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Luke 4:1-13 - Homiletics

The temptation in the wilderness.

One of the most mysterious but most suggestive passages in the history of the Christ. Without attempting to indicate all the points presented for reflection (see homiletics on Matthew 4:1-25 .), observe—

I. THE TEMPTATION IS NECESSARY TO THE PERFECTING OF JESUS AS THE SAVIOR OF SINNERS . He is led by the Spirit into the wilderness—led for the purpose of being tried by the devil. In the solitudes and simplicities of the Nazareth life, he had not known, he could not know, this kind of trial. Now is to come the first distinct experience of the devil's power. God—may we so say?—carried him away from the scene of the baptism and the opened heavens and the Divine voice, and presented him to Satan, the prince of the power of the air: "This is my beloved Son: put forth thine hand, and touch him." Is this strange?

1 . It is a very real link of communion between the Lord and the life beset by sin and evil. "By thy fasting and temptation, good Lord, deliver me."

2 . See in it a part, and an essential part, in the making of Jesus to us Wisdom, and Righteousness, and Sanctification, and Redemption. Let us not overlook that "the Son of God was manifested that he might destroy the works of the devil." Now begins the great pitched battle between the kingdoms of light and of darkness; the wilderness-time is the girding of the sword on the thigh of the most Mighty. Do not think of the temptation as an isolated experience. At the end of all the temptations the devil departed from him only for a season , or until a season . He had been conquered, but he was not done with the Conqueror; he only bided his opportunity. The whole earthly ministry was a conflict with that hell which had all but dominated over the world of man. And the conflict was concluded in victory only when the Head was bowed on the cross. "Through death he destroyed him that had the power of death, that is, the devil." Ah! truly there is "an infinite more behind" all that is recorded.

II. TEMPTATION IS NECESSARY TO HUMAN PERFECTING . The hour of the leading into the wilderness is striking. St. Luke amplifies the account given by the earlier evangelist. The latter connects the event with the baptism and that which accompanied it; the former tells us of what is subjective—of the conscious plenitude of life and power. Jesus, being full of the Holy Ghost, is led. When the sense of the mighty force is strong within him, when the chords of the heart are vibrating in response to the voice from heaven, when the soul feels straitened until it enters on the great mission given it; when he is ready, lo! this summons to the wilderness, this forcible taking of the anointed man, with the anointing fresh and full, to the dreary desert place over whose surface the wild beasts roam. But is not this a way of God? Was not Saul of Tarsus, in the morning of his life in Jesus, sent for three years to Arabia? Is not strength gathered, is not character compacted, through contact, direct and personal, with the forces alike of good and evil? He who was "made in all things like to his brethren" must have that in his human history which corresponds to facts and necessities in ours. And the wilderness, with its struggle, its assaults on faith and obedience, its glimpse into the outer darkness, its resistance of the devil, is a necessity in the education of the man as the Son of God.

III. THE TEMPTATIONS OF CHRIST RECORDED ARE A MIRROR OF THE TEMPTATIONS OF HIS BRETHREN Mark the word "recorded." St. Luke tells us that Jesus was led during forty days, tempted of the devil. What the forty days meant remains untold. Probably it could not be expressed in language intelligible to us. It was only at the end that "the Divine event becomes human enough to be made to appear." Until then the lower wants were in a condition of suspense; the hunger is "the first sign of his coming back to us." Then the part of the temptation which we can understand begins. It will be remembered that we are dealing with a narrative of real transactions. It is not a poem, not a parable. Whether the acts were purely subjective, consisting only of suggestions to the inner spiritual sense, is a doubtful point; but that there was a veritable tempting in the manner described, that we are regarding "a chronicle of events," cannot be doubted. Nor is it a mere likeness of temptation that is set before us. The gospel story would be nothing to the heart if we conceived of it as a series of visions which in no distinct way touched the citadel of the Lord's heart, was not to him what temptation is to us—the contact of the soul with some hour and power of darkness. If it be asked—How can this be if Jesus was without sin? let it be recollected that sin does not consist in an impression of what is evil; it consists in yielding to the impression, in receiving it. The sacred writers are careful to note that all suggestions come, not from the soul, but to the soul from a lying spirit outside the personality. When we speak of sinlessness, we do not mean that enticements to sin can never present themselves or be felt as enticements; we mean that they are never yielded to or consented to—that there is a will so perfectly loyal to the Father that the wrong and the unchildlike are never in the purpose of Jesus. Note the three points or regions of the temptation recorded. The order is slightly different in the accounts of St. Matthew and St. Luke. That which is third in the one is second in the other, reminding us that too much stress is not to be laid on the mere sequence of the story. The first trial had reference to the urgent need; it came in the form of the subtle insinuation, "Son of God, you are hungry: why not use your power to satisfy the wants of nature? You have not bread, you cannot buy bread: why not bid these stones become bread?" So plausible, that the lie can scarcely be discerned. It is addressed to the man on the most pressing side of his necessity. And Jesus meets it as man. "Man's only life is not that by bread, but that by every word which proceedeth out of the mouth of God." God's Word had made the stone a stone. He would not say the stone is a loaf. He must be throughout in harmony with the eternal word and will. Then how subtle is the second attack! Adhering to St. Matthew's order, "Thou art full of confidence in thy God. Thou dost trust him to the uttermost. Put thy faith to the proof. The Jews expect that their Messiah will descend from the clouds. Away to the top of yonder temple. Cast thyself down from thence. Do something striking; thou knowest it is written, 'He shall give his angels charge over thee.'" How plausible the appeal to the Son of God on the side of his faith! And, once more-repelled by the counter-thrust, the counter-Scripture, "Thou shalt not try to the uttermost the Lord thy God, claiming a miraculous help for what is born of human pride and rashness"—mark the tact and the audacity in the final assault which the enemy makes. The love of power—that which is at once the strength and the weakness of every noble mind—shall be the wedge. "Son of God, look down on the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them. Thou art seeking the sovereignty of man. I can give it thee. The force is thine; use it at my instigation. The dominion of love is one of toil and pain. Take what I offer. Think what blessings to the world will be at once secured. The sole condition is to fall down and worship me. Am I not the real king of the world?" It is the very climax of devilry. The temptation can go no further. "Then saith Jesus, Get thee behind me, Satan." It is the battle of man that is portrayed in man's Lord. "For both he that sanctifieth and they that are sanctified are all of one." Here is the tempter who is tempting us, adapting the form of his solicitations to our tempers, our endowments, our circumstances. Here are the characteristics of his approaches, his doubts, his "ifs" ("if" is a devil-word which more than any other loosens the holdfasts of faith), his quotations from Scripture when it suits his purpose to do so, his three great heads of temptation—that which seeks us through bodily need or fleshly appetite, that which seeks us through even our purer and higher instincts, that which would draw us into the net by stirring up the pride of life. Ah! there is no sleeping with this tempter. "Watch and pray, lest ye enter into temptation."

IV. THE VICTORY OF CHRIST IS OUR ENCOURAGEMENT . Blessed is the assurance contained in the words, "Get thee behind me, Satan." The devil is behind Jesus, the Captain of our salvation. What is our position towards our Captain? Apart from him? Ah, we may tremble! With him, in him? He is between us and Satan, and we can do all things through him strengthening. "Be of good cheer: I have overcome.

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