Warrior in the Wilderness

Chapter 2.....The Conflict for Bread

We now proceed to consider the temptation in the wilderness in detail, and first of all to think about the temptation concerning bread.

I imagine that if anybody had contemplated giving their impressions about the kind of temptations our Lord would have to face, none would have suggested such a temptation as this, certainly not as the first. If you had been planning a testing out for the Lord, I wonder who would have even dreamed, much less suggested, such a test as this?

In some respects it seems to be so extremely simple. Think of your own temptations. It suggests, therefore, that there is something deeper in it than appears on the surface; issues known to Jesus and perhaps known to Satan.

We know what our Lord's purpose was (it was now clearly established): to go through with God's purpose in Redemption. Part of that purpose was the destruction, to bring to nought him that had the power of death, that is, the Devil. And whether Satan knew that or not, our Lord knew it. It was to be a fight to the finish, with no possibility of compromise. So that you have three temptations-

  1. In the sphere of food;
  2. In the sphere of religion, and
  3. In the sphere of power politics.

And in each one we shall look, first of all, as far as we can, at the immediate purpose that Satan had in view and then the method that he adopted, and finally the resistance that our Lord offered.

Now what was the immediate objective that Satan had in testing our Lord along the line of commanding stones to be made bread? I think it was pre-eminently a subtle attempt to catch our Lord by deception; an effort pitting all the Satanic subtlety against the redemptive wisdom and the enlightened mind of our Lord, in a supreme effort to deceive Him, to deflect Him. It was an effort to deflect Him inHis purpose, not from it; to secure something within the realm of wisdom that should mean the downfall of our Lord.

It was also, of course, a temptation within the realm of the physical. In the Word of God, incarnation is the realm of victory. Somehow or other, if God is to His purpose in the world, it has got to be a purpose achieved through incarnation. Adam had failed, and the Last Adam now appears, and a physical victory is essential. The body must be held to be integral to the full purpose of God. So for forty days He was in the wilderness fasting. Whether He was tempted at the end of the forty days, or whether He was tempted during the forty days, it is not easy to determine. Matthew suggests that He hungered before He was tempted, as if the ecstasy of the Baptism was so wonderful that His Spirit received Divine nourishment and He lived in fellowship with God for forty days before His body began to register its imperative need.

On the other hand, it seems from Luke and Mark that He was tempted during the forty days.

Then were these just specific challenges, put vividly to our Lord and completed in five minutes? That might be the impression. But you will notice that the order of the temptations is given differently in Luke from that in Matthew. And because Luke is, on the human side, an accurate historian, and one who would be most careful about his facts, to secure their authenticity, I cannot believe that Luke makes a mistake. There must have been an order in them if they were just isolated temptations.

But supposing they are temptations that are wrestled with, through all the forty days. Perhaps they were brought one from this angle and one from that, brought back again and again and again, then indeed it would be difficult to say what was the order, but it makes the pressure of that forty days to be intense.

And to that conclusion my mind tends. Three lines of pressure designed to break down the spiritual morale of our Lord, and to end, once and for all, the hope of man's Redemption; to, make heaven, that was intended to be a palace filled with the sons of God, an empty warehouse where God would mourn alone. From this viewpoint the hunger grows, becomes intense, and the temptation on the physical side becomes very severe.

I have never been hungry in my life only healthily hungry. I have never known what it was to be out of reach of food for two or three days. I thank God I have never known what it means to be under-nourished. But hunger is a terrible experience, if one may judge from records. That must have been a terrible experience when the king of Assyria besieged Samaria. The famine was so dreadful that two women conspired together to slay their own children on different days, for food. Hunger must be a terrible test. Under the stress of hunger every quality in our civilization would disappear. No wonder Esau, when he was hungry, was tempted to sell his birthright for a mess of pottage-and he did it! Hunger is like pain; it alters the whole outlook of life. When, therefore, our Lord was brought right down, He hungered; He was starved.

Now we must believe that this was the end that Satan had in view. He was a spirit, and, therefore, challenged by the conditions that he created. The Spirit of God had brought Jesus into the wilderness, and now

Satan is pressing and pursuing Him, bringing Him down to the depths of physical exhaustion. So far you find our Lord, at this first temptation, brought by the Spirit into the wilderness, and then worn down by Satan to the last, the very last dregs of physical powers by hunger.

So that is the objective; the objective that seeks to unbalance the mind of our Lord by the disintegration of His physical powers. A master stroke! For whatever wisdom you have, you may be perfectly sure that in such conditions as these, no one would think calmly and clearly. They were the conditions. How subtle!

This being the situation let us consider the tempter's method.

We have in the AuthorizedVersion that little word, "If Thou be the Son of God . . . " But that word "if " is a much more certain word in the original, than it is in the English. It is, " Since Thou art the Son of God." As if, when the Voice spoke from heaven and Jesus heard it in the baptismal waters, the Devil heard it as well. And he did! For all Holy Spirit activity is carried on with the Devil round the corner. He has got his demon spirits everywhere. A supernatural Gestapo! And that is why our Christian life is such a tussle, such a struggle, and such a conflict.

So the Devil says to Jesus: " You are the Son of God; you are hungry; command, therefore, that these stones (or " this stone," as Luke says) be made bread."

As if Satan should say: " You are alone-at least, I am here, but I don't count. You are alone, and you have entered into this realm, this realm of men on the basis, of incarnation, and on the basis of incarnation you have been brought right down to these depths of suffering as a man. Now escape out of them by your power as the Son of God. Indeed, speaking as a friend, I see no other possibility of your fulfilling God's purpose; for you are about to die. Far better to do this thing in secret, that you may live. Command that these stones be made bread. In this solitude in which you are found, this moment when you are alone, something secret can be done that need not affect your public ministry. You may go back to the town to-morrow, as if it had never happened. Just make these stones bread."

Oh, the subtlety of it! Of course, the obvious inference was this- that the only way out of the wilderness was by an act of God; whilst He was still in the sphere of men. Let Him escape out of the entanglement of His Incarnation by His power as a Son of God. That is to say, " Put aside for a moment your Incarnation, that humiliation which you have voluntarily assumed- put it aside, exercise your Sonship now, privately, that you may go on with your work publicly."

And so, when shorn of all its subtlety, it is this: " For the sake of food, make all the purpose of your Incarnation a farce; yet if you do not command the stones to be made bread, the purpose of your Incarnation will perish now, for you will die in the wilderness."

Every Christian is tried out along this line. You are in a difficult situation, and you are tempted to escape by your wisdom. How is it going to be settled? Be sure above everything else in the wide world, that you meet it God's way, for the Devil is out to see that you meet it his way, and that is disaster. Satan will always counsel you to take hold of your material resources and settle your problems. It is the Devil's way, and it leads to your undoing and the destruction of God's purpose. So there is the temptation, the situation, which Satan brings to pass, and then the method that he adopts.

Now let us consider the Warrior's resistance. First of all, just a word or two on things that are not in the passage. One of the things that I notice that are missing in this passage of Scripture, and the whole record is that there is no mention of prayer. I am not going to speculate but I will venture to make this observation, that when the powers of darkness are pressing so strongly, prayer may not be possible. There is no need, still, to fear defeat, if you have known what prayer has been before. Still, there it is; there is no prayer. No prayer like one might have anticipated, such as when Nehemiah stood before King Artaxerxes. King Artaxerxes said to him: " Why is thy countenance sad? " He said: " I lifted up my heart to the God of heaven." There is no prayer like that.

And again, notice there is no resistance to Satanic pressure in the power of His Divine Nature. That is to say, He stands His ground in His manhood. He calls neither angels to assist Him or does He put forth the power that one day He shall exercise when destroys the Man of Sin with the breath of His mouth, but He faced Satan as a man. He never said to him: " I the Son of God, dismiss thee "-as He might have done. But that would not have been to win the victory as a Man. If Satan could have provoked Him to that, Satan would have won.

No the instrument that is used is the Word of God. Our Lord just speaks to Satan and says: "It is written." I must not stop to enlarge upon the fact that our Lord here makes the book of Deuteronomy to be part of the Scriptures. "It is written." All those people who want to make the book of Deuteronomy to be not the work of Moses at all, but something that comes into the Jewish literature after the time of the exile, have got to answer this fact. When our Lord was standing there before the Satanic head himself, He answered him with: "It is written". We may be sure that if Deuteronomy had no Divine Authority, Satan would have readily pointed out such a fact. It is a good thing when you realise early in life that you can never answer Satan by the mere expression of opinion. He likes you to think so, but he is a far more subtle, intellectual genius than any man who has walked this earth. You can never answer Satan out of your own head. You can never triumph over Satan without using the Word of God.

We are told that in the land of Israel there were no smiths to make weapons of war. Why? Because the Philistines had taken them all away into their own country in order that there might be no weapons in the hands of the children of Israel. If you notice the work of Satan to day, his work has been to take the Bible out of the hands of God's, people to deprive them of a master weapon.

Somebody has written to me recently concerning a study class they attend. They say: " When a Scripture has been quoted to show that it does not agree with certain passages in this book that we are studying, the minister has at once brushed aside the Word of God, saying: ' it all depends upon one's interpretation of it.' So the study book stands, but the old Bible is dismissed, and the only weapon that can withstand Satan, is snatched right out of the hands.

But it is the Word that counts. Young people should feed on the Word, and encourage an appetite for it.

I was talking to somebody the other day who has under Doctor's orders, given up milk and sugar in their tea, and they just drink unadulterated tea. But she tells me that now she has done it for so long on the Doctor's orders that she has lost the taste for milk and sugar. And you know, if you take Satan's orders you will get such an appetite his way, that you will lose the taste for the Word of God. But if you could get away from all the dainties of the things of the world that so many are reading, and get an appetite for God's Word, you would know such victory. You would have such wisdom given to you by God, as to be able to, face every subtlety of Satan.

Do not let us suppose that our Lord needed to use the Word of God, but modern Christians have no such need. There is no deliverance from the subtleties of Satan apart from God's Word.

So here is the command, " Make these stones bread, because you have the power to do it, as the Son of God." Now our Lord answers in effect: " I am not talking about the Son of God: I face this as a Man, to win the victory as a Man, a Man by Divine prerogative, to take the victory as a hungry Man; worn, weak, exhausted, a Warrior and a Victor. I take MY victory in MY circumstances and not outside of them.

Our Lord, if I may speak of Him as a Man, sees clearly that He has been driven into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit, and therefore if He comes to the place of God's Will and His portion is hunger, then hunger it shall be. " Man does not live by bread alone" for ultimately the man of bread must die. He lives by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God, he lives by the Will of God. The body that depends on bread may perish, -will perish-but man lives eternally by God. We do not live by what goes into our mouths; we die by that. We live by what proceeds out of the mouth of God. And if the physical man dies, he lives as a son of God. But if he dies as son-as son-no bread for the body will suffice. " It were good for that man if he had never been born."

And so, when confronted by Satan, our Lord answers Satan back with a passage of Scripture that was on almost every phylactery worn by the Jews, and was in part of the Scriptures that were wound up and fastened upon their foreheads. He answered him with words that came from earliest childhood. Let the Sunday School teacher go on with his work and get the Word of God into the boy or girl that is under his charge. You may think you are doing nothing, but by the grace of God every word that you can get into the heart of a boy or girl, every word of God may become an instrument for victory in the days to come.

How shall we sum up? However desperate may be the situation, mark it well that you never escape but that you stand. We are always seeking escape. God wants us to stand. The Devil would have you escape out of your circumstances into his clutches. Let the will be kept steady. I am here by the Will of God; the Spirit brought me here, then here I stay-if need be to hunger, to die, but not to run! Strange, strange indeed this temptation in hunger to Him Who later said: " Him that cometh to Me shall never hunger." Stand in the physical challenge. You may hunger in circumstance, but stand! You will be satisfied in God!

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