GCI Sermon – 06March2022

When Jesus Says “NO!”

Luke 4:1-13 (NRSV)


Saying “no” can be hard. Even the slightest request by another is hard to say no to because we hate to disappoint. Or we may fear our “no” will create conflict or tension in our relationship. Sometimes, this hesitancy to say “no” gets us saying “yes” to things that may overextend us or obligate us to something that is not fitting. Been there?

The next time someone asks you to do something you need to say “no” to, but you are tempted to say “yes,” here’s something that may help: remember, that in every “no” there is a corresponding “yes.” For example, saying “no” to an invitation to hang out with friends after work may be because you are saying “yes” to spending time with you family. Or perhaps a “no” to help a loved one out of a jam is a “yes” to help them face the consequences of poor choices. And a “no” to that desperate plea for a donation to a charitable cause, could be your “yes” to providing for your own family. This may be helpful, but we also admit, every “no” doesn’t always have a well-meaning “yes” as the motive. Still, it introduces a question I would like to begin our message with. And that is, what is the “yes” behind Jesus’ “no?”

This will be a good question to consider as we go through the story of Jesus being tempted by the devil in the wilderness. In this one story, we hear Jesus say “no” three times as a significant part of the Gospel. This account appears in all three synoptic Gospels. It will also be a good question to consider as we begin the Season of Easter Preparation (commonly referred to as Lent) today. Easter Preparation is a season that carries a theme of repentance and confession. In other words, it’s a season of saying “no” with a corresponding “yes.” As we come to know the Lord, who he is and what he has done for us, we learn to repent, or say “no” to all that is not fitting in our relationship with him, ourselves, and one another. This repentance is also a confession, or a “yes” to all the Lord reveals to us. We come to agree, or confess, who he is and his word to us, while turning from all that is not fitting to who he is, and his word spoken to us.


So, with that in mind, let’s get into the story as Luke tells it.

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. (Luke4:1-2 NRSV)

First, we see that Jesus is returning from the Jordan. For context, Luke has led up to this story with Jesus’ baptism as well as the inclusion of Jesus’ genealogy. Both of these set the stage for the temptations the devil is about to assault Jesus with in the wilderness. In Jesus’ baptism the Father claims Jesus as his own Son. And the genealogy is constructed to work backward to Adam with the conclusion that Jesus is a “son of God.” With the combination of these two elements Luke has established Jesus’ identity as the Son of God. It is at this point in Luke’s gospel that the devil will try to tempt Jesus to doubt this very thing.

We should take note that this story about Jesus is also a story we are wrapped up in. Jesus didn’t face the devil for his own sake, he faced and defeated him for us. Luke tells us that Jesus was “led by the Spirit in the wilderness.” So, the devil is not running the show here. Facing the devil in the wilderness is part of Jesus’ ministry initiated by the Spirit. Jesus is facing our temptations, and he is doing it as the one who has assumed our human nature. Jesus has given us a victory that we can participate in by the Spirit. Without Jesus and his Spirit, we would never even put up a fight against the devil and his schemes.

It is noteworthy that the devil launches his attack right after Jesus’ baptism. Jesus has just heard the voice of his Father claiming him as his own Son. The first thing the devil wants to do is get Jesus to doubt this voice. This is the same temptation the devil put to Adam and Eve in the Garden. It worked the first time, but it will not work against Jesus. Jesus is undoing Adam’s failure in the Garden by refacing the devil on the devil’s own turf, the wilderness. This time, it will not be Adam who is banished. The devil will be the one “departing.”

As Christians, we should be mindful of the devil’s tactics. Note, I did not say fearful; I said mindful. If you are a new believer recently baptized, expect the devil to tempt you to doubt God’s word to you. For those who have been following the Lord for many years, the devil still rushes to challenge any word the Lord speaks to you. We must not assume that the devil is idle and doesn’t care whether we trust the Lord or not. No, the devil aims all his tactics and cunning at the one who is hearing and receiving God’s word to them. The sooner he can get us to doubt God’s word, the better in his diabolical eyes. We should not be naïve and think that in our walk with God we will never find ourselves in the wilderness or without temptation. If it happened to our Lord, we can expect it will happen to us. But Jesus has paved the way. He has already—in our stead—gained victory over the devil and his temptations. This means we are not on our own when we find ourselves in the wilderness facing intense temptation. And, we know in the end, the devil will flee.

As Jesus is led into the desert to face the devil, we are told that he fasted for forty days. This has Old Testament references that remind us of Israel and Moses wandering for 40 years in the desert. This detail can also give us the impression that Jesus faced the devil running on empty. “He was famished.” But far from facing the greatest enemy of humanity on empty, the passage tells us that he faced him “full of the Holy Spirit.” Like David facing Goliath, Jesus fights for humanity with the armor that fits him best. We can see in this that we too are made for more than just food and water. We are made to live in the communion of the Spirit. In this fullness the devil is no match for the Spirit who is always reminding us that we are children of the Father.

The devil has three temptations for Jesus, each aimed at creating doubt of Jesus’ identity as “the Son of God.” The devil wants Jesus to believe that the Father cannot be trusted and therefore Jesus needs to take matters into his own hands. In each of these temptations we will take note of what Jesus says “no” to and what he is saying “yes” to.

First temptation: No to Self-reliance/Yes to Faith

The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’” (Luke 4:3-4 NRSV)

The devil’s aim is revealed in his first words to Jesus, “If you are the Son of God…” He doesn’t attempt to tell a direct lie that Jesus is not the Son of God, rather he tries to plant a seed of doubt. He wants Jesus to question whether God’s words to him are true or not. We can expect such subtlety from the devil in our own temptations. Don’t expect to hear the devil tell you straight up that the Father doesn’t love you. Rather, he will wait till you are in a wilderness experience. Maybe you are lacking and feeling famished. The devil will then ask you, “If God really loves you, would he lead you to such a place as this?” The devil would love to turn your circumstances into opportunities to doubt God’s word to you. He would love to get us to focus on ourselves and our situation to the exclusion of what God is telling us. Then we are tempted to act from a center in ourselves rather than remaining centered on Jesus.

Notice how the first temptation is a very unnatural one. “Turn stone into bread.” The devil tells Jesus to take care of his own needs using supernatural power. Instead of relying on the Father for provision, Jesus is being tempted to act by using self-reliance. Jesus says no to this temptation. In Jesus “no” to self-reliance he is saying “yes” to faith. Jesus knows what humans are created for. We were created to rely on and trust in the Father. Jesus does not succumb to the temptation to take matters into his own hands and to feed himself on his terms. That would be unnatural as we are created to receive all things from the Father on his terms and in his good time. Jesus trusts the Father will provide, and he waits for the Father’s timing.

Jesus’ answer to the devil reveals he sees beyond the immediate temptation. “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’” He acknowledges his need for bread but not at the expense of a much deeper need and sustenance—his need to rely on the Father. Also, notice how Jesus resist these temptations. The devil is trying to get Jesus to doubt the Father’s word to him, so, what does Jesus do? He reminds himself by telling the devil what God’s word says. In our temptations, we too must remain firmly rooted in God’s written word which reminds us of what the Father has spoken to us in the Living Word by the Spirit. Scripture is an essential gift the believer must receive daily. It’s often recommended to start the day with a devotional, or in the Psalms. The best start of the day is to turn your ears to the trustworthy word found in the scriptures. You will find Jesus there with his victory for you.

Second temptation: No to Self-glory/Yes to Hope

Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” (Luke 4:5-8 NRSV)

The second temptation is for Jesus to seek his own glory by worshiping the devil. Jesus is being tempted again to trust in some other means rather than trusting the Father. This particular temptation for glory is a glory of the world and its ways. The devil is tempting Jesus to rely on the “glory” and “authority” of the “kingdoms of the world.” From the vantage point that Jesus could view all the kingdoms of the world, he would have most prominently been seeing the Roman Empire. The Roman Empire can serve as a pretty good depiction of the type of glory the devil was tempting Jesus with. It is a self-proclaimed and self-actualized glory. And it doesn’t matter who you must step on to get it. But this is not the glory of the Father. Satan is trying to tempt Jesus to gain his own glory in the same way the world operates. Cunning, manipulation, lies, and even murder pave the path to glory for those who worship the devil and his ways.

Jesus says “no” to this temptation because he is saying “yes” to hope in his Father’s glory. He knows the only one truly worthy of worship, and he knows his Father’s glory outshines anything this world can produce. He also knows the fullness of the Father’s glory is yet to come. Out of trust in his Father, he does not attempt a power grab for the moment; he can wait in hope, knowing the Father will glorify him at the right time and in the right way. This will be an actual share in the Father’s own glory. No counterfeits! Also, this will be a glory that will never fade and a glory that needs not trample others underfoot. The glory the devil tempts Jesus with is a paltry and dim glory compared to the splendor of the Father.

Anytime the devil is tempting us to grab something for ourselves on our terms and on our timetable, we can be assured that what he is offering is a far cry from what the Father freely gives. The devil’s temptations are never for something better than what God is giving. It will always be a temptation to settle, to choose the less over the best. The devil has nothing to offer but a glory that fades like the grass. We too, can expect the devil to present us with such self-glorifying temptations. Instead of living in hope of the Father’s purposes for us, we may be tempted to glorify ourselves in such a way that does not glorify the Father. This is a glory destined to fade.

Jesus shows us that the glory we are created for is not one we claim for ourselves. True glory is found in worshiping and serving only “the Lord your God.” So, we live in hope of the sure promises of a glorious Father. Even if saying “no” to the present temptation doesn’t look so glorious in the eyes of an onlooking world, it will be, in the end, the only glory worth having. And we are assured that hope does not disappoint.

Third temptation: No to Self-preservation/Yes to Love

Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” (Luke 4:9-12 NRSV)

For the third temptation the devil decides to try his hand at using scripture. He sees that Jesus has countered the first two temptations with scripture so perhaps he thinks, he can use his best defense against him. So, the devil takes Jesus to the pinnacle of the temple and dares him to jump off. Quoting Psalm 91:11-12 out of context, he is telling Jesus that he can display his identity by having angels show up to protect him. In essence, he is tempting Jesus to avoid the cross. Instead of going to the cross, Jesus is being tempted to avoid suffering and establish himself in the same way the worldly powers do. Worse, the devil wants Jesus to use God as a means to his own ends. The devil is telling Jesus that he can use God as a tool to gain his own success and acceptance in the world.

This temptation begins like the first one by saying, “If you are the Son of God…” The devil will concede Jesus’ identity as the Son of God if Jesus uses that relationship for his own purposes. The devil’s proposition is for Jesus to use his sonship with the Father to produce a spectacular display of power and invincibility. The devil is claiming that the world will flock to Jesus if he plays by their rules, and also, he will not need to go through the suffering that will be involved in following God’s will. Luke’s use of the Temple to set the scene of this temptation is a sure reference to the final assault of the devil in Jerusalem that will lead to Jesus’ crucifixion and death on the cross.

Jesus not only knows his identity as the Son of God, but he also knows the love of his Father. If the Father’s will involves suffering, it is not due to a lack of God’s love. Jesus and the believers, who were the first recipients of Luke’s Gospel, know that God’s love may entail a divine rescue that comes through suffering and death and not always before or from it. So, Jesus is not tempted by self-preservation. Even his own health and life, he willingly places in the Father’s hands, knowing the Father’s love will prevail even if suffering is involved. In this way, Jesus’ “no” to the temptation of self-preservation is his “yes” to God’s love.

Both the devil and Jesus are using scripture throughout this battle. Although both know the scriptures it is only Jesus who knows the heart and character of the Author. Jesus knows he is the beloved son of the Father. He shuts down the devil by quoting “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” If we try to test God’s love, we make ourselves out to be the standard by which the Father is measured. We cannot take our “standards” of love and put the Father to a test to see if he measures up. It is the Father who is love. Just as Jesus went to the cross, trusting the Father, we come to know what love really is as we go through trials and temptations and trust him. As Jesus says “no” to the devil and “yes” to the Father, he becomes our “no” to temptation and our “yes” to faith, hope, and love.

The temptations from the devil conclude in defeat.

When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time. (Luke 4:13 NRSV)

The devil’s departure is a depiction of his defeat. His return “until an opportune time” is a reference to the final battle that will resume at the cross. This story is but the beginning of the devil’s defeat that will be fully accomplished in Jesus’ crucifixion and death. Let’s conclude where the devil left off. Since the devil cited verses 11-12 of Psalm 91, let’s look at those verses and pay attention to see what he did not quote—the very next verse.

For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.
On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.
You will tread on the lion and the adder, the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot. (Psalm 91:11-13 NRSV)

You see this? God’s word always gets the last word. You can see why the devil wouldn’t want to include the part of Psalm 91 that spoke of his own demise. But Jesus knew his scriptures, and he knew his Father. As we face the temptations the devil throws our way, may we too, hold to God’s word to us in the written and Living Word and receive Jesus’ “no” to the devil so we can receive his “yes” to the Father’s gift of Faith, Hope, and Love.



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