The bright, red words-“Bible Classes for All Ages” scrolled across the digital sign of a church I drove past. I wondered if the minivan mom on her way to a meeting at school about her rebellious son found any hope in the offer of Bible Classes.
Or the small contractor in the pick up truck hoping to get enough work to buy some groceries this week…
Or the husband whose wife told him she was leaving him for another man…
Or the young couple with three children driving to see a specialist because the wife was diagnosed with cancer…
I wonder if they could not wait to get to a “Bible Class”.
Filling our minds with knowledge of scripture is good... but it is never enough.
“Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the desert …” (Luke 4:1) Jesus had gone to the Jordan and was baptized. After that, “…heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my son, whom I love, with you I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:21-22)
What an exhilarating experience! The Father responded to his obedience with incredible affirmation. Believers have experiences like that. We have moments when we feel the love of our Father. The difficulty is-we can’t stay in the Jordan.
Jesus returned from the Jordan and we have to return from the great church service or the incredible conference. We have to leave our prayer closets and sanctuaries and return to the office, job site, or the classroom. That is the reason God pours out his Holy Spirit. The Spirit is not given so we can all have “spiritual chill bumps”. The Spirit is given to us for the world to which we must return with its rebellion, sickness, and heartbreak.
“…and was led by the Spirit in the desert where for forty days he was tempted by the devil.” (Luke 4:2)
“Being led by the Spirit” conjures peaceful images in our minds. We may think that the experience of being filled with the Spirit will enable us to walk through life without our feet touching the ground.
In reality, the Spirit often leads to places of struggle and battles; places where we are going to get tears on our face and sweat on our souls. The prayer-“Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” is not an escape hatch but a battle shield to protect us in warfare.
“He ate nothing during those days and at the end of them he was hungry. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.” Jesus answered, ‘It is written, man does not live by bread alone”(Luke 4:2-3)
In Matthew’s account Jesus responds, “It is written, ‘Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:4)
Nobody is tempted in theory. Temptation always has to do with a real need. Jesus had been fasting for forty days so he was “hungry” (you have to love the understatement there!) I would have written, “HE WAS REALLY HUNGRY!”
So, naturally the devil’s first temptation is, “Prove you are God and make bread, two birds with one stone!” It sounds practical, seems innocent, and makes perfect sense. So does every temptation to take shortcuts to meet legitimate needs.
When you are lonely, it makes perfect sense to stay in a relationship that is abusive and rationalize the inexcusable. When you are struggling financially it makes perfect sense to sell things you shouldn’t sell and accept clients you shouldn’t accept. Someone once said that the sins that we commit are often our efforts to get legitimate needs met in illegitimate ways. We are trying to turn stones into bread.
...the sins that we commit are often our efforts to get legitimate needs met in illegitimate ways.
Jesus responds, “It is written…”
Knowledge of God’s written word is critical. If we are ignorant of what is written we will be weak, vulnerable, easy prey for the enemy. But, pay close attention to the actual scripture Jesus cites:
“Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”
Jesus mentions words that come directly from the mouth of the living God to our hearts. What will feed our soul and sustain our spirit in the day of struggle is the intimate relationship we have God. A.W. Tozer preached that because the Bible is the “written word” it is confined and limited by the necessities of ink and paper. However, the voice of God, the living Word, is as free as the Sovereign God himself.
That is why Jesus told us, “The words that I SPEAK to you, they are spirit and they are life.” It is the Voice of God that makes the written word powerful. The Bible is never a living book until we are convinced that God still speaks today. Strength and vitality to face temptation and triumph does not come through dogmatic studies that fill our heads with but never open our ears to hear the Spirit whisper to us.
Look at the deeper need that was behind the devil's temptation. "If you are the Son of God..." Out there, alone, weary, and hungry, the real struggle isn't the physical hunger but the temptation to question his connection with and the care of his Father. Does that sound familiar?
As much as his knowledge of the scripture was a help to Jesus, even more so was the fact that he had just heard God say, "You are my Son, I love you, I am pleased with you." If he hadn't heard that in his heart, I wonder if he would have been saved by what was in his head.
My wife and I lived 92 miles apart from one another the final year before we were married. I know exactly because I drove those miles every weekend to spend time with her. During the week, we would often send each other letters. I learned much about her. I had absolute confidence in what I was learning because her own hand wrote it from her own heart.
Still, as valuable as the letters were, how awkward and unfulfilling would it have been if, during our weekends, I sat in her presence, read them to her, then folded them up and said, “Thank you honey, it has been nice spending this time with you”?
But isn’t that how most of us treat the living God with the written word? The Scriptures are certainly God’s word to us, but their purpose is to lead us to the Living God who longs to speak personal words to us; words about our loneliness, struggles, anger, selfishness, and confusion. So we can avoid trying to “squeeze bread from a rock”. So we can live.
If you want to live, yes read the Scripture, but then, wait for the whisper. Get in the habit of saying, “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.”
Just a thought.