For an introduction to this series, click here.
Feb. 15, 2007
This chapter begins with the temptation of Christ. We will never understand what it was like to be God in a human body. The way the first verse is written, "...and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil" (actually that is also part of verse 2) seems to indicate that Satan tempted Him almost nonstop for the better part of six weeks, and the three that are recorded were just the last three. The first temptation was to take the easy way out of His trial: "If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread." (4:3) How many times have I asked God for a similar Deus ex machina (the word means "God from the machine." It is a theatrical term for an impossible ending that instantly resolves all the issues in the story) solution to my problems? Many times if God gave us the answer we wanted to our prayers, we would be a lot worse off than we think we are in whatever predicament we find ourselves in. That was the temptation - not that it would be wrong to make bread, but it would be wrong for Jesus to take the easy way out of His problems.
The second temptation (Luke's account gives them in different order from Matthew) was once again for instant gratification, but this time an ultimate gratification: "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." Satan wanted Jesus to take a short cut to His future glory.
The third temptation was to gain fame for the wrong reason: "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, 'He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,' and 'On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.'" The world is full of celebrities who are famous for all the wrong reasons. They have fallen for the temptation that Jesus resisted here.
Next we have the sad story of Jesus' rejection at His hometown of Nazareth. He went into the synagogue and was asked to read from the book of Isaiah. It was of course a providential request, as the scroll was opened to the exact passage Jesus wanted to read: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." (4:18-19) This is a quote from Isaiah 61:1-2. Jesus went on to say: "Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." (4:21)
Jesus knew their hearts, and had some harsh words for them: "Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, 'Physician, heal yourself.' What we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well." And he said, "Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown. But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian." (4:23-27, ESV)
The people were incensed, and they grabbed Jesus and tried to throw Him off the cliff. What was it they were upset about? Once again Jesus was telling them it takes more than a family tradition to gain favor with God. Both the widow of Zarephath and Naaman were Gentiles, but they had faith in God, more faith than the Jews who were sitting in their synagogue that day did. The people in the synagogue could not get beyond the point that here was Joseph's son, the little boy they knew running around town years ago. They were wanting Jesus to put on a big show for the home folks, and Jesus said, in so many words, it's not up to me who gets healed. God could have chosen to heal all the lepers in Israel during the time of Elisha, but instead He only healed Naaman, a Syrian who was an enemy of the Jews who obeyed the prophet, even when it didn't make sense. And God could have fed all the poor widows in Israel during the famine, but only the Gentile woman of Zarephath had her little mess of meal and oil last for three years because of her faith.