Luke 4:1-13: “Shortcuts”
Sunday morning worship, October 7, 2018
While at Kent State in the final days of the Viet Nam war, my philosophy professors loved to test us with different variations of the questions, “Do the ends justify the means?” “Is it ever right to do the wrong thing for the right reason?” and situational ethics like, “Is it okay to steal food if your family is starving?” and “If ten people are all trying to survive in a lifeboat that will only hold 6 and you alone can decide which six of the ten will live based on these profiles, which six will you pick?”
I remember getting a bad grade when I offered that we would rotate in and out of the boat at regular intervals with those in the water holding onto the side of the lifeboat as we all worked together to build pieces of the sinking ship into other flotation devices so we could all survive. They got even madder when I told them their questions were based on flawed assumptions because if we had invested our lives in the cause of Christ then either God would “provide a way out so that we could endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13) if we stayed true to Christ throughout the temptation or trial. And they got even madder still when I told them if I starved to death that was okay for I believed “to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). I was told I was naďve at best and cruel and/or totally insensitive at the worst because not everyone believed as I did and to enforce my beliefs on others was unjust.
Today I admit to being naďve in those days. My years in the pastorate have taught me it is incredibly difficult to watch honest, caring, hard-working, giving people struggle mightily whatever their religious affiliation. Actually, it is difficult to love anyone at all and watch them suffer in any way. But I continue to be challenged by those who wave their fists defiantly at God and say, “A loving God would never allow all of this suffering, pain, and loss.”
In anger, hurt, and loss I’ve witnessed some turn elsewhere for comfort. My years in the pastorate have also taught me it is difficult to stand in front of a hurting person and convince them, “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16) for their pain screams louder and seems to touch them more deeply than the love I have to offer through Jesus Christ. Explaining to them that the God “who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will He not also, along with Jesus graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32) sounds hollow and reminiscent of the platitudes so many self-righteous and seemingly-to-themselves-comfortable Christians routinely offer.
So my years in the pastorate have now taught me to read Luke 4:1-13 differently. I no longer read lightly and quickly pass over that Jesus “for forty days was tempted by the devil” (v2). Mercifully, I’ve never endured any persistent pain, loss, or temptation that has been constant and omnipresent for 40 days. But I’ve watched people linger painfully for 40 days crying out every day for God to take them home. With their pain my point of reference, I still can’t imagine being under constant attack without relief for 40 days.
Mercifully, I’ve never endured more than a few days without food and even those days were my choice and not because no food was available to me. I have had to face my insecurities, losses, apparently failed dreams, wondering why, and my own personal fears and demons. It is from those perspectives that I now interpret what Jesus endured for my sake knowing there is still a tremendous gap between my ability to understand and what Jesus actually endured. So what follows, I present most humbly.
“And at the end of those  days, Jesus was hungry” (v2). I don’t understand what chemical process could turn a stone into bread, but if John the Baptist believed God could “out of these stones raise up children for Abraham” (Matthew 3:9) turning a stone into bread seems far simpler to me. To be hungry, tired, and totally poured out empty and be able to do something about it instead of putting my hope in the Lord to renew my strength so that I could soar on wings like eagles, run and not grow weary, and walk and not be faint (Isaiah 40:30-31) seems like a real temptation to me. Sometimes I struggle not to buy something I want but don’t need when I’m able. Starving seems like a much greater temptation.
The same is true of the angry charges raised against God for seeming to stand idly by and not helping those who were starving, dying or being crippled by various diseases, without parents or family, or whatever other evil impacts so many in this world. Jesus knew He was called to be this world’s king. All God’s authority awaited His resurrection, but living as a man and experiencing mankind’s pain in a human body must have felt differently to one who was and is God.
We know Jesus wept over Lazarus’ grave-situation (John 11:35). We know when Jesus “saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew (9:36). To know He was the “good shepherd” but was sent to “lay down his life for the sheep” instead of feeding, clothing, healing, and comforting them must have been incredibly difficult. Satan offered Jesus Satan’s power to solve our problems, but Jesus knew there was only One worthy of His worship (v8) and so for more than 2000 more years sheep would continue to be sheep. That’s a lot more than four out of ten not getting in a lifeboat. Shortcutting 2000 years of suffering seems like a real temptation to me.
In John 14:8, Jesus, apparently in great emotional pain, confronts Philip and by inference all of the apostles and even us with these words: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time?” That’s the final challenge Satan threw at Jesus, “If you are the Son of God…” (v9). Sometimes it’s hard to hold onto a positive sense of ourselves. Despite all the promises in Scripture and all the wonderful things Scripture says are true of the redeemed, including being called by God’s name and having God’s very own character imputed into us, insecurities may plague us, doubts can challenge us, and fears can hem us in.
A shortcut that proved our worth, value, and sense of self competency to others seems attractive. Proving ourselves to others can drive us to do incredible things. Coaches today look for athletes with a chip on their shoulders, with something to prove. Others challenge our manhood. Magazines and photo-shopping tools have recreated “beauty” for women. Children grow up wanting affection, affirmation, and love, but all too often settle for trying to prove their parents and others wrong or believing those lies and living far below their God-offered best self. In Matthew 16:26, Jesus asks, “What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?” The answer to all these temptations is simple: “Submit yourselves to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). That is what Jesus did. Jesus held to the truths of Scripture and Satan fled “until an opportune time” (v13).
The answer I offer today to all those philosophical, excluded-middle conundrums is simple: “Do what God tells you to do in that moment.” There isn’t a single answer, but it isn’t situational ethics either. It is obedience to the written and living Word of God, the same Word that was written that Jesus used 2000 years ago to defeat Satan and is still active in the world today. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). Jesus is still “the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6). Any shortcut we take to the Divine character God wants to build is us means we settle for less than God’s best and maybe even eternal death. That is the truth we celebrate as we come to altar to do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19).
Jesus Is Tested in the Wilderness
4 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[a] by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.
3 The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.”
4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’[b]”
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.”
8 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’[c]”
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.’[d]”
12 Jesus answered, “It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’[e]”
13 When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.