Famines, Deserts, and Other Hard Places/Part 4

By: Dr. Erwin Lutzer; ©2012
The purpose of this series of messages is to prepare us for hard times, but some are already there. In the next two messages I am going to be speaking more about the global issues of the economy and all those things but today it’s one-to-one. I am talking to you and I am speaking to myself.

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The Desert, the Devil and You

The purpose of this series of messages is to prepare us for hard times, but some are already there. In the next two messages I am going to be speaking more about the global issues of the economy and all those things but today it’s one-to-one. I am talking to you and I am speaking to myself.

I have a friend who I have known for many years. He is not a member of Moody Church nor does he attend here. I have walked with him through some very dark times, especially in the last three years. We meet somewhat regularly. In fact I met with him last week. What I am going to share with you as to what he is going through is done with his complete permission. You know that I would never share a story like this unless he signed off on all of the details, so here goes.

Here’s what has happened in his life in the last three years. He was unjustly fired from a job. A Christian man offered him the job and benefited from him but then he was let go. He said he experienced far-reaching betrayals by close friends and business associates. Secondly, he went through a nasty and difficult second divorce, complete with false accusations of abuse, which were later proved to be false. He lost his health insurance and nearly lost his life due to cancer as a result of having no insurance, although his physical needs are being met thankfully. He experienced financial ruin and was unable to pay his mortgage for two years. A bright spot is, he does continue to live in the house, which has not yet totally foreclosed.

He experiences daily oppression from creditors, and harassing phone calls. He says, “I know I owe them money but I have nothing to pay them.” He relies completely on food stamps, a food pantry, and the generosity of family and friends. His and one of his children’s bank accounts were illegally zeroed out without warning. Both of his parents died within the last three years and because his bank account was zeroed out he was not able to visit his mother the week before she died. There is continual oppression from the legal system—one thing after another with injustice piled upon injustice. His son experienced a terrifying physical assault, resulting in stitches in the head. Someone jumped on him, someone hiding behind the bushes, and so this is being investigated. The outside of his house was greatly damaged when, by mistake, a SWAT team raided it. And then the worst, and what I’m going to share with you now is worse than the others that I already gave. A son, addicted to drugs, is presently incarcerated, not helped by rehab.

So when I met with him this past week I said to him, “My friend, my brother, after all this, every time I get an e-mail I almost know in advance what is happening now.” Can’t ever something good happen to him? I said to him, “Do you still trust God?” So this is what he said word for word. “My faith has not only been strengthened as a result of this difficult period. My experience of seeing God so faithfully work in my life has given me more confidence to extend my faith in ways that I would not have had the courage to do previously. I have seen my children and others in my life respond favorably to Jesus Christ as a result of observing my faith despite these circumstances. And I have seen how God can use hardships to open doors, to develop new relationships as a result of my brokenness and humility. I now better understand the nature of God and the love of Jesus.” And I want to say wow and thank you.

You say today, “Well, Pastor Lutzer, what is God up to? Isn’t one trial enough? Does it have to be multiple trials—one thing after another—the loss of a job, injustice, mistreatment by Christians? When does the list ever end?”

Well, I am glad you asked, because in this message I am going to explain to you from God’s word exactly what’s happening and what the deal is and what God is doing and what the devil is doing. Thanks for joining me on this journey.

The passage of Scripture is actually the fourth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, and I do hope that you turn to it. It is always so important to see it there in the word of God. Jesus is tested by the devil, but we can’t understand the fourth chapter unless we go back a couple of verses to the last part of the third chapter. Jesus is being baptized by John the Baptist, who later on is beheaded.

This past week I was speaking at a conference where somebody—you know, sometimes we have people who are marginal in some ways—came to the platform and said, “I am John the Baptist. I want to speak.” And the pastor said, “You are not John the Baptist.” The man said, “How do you know?” And the pastor said, “Because you still have your head on.” I guess that would be one way to know that he was not John the Baptist.

Well, this was when John still had his head on. He baptized Jesus, and then it says in verse 16, “And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water and behold, the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him. And behold a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved son with whom I am well pleased.’” And then the Bible says, “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” In fact, in the Gospel of Mark it says, “Immediately Jesus was led to the desert to be tempted of the devil.”

Why immediately? What’s the rush? Jesus had just heard from the Father, “Thou art my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.” Those words had just come from heaven, and now the question is, “Will Jesus cleave to those words and believe those words no matter what God puts him through?” That’s the issue that needs to be settled. So Jesus is driven by the Spirit into the wilderness.

Now there are purposes for temptation. The devil has his purpose: and what is the devil’s purpose? What the devil wants to do is to take the fabric of God’s love toward Jesus and tear it. He wants to put daylight between the words of the Father and the experience of Jesus to get Jesus to doubt whether the Father spoke truth, “You are my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” The devil, diabolos, is called the accuser. He is an accuser. If you use the other word, apolyon, it means destroyer. So he is out to destroy.

This past week I listened to a message by a man by the name of Jim Grier, a very good message in which he called the devil the splitter, and I love that. The splitter! What he wants to do is to split Jesus from the will of the Father, and that’s exactly what he wants to do in my life and your life. He wants to make sure that we are not in fellowship with Christ. So that’s the devil’s intention in the whole issue of temptation.

And what is God’s issue? What is God after? God wants to prove that there are some people who will believe him even though when you look around there is no reason at all to believe that he is on your side. But you still believe that he is as good as his promises, and he will be with us even when the evidence for that is somewhat hard to find.

The bottom line is the devil tempts us to bring out the worst in us; God tests us to bring out the best. And that contest means that it is oftentimes played out in the desert. In the case of Israel it was played out in the desert. Now in the case of Jesus it is played out here in a blend of barrenness, unending sand, no water or bread in sight.

So there are purposes for these temptations. Let me say also that there are diverse temptations, and we’ll look at the text in a moment. When Satan tempts us he doesn’t come to us like he does Jesus. He doesn’t show up in a fury and say, “I am here. I am the devil.” We would be terrified. So with us he works it very differently. He works it like we might use a trap to catch a mouse.

In our first apartment that Rebecca and I had we had some mice that were living along with us. And we soon learned that they couldn’t be caught when you are sitting there. They see you. I remember one scurrying across the floor, and it was a very slippery floor, and he was having such difficulty gaining traction. I still see it in my mind. But we learned that you could have a trap so that even when we weren’t there they would be caught, and they were.

And the devil never comes saying, “I’m the devil.” He comes with a trap, with a lure ,and he has many different lures and he does not announce his coming. But behind the trap is a trapper and behind the lie is the liar. And what he does is he puts ideas in our minds that we think are our own with the intention of doing two things: first of all, making sin look good to us; and secondly, convincing us that we can manage the consequences very well. And so we are like Ananias and Sapphira, who decided to be dishonest—and later Peter says, “Why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit?” —and did not know that their thoughts had actually come from the devil. So that’s the way he comes to us. He makes sin look good and lets us think that we can manage it very well, thank you. We can handle the consequences.

Well, now to the temptations. You’ll notice that the devil comes to him and says, “If you are the Son of God turn these stones into bread.” Most people who translate it say that it could be translated “If you are.” He’s not really debating whether Jesus is the Son of God. “You are hungry; turn the stones into bread.” There’s nothing wrong with that. Later on Jesus is going to feed 5,000 people by his word. But what the devil wants to do is this. He wants to say to Jesus, “Oh, so this is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased. Really? Then why are you hungry? If you mean so much to God, if God loves you as much as God says he does, explain your hunger to me. If God is on your side, create bread right now.” Jesus won’t fall for the bait. What Jesus is saying is, “If my Heavenly Father has mapped out a difficult road for me, I would rather starve here in the desert than do one single thing to somehow have my own way.”

So Jesus comes back at the devil and quotes from the book of Deuteronomy and says clearly, “Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.” That quotation comes from a time in Israel’s history when people were angry with God because they were hungry. And God says, “I let you go hungry that you might know that man doesn’t live by bread alone but by every word that comes out of the mouth of God.” That’s the context, and what the people were really saying is this. “We’d prefer bread to your word,” and God says in this temptation to Jesus, “Are you going to be willing to believe my bare word, or does bread mean more to you than my promises?” That’s really what’s at stake.

Parenthesis—you and I don’t really live by every word that comes out of the mouth of God, do we? We only live by those words that we like. We only live by our favorites.

But Jesus quoted a verse here, and the devil says in effect, being very clever, “You quoted a verse? I can play your game. I’ll quote one too. I’ll take a verse out of Psalm 91. And so he takes him to the pinnacle of the temple, the eastern wall, the pinnacle there that falls off into the Kidron Valley, and says to him, “Cast yourself down, because it says in Psalm 91, ‘He shall give his angels charge concerning thee and in thy hand they shall bear thee up lest thou cast a foot against the stone.’ If you believe every word that comes out of the mouth of God, prove this one. And furthermore, you’d be a hero—falling from the temple and not dying—but you’d also have proof and vindication that you are God’s beloved Son after all; because you need to confirm God’s word with a miracle. And so, jump down from the temple and I’ll catch you.”

Jesus does what every good theologian does. What Jesus does is he corrects the devil’s theology with another verse. He doesn’t say, “Well, you know you are misquoting the verse.” No, because he wasn’t really misquoting it, but he was saying, “You need to balance this over here. To put it in context there’s something going on over here.”

Another parenthesis—there are so many false teachers on the airwaves today, and I spoke about them recently. I can just imagine some of them coming across a promise like in Psalm 91 and saying, “You know, the Lord just showed me something. We could just jump out of an airplane. We could do all of this and he catches us. Hallelujah!”

Jesus said, “You need to balance it by another one. And the other one is, ‘You shall not test the Lord your God.’” Again he quotes Deuteronomy. And the context is this: The people were upset because they were hungry and thirsty, and if you look at the context, what they were basically saying was this; they were saying, “If you don’t provide food and water and do a miracle, we’re not going to believe you anymore. Who can trust a God who allows people to be hungry and thirsty?” And so they tested God. “Give us a miracle or else.” Jesus said, “Never do that.” Never put God in a box. Never be presumptuous and say, ‘Oh, here’s a promise. I’ll hop from the pinnacle of the temple and you’ve got to catch me.’”

“Thou shall not put the Lord thy God to the test,” said Jesus. And Jesus is saying, “I don’t even need a miracle like that to believe that I am God’s beloved Son in whom he is well pleased,” and so Jesus passes that test. And by the way, the devil can indeed quote Scripture.

But now he comes to the biggy, and the biggy has to do with the possessions and the ownership of the world. The devil, being a scholar in the sense that he reads the Bible, has read Psalm 2 where it says that someday Jesus is going to sit on the throne and God is going to give him the kingdoms of this world. So the devil comes to Jesus and shows him the kingdoms of this world. We don’t know how it happens; maybe it was some kind of a vision. But we can imagine that all of the opulence that was in existence at that time was seen by Jesus in the company of the devil. I am thinking, for example, of the Great Pyramids of Egypt that already were centuries old by that time. Maybe they saw the Acropolis in Athens, and they saw the great buildings in the city of Rome. And Satan says, “Jesus, if you bow and worship me I’ll give them all to you. Worship me and I will give you the kingdoms.”

Now the question, of course, is did he have a right to do that? Theologians debate it. After all, he is the god of this world. Some people say it was a legitimate offer that he was making to Jesus. But if you think of this theologically, putting all of the things together, I think that there is something else going on here in the text, and that is I think that the devil was bluffing. If Jesus had bowed down, Jesus would not have received the kingdoms of this world; because sure, he’s the god of this world, but remember he’s the god of this world on God’s terms and moment-by-moment is subject to God. And so he could not have given Jesus that right. But what he is doing is this; he’s saying, “Jesus, there’s an easier way to get the kingdom than to die and be on a cross, because you can take a shortcut. And if you take a shortcut you can be wealthy, you can own the kingdoms of this world, and you can be powerful. So you don’t have to do it with integrity. You don’t have to do it following the Father’s plan. No, you simply go ahead and worship me and I’ll give them to you.”

Of course, Jesus said no to that and he made the statement, “You should not put the Lord your God to the test,” and then he says, “Be gone, Satan, for it is written, ‘You should worship the Lord your God only and him only shall you serve.’” Wow! What he’s saying is, “No.”

Another parenthesis! I’m giving you plenty of them today, aren’t I? Will Satan ever get this? Will he ever be worshipped? Absolutely! In fact, in one of the messages I’m going to talk about whether we would have enough faith to trust him even if we were to live in the Tribulation period, but the Bible says there about Satan’s puppet, the Antichrist, “All that dwell upon the face of the earth shall worship him except those whose names are written from before the foundation of the world in the Lamb’s Book of Life.” He’ll get his worship! Oh, it is going to be so short, because it will be interrupted by the glorious appearing of Jesus Christ to the Mount of Olives in triumph and in power, and the glory will all be his, and his alone.

So Jesus passes the test. Jesus says, “I believe that I am God’s beloved Son. In me he is well pleased, and I can believe that without any evidence, without any miracle, or without any shortcut to somehow get possessions and money. I can believe it with integrity because all that matters to me is that I please the Father.

I find it interesting that it says here in verse 11, “Now that this temptation was over.” By the way, in Luke it says, “And Satan departed waiting for a more opportune time.” Sometimes new Christians think that if you encounter Satan and you are victorious once, you’ve got it made. No, he will be back at a more opportune time. But in verse 11 it says, “and angels came and ministered to him.” God sent angels; and the angels, I am sure, said to Jesus, “We’re not here to catch you,” though they’d have been glad to do it if so ordered, “but we are here to bless you.” Who knows? Maybe we’ll find out some day. Speculation! His fast was over after 40 days and 40 nights. Maybe they even laid the table for him and they had a banquet. We don’t know, but God is the one who sent angels, and said in effect to Jesus, “When you are most desperate, when you are most hungry, when you pass the tests, I will be there for you with these kinds of blessings.”

I began this message by telling you I was going to tell you what’s really going on in the spirit world in your life and in mine, so here it is, and you’ve already picked up on it. The devil is saying in effect as he did in the book of Job, “Do you see So-and-So? They hold fast their integrity. They go to church, but if you take something away from them, if you take their children, or if you take their possessions, they will curse you to your face.” And God is saying, “Wait a moment; I have people who are going to believe every word that comes out of my mouth.” And if you are here today as a Christian, or you are listening by whatever means, whether it is on the Internet, whether it is by radio, listen to me very carefully. If you are a believer God says of you today that “you are my beloved son” or “you are my beloved daughter, and in you I am very well pleased.”

You say, “That can’t be.” It’s what it says in the book of Ephesians, “We have been graced in the beloved one.” You see, God loves us and he loves us and it’s independent of performance.

Now here’s what the devil does in our lives. He has two different major ways to get at us. One is circumstances—injustice, fired from a job, unable to make ends meet as my friend indicated, humbling us, going through times of distress, personal conflicts; God takes us through that. And that’s one way that the devil tries to get us to disbelieve that we are still precious to God. After all, if you were precious to God he’d do something for you, wouldn’t he? Would he let this go on year after year after year? That’s one thing the devil uses.

And then for us he uses something else that he could have never used for Jesus, but he uses it for us, and that is guilt. You see, he is the accuser of the brethren. And when does he accuse us? During the day and during the night! And this is what happens. A Christian falls into sin; their soul is sullied; their soul is defiled; and they don’t know what to do. They say to themselves, “You know, God must be so mad at me. There’s no use in me really connecting with God because I may do the same thing again.” And so, not properly understanding the gospel, they are led to despair. And the devil wins because he has separated your soul from the Father. There’s no fellowship when you have a defiled soul. I’ve learned that long ago. How can you look into the eyes of your Heavenly Father and tell him how much you love him and how much you appreciate his grace and forgiveness if all that you have in your mind are memories of impurity and sins that you have committed? You just say, “I don’t even want to go there.” And so you may come to church and sing the right songs, and listen to the right prayers, but you leave unchanged.

How should we handle that? Should we say, “Well, devil, I just want to clarify one thing. I’m not as bad as So-and-So.” You know, if you really want to compare people you go into my bosom and you find something good and then you present it to Jesus, and the devil says, “Great,” and he has you for lunch, dinner, supper and dessert. That’s not the way you handle it.

The way you handle it is you go back to the gospel that says that we are accepted in Jesus, and there is nothing that I can do to make God love me less, and nothing that I can do to make him love me more. Someday I will preach an entire message on that for you unbelievers who didn’t clap very loud. John 17, “Thou has loved them as thou hast loved me.” You belong to Christ and you are permanently and totally loved. And so you come back to Christ, and you come back to him and you rely on the work that he did on the cross. And don’t you dare pull something nice out of your bosom and say, “Well, you know I did have my devotions this morning so I’m not that bad.” That’s not the basis. The basis is what Jesus did for us; and because he won, we win even when we fail. That is the good message of the gospel.

So how do we counteract the devil? The word of God! “It is written.” What is written? Can I look into your eyes? Will you all look at me for just a moment? Pretend I’m not saying this but God is: “You are my beloved son, and you are my beloved daughter, in whom I am very well pleased.” Hunger, no miracles, no way to confirm the faith by some dramatic event, but you live by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God. And when Satan comes and reminds you of your past, you remind him of his future.

I have often quoted Romans 8 in my own life. “Be gone, Satan,” I say, “for it is written. ‘Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? It is Christ that died, yea, rather that is risen again who is even now on the right hand of the throne of God who also makes intercession for us.’ You can’t corner me on this guilt thing. I am a sinner and I did wrong, but Jesus Christ’s blood and sacrifice is great enough and wonderful enough to set me free.”

So we use the word of God, but we also use the work of God. Colossians 2 says that when Jesus Christ died on the cross he disarmed all principalities and all powers and made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it.

You say, “Well, Pastor Lutzer, I am so weary. I am so weary of the stress. I am so weary of the pressures. I am so weary physically, mentally and emotionally. I can’t fight the devil anymore.” Well, hear me when I tell you that you don’t have to. Jesus did and he won. So we lay hold of the fact that Jesus is the winner in the contest.

But then there are also the people of God. You say, “Well, Pastor Lutzer, Jesus fought the devil alone in the desert. I can fight my own demons alone.” Well, like I say, news flash! You are not Jesus! But also think of this; when Jesus was in his most difficult temptation, when Jesus was assaulted emotionally in a way that he was never assaulted in the temptation in the desert, when he was there in the Garden of Gethsemane sweating as it were great drops of blood, when Jesus was there, then what happened? He asked the disciples and said, “Come and watch with me. Help me bear my burden.” Even Jesus needed others in a moment of especial grief and heartache and agony. Who are we that we think that we can do without the prayers of others and the commitment of other people? We can’t.

Sometime ago I was watching what I think is one of the best channels on television. It’s the Animal Channel. You say, “Well, Pastor Lutzer, just use your zapper and go through. There are a lot of channels out there that might in some sense be described that way.” Am I going too fast for some of you? But I’m talking about the real animal channel, and I saw something, and I said, “Wow!”

I hope I can draw the picture for you. I wish we could flash it on the screen but it’s a little too gruesome anyway, but I’ll describe it. Here you have a herd of buffalo. I’ll say maybe 100-200. I don’t know, and here are five or six lions who notice that one of the buffalo is just away from the herd—maybe 200-300 feet, maybe a little farther. Two lions—actually all of them—run toward this buffalo. One takes one back leg, the other takes the other back leg, and they hang on for dear life. And this massive beast begins to slow down. As soon as he slows down, other lions hop on his back. Others begin the process in his underbelly, and you can just begin to visualize what happens.

Now one lion doesn’t understand buffalo very well. He goes for the buffalo’s head. Bad idea! The buffalo puts his head down like this and just up with his horns and he threw that lion in the air probably six or eight feet. In fact, the commentator said that the lion died the next day. You never want to attack a buffalo at the horns.

Now what interested me is what about the other buffalo? They were all standing. No one is grazing. They are just staring—just staring. I don’t know whether or not a buffalo can think. I’ve never been one. I’ve never talked to one. But if they can think they are probably thinking this. “Oh, I’m sure glad that’s not me.”

What a picture of Satan—the splitter. First of all, he wants to split people from the Church, and from other believers. And I’ll tell you how he does it. He does it primarily through anger and bitterness. You’ve been hurt in church. Other Christians have hurt you. Other Christians have not appreciated you. In fact, things have been done and you have experienced injustice at the hand of Christians. And so you say to yourself, “So much for believers. I’m not going to have anything to do with those hypocrites.” The lion that is trying to devour us licks his chops and says, “Great. I’ve got them split from the herd,” and he wants to use that bitterness in your life, and that anger and that disposition to do it. And then he does it, and then he begins to attack you in other ways. You know, once you are cut off from the herd you are vulnerable to all kinds of other things. And unfortunately sometimes Christians hear about it or maybe they even say, “Oh you know what So-and-So is going through? I’m sure glad it’s not happening to me.”

Listen, if those buffalo had decided as a herd to take on those lions and thunder toward them, the lions would have fled with all that they possibly were, because those lions were no match at all for a herd of buffalo with their horns blazing, taking care of those lions.

We need one another in the Church. You are going through a trial and God is saying to you, “You need to share that request with someone. You need somebody to help you bear your burdens.”

I’ve been through it. I know what some of you are going through. You’re going through times when you don’t even have enough faith for yourself because you have been so assaulted by the devil. Somebody else has to believe and trust with you.

And that’s why today here at the Moody Church we have prayer partners, and I am going to ask them right now to stand in the aisles. If you are in the balcony if you go up the stairs in the atrium area you are going to find prayer partners there, because in a few moments we are going to be singing a hymn together and I want you to share your need with a prayer partner who will not only pray today but promise to pray for you all week. This is not an opportunity to receive counsel. It’s an opportunity to in a sentence or two say, “My heart is heavy today because of A, B, C, D. Would you lift me up in prayer?”

If you see that there are some lines that are long, go anyway; because we have other prayer partners who will step in. Let me say also to some of you couples—I speak to the man, you should be a leader. Take your wife’s hand and say, “We are going for prayer together because the devil is splitting us. He is splitting us from God, splitting us from other people, and splitting us from each other. The splitter cannot win. We will not let the splitter split. We will hang in to every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.”

And if you are a Christian God says, “I love you, and Jesus died for you.” If you are not a believer in Christ today you come forward too and tell somebody that you want to be saved, and these prayer partners will help you.

Let us pray together.

Father, we thank you that Jesus triumphed where Adam failed. Adam failed in a beautiful garden; Jesus in a desert conquered, and for that we are deeply grateful. Now we ask that the Holy Spirit who has been given to the Church may speak to all of our hearts and remind us that we all need prayer one with another. May many people today respond and say, “We come. We don’t want the devil to win. We want Jesus to triumph.” Bring us all back into fellowship with the Father, we pray, in Jesus’ name, Amen.

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