The Journey Begins (On the Way to the Cross - Part 1) Back to all sermons

Date: August 18, 2013

Speaker: Micah Mercer

Series: On the Way to the Cross

Category: Cross

Scripture: Luke 4:1–4:15

Synopsis: We begin our journey with Jesus toward the central event of his life and ministry. Jesus was led into the desert and tempted by Satan to demonstrate his fitness for the task ahead: to create a new humanity with himself as their new head. In doing so, Jesus also demonstrated the most effective way to combat the Satan's temptations in our lives.


Have you ever been on a long trip? I used to live in Tucson, Arizona which is on the South Western side of the United States, but a lot of my family lives in Kansas which is right in the middle. My parents and brothers would all load into the car for the 3 day driving it took to get from Arizona to Kansas. Now, we usually did not go directly to Kansas because there were a lot of things to see and do along the way. We stopped at a tourist trap here, did some camping there, stopping at any interesting sounding place we could find on the big fold-out map. Though our final destination was visiting family in Kansas, the journey itself was full of different experiences.

That is essentially what we are going to do in this series I have titled “On the Way to the Cross.” You see, Jesus knew his central purpose in coming to earth was to redeem his saints through his own death and resurrection on the cross. The cross was the major context of his life and ministry. So, we are going to journey with Jesus through his ministry in the gospel of Luke toward the cross. Every place we stop on the way will be an opportunity to experience and learn from Jesus that builds up to the central destination of his earthly ministry: the cross.

Our first stop on this journey is the temptation of Jesus in Luke chapter 4. What makes Jesus’ temptation special is that he overcame Satan where all others had failed, even at the weakest point of his humanity after a 40 day fast in the desert. He obeyed God and overcame not one, but three temptations.

One of the articles I read recently as part of my degree studies had as it’s central point that victory over sin is part of the normal experience of the Christian life. Notice that word ‘normal.’ Is it normal for you? Or do you find yourself unable to overcome the same temptations over and over again in your life? Jesus’ temptation in our passage today exposes some of the enemies strategies and gives us a starting point towards victory over the temptations we face.

But first, we need to understand the right context in which we overcome temptations to sin. Jesus’ temptation occurred just after his baptism at the Jordan river. Chapter 3 verses 21-22 present us with a powerful revelation of God the Father, Son and Spirit.

“When Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, 22 and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

Jesus, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit is now anointed by the Holy Spirit and endorsed by the Father. It is no wonder then that in the introduction to the temptation, the first part of Chapter 4 verse 1 reads, “And Jesus, full of the Spirit..” Our first point comes just from that small phrase.

Overcoming temptation is meaningless unless we are redeemed in Christ and full of His Spirit.

I would like to you ask a question: What is the difference between a Christian and a non-Christian who does his/her best to be a good person? Or what is the difference between a good Christian and a good Muslim? Both are capable of good deeds and kindness. The first four pillars of Islam are faith, prayer, fasting, and charity. The three divisions of the eightfold path of Buddhism are wisdom, ethical conduct, and concentration. These are all good things right? So what is the difference between a good Christian and a good follower of any other religion?

It is so important that we realize that being a Christian is not about being good. It's about being redeemed in Christ and being transformed into his image by the Spirit of God. The effect of this transformation is that normal Christians are full of the Holy Spirit, authentically reflecting the behavior and attitudes of Christ. Goodness is only one of the fruits or effects of being full of the Holy Spirit. Overcoming temptation is another. The most moral, upright, church-attending good person has no salvation without life transforming faith in Jesus. Only while standing on this foundation is it at all useful to seek righteousness before God by overcoming temptations to sin.

With that in mind, let's proceed to the rest of verse 1:

And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil.

Overcoming temptation can be a grueling battle. One of the most important aspects of fighting any sort of battle is gaining information about the enemy, his strategies, past victories and failures. Within the three temptations of Jesus, the major strategies of the devil are revealed for us to see. In each instance, we will find that Satan used an obvious temptation in conjunction with a more subtle one. The best part for us is that Jesus’ responses to these are recorded here too. In a way, this is like military intelligence that we can use to stand firm in the power of the Holy Spirit against the devil’s temptations.

The first move in a battle can tell you a lot about your enemy. Satan moved first and Jesus countered in v.3 Lets have a look:

The devil said to him, "If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread."
And Jesus answered him, "It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone.'"

In this case, Satan tried to use the physical appetite of hunger against Jesus. Jesus was extremely hungry since he had not eaten for forty days. Naturally the offer of food from any source would have been very appealing, so Satan’s aim was to get Jesus to satisfy his hunger in a disobedient way. The first part of Satan’s strategy is thus revealed.

Satan tempts us is by suggesting we fulfill our physical appetites in disobedient ways.

Hunger, like any other appetite, in itself is not sinful, but it can be fulfilled in a sinful way. A glutton for example, is one who over consumes food. If you search for ‘glutton’ in the bible, you will almost always find it in conjunction with ‘drunkard,’ that is one who over consumes alcohol. In Deuteronomy 21:20, the evidence against a stubborn and rebellious son is that he is disobedient, a glutton, and a drunkard. Gluttony is just one example of sinfully fulfilling hunger, there are many other ways.

Of course, Satan is not limited to hunger. He can attack us through any of our appetites by tempting us to fulfill them in evil, disobedient ways. Desires for food, drink, clothing, shelter, sex, etc. can all be fulfilled in obedience or in disobedience. What we need to focus on is how to fulfill our appetites in ways that are obedient and honoring to God. The way to do this is to read his word and see how God made us, what He has provided, and what He has prohibited.

Satan also used a more subtle temptation hidden within the obvious one. Note the phrase, "If you are the Son of God.." It has a mocking tone because Satan was trying to provoke Jesus' pride at the indignity of being the Son of God and yet starving to death in the desert. “Are you not the royal heir to the throne of David and of the world? Are you not the beloved Son of God? Why should the Son of God go hungry?"

Satan tempts us by using our pride to provoke us to sin.

Pride is rooted in how we estimate ourselves and what we think we deserve as a result. If I think I am great or important, my pride will be tweaked when I feel I am not getting what I deserve: “I deserve more than this.” Conversely it will be inflated when I feel I deserve the good that I get: “I deserve at least this much.” This leads to us mistreating those we think are below us and demanding what we think is owed us.

Even more dangerous is when Satan deceives Christians into believing that even God should submit to our naming and claiming. Make no mistake, God does not owe us anything and does not need us. Instead, we need God and we owe Him everything. This is cause for humility, not pride. Even Jesus, who rightly estimated himself as One with God, humbly obeyed to God, even to death.

Jesus’ response to both of these temptations came straight from scripture. He answered using a small part of Deuteronomy 8:3, “Man shall not live by bread alone.” Any time you see the OT quoted in the NT it is a good idea to go back to the reference and see what it was about. Otherwise there are a lot of things you will miss. If we go back to Deut. 8, we find Moses telling the Israelites why God made them wander in the wilderness for forty years. The quote in its entirety is:

And [God] humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.

The wilderness wandering was a test for the Israelites after they had doubted that God could overcome their enemies. God made them wander in the wilderness for 40 years to humble them, to see if they would obey Him, and to teach them that man lives by God’s word. That is what Jesus referred to when he answered Satan. Like the Israelites of old, his hunger had a purpose: to demonstrate his humility and obedience.

Had Jesus used his own power to miraculously satisfy his hunger, he would been acting in pride and disobedience. As Jesus is God the Son and the perfect man, he submits to His heavenly Father, obeys Him, and waits on Him to provide for his needs. He knows that real sustenance comes by obeying God’s word. In John 4:34 Jesus even said, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me and to accomplish His work.”

With his first move ending in utter failure, Satan then tried to ‘bring out the big guns,’ so to speak in the second temptation. Lets read v. 5-8

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.'"

As he did previously, Satan tried to tempt Jesus with something obvious and something subtle at the same time. The obvious temptation was for Jesus to take a shortcut to the goal of establishing his kingdom on earth that did not include the pain of the cross. But what sort of kingdom would this be, ruled by Satan with no redeemer for humanity?

This is one of the oldest tricks in the devil's book. Satan tempts us with sinful shortcuts that lead to pale substitutes for otherwise good things.

Now, according to Satan, the kingdoms of the world had been delivered to him and therefore he had authority to give them to Jesus. This was not an entirely empty claim. Take note that Jesus called Satan the ruler of this world three times in John’s gospel. I suspect this was a result of Adam and Eve choosing to follow the serpent's lie.

God game dominion over the Earth to Adam and Eve in Genesis 1:28. But remember what happened after they disobeyed God and He questioned the man about what happened? The man blamed his wife, and she in turn blamed the serpent. In this way, they handed dominion over the earth to Satan. Satan had domino, but it was not complete since Adam and Eve were meant to rule under the blessing of the real King, God Himself. What then could Jesus actually gain by accepting Satan's offer?

Looking back again at Genesis 3, Satan tempted Eve with the prospect of being like God in the knowledge of good and evil. He offered her a shortcut to a good thing, but this shortcut required disobeying God. In the end, Adam and Eve did know good and evil in the sense that they knew what they had done was not good but evil. The consequences were vast and far-reaching.

There are many different ways Satan tries to deceive us with shortcuts to pale substitutes of good things. For many of these things, the easiest way to recognize the trap is to take an honest look and see if there is some sin involved in getting what you want. For example, does getting this job require you to lie or embellish your resume? Does closing this deal involve an under-the-table gift a.k.a. a bribe? Does saving money mean understating your income for taxes? Does getting promoted require you to get drunk with the boss?

Once again, the devil had a more subtle temptation within the obvious one. That is, exactly what sin he wanted Jesus to commit in exchange for the shortcut to his kingdom. In verse 7 he said, "If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours." Satan wanted Jesus to dishonor God with very misdirected worship.

This reveals another of the devil's tactics. Satan goes to great lengths to misdirect our worship.

Again Jesus answered from scripture saying, "It is written,"'You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.'" This is Deuteronomy 6 in which Moses warned the Israelites not to worship any of the gods of the people in the land that God was about to deliver into their hands. Jesus naturally recognized Satan’s deception and utterly refused to worship any other than His Father.

There is a whole sermon that could be preached on all the ways our worship can be misdirected. Human-kind is the great idol maker, able to worship almost anything while rejecting the One true God. We worship money, status, property, power, education, health, youth, prosperity, etc. Satan doesn’t care what your idol is as long as it directs your worship away from God.

When Satan attacks Christians, he does so in very subtle ways. One thing he uses are shortcut gospels. A shortcut gospel is any when anything is added to or taken away from what God has revealed in the bible. This is such a great temptation because shortcut gospels tend to make Christianity easier, less offensive, more socially acceptable.

For example, Jesus died to demonstrate God's love because God is a loving Father who wants to help you live your best life now. So accept Jesus into your heart and He will make that happen. What's missing? What's wrong?

God is a loving Father, but that's not all he is. He is also a righteous judge. Jesus' death is the greatest demonstration of God's love, but it's also the greatest demonstration of His wrath. He sent his own Son to bear His full-strength wrath against our sin so that by faith we can be with God. And this is not for us to "live our best life now," that's entirely the wrong focus. He did it to display His own righteousness in being both the judge and the justifier for those who have faith in Christ.

Why does this matter? A shortcut gospel is a false, pale substitute for the truth that Satan uses to direct our worship away from the God of the bible such that we end up worshiping ourselves and our worldly desires. It is easy and low cost, it sounds nice, makes us feel good about ourselves, and draws crowds. But it is missing exactly those truths that we must believe in order to receive forgiveness, communion with God, and eternal life with Him.

Satan’s first two moves were thwarted by Jesus, so in the third he dispensed with the obvious approach and went all subtle for the final temptation in v. 9-11

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, and on their hands 11 they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone."

Satan essentially told Jesus to prove that he is the Son of God by jumping off the top of the Jerusalem temple. He even quoted from Psalm 91 to make his point that if Jesus really was who he claimed to be that God would send angels to rescue him. That would surely prove Jesus was the Son of God in front of all the people and religious authorities in Jerusalem. Perhaps after such a spectacle the people would have to listen to him and no one would dare have him crucified.

The temptation for Jesus was to test God by manipulating Him into performing a miraculous sign. Another way Satan tempts us to test God.

Interestingly, Jesus did not refute the claim that God would save him if he jumped, he simply refused to test God by trying to force a miracle. Look at v.12

And Jesus answered him, "It is said, 'You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.'"

Again he quoted Deuteronomy 6. This time the passage he quoted was in the context of a warning to the Israelites not to test God as they had done at Massah. The Massah incident is recorded in Exodus 17 and details an event in which the Israelites got thirsty, threatened to stone Moses, and questioned whether God was with them. This in spite of his promises and the miracles they had seen so far. They tested God by demanding the sign of water from a rock.

Testing God, at it's root, is any attempt to manipulate Him. Demanding signs for example. Or trying to bargain with God. You say, "God if you will do this I will do that.." 'That' usually being something you should be doing anyway. In a sense holding your obedience hostage to force God into doing what you want. Or what about "name it and claim it." These are nothing better than attempts to manipulate God into giving you what you want.

The first problem with these and other similar ways of testing God is that they miss one crucial truth. God cannot be manipulated. He owes us nothing and needs nothing from us. That is exactly why we can only be saved by His grace. We, on the other hand, owe God obedience and worship.

The second problem is that testing God reveals self-centeredness instead of God centeredness. Coming to God is not about getting what you want until His Spirit changes your desires and you want only God.

Jesus would only give the signs and proofs of his identity that his Father had ordained. And he was completely unwilling to try to manipulate His Father. What a paradoxical thing that would be anyway. Instead, Jesus was perfectly content to follow God’s plan for his life ministry because He trusted his Father’s will.

Finally Satan had exhausted all his arrows as we read in v.13-14:

13 "And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time. 14 And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and a report about him went out through all the surrounding country. And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all."

In the end, Jesus not only overcame Satan’s temptations, but truly triumphed over him, and moved on in the next step of his journey toward the cross.

At this point, lets move back out to the bigger picture at how Jesus' temptation functions within the larger story of his journey toward the cross. We need to ask, "Why did Jesus have to endure this temptation?" I would like to suggest three reasons.

The first reason is that we needed a new head of humanity. Adam is the natural head of humanity. Because of his sin, we as his descendents are all born in sin, apart from God, with no ability to draw near God on our own. Only a new man, not descended from Adam could be free from this curse, and become the new head. This new head of humanity was first prophecied in Genesis 3:15 when God proclaimed the consequences of sin to the serpent who deceived the woman:

“I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise his heel.”

This was at once a curse for the serpent and a ray of hope for the woman. Someday, the offspring of the woman, note not the man, would overcome the serpent. Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of a virgin woman. He is a new man. By overcoming all the temptations of Satan, bruising the serpent's head so to speak, he succeeded where Adam failed and legitimized his claim as the head of a new humanity that he would create.

The second reason was to prove Jesus’ unyielding obedience to the Father. Just as the temptation of the first Adam was to disobey God, so were all three temptations of Jesus. Use your power to turn bread into stones instead of obeying God’s will for you to hunger now. Worship Satan rather than God to accomplish your goal without suffering. Prove you are the Son of God by jumping off the temple and forcing God’s hand to rescue you instead of offering the proofs he has ordained. Unlike the first Adam, there was no pride or selfishness in Jesus for Satan to latch onto, only perfect obedience and unyielding love for His Father.

The final reason was to legitimize his role as the redeemer of sinful people who would believe in him and become a new humanity. You see, Jesus had to be without sin in order to be the acceptable sacrifice for our sin because no amount of law keeping or good deeds can atone for our sin or unite us with God.

You think of it as a matter of accounts. If your account is deeply overdrawn to the point that you no longer have hope of paying, another person with great debt can’t help you. Only a person with enormous wealth instead of debt can bail you out. Every human being owes a debt to God because of sin that we cannot pay. Jesus, because of his perfect righteousness owes no debt, but has infinite ability to pay. To prove Jesus’ perfect righteousness and acceptability as our sin sacrifice, he had to overcome all temptations to sin even at the weakest point of his humanity.

The temptation of Jesus therefore marked the point where the ‘new man’ overcame Satan; where he proved his unyielding obedience to the Father; and where he legitimized his claim as the head of a ‘new humanity’ whom he would create by redeeming them through his death on the cross and subsequent resurrection.

So, what do we take home from all this? I think we have gathered a lot of military intelligence that we can use in our own battles against temptation. I would like to highlight just three practical ways to resist and overcome temptation.

First and foremost, Jesus was filled with the Holy Spirit when he went out to face temptations. If even Jesus needed to be full of the Spirit, how much more you and I? The Holy Spirit dwells in every believer from the moment we put our trust in Jesus. He unites us with Christ and transforms us into new men and women who desire and are able to obey God. We overcome temptation in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Secondly, being saturated with scripture is your vaccination against temptation. Notice that for every temptation he faced, Jesus knew and was able to quote relevant scripture. Jesus said that his Spirit would remind us of everything he has said, but how can the Spirit remind you of what you don't know? The way to know is to crack open your bible, read it, study it, think about it, ask questions, memorize it. The more saturated you are with the vaccination of God's word, the more easily you will recognize the obvious and subtle lies of the enemy, and the more easily you will be able to stand firm against them.

Third, overcome temptation by redirecting misdirected worship. There are many sins that boil down to misdirected worship. Pride is worship of self, gluttony is worship of food, status seeking is worship of power, greed is worship of money. The list goes on. Satan goes to great leangths to get you to worship anything but God. When you find yourself being tempted to a sin of misdirected worship, the best thing to do is redirect your worship to the only one in the universe who deserves it: God.

Finally, keep your eye on the prize. When Jesus faced the temptations, he knew that overcoming them was a step forward in his journey toward the cross where he would redeem his people. Likewise, we need to keep focused on who we are in Christ: 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, "if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come." We are his people whom he redeemed on the cross, new creations, being transformed by His Spirit. This is the normal Christian experience in which every victory over temptation brings us closer to the goal of that transformation: Being like Jesus.