This Sunday I am preaching on the baptism of Jesus from Matthew chapter three. While writing the sermon, I occasionally look to my left and see the story of the temptation of Jesus. I will not preach on this story till next February, but it still haunts me.
If you remember the story, Jesus is led out into the wilderness after his baptism to be tempted and tested by the devil. There is where evil has its chance to grab Jesus before he makes an impact for God, as he often likes to do.
According to Matthew, the first temptation was to turn stones to beard. Jesus responds with a quote from the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy. Then the devil changes his tactic. He takes Jesus either spiritually or physically to the highest point of the temple and asks Jesus to throw himself down. Then, the Devil quotes a passage from the Psalms that makes the action seem like it is part of God’s plan. Jesus responds by quoting another Old Testament passage that is contradictory to the way Satan used it. Knowing he is defeated, he moves on to another test.
This second encounter is the one that troubles me the most. It seems clear that the devil knows his Bible and he knows how to misuse it. He can twist a passage out of context to make us think we are in line with God’s will when we are not. This one prospect keeps me up at night.
So if you care about following God in your life, I would suggest you do a couple of things.
1. Actually Read the Bible. We cannot live on a diet of fond childhood memories, bits we learned in sermons and a handful of passages. We need to know all of what it says for us not to be fooled.
2. Learn the Rules of Bible Interpretation. My freshman year I was required to take a class in “How to Understand the Bible” called hermeneutics. You need one too. Find an online class or a book that will help you. I always suggest the book, “How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth.” You need to learn how to read all the genres of scripture.
3. Strive to Understand Theology. For me, learning theology is about learning the big picture of the Bible. Things like, what can we know about God in Genesis and Daniel and Acts and Revelation. How do all those pieces fit together? The goal is to move you beyond building all your thinking on one or two passages of scripture. The Devil tried to isolate one passage and pull it from the overall theology of the Savior, and Jesus knew what he was doing. Would you?
4. Read Heavy Books. By heavy, I mean books that have weighty topics and discussions. Commentaries are a great place to start. These books divide verses into small pieces and then apply them to the whole. I have a few thick books that walk through the entire New Testament. You would not want to read them before bedtime, but they are worth the effort to understand the Bible entirely.
The Devil is crafty. He knows how to take the truth and twist it in just the right way to confuse and deceive us. Most people think they are smart enough to see the errors and not fall for his tricks. Believe me, if Satan believes it will work on Jesus, he is sure it will work on you.