Perhaps one of the best-known passages of the Bible is Matthew 4:1-11, where the Spirit leads Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil. The account has everything: drama, suspense and conflict on a cosmic scale. We read that passage with a palpable sense of the universe hanging in the balance.
Most often I hear Matthew 4 preached as an example of how to overcome temptation in the Christian life. To be sure, it teaches us much about temptation and resistance. Occasionally I hear preachers and Christians turn to this passage and debate whether it was possible for Jesus to sin. What interests me today is how Jesus read the Bible in His struggle with Satan’s devices.
Note how Jesus read His Bible in a God centered way.
First, Jesus hangs on every word of God. “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (v. 4). The words of God’s mouth are the bread of Jesus’ life. Every word. Not a few words. Not the words particularly easy to accept. Not the words that make Him popular. Our Lord Jesus read the Bible in order to live by every pronouncement His Father made. He understood the scripture to be theopneustos–God breathed. He understood that the words on His scroll were words that “come from the mouth of God.”
Second, Jesus read the word in order to trust God, not test God. “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test'” (v. 7). The Lord found in the Scriptures reason to believe God, to rely on Him. Facing Satan’s temptation, he knew there was a significant difference between trusting God and testing God. One humbles itself under the word of God; the other humbles the word under our desires. Jesus never sought to stand above God’s word–always below it, in obedience to it, gladly. He trusted the Father as the word of God called Him to do so.
Third, Jesus read the word to clarify that God alone is God, to worship God properly. “Then Jesus said to him, ‘Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve”‘” (v. 10). It’s possible to hear God’s word while listening to and serving our idols. Isn’t that what Satan was doing as he quoted the Scripture and asked Jesus to worship him? But not Jesus. He read the Bible as an act of worship. He found in the Bible reason to worship God alone. No rivals. No counterfeits. No idols. No exceptions. He purposed to serve the Father only. He read the word in order to bow to God. This is why the Devil leaves him in verse 11. There was nothing in Christ that could be satanically used to draw Him away from the true worship of the Father in order to trust anyone or anything else.
Until recently, I don’t think I’d ever recognized just how God-focused Jesus was in this passage. The Lord’s ears were glued to God’s mouth (v. 4). His hopes rested on God’s heart (v. 7). His service belonged to God’s throne (v. 10). Each time the Lord applied the Scripture He actually applied himself to God.
Watching Jesus use the Scripture in Matthew 4 reminds me of several things I need to observe in my own Bible reading.
1. I need to learn to hang on every word of God. How often we find ourselves debating which parts of scripture apply? Yet it seems Jesus would have us debate not if they apply but how they apply. The if is settled. God speaks; we heed. Indeed, we ought to hang on every word, awaiting the life that comes from it. I too often read the Bible with an “I’ve read this before” or “I know what this says” attitude. I find it difficult to “hear again for the first time” and I find it all too easy to skim the words on the page in distraction. So I need to pray–more than I do–“Holy Spirit, let this next word be life to me! Let me feed on it like bread! Let me hear it as a word straight from the mouth of God!”
2. I need to recognize how critical to sanctification knowledge of God’s word is. Jesus lives by every word of God. His reading translated into His living. That was critical in our Savior’s temptation. Thus He was able to use a three-fold strategy for resisting demonic temptation: (1) Hide God’s word in your heart so you can live by it; (2) Trust God implicitly so you don’t take matters into your own hands; and, (3) worship the Lord God alone so you can refuse all idolatry.
3. I must give careful attention to proper interpretation. Have you ever noticed that Jesus was the first to quote scripture in this encounter with Satan (v. 4)? Then Satan follows up with a subtle twisting of God’s word. Perhaps the Enemy would have been content to leave God’s word out of the temptations had not the Lord raised it. But when Jesus quotes the Scripture, the Adversary felt certain he could overthrow our Lord even on biblical grounds! He must certainly feel confident he can do that with us. When we endeavor to live by the word of God we face the temptation of distorted, self-serving misinterpretation. That temptation was not in Jesus, but it is in us. So I’m reminded of just how vital careful interpretation is.
How is your Bible reading going so far in 2014? Do you find yourself reading the Bible like Jesus? I’m fighting to.