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The Temptation of Israel

Sermon passage: (Luke 4:1-13) Spoken on: January 10, 2021
More sermons from this speaker 更多该讲员的讲道: Rev. Wong Siow Hwee
For more of this sermon series 更多关于此讲道系列: Luke

Tags: LUKE 路加福音

Listen to sermon recording with the play button or download with the download link. 您可点播或下载讲道录音。
About Rev. Wong Siow Hwee: Rev. Wong is the moderator of Jubilee Church, serving there since 2002. 王晓晖牧师是禧年堂的主理牧师。自2002年,在那牧会将近20年。
Bible passage (ESV) of the sermon can be found at the bottom of the page.

Title: The Temptation of Israel
Date: 10th Jan 2021
Preacher: Rev. Wong Siow Hwee

Before we can talk about the temptations of Jesus, the Son of God, we must first talk about the temptations of Israel, because Israel was the original son of God. Hosea 11: When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. 2 But the more they were called, the more they went away from me. The quote from Hosea spells out the difficult father-son relationship between God and Israel. God loved Israel with the love of a father, but Israel was often rebellious against God’s word. In Deuteronomy 6-8, the temptations of Israel were described in two phases. Deuteronomy 8: 2 Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. The first phase of temptations referred to their 40-year journey out of the Egypt until they finally entered Canaan, the Promised Land. The second phase of temptations referred to their lives in the Promised Land. The temptation was described in Deuteronomy 8: 17 You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” In simple terms, the temptations of Israel are the test of their relationship with God in the difficult times in the wilderness, and the good times when the kingdom prospered.

So when we look at the 3 temptations of Jesus in our passage today, these are the actual tests that were faced by Israel in history.
The first temptation of creating bread from stones was just like the first phase of temptations in the wilderness, when the hungry and thirsty Israelites were forced to be fully dependent on God. But they failed the test with their grumblings and their longings to return to Egypt. They would rather live in slavery, than to trust that God will provide. They want the bread in chains, rather than the bread based on divine promises.
In the second phase, Israel faced a different set of temptations when they had their kingdom in Canaan. If you recall our sermons on King Ahaz [1] and the kings after King Josiah [2], Israel always yearned to be like the other nations, especially when they were looking over all the kingdoms conquered by the Assyrians and the Babylonians. They experienced power as a kingdom, and they saw empires that had so much more. Unlike Jesus’ second temptation, the Israelites do not need to worship the devil to gain such superpower; they just need a willingness to become a vassal state to the empires. But in a way, their covenants of submission to these violent and brutal empires may be even worse than what the devil demands.
The last temptation was reflected Israel’s superficial worship of God. As they were warned in Jeremiah 7: 4 Do not trust in deceptive words and say, “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord!” 8 But look, you are trusting in deceptive words that are worthless. Instead of changing their ways and actions to deal with each other justly, to treat the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow well, they test the patience of God by using Solomon’s temple as a false security of God’s protection. They want to be protected by their worship in the temple, but they don’t want to obey the instructions of God. Therefore, the temple was meaningless without true repentance in their hearts.
In the temptations of the original son of God, Israel failed the tests and was destroyed accordingly.

What went wrong for Israel? How did they end up always grumbling, greedy for more power, and superficial in worship? I believe this actually happens quite commonly in relationships when we are not watchful and mindful about it. In a family, we can easily take the acts of love towards one another for granted, and over time, instead of being appreciative, we grumble over little things, we demand more and more, and we treat one another superficially. The marriage and familial ties become leverage for us to abuse one another.

The same thing happened in the relationship between Israel and God. As the son of God, Israel was given the divine promises, that they will be provided, empowered and protected by God. Promises that you can find in abundance in the Psalms, like Psalm 23, the Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. In particular, we have Psalm 91: 2 I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” The devil quoted this very psalm to Jesus about the promise of angelic protection and deliverance from harm. Providence, Power and Protection were the divine promises, and Israel did receive manna from Moses in the wilderness, David and Solomon had power over surrounding kingdoms, and Hezekiah was protected from harm because of his trust and devotion to God.

The temptation comes when Israel starts to abuse these promises, and when Israel thinks that the father-son relationship can be manipulated for these things. It is a fine line between appreciating the gift and appreciating the Giver. Even Moses failed the test when he struck the stone for water, David and Solomon lost control of their power and abused it, and Hezekiah tested God’s protection one too many times. [3] The temptation comes when you take things for granted and you feel that you are not getting them fast enough, or according to your own plans, so you desire certainty over trust and security over faith. This is the fine line that differentiates a healthy relationship of love from an unhealthy one of suspicion, fear and control. [4]

Maybe the better question we can ask is: so what if the relationship between God and Israel turns sour? There are so many broken relationships in the world. Aren’t we asking too much when we expect Israel to guard the relationship, like a good husband or wife or child? What makes this really critical is that Israel as the son of God (like Adam (Luke 3:18)), has a special calling to exemplify a healthy God-Man relationship. [5]

The Spirit filled Israel had a mission, to bring justice and righteousness to the world. They will show the rest of humanity the beauty of living according to God’s word. This can only be achieved through their covenantal faithfulness to God, and in doing so, bring light and hope to the Gentiles. So the temptations are inevitable, because how else do you show obedience without being tested? How else do you display courage and perseverance without overcoming actual hardship and lures of sensual pleasures? Israel is tempted precisely because they are the son of God. And when they fail in the relationship, they fail in their special calling as the son of God to enlighten the world.

This is why Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, 2 where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. Isn’t it conflicting for the Spirit filled Jesus to be tempted? Shouldn’t a Spirit filled person be protected from temptations? I would argue again that it is precisely the reverse, it is precisely because Jesus was baptized with the Holy Spirit that the temptations gain true meaning and significance. That’s precisely the moment when Jesus begins his mission and calling as the Son of God, that he would be tested on his understanding of his identity.

But unlike Adam and Israel, Jesus overcame his temptations to manipulate his relationship with the heavenly father. Instead of providing his own bread, he depended on the word of God. Instead of gaining his own power, he worshipped God alone. Instead of testing God’s protection, he chose to believe in the security of his relationship with God. And just like there were two phases in Israel’s temptation, Jesus would continue to be tested beyond the 40 days in the wilderness throughout the 3 years of his ministry. There will be good times, such as when Jesus fed the five thousand, and the people wanted to make him king (John 6:15). That could have been the moment of temptation for more food and more power. Jesus could have achieved his kingdom there and then, but Jesus chose God’s own timing. God alone will provide, and God alone will give glory. There could be difficult times, such as the moments he needed protection at the garden of Gethsemane, or even on the Cross. But Jesus chose the cup of suffering, for it is not by his will but by God’s will. As the Son of God, Jesus exemplified what it means to always focus on the Giver and not the gifts. In the end, the divine providence, power and protection still came when God raised him from the dead and ascended him to the heavenly throne at his right hand. In fact, angels attended to him immediately after the 40 days of temptations in the wilderness as Psalm 91 promised (Mark 1:13). But when you contrast Israel and Jesus, you can now see that Jesus got all these not by testing God repeatedly for the divine promises and abusing the relationship to suit his will, but by obedience to God’s will. In doing so, Jesus fulfilled his special calling to become the light of the world, and exemplified what a healthy relationship with God is like.

I will now share how I personally learn from Jesus. [6] The best way to interpret the temptations of Jesus is to pretend that the words of the devil are something like our inner thoughts or struggles. They are part and parcel of our journey with God. Just like the first temptation, sometimes we think bread is more important than God’s words. In the difficult times, will we continue to trust God? “ We wrestle with the question: 10 Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” (Job 2:10) We might doubt God’s presence when we are lost in the wilderness. Like Israel, the children of God will grumble and be upset with God. We then build our golden calves to feel more secure.

Just like the second and third temptation, in the good times, will we attribute the success to our own efforts? Worse still, will the power and protection lead us to yearn for more and more, to the point of testing God’s patience, even to the point of getting them from false idols like fame, possessions and other forms of false security? We forget God in the midst of our busy lives to earn more money and to spend more money. We can even forget God in the success of our ministries, like so many successful pastors, local and abroad. When I do well for a sermon or when I receive good feedback from the ministries and the people I serve, I feel the temptations of pride within me. I don’t need the devil to trick me, when I am fully capable of feeling self-righteous and deluding myself into thinking that I deserve the divine promises of providence, power and protection.

But if we look towards Jesus, then I would say that we can overcome these temptations. At the heart of the matter is our daily walk with God; is it one that grounds our relationship with God? Jesus makes it a point to pray and study God’s words each day, and it is reflected in his replies against the devil. He stays humble and obedient because he is confidently secure about his identity. We can imitate Jesus. We can learn to focus on the Giver and not the gifts. We can learn to treasure the relationship more than what we can get from the relationship. We can learn to trust and obey, and not take God’s providence, power and protection for granted. As Jesus said in Luke 12: 30 For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31 But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.

[1] http://www.jubilee.org.sg/sermons/?sermon_id=1024
[2] http://www.jubilee.org.sg/sermons/?sermon_id=1044
[3] http://www.jubilee.org.sg/sermons/?sermon_id=1033
[4] The best way to describe this difference is the transformation in the relationship from the beginning of the Garden of Eden to what happened in the end. Adam failed his temptation in wanting to be like God and failing to trust and obey. The taking of the fruit in the Garden symbolizes taking control of his own destiny to gain providence, power, and protection on his own terms rather than on God’s terms. But when you do that, the relationship breaks apart.
[5] God said this about Israel in Isaiah 42: “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will bring justice to the nations. 4 he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth. In his teaching the islands will put their hope.” 6 “I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles.
[6] The presence of the devil sometimes makes the temptations of Jesus seem too simplistic to us. If something is suggested by the devil, of course it must be wrong, and be should rejected. But remember that the devil isn’t present in the temptation stories of Israel. Similarly, Adam and Eve didn’t recognize that the snake in the Garden of Eden was tempting them.

Luke 4:1–13 (Listen)

4:1 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. And he ate nothing during those days. And when they were ended, he was hungry. 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.’” And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, 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. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” And Jesus answered him, “It is written,

  “‘You shall worship the Lord your God,
    and him only shall you serve.’”

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,’

11 and

  “‘On their hands they will bear you up,
    lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”

12 And Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 13 And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time.

(ESV)