Christ in Combat: Defense by the Spirit
Jesus said in John 8:44, "The devil was a murderer from the beginning and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him." A murderer and a liar by nature—that's Satan. But we don't always see our enemy so clearly.
The Low-Lying Haze of the Computer Craze
Last Thursday Noël and I took about three hours of our day off visiting computer stores to find out what sort of word processing possibilities we might be able to afford. We went to the library and read the latest Consumer Reports and then went to four stores downtown. It was an amazing experience. I came home with a stack of literature and with my mind reeling. Here's what I learned. Computers are like sex. There is something in us that they can hook and hold. Computers are like a romance or an epic or an adventure which has come true before our very eyes. They combine mystery and power and precision and beauty. They are exciting and new and with open-ended possibilities. Our culture is in for unimagined and irreversible effects from the micro-computer revolution. I don't doubt that virtually every one of us will have one at home by 1994. The uses will expand, the prices will fall, and they will be as common as the telephone.
But for now they are unusual and wonderful and so real in their strangeness. One of the effects that they can have on a Christian is to make us feel like spiritual things are very unreal and unexciting. You can see a computer, you can handle a computer, a computer can give you immediate feedback and solutions; they hold a powerful fascination. But the Bible speaks largely of unseen things; things that don't force themselves onto our senses; things that are sometimes far away in the past. You all have had these experiences with some new gadget or toy or appliance. How easy is it to come home with a bundle of colorful brochures about word-processing and lay them aside half-read in order to enjoy the voice of God in Scripture?
When the Haze Lifts
But put beside that question another one. If you were laid low by kidney failure and a congested heart and were told by the doctors that you have only a few days to live, would you want your family to sit by your bed and read to you from the latest systems developments of IBM, or from the Bible? What happens in those minutes after the doctor walks out of the room and leaves you with the imminency of your own death? What happens to the gripping fascination of RAM, ROM, CPU, CP/M, PC DOS, Profit Plan, Perfect Writer, and tri-color monitors?
What happens is that here at the end of your journey through the valley of life the low-lying haze of the computer craze is blown away behind you and you stand perhaps for the first time before the lucid reality of the mountains of eternity. You look back on the fog falling away in the valley and you wonder how you could have ever been so entranced, so captivated, so swallowed up by the mechanical functions of a man-made machine. You look at the spectacular peaks and awful ravines and unapproachable crags in the mountains before you, and you wonder how the mystery and power and beauty of this reality could have been so insignificant in your life.
But not only the mountains. In the short distance that remains between you and the foothills of eternity you look around on what the receding haze has exposed and see this world for what it really is. On the one side, thick green grass, and trees with luscious fruit, and crystal streams with darting fish, and over it all a great white dove, hovering in mid-air. But on the other side, a wasteland of smoldering ashes, and cracked riverbeds, and half-eaten corpses, and in the midst a huge, gaunt, starving lion, crouched with his shoulder blades protruding under the mangy fur and looking you right in the face. In one immeasurable moment you awaken to the awesome fact that what was really happening in the valley of life was a combat between the life-giving dove and the lion of destruction and your life was (and is) the issue.
So this morning I have come to proclaim to you that whatever has entranced you or captivated you or swallowed up your attention, it is the haze of illusion, if it desensitizes you to the combat between the Holy Spirit and Satan for your life, and if it diverts your solemn attention from the mountains of eternity just ahead. To help us see things like they really are, let's look at Christ in combat—this week on the defense, next week on the offense.
From Baptism, to Genealogy, to Temptation
In Luke 3:21–22 we have the record of Jesus' baptism when he was thirty years old. "Now when all the people were baptized and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, as a dove, and a voice came from heaven, 'Thou art my beloved Son; with thee I am well pleased.'" When Jesus was baptized along with all the repenting people who wanted to be on God's side, it was as though the commander-in-chief had come to the front lines, fastened his bayonet, strapped on his helmet, and jumped into the trench along with the rest of us. And when he did that, his Father in heaven, who had sent him for this very combat, signified with the appearance of a dove that the Holy Spirit would be with him in the battles to come.
Then in 3:23–38 Luke inserts the genealogy of Jesus. Matthew records Jesus' genealogy at the very beginning of his gospel and takes it back only to Abraham. Luke, however, records the genealogy here just after the baptism of Jesus (where he is announced as Son of God) and just before the temptations of Jesus (where he is attacked as the Son of God); and Luke takes the genealogy all the way back to Adam (whom he calls a son of God). This arrangement is all very important in communicating Luke's message about Jesus. I think the message goes like this: Adam had a unique relation of sonship to God in that he was directly created.
But Jesus has an even greater unique relationship to God as the virgin-born divine Son of the Most High (1:35). Adam had a unique relation to humanity as the head from which all of us came. But Jesus has an even greater unique relation to a new humanity which he creates and redeems. Adam was tempted and failed, bringing all of his people into misery. Jesus is about to be tempted, but will not fail; so he will bring all of his people to victory. By taking the genealogy of Jesus all the way back to Adam and making Adam a son of God, and by inserting this genealogy between the announcement of Jesus' sonship and the testing of Jesus' sonship, Luke shows that Jesus is like a new Adam, entering a new battle to redeem a new people.
So when we read the account of Jesus' temptations, we must realize how much is at stake here. If he fails, he will be in the same class as the old Adam and there will be no new people, the lion will devour the world and all the green grass and fruit trees and crystal streams and darting fish will be burned up in the fire of judgment. But if Jesus succeeds in combat with the lion, he will be able to liberate a new people who learn from him what is truly real on Nicollet Mall and what is illusion, a people who learn from him how to do battle with Satan and escape the fog of his falsehoods, and a people who will live with him some day in a world just as securely renewed as the base of Mt. St. Helens, where the trees are sprouting and the animals are returning and the lakes are pure again. Here in Luke 4:1–14 in the wilderness beyond the Jordan our Commander-in-Chief, fighting in a trench just like ours, turns back the enemy and teaches us how to do the same.
Four Ways Jesus Prepares for the Conflict Ahead
Let's watch him in action. Luke 4:1–2, "And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit for forty days in the wilderness, tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing in those days." Jesus is thirty years old. He has just been acclaimed by God to be his Son. Three years of mounting conflict lie before him which he knows will end in his torment and execution. How shall he begin? Verses 1 and 2 tell us four things.
1. Filled with the Holy Spirit
He begins full of the Holy Spirit. There is a great mystery here of how the persons of the Trinity inter-relate. But the least we can say is that the divine nature of Jesus did not cancel out his human nature; and therefore as a human in the trenches with us he availed himself of the same power offered to us in the Holy Spirit. He was filled with the love of his Father, with the marvel of his own mission, and with the hope of his own destiny.
2. Forty Days of Solitude
With that fullness the Holy Spirit led him into solitude for forty days. He went away from family and friends and crowds and lived in the desert for forty days. That's almost six weeks. No radio. No television. No computers. No billboards. And this wasn't the only time: Luke 5:16 shows that other times Jesus went away alone. It must be that preparation for ministry demands significant times of solitude. We simply can't maintain a radical God-centeredness under an unbroken barrage of human interaction. The depth and value of what you bring in your heart to other people will depend on what you do with your solitude.
I regard Sunday morning from 8:30 to 12:15 as the most important hours of my life. The main purpose of my life can be defeated or fulfilled by whether or not I come to these hours in the power of the Holy Spirit and with the anointing of God. And so woe to me if there is no wilderness of solitude on Saturday. Except for unusual crises, most of Friday and all day Saturday are given to solitude to prepare for Sunday's ministry of the Word. And Saturday night is especially sacred to me. I urge all of you to find a pattern of personal solitude.
3. Forty Days of Fasting
During these forty days of solitude Jesus did not eat anything. He fasted. Why? The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof. God richly furnishes us with everything to enjoy (1 Timothy 6:17)! Why should the perfect Son of God go without? To demonstrate that he was not enslaved by anything but God. Your spiritual power will be weakened to the degree that you can't say no to your bodily appetites. Physical appetites are not evil (Jesus was hungry!). But when they usurp the rule in your body, your spiritual power will decline. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 9:27, "I pommel my body and subdue it, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified." For forty days Jesus pommeled his body to certify and demonstrate that his appetite for food and for sex gave no foothold to Satan in his life; for he was mastered by a superior appetite for God. "My food is to do the will of him who sent me" (John 4:34).
This is what it means to be filled with the Spirit—to be so full of God and his purposes that food, even after forty days of fasting, does not control us. Paul said (in Ephesians 5:18), "Do not be drunk with wine . . . but be filled with the Spirit" (see Luke 1:15). Conquer your physical addictions with spiritual addictions. No other way will bear long-term fruit. Drive the demon of gluttony out the front door and seven more will come in the back, unless you fill your house with the Holy Spirit. Jesus was full from the start and no demon ever had a toehold in his marvelous life of discipline.
4. Forty Days of Combat
Notice that verse 2 says Jesus was tempted by the devil—not just at the end of the forty days but during them, too. " . . . for forty days in the wilderness, tempted by the devil." For forty days Christ was in combat with the enemy, defending himself in the power of the Holy Spirit against the fiery darts of self-pity and loneliness and fear and the pain of his fasting and the awful temptation of murmur against God like Israel did in the wilderness.
You can count on it. When you have opened yourself to the fullness of God's Spirit and have disciplined yourself to simplicity and self-denial and have resolved to give yourself to the liberating work of the gospel—you will be attacked by the gaunt lion of destruction day in and day out.
Satan Would Have Done Anything to Prevent Jesus from Suffering
Luke gives us three examples of the temptations Satan threw at Jesus. First, in verse 3 he says, "If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread." Then, in verses 5–7 Satan shows him all the kingdoms of the world and says, "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. If you, then, will worship me, it shall all be yours." Finally, in verses 9–11 Satan took Jesus to the pinnacle of the temple and said, "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here; for it is written, 'He will give his angels charge of you,' and 'On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.'"
These temptations are amazingly relevant for American Christianity. Satan skips over adultery, fornication, stealing, lying, murder—those temptations are too obvious. Those are the games that sub-devils play with weak saints. Jesus is no fall guy. When Satan means business with a strong saint, he sticks with religion and he makes the Bible his textbook. See if this doesn't sound contemporary.
"If you are a child of God, why are you living like a pauper? If you are a child of the king, why don't you live like a prince? The children of the king don't eat casseroles, they eat steak. The children of the king don't drive second-hand clunkers, they drive new cars. The children of the king don't shop at Rag Stock, they shop on the Mall. The children of the king don't throw their lives away in Liberia or Cameroon or Ecuador or Japan, living on a shoestring, building no reserves. If you are a child of the king, claim your blessings. God has promised to send his angels to make you healthy, wealthy, and prosperous. Throw yourself into these blessings. The best testimony you can be to your status as an heir of God is to be wealthy and have the best of everything."
If only we today could see this new "gospel" as a species of Satan's temptation to Jesus. Satan had one aim in the wilderness: to do whatever he could to keep Jesus from suffering. He was willing to let Jesus have all the glory and authority of a world ruler if he just wouldn't gain it through suffering. He was eager to let Jesus use his divine power if he would just use it to relieve his suffering. He was willing to let all the worshipers in Jerusalem see and acknowledge his divine sonship if only the angels of God would keep Jesus from suffering.
Satan Might Do Anything to Prevent You from Suffering
Do you remember when Jesus said to the disciples that he had to go up to Jerusalem and suffer and be killed, and Peter said, "God forbid, Lord"? Jesus responded to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me" (Matthew 16:23). Satan's aim in the wilderness was to hinder Jesus from suffering. Because the suffering and death of Jesus meant the final destruction of Satan and the salvation of you and me. And Satan's aim in this church today is to hinder you from following Jesus when he says, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me (in the path of suffering)" (Luke 9:23).
People sometimes ask why, if Satan is real, we don't see more demon possession and exorcisms in America. I have an idea. Satan holds American Christianity so tightly in the vice-grip of comfort and wealth that he's not about to tip his hand with too much demonic tomfoolery. What Satan fears most in this church is an outpouring of the Holy Spirit that causes us to say with Paul, "I count everything as refuse that I might gain Christ . . . that I might know the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings, becoming like him in his death."
Lest there be some misunderstanding, let's go back to the hospital bed. The shocking news of your imminent death has caused the haze of the computer craze to clear. The mountains of eternity lie before you. The dove hovers over the grass and trees and streams on the right, and the lion of destruction crouches in the wasteland on the left. Do not think that if you are filled with the Spirit, your call is to sit under the fruit trees with your feet in the water. Nothing would please the lion more. No. Those who are touched by the dove and filled with the Spirit, take heart from the taste of paradise, but then they turn to the wasteland of the world and follow Christ.