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Knowing the God Behind Scripture

Date: 17/02/2013/Speaker: Ps Pauline Ong

Good morning. My name is Pauline and this is my first time preaching at FCC. Some of you may not know me as I’m relatively new. I started attending FCC about a year ago. You know, God had to kick my butt a few times before I came but it is definitely one of the best decisions I’ve made these past 2 years. And I’m extremely glad to be a member here. I feel really privileged to be a part of this community and I’m excited to look at God’s Word together with you today.

This Sunday marks the beginning of Lent — just nice after our period of lunar new year feasting. J Lent is traditionally the season where Christians prepare for and contemplate the meaning of Easter. So I thought it appropriate to focus our attention on one of our lectionary passges today, Luke 4:1-13. This is probably a familiar passage for many of us. So I thought it might be interesting to read from the Amplified Bible.

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Luke 4:1-13 (Amplified Bible)

Then Jesus, full of and controlled by the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led in [by] the [Holy]Spirit

2 For (during) forty days in the wilderness (desert), where he was tempted ([a]tried, tested exceedingly) by the devil. And he ate nothing during those days, and when they were completed, he was hungry.(A)

3 Then the devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, order this stone to turn into a loaf [of bread].”

4 And Jesus replied to him, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live and be sustained by (on) bread alone [b]but by every word and expression of God.’”(B)

5 Then the devil took him up to a high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the habitable world in a moment of time [in the twinkling of an eye].

6 And he said to him, “To you I will give all this power and authority and their glory (all their magnificence, excellence, preeminence, dignity, and grace), for it has been turned over to me, and I give it to whomever I will.

7 Therefore if you will do homage to and worship me [just once], it shall all be yours.”

8 And Jesus replied to him, “Get behind me, Satan! It is written, ‘You shall do homage to and worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.’”(C)

9 Then he took him to Jerusalem and set him on [f]a gable of the temple, and said to him, “If You are the Son of God, cast yourself down from here;

10 For it is written, ‘he will give his angels charge over you to guard andwatch over you closely and carefully;

11 And on their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”(D)

12 And Jesus replied to him, “[The Scripture]says, ‘You shall not tempt (try,[g]test exceedingly) the Lord your God.’”(E)

13 And when the devil had ended every [the complete cycle of]temptation, he [temporarily] left him [that is, [h]stood off from him] until another more opportune and favorable time.

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The testing of Jesus in the wilderness is probably quite a familiar passage for many of us. To help give us a context in terms of timeline, this event occurred just after Jesus’ baptism in the river Jordan and just before he preached his first official sermon in Nazareth. It seemed like God was preparing Jesus for ministry during this 40-day period in the wilderness. There are a few things I want to observe before we explore the three temptations further. Firstly, Jesus was hungry as he had not eaten anything throughout this period. I’m not sure if you have fasted for a significant period before but just to give you a better idea of the situation, not only was he fasting, Jesus was also exposed to the heat of the desert by day and the cold by night. We can probably imagine that this situation challenged his physical and mental limits quite drastically. He was most probably weak and possibly delirious. I want to highlight his condition because we can see the extent of his frailty and humanity here. And it will help us appreciate the mental clarity of his answers even more. You see, it’s easy for us to say the right things when our stomachs are full and we feel happy and rested. It’s much harder when we are in a weak and delirious state, right? When we are in such a state, we tend to say what is most true to our hearts, don’t you think?

When I was reading this passage a few weeks ago, I realized that the three temptations actually cover a wide span of situations that we might identify with even today. First, the devil said to Jesus, “If you are the Son of God, order this stone to turn into a loaf [of bread].” There are actually two parts to this temptation. The first is the obvious one. It appeals to Jesus’ basic need — the need to eat and feed his gnawing hunger. It’s a legitimate need that Jesus, as a human being, had. We all have valid needs that are important to our survival — physical, emotional, social, sexual, etc. There is nothing wrong with these needs per se. I think the real temptation lies in what we allow to motivate us and the way we choose to fulfill these needs. Are there times when you feel tempted to fulfill a valid need in a way that goes against your conscience or integrity?

After using Jesus’ needs to test him, the devil turned to his wants, his desires, his dreams. He showed Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and said I will give you everything you long for…power, prestige, adoration, adulation…. All you have to do is to worship me, just once, and it will all be yours. Underlying this temptation was the question, “Do you trust God to give you what is best for you at the right time?” Wants can include our secret desires, our dreams for the future, our hopes for love, our craving for approval, our caring more about what people think of us than what God thinks. And Jesus’ reply was simple, “You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.” Basically he is saying, “Seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness and all these things will be added to you as well.” Sound familiar? What about us? What consumes our waking moments? Our hopes, our dreams, our careers, our secret desires, our relationships, our need for approval? Who or what do you serve? Do we seek to worship God first instead of our dreams, hopes and desires? Do we trust that all these things will be added unto us when we get our priorities right with God?

In his third attempt to tempt Jesus, the devil tries to find out if Jesus has any insecurities regarding his relationship with God and his position in God’s eyes. He tries to get Jesus to prove himself and to test God’s love. He says “IF You are the Son of God, cast yourself down from here; 10 For it is written, ‘he will give his angels charge over you to guard and watch over you closely and carefully; 11 And on their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’” Basically, he is asking Jesus, “Are you 100% sure God can be fully trusted? Are you 100% sure God cares about you?” What about us? Are we sure God can be fully trusted? Are we 100% sure God care about us?

Before we continue, I want to just highlight a very interesting point about Satan’s techniques. Satan uses 2 techniques in his temptations rather skilfully. The first is his goading technique. Notice in the first temptation he says, “If you are the Son of God, order this stone to turn into a loaf of bread.” Satan said, “IF” not “Since you are the son of God” but “IF”. So sneaky, right? He tries that again in the third temptation. He says, ““IF You are the Son of God, cast yourself down from here…” That’s a clever way for a bully to get someone to do something they originally didn’t want to do. Satan was goading Jesus on, challenging him to prove his identity, not only to himself but to all the world.

Satan’s second technique was the use of Scripture. Seeing that Jesus used Scripture to rebutt his advances every time, he quotes from scripture as well to back up his challenge. Sometimes that is the most isiduous kind of temptation, isn’t it? Disguised using the word of God? In general, we’re pretty clever, right? We know when we are tempted to place our needs or wants above God’s desires for us. But when someone is trying to convince us it’s God’s will or tells us the Bible says so, it can make things a little more complicated and confusing, right? What do you do when you are not sure if something is God’s will or not? How can one be certain? I’ll answer that in a little while but for now, let’s look at Jesus’ response to Satan’s techniques.

Well, Jesus didn’t respond to the goading and bullying. He chose to ignore the goading and plainly stated what he believed to be true. He said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live and be sustained by bread alone but by every word and expression of God.’” In essence, Jesus’ reply was saying this: I don’t have anything to prove to you or to anyone else. I am already God’s beloved. Jesus was secure in his identity as God’s beloved. Not only that, he responded a little like someone who’s in love. Have you ever fallen in love and said to the person you love, “Many things are important to my survival but only your words of love make me come alive? I live on your every word.” Ok, ok, maybe that’s a little too sappy but you get what I’m saying, right? Jesus was expressing something similar. “Human beings shall not live and be sustained on bread alone but by every word and expression of God.” Clearly, Jesus had an intimate and interdependent relationship with God. God’s every word and expression is what sustains him. What about us? Have you ever been tempted to question God and say, “If I am your child, why am I gay?” or “If I am your child, why am I sick again?” or “If I am your child, God, why am I hurting so much?” Are we secure in our identity as God’s beloved even in our hardest times? Even in the darkest nights? And what does God’s every word and expression mean to you?

Well, we know that anyone can quote scripture and people often apply it to fit their own understanding or argument. That’s what even the devil did as we can see here. So how do we know with clarity what God desires to say to us? How can we know with certainty God’s heart and intentions? There is only one way. And I’m sure you know it too. Let me ask you: how do you grow to know someone’s heart? By getting to know them. By spending time with them. By talking and listening to them. In the same way, the key to knowing God’s heart is to get to know the God behind scripture personally and intimately. The words found in the Bible gives us a glimpse of who God is and what God’s heart and intentions are. But all that can be easily misinterpreted, as I’m sure we are well aware. For example, I became a Christian when I was 13 and got very involved in Christian ministry in university. After I graduated, I worked for a few years and then served as a missionary in Japan for 4 years. I thought I knew the Bible pretty well. That is, until I went to Bible school. The first thing I realized was there is still so much I didn’t know about God and the bible. I always thought I had the biblical doctrines down pat….black and white….simple and straightforward. That was also one reason why I struggled greatly with my sexuality. Because I read the Bible and thought, “There was no way around this. My attraction to other women, my love for another woman is unacceptable to God. Period.” You know, one of the biggest blessings for me going to bible school was realizing that things are actually not so black and white. In fact, Christians have argued over major theological and doctrinal issues for centuries and there is often no simple conclusion. I realized in awe that God is so much bigger than our human minds can conceive. We try to put God in a box but God’s thoughts are so much higher, deeper, more wonderful than our limited brains can understand. I realized I had totally underestimated the God that I worship and love.

Jesus knew the God behind Scripture. Jesus shows us the way forward as we go into preparation mode for this season of Lent. He showed us that preparation for Easter is more than putting aside our needs, wants and desires. He showed us that true preparation is about knowing the God behind Scripture intimately. Truly getting to know God’s heart and intention behind these words. In his repsonses to the devil, Jesus showed that he knew God personally and intimately. It was this relationship that sustained him, not mere words. It is the relationship behind the words that gave him such conviction, hope and power to overcome. In the same way, knowing the God behind scripture will help us to put our needs, wants and insecurities into perspective and we can experience the same power to overcome.

But more than serving as an example, Jesus was God in human form. He experienced all the same needs, wants, and insecurities as we all do. He was tempted in every way as we are. He was 100% human and it is his humanity that reminds us today how much God wanted us to know that she understands what we are going through. Through Jesus, God wanted us to know that she is not far away in some distant galaxy. She took the initiative to reach out to us. She desires for us to know that she knows us intimately and she cares about us even when we struggle. And she desires for us to know her intimately too.

Can I ask you what is God’s Spirit saying to you today? What is that still small voice whispering in your heart? Have we, in the busyness of life, overlooked what it means to truly know God? Have we settled for second best, telling ourselves that it is enough to just know about God and to know what God says? Some of you may ask, “Isn’t it enough to just come to church and hear what others have to say about God?” No, no it’s not. God wants so much more for you. Not from you but FOR YOU. God wants to make God’s self known to you in an intimate and vulnerable way. God wants a relationship with you….a loving and committed relationship with you.

You know, when you are in a committed relationship, people like to ask when did you know? When was the moment you knew that you were in love? That he or she was the one? Well, let me share with you the time when I knew I was in love…..well, in a love relationship with God. J I was 13 when I first received Christ into my life. I knew God loved me (for God so loved the world…blah blah blah…so God probably loved me) but that was something I understood in my head, but not in my heart. My relationship with God was touch and go. At 16, I was in my first same-sex relationship with my best friend at that time and I was struggling spiritually because I thought it was wrong in God’s eyes. So I ran away from God but the interesting thing is that I knew that God was always there. Just before I entered university, I attended a Christian concert one evening and as the songs were being sung, I heard this still small voice speaking to my heart. It said 3 simple words, “I love you.” At that moment, I knew that was God speaking to me. I realized I had built up a wall in my heart between God and me for so long but I didn’t know how to take it down. So God, in his loving grace, reached out to me first. God — the creator of heaven and earth. God — the one I had blocked out of my life and ran away from. Why would God humble himself to reach out to an insignificant being like me? That was the moment I truly understood grace. And that moment changed my life. I decided that night that I wanted to know God more and I wanted my life to count for God’s purposes.

I don’t know about you. Perhaps you have never experienced God in a real way in your life before. Perhaps a part of you longs to truly mean all the words we sing in worship. You want to know God not just in your head but in your heart as well. For some of us, you may have experienced God before in your life but that feels like the distant past. Maybe you long for that sense of intimacy and vulnerability again. Perhaps, this Lent season is the perfect time for us to draw near to God. But how, you may ask? Well, sure we can read the Bible and/or other books, pray, sing songs, share our spiritual stories/our thoughts with our brothers and sisters, etc. But one of the simplest things you can do right now is to ask. Just tell God, “Draw me close to you.” And I know God will answer that prayer. Why? Because that is God’s desire as well. That is why Jesus came down to earth living out his humanity to the full. So that we can know God is near. You can tell God you want to have a real authentic relationship with him. Tell him you won’t settle for second best. You want the real deal. Perhaps the way you experience God will be different from me but I pray it will be an experience that makes everything within you cry out, “It’s you, God….you are right here with me…you have always been right here.”

If you still feel like you are alone in this journey and for some reason, God feels far away, I just want to share a secret with you. You are not in this alone….even if it feels like it. You don’t have to face life’s struggles on your own. Even Jesus didn’t do it alone. I noticed an interesting nugget of information while reading the first few chapters of Luke. Let me draw your attention to one very interesting detail. Luke 4:1 starts with “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness…” and again in verse 14, it says “Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside.” Luke made sure to tell us repeatedly that Jesus was full of the Spirit, led by the Spirit and he was moving in the power of the Spirit. This is a very important detail because all that Jesus is able to accomplish from this point forth is due to the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. And this is the same Spirit that Jesus says he leaves with us to be our Counsellor and Guide, our source of power and wisdom.

So what is the cry of your heart in this season of Lent? Do you crave to know our God behind Scripture more intimately? Do you desire to experience God’s presence in your life more fully? All we need to do is ask and God our father and mother will gather us into his arms and flood our hearts with her unchanging love. And we can cease struggling on our own right this moment because the Holy Spirit empowers us to manage our needs, wants and insecurities wisely. We can live as God’s beloved and know the God behind scripture intimately. Are you ready?

Let us pray.