The Word in the Wings
The Word in the Wings > From the study: trusting God’s word for life
From the study: trusting God’s word for life
By: KAYA WEAVER
In GPA’s ballet Casefile: Euangelion, the beautiful promises in God’s word are held up against harsh present realities. Beneath the characters’ motivations when they choose to trust God’s word even in the face of frustration and danger, there is a conviction that God’s word is a more reliable source of truth and life than the alternatives offered by other powers. Examining how Jesus interacts with Scripture when he is tested in Luke 4:1-13 helps to illuminate this.
1 Now Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, went up out of the Jordan,
and he was led by the Spirit into the wilderness
2 where he was tested for forty days by an opponent.
And he ate nothing during those days, and when they were over, he was hungry.
After his baptism in the Jordan river, Jesus is “full of the Holy Spirit” and “led by the Spirit.” Even during his time in the wilderness, far from his community or resources, he is in step with the Spirit of God. Jesus’s nearness to God becomes evident in the scene that follows as God’s words from the law of Moses are among the foremost thoughts in Jesus’s mind. In particular, Jesus responds to the opponent’s testing by drawing on words of Scripture that underscore the primary importance of faithful submission to Yahweh.
3 So the opponent said to him,
“If you are God’s son, tell this stone to become bread.”
4 And Jesus answered him,
“It is written that ‘a human doesn’t live by bread alone.’”
In the first test, Jesus’s opponent issues a challenge by way of a conditional statement. If it is true that Jesus possesses the status and authority of the Son of God, his opponent asks him to prove it by performing a physical miracle to satisfy his own need. The opponent’s challenge acknowledges what the narrator has conveyed: that Jesus, after fasting from food for forty days, is hungry, in need of food to sustain his life.
Jesus dodges the opponent’s challenge by quoting from Deuteronomy 8:3. By rehearsing Scripture instead of making bread for himself, Jesus prioritizes remembrance of God’s word over eating. His response refutes the opponent’s claim that his most pressing need at this moment is food.
Further, his citation affirms that something more than bread is needed for life. In Deuteronomy 8:3, Moses reminds the people of Israel of how God provided food for them in the wilderness. Their survival depended not only on food, but on Yahweh who faithfully gave them enough food for each day. If Jesus were to forget this word of God, he might choose at this time to sate his own hunger, but at the cost of something crucial. Relying on his own power to save himself–and to fulfill the opponent’s challenge to prove his identity by his power–would obscure the way Jesus has submitted his will to the will of God the Father. Jesus chooses to prove his identity as Son of God not by using God’s power for his own benefit, but by remaining committed to his relationship with God above everything else. For Jesus, God’s word, even more than bread, indicates the path to life.
5 And leading him up,
he showed him all the kingdoms of the inhabited earth in a moment of time
6 and the opponent said to him,
“I will give you total authority and glory over these,
because it has been given to me, and I may give it to whomever I want,
7 so if you would just bow before me,
everything will be yours.”
8 And answering, Jesus said to him,
“It is written, ‘You will bow to the Lord, your God, and you will worship him alone.’”
The second test follows a similar pattern. Jesus’s opponent sets forth another conditional statement, and Jesus answers by citing Scripture. Since Jesus declines to prove his relationship to God in the way his opponent demands, the opponent now tempts Jesus to exchange his allegiance to God for allegiance to the opponent (The New Interpreter’s Study Bible, p. 1859). The opponent claims that he is the one with authority to confer power over earthly kingdoms and on this ground asks Jesus to seek that authority from the opponent’s hand. But Jesus references Deuteronomy 6:12-13, recalling that Yahweh is the God who delivered Israel from Egypt and demonstrated sovereignty over earthly kingdoms. God’s word reminds Jesus that Yahweh alone deserves worship, and that faithfulness to Yahweh is the most certain path to victory in his mission to the world.
9 But he led him to Jerusalem, and he stood on the pinnacle of the temple,
and he said to him,
“If you are God’s son, throw yourself down from here;
10 for it is written that ‘he will command his messengers regarding you,
they will protect you,’
11 and that ‘they will lift you in their hands
so you may never strike your foot against a stone.’”
12 And answering, Jesus said to him,
“It is said, ‘You will not test the Lord, your God.’”
In the third test, the pattern shifts. The opponent does not appeal this time to Jesus’s bodily need nor to the temptation to expedite his mission. Instead, the opponent turns Jesus’s defense strategy into his own offense. Now it is the opponent who says, “it is written,” in an effort to subject Jesus to his influence. In response, Jesus hones his strategy. While in the first two tests, Jesus prefaces his appeal to Scripture by saying, “It is written,” in the third test he uses the phrase, “It is said.” The distinct phrase distances Jesus from the opponent’s methodology of citing verses without regard for their context, and it suggests that Jesus’s use of Scripture goes beyond the words on the page, involving an oral task of interpretation. Jesus quotes directly from Deuteronomy 6:16, but since his opponent is also able to quote Scripture, Jesus applies the injunction in Deuteronomy to interpret the passage that his opponent cites from Psalm 91. The psalmist writes of Yahweh’s assurance of protection from external threats, but the opponent wants Jesus to create danger in order to prove that God loves him. Jesus asserts his own authority to interpret the text differently than his opponent, pointing to Deuteronomy to claim that the psalm is not an invitation to test God’s power or faithfulness. Rather, God’s word in Psalm 91, taken together with the law in Deuteronomy, is an invitation to trust in Yahweh’s promise to defend and deliver those who love God.
13 And having finished every test,
the opponent departed from him until a later time.
In quoting Deuteronomy 6:16 to his opponent, Jesus invokes a second meaning which admonishes the opponent. As much as Jesus should not test God by throwing himself down from the temple, the opponent should not test Jesus for proof of his divinity.
When Jesus is confronted with temptations to prove his relationship with God, to use God’s power to preserve his own life, or to take on his own terms what God has promised him, Jesus turns to God’s word to recall that trusting Yahweh is the most certain path to life and victory. When the opponent tempts him, Jesus weighs what is offered against the promises in God’s word. Through remembering God’s word, Jesus remains in step with God’s Spirit, choosing not to test or reject God, but to trust God and keep God’s commands.
Scripture quotations in this post are my own translation.
Secondary reference: The New Interpreter’s Study Bible (Abingdon Press, 2003).
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