Saturday, May 2, 2009

Led By the Spirit / Tempted By the Devil - Matthew 4:1

“Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness
to be tempted by the devil.”
(Matthew 4:1)

I sat down a few days ago to work my way through Matthew 4 at the encouragement of a dear friend who has been holding up my arms in this battle. (Friends are a blessing - particularly those who love us enough to be willing to wound us and then help us heal.) She had landed, providentially, in Matthew 4 at the very same moment that I had landed, providentially, in the middle of this fire storm. Isn't God good?! She emailed me and said "When you have a chance pick up your Bible, read Matthew 4 and look at Matthew Henry's comments on it." I took her advice and God blessed me greatly for so doing.

Honestly, I thought I'd buzz through the whole thing in one sitting. I've read these words at least 50 times. I know the story. I know the struggle. I know the solution. This shouldn't take long. Nope! Wrong! Think again!

I hit verse 1 and it absolutely flooded over me. I had to camp out on this spot for a while. Things were flying by at break neck speed and God was both encouraging me and reproving me from this verse. It was exactly what I needed at the moment and I, in God's mercy, was able to drink deeply from these 17 words. Don't doubt the inspired nature of Christ's Word. Don't doubt that every jot and tittle is written with divine purpose. These words began dividing bone and marrow in me at just the right time. Soli Deo Gloria!

Here's what struck me. In my time meditating on this verse I literally took one section at a time to dwell on and pray on. I will lay it out in the same manner here.

Matthew 4 begins with this one word. “Then…” - Mr. Henry says:

“Immediately after the heavens were opened to Him (Jesus), and immediately after the Spirit descended on Him, the next news we hear of Him is that He is tempted; for then He is best able to grapple with the temptation. Great privileges, and special tokens of divine favor, will not secure us from being tempted. Nay, after great honors are put upon us, we must expect something that is humbling. God usually prepares His people for temptation before He calls them to it.”

Henry goes on to say: “When He was baptized, then He was tempted. After we have been admitted into communion with God, we must expect to be set upon by Satan. The enriched soul must double its guard. The devil has a particular spite at useful persons, who are not only good, but given to do good.”

Looking into my heart right now and looking back at my past few weeks, I’m not sure just how applicable the last sentence is to Lori Sealy. I am not sensing my usefulness at the moment and clearly see that I am not "good" ("There is no one good, no not one."). That's not false humility, that's just the plain and simple truth! Yet, I recognize that I have been clothed in the goodness of Christ and my heart longs to be used by God. Therefore these things have been applied to me and are true of me by grace. He has made me good and He mercifully allows me to be useful.

God has been so gracious this year to give me a renewed hunger for Him. (That's how this whole silly blog thing got started.) My heartfelt prayer at the beginning of 2009 was “One thing I have asked from the LORD, that I shall seek; that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to meditate in His temple.” (Ps 27). It's still my heartfelt prayer, it really is. God has been preparing me these past few months for these past few weeks. I can't imagine having faced these difficult things without the sweet time of communion I've had with Him prior to them. He is indeed merciful and He indeed ordains all our steps.

For these past few months worship has been precious, the preaching has been piercing, my time in the Word has been richer than ever. Honestly, my hungering and thirsting for righteousness has been incomparable to any other time in my 20 year walk with Christ. “Then”… Boom! this current battle came. My times are in His hands. All of our "thens" are ordained. In mercy He fits us for the fight that He, for divine purposes allows. I am thankful for the days before this "then" and I am thankful for His presence (even when I've questioned it) in the midst of this "then".

The immediate word after "then" is “…Jesus…” In this text it was JESUS who faced this temptation. The SINLESS Christ faced temptation. How much more likely is the sinFULL Lori liable to face temptation?! I absolutely recognize that in these past weeks I have failed and fallen miserably in my trials– I think I’ve seen my frailties more clearly than I ever have - ever. Yet, isn't it good to know that temptation does not necessarily equate with sin. Recognize that Christ was tempted, yet Christ was without sin.

Henry reminds us that “temptations if not yielded to are not sins, they are afflictions only.” These past few weeks, as throughout my life, temptations have fallen into both categories. I have sinned in my temptation and I have been sanctifyingly afflicted in my temptations. The latter only and absolutely by sovereign grace. I am reminded of James’ words:

“Consider it all joy my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance, and let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God who gives generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea driven and tossed by the wind.”

The other thing I am particularly aware of in this biblical accounting of Jesus being tempted is the FACT that I have a high priest who understands my frailties and who in His own active obedience has granted me victory over my own struggles. I cannot begin to put human words on the glory, beauty, and majesty of that theme! I fall to the words of the Living and True God:

“For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and may find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:15-16)

Now, I have to tell you that I had never, until this period of digging in the Word, seen the encouragement of God for us to come boldly before the throne for mercy being tied into its context of Jesus our high priest. This rocked my personal world!! Context counts.

"Draw near with confidence to the throne of grace" is connected to He who endured temptation without sin. Christ's active obedience in the midst of temptation is the foundation upon which our bold prayers can be built. This beautiful passage begins with with “Let us therefore” – in other words, because of the fact that Christ endured and overcame temptation in "all things" we are to BOLDLY draw near with confidence to the throne of grace. Here is the rubber of Christ's imputed perfect life meeting the road of my prayer life. It's time to get bold! It's time to draw near! It's time to be confident in my petitions that I might find mercy and grace in my time of need! Lord - remove the callouses from my heart and form some callouses on my knees!!

The third phrase after "Then Jesus" is “…was led up by the Spirit…” Wow! What a comforting phrase! I have not been through this trial and I am not still going through this trial apart from the hand of my God. Remember that precious prophet's words : “O LORD, thou art my God; I will exalt Thee, I will give thanks to Thy name; for Thou hast worked wonders, plans formed long ago, with perfect faithfulness.” (Is 25:1). God was sovereign in the temptation of Christ. He is sovereign in the temptations of Lori. He is sovereign in your temptations as well!

Mr. Henry remarks that, “whithersoever God leads us, we may know He will go along with us, and bring us off more than conquerors.” Oh, I will exalt Him and give thanks and praise to His name for HIS faithfulness to me in these dark days and the dark days that will most certainly come again in this life. “For the LORD will not abandon His people, nor will He forsake His inheritance.” (Ps 94:14)

Fourthly, "Then Jesus was led by the Spirit... into the wilderness…” You know, the wilderness can be both good and bad. It is good to be alone with our God and to be in a place of utter dependence upon Him. Quiet time is precious time and we not ignore it. However, it seems that it is often in the wilderness that the enemy so shrewdly deals with us.

The wilderness is sometimes a barren wasteland. At times our hearts are like deserts and Satan, sin and self pursue us in that dry and thirsty land. The Devil looks for our Achile's heel and that is where he loves to strike. How good to know that "He who is in me is greater than he who is in the world." What a comfort to know that He will make my barren places fruitful and my deserts to flow with streams of living water. Lord – you’ve promised to make all things beautiful in Your time. Would you do that with me?! Yes! You will – for so you have said and it is impossible for You to lie! Let me not despise the wilderness but delight in the priviledge of pruning.

Fifthly, "Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness…to be tempted…” Temptation comes! God sustains! Temptation does not mean we are forsaken by God – it may be a very sign of the fact that we are chosen by God. (Hear that O doubting one!) It was the Spirit of God who led the Son of God into the wilderness. “If good people are brought low, if they want friends and succours, this may comfort them, that their Master Himself was in like manner exercised. A man may want bread, and yet be a favorite of heaven, and under the conduct of the Spirit” (Matthew Henry).

I am not forsaken simply because I am forlorn! Remember, “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and god is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, that you may be able to endure it.” (1 Cor 10:13)

Sixthly, "Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted… by the devil.” I don’t know what has really gone on these past few days. I really, really don’t. Much of what I have faced has been beyond category for me. I'm not a mystical gal. I don't get into looking for demons in every corner. Yet, I know they are real and that they are enemies of the elect. I cannot deny that the Bible itself speaks of them and of their roaring, devouring, destroying nature. Satan and his minions are the total epitomy of evil. There is no restraining grace in them. They are absolute depravity and they seek to steal, kill and destroy. Satan is the father of lies and in him there is NO truth. His whispers can temporarily deafen us to the still, small voice of the Spirit as it comes to us in the Word. The devil is a real enemy and I am foolish to ignore him as though he did not exist! The devil is a liar and I am foolish to listen to his whispers!

There’s no need for me to speculate at whatever the source of my current battle is – self, sin, Satan – the answer remains the same. The answer is Christ in us enabling His Word to be used by us. "He who is in me is greater than he who is in the world." May we fling ourselves fully into the arms of the Omnipotently Strong Savior of sinners.

Here's the whole kit-n-kaboodle - “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” Wherever we are, if we are His, we find ourselves there by divine appointment. Whatever we face His strength is made perfect in our weakness and His grace is sufficient to carry us through. May we all flee to Christ in our darkest and in our brightest hours.

Lord I simply ask that You would make me to KNOW you through this temptation. Use this affliction to make me more like you and less like me. I praise You and take great comfort in Your sovereignty in this and in all things. There are no maverick molecules in this universe, including the molecules of trial, testing, and temptation. You are Lord of the "thens." You are working all things together for the good of those who love You and are the called according to Your purpose. Thank you for being my God and for calling me to be Your child. Amen and Amen! SDG!

Led, Tempted, and being Delivered,


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