Saturday, March 09, 2019

Notes on Luke 4:1-13

[These are note for tomorrow's gospel lesson, Luke 4:1-13. Tomorrow is the First Sunday in Lent.]

1 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, 2 where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.

Commentators, both ancient and contemporary, agree that the major Old Testament backgrounds for the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness are Adam in the garden and Israel in the wilderness.

Some have also linked it to the temptations of Job. This is the third incident recounted in Scripture of Satan tempting someone (Adam and Eve, Job, Jesus).  

Luke is the only one of the gospel writers to say that Jesus was tempted for forty days. This solidifies Jesus’ position as the fulfillment of ancient Israel’s office in history: both Moses and Elijah went through forty days of preparation before major activities.

Given the fact that the Holy Spirit has led Jesus into the wilderness, it seems that God the Father was deliberately exposing Jesus to a showdown in the desert at the start of Jesus’ ministry. Like Job, for Jesus to be insulated from temptation would leave questions as to whether Jesus would “fold” in the face of temptation. As it is, in Jesus “we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.” (Hebrews 4:15)

The word devil is, in the original Greek of the text, diabolos. The word is used for one who slanders, defames, accuses falsely. This is the devil’s stock in trade. He doesn’t like the human race or the elevated position we enjoy as the only ones of God’s creatures made in God’s image. So, he specializes in slander. And he does so also in those who repudiate God’s authority over their lives to whom he is, whether they are conscious of it or not, a kind of father figure.
3 The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.”

Two things are going on here. First, the slanderer is casting doubts on whether Jesus is “the Son of God.” This is something that the Father has just affirmed to Jesus at His baptism by John in the Jordan. The Father told Jesus: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased (Luke 3:22).”

Second, a contrast is being established. At the conclusion of Luke’s reverse genealogy in 3:23-38, Adam, the first man created by God, is described as “the son of God.” Applied to Adam, it obviously means that Adam was directly generated by God’s creative activity. Son of God, as the rest of the gospels show us, when applied to Jesus, tells us that He is of one essence of the Father (John 1:1-14; Colossians 1:15-20). Jesus is the new Adam, who successfully resists temptation in order to be faithful. He also, unlike ancient Israel, successfully negotiates the temptations of the wilderness.

The devil is, of course, trying to get Jesus to act on His own behalf. This is like Adam’s temptation from the serpent to feed himself with the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The difference is that the temptation Jesus faces comes in a wilderness in which He has no other food options. Yet Jesus knows that God wants Him to be in the wilderness and to rely on God the Father alone. Jesus refuses to take the easy way out of a temporary situation, knowing that doing so would have eternal consequences, for Him and for us.
4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’”

Here, Jesus invokes the experience of Israel in the wilderness. He quotes Deuteronomy 8:3, which recalls how Israel had run out of food. The people were hungry. God, by His Word, provided them with what they needed with manna, something of which the people had never previously heard. Jesus is choosing to listen to God for life.
5 The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6 And he 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. 7 If you worship me, it will all be yours.”

Diabolos gained a foothold in the world when Adam and Eve fell into sin. In Luke’s gospel, we see how the kingdoms of the world operate differently from the kingdom of God. Many of the world’s kingdoms are overtly demonic.

When Luke speaks of kingdoms, he doesn’t have in mind just nations with armies. He’s talking about what might be called world systems, be they neighborhoods, patriarchies, matriarchies, companies, corporations, attitudes, mythologies, religions, etc. A kingdom exists whenever people operate under the reign of something or someone.

8 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’”

Jesus, again, cites the Word of God from Israel’s wilderness experience, quoting Deuteronomy 6:13. God alone is worthy of our worship.
9 The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here.10 For it is written:
“‘He will command his angels concerning you
   to guard you carefully;
11 they will lift you up in their hands,
   so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”
Here, we see the cunning of the diabolical one. He cites Scripture, Psalm 91:11-12. But, these words are not a magna carta for stupidity, nor are they an excuse to put God to the test to prove a point. Over the centuries, people have tried to take isolated passages of Scripture for evil ends. We will be less susceptible to such challenges to our faith if we get to know God through His Word.

It’s also important to remember a fundamental principle of faithful biblical interpretation: Let Scripture interpret Scripture. This means allowing the whole of Scripture to inform our understanding of pieces of Scripture.
12 Jesus answered, “It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

Jesus once more invokes the experience of ancient Israel. The passage He cites is Deuteronomy 6:16. Here, Jesus refuses to do anything to prove His identity. He knows Who He is. He doesn’t doubt Who the Father has declared Him to be.

13 When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.

The diabolical one hasn’t given up, although in the wilderness unlike Israel in the wilderness and Adam in the garden, he has been defeated.

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