lust, for food. After all, He had not eaten in forty days. I lust for food after not eating for forty minutes. There is nothing sinful about satisfying your appetite for food after you've been denied it for a long period of time. The problem here is who was offering the food and giving instructions on how to get it.
We humans lust for food. We lust for sex. We lust for money. We have many strong desires, and they are not necessarily evil. Many of them are quite holy and acceptable to God. The question is, how will we fulfill them? Will we take directions from the world, the flesh, or the devil; or, is there a truth that will keep us from falling for the devil’s tricks?
For Christ, the truth is faith. Faith is primarily a desire to please God. The primary way to please the Lord is by trusting and obeying His word. Jesus, in spite of His great hunger and fatigue, had a stronger desire for the pure word of God that He did for a shortcut to get food or a platform to perform miracles. Yes, He could have easily turned a rock into a sandwich, but then He would have been taking advice from the word of the devil, rather than patiently waiting on the word of God.
You've got to ask yourself, when your body craves food or sex or any other thing, is this a righteous or wrong desire? If it is good, will I fulfill it by godly or sinful means? How will you know the difference and how will you know what to do? By cultivating a deep, abiding desire for the word of God and satisfying it in personal Bible reading, small group studies with God’s people, and participation in worship in a Bible-soaked church.
Like the Christ, a true Christian’s desire for faith and faithful obedience to the word of God will be stronger than the temptation to give in to the devil, a temptation often aided by the misquoting or mishandling of the Bible. Quote Scripture accurately and contextually at the devil like Jesus did, like the great Martin Luther was known to do. It will give you heavenly joy and it will make the devil madder than Hell.
For the devil’s trick of power, God’s truth is worship.
Not to be daunted by his first failure, the devil comes at Jesus again with another trick, one that prevails against most people. He promises Him power, raw political power, in order to detour the Son of God from doing the will of God.
To examine this trick further, and to prove that Satan is liar-in-chief, no where in God’s word nor anywhere in the history of God’s dealings with angels and men did the sovereign God ever give dominion to the devil. This is my Father’s world! And, so it will be forever.
Nevertheless, the devil tried to trick Jesus into surrendering His ties to God in exchange for a temporal, devilish coalition of power over people. The devil provokes people to this very day to grasp political power for the wrong reasons, which is why Washington D.C. reeks with the stench of corruption. The devil likes to corrupt churches even more than governments. He often pokes the people in the pews, telling them how much smarter they are than the pastors or elders, and sparks fly in the church business meeting. The devil wants control over other people, and so people tempted with this devilish desire in his bag of tricks.
But, not Jesus. His ultimate answer? Worship God alone. People who abuse power essentially worship themselves, or their cadre, or their party, or their power group in the church. But if you worship God alone, your motive in politics will be to honor God and bless people, not ignore God and use people. If you gather with the church to see God rather than be seen, to worship rather than to politic for power, God is glorified and people are blessed.
The next time the devil tries to tell you that you need to be in charge, remind him of Who is, namely the Lord, then go out and do something to serve someone else. Worship and service is a double-edged sword, like the word of God. It will cut the devil’s tricks to pieces.
For the devil’s trick of sovereignty over God, God’s truth is submission to God’s sovereignty.
Luke’s last temptation, and the manner in which Christ overcomes it, is my personal favorite, for one of my personal favorite doctrines is the sovereignty of God. This is the truth that the devil hates the most.
The devil tries to push Jesus off a cliff, literally, as a means to force God’s hand. Let the last part of that statement sink in, force God’s hand. God is sovereign, which means, in the words of an old preacher I heard a long time ago, God can do whatever He wants, whenever He wants, to whomever He wants. He is God. We are not. No one can force God’s hand, make demands upon the Lord, or put Him to the test.
The devil tells Jesus to jump, to name it and claim it. God will be forced to act. Isn’t that what the televangelist says, when he tells people to send him seed money and then claim wealth for themselves from God? Isn’t that what the revivalist says, when he tells people to take the first step and God will take the rest? Isn’t that what the nominal Christians says before diving into sin and thinking God wants them to be happy and will have to forgive their sin? Aren’t they all saying the same thing as Satan, “Jump, and God will be forced to catch you!”?
God is not a fireman following you around with a net. God is not a genie in a bottle meant to grant you wishes. God is not an ATM to supply you with cash. God does not exist to make you happy. And in the most important transaction of all, eternal salvation, God is not waiting anxiously to enter you heart if you will just ask Him to come in. God is infinitely stronger than that, God is absolutely sovereign, and Jesus in this episode proves it.
Did Jesus listen to the devil, did Jesus do whatever His tired, hungry physical body urged Him to do, or did Jesus steadfastly do the will of God based on the word of God? When the devil faced the Lord, his bag of tricks might as well have been filled with holes. Jesus triumphed over every trick with spiritual truth.
Child of God, so can you. But you have to be prepared. We must be armed with faith, we must have a mind to worship, and we must surrender to the sovereignty of God.
Take the time to read, meditate, and memorize Holy Scripture. It is the greatest source of direct truth that will help you deflect the tricks of the world, the flesh, and the devil. Make sure the worship of God is the number one priority of your life, publicly and privately. It will engrain in you a servant spirit, profitable for God and for man. Consider your relationship with God. Who is in charge? Who is sovereign? Who is Lord? Do you live life on your own terms and expect God to bless it, or do you bless God by digging into the Bible, showing up regularly for worship, and submitting to His will in your life?
Did the devil trick Jesus? Heavens, no. But he has tricked some pretty good people on earth. He tricked Adam and Eve in the perfect environment, Moses during an exodus pit stop, David and Bathsheba in an upstairs room, Peter at least three times, Paul before he exited off the road to Damascus, and he will trick you and me if we are not prayerful and careful. Our only defense against the devil’s tricks is God’s truth.
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Dr. Charles F. "Chuck" DeVane, Jr., is the Pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas. His weekly sermon article, "The Gospel Truth," has been published in newspapers in Arkansas and Georgia. Dr. DeVane is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and has served in the pastorate for over 20 years. Contact Pastor Chuck at PastorChuck@lakehamiltonbaptistchurch.org