In Which We Withdraw From The World To Draw Near To God
The modern world considers solitary confinement and enforced silence as among the worst long-term punishments — with good reason; it is a terrifying thing to be cut off from the consolations and diversions of society. And yet, the very severity of that terror hints at the fertile spiritual soil to be uncovered when we deliberately cultivate time away from the distractions of ordinary human life…
Memory Verse: “Now when it was day, He departed and went into a deserted place. And the crowd sought Him and came to Him, and tried to keep Him from leaving them; but He said to them, ‘I must preach the kingdom of God to the other cities also, because for this purpose I have been sent.’ “ — Luke 4:42-43 (NKJV)
Richard Foster: Celebration of Discipline
- 7. Solitude
Donald Whitney: Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life
- 10. Silence and Solitude
Eugene Peterson: A Long Obedience in the Same Direction
- 7. Security: “God Encircles His People”
Ruth Haley Barton: Sacred Rhythms
- 2. Solitude: Creating Space for God
Read 1 Kings 19. What happens to Elijah while he is alone with God?
We start at the very beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, just after his baptism in the Jordan by John (cf. Luke 3:21).
For whatever reason, God often uses the wilderness to refine his saints, to prepare them for ministry. [C.1] Even Jesus, though He was already perfect, had to learn obedience though suffering (cf. Hebrews 5:8) — both spiritual and physical:
As he is fond of doing, the devil seizes the opportunity to tempt us in an area of both our pride and our need:
Jesus had just had His Sonship confirmed by a heavenly voice (cf. Luke 3:22), so obviously He knew who He wa). And surely, Jesus had both the ability and the authority to create His own food — at least in principle.
Yet, Jesus had a reason for withdrawing from human company (and human nourishment). Though He knew what it was to be God, He had to learn when it meant to obey God the way we mortals do. Which meant giving up His natural — and supernatural — privileges in submission to God’s word:
Perhaps this act of self-denial and submission helped prepare Him for the next test:
5Then the devil, taking Him up on a high mountain, showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. 6And the devil said to Him, “All this authority I will give You, and their glory; for [this] has been delivered to me, and I give it to whomever I wish. 7Therefore, if You will worship before me, all will be Yours.”
We know from the Great Commission that all authority is ultimately given to Jesus, yet we also know that Satan (in some sense) is the “ruler of this world” (cf. John 14:30). The devil is apparently offering Jesus a shortcut, a way to achieve His earthly kingdom without having to pay the price of suffering and death.
Yet Jesus — perhaps fortified by forty days of meditating on God’s ultimate purpose for His life — rejects the easy way out:
8And Jesus answered and said to him, “Get behind Me, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only you shall serve.’ “
Perhaps in desperation, the devil tries one more ploy:
9Then he brought Him to Jerusalem, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down from here. 10For it is written: ‘He shall give His angels charge over you, To keep you,’ 11and, ‘In [their] hands they shall bear you up, Lest you dash your foot against a stone.’ “
It is sobering to realize that the devil can even quote scripture (cf. Psalm 91:11) when it serves His purposes. That is why it is essential to not just know the letter of the law, but also to understand the heart of the Father, so we don’t abuse His love for us:
12And Jesus answered and said to him, “It has been said, ‘You shall not tempt the LORD your God.'”
[C.4] That response is sufficient to win the battle — though the war continues:
For the moment, though, the combination of time alone with the Spirit and victory over the devil seems to unleash an expanding wave of spiritual power:
Which comes to a head when Jesus visits His hometown:
16So He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read. 17And He was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah. And when He had opened the book, He found the place where it was written:
And encounters a Word spoken centuries before:
18“The Spirit of the LORD [is] upon Me, Because He has anointed Me To preach the gospel to [the] poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to [the] captives And recovery of sight to [the] blind, [To] set at liberty those who are oppressed; 19To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD.”
that came true that very day:
20Then He closed the book, and gave [it] back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all who were in the synagogue were fixed on Him. 21And He began to say to them, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
Much to their incredulous amazement:
22So all bore witness to Him, and marveled at the gracious words which proceeded out of His mouth. And they said, “Is this not Joseph’s son?”
Which Jesus anticipates, and responds to quite strongly:
23He said to them, “You will surely say this proverb to Me, ‘Physician, heal yourself! Whatever we have heard done in Capernaum, do also here in Your country.’ ” 24Then He said, “Assuredly, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own country.
25But I tell you truly, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a great famine throughout all the land; 26but to none of them was Elijah sent except to Zarephath, [in the region] of Sidon, to a woman [who was] a widow. 27And many lepers were in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.”
Though it earns Him no friends:
28So all those in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath, 29and rose up and thrust Him out of the city; and they led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city was built, that they might throw Him down over the cliff. 30Then passing through the midst of them, He went His way.
Their negative reaction doesn’t appear to slow Him down any, for He continues teaching:
And not merely with an intellectual sort of authority:
33Now in the synagogue there was a man who had a spirit of an unclean demon. And he cried out with a loud voice, 34saying, “Let [us] alone! What have we to do with You, Jesus of Nazareth? Did You come to destroy us? I know who You are–the Holy One of God!”
36Then they were all amazed and spoke among themselves, saying, “What a word this [is]! For with authority and power He commands the unclean spirits, and they come out.” 37And the report about Him went out into every place in the surrounding region.
Which also manifests in physical healing:
38Now He arose from the synagogue and entered Simon’s house. But Simon’s wife’s mother was sick with a high fever, and they made request of Him concerning her. 39So He stood over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her. And immediately she arose and served them.
These miracles are an incredibly powerful witness to who Jesus truly is — yet He doesn’t let those who know share that information:
41And demons also came out of many, crying out and saying, “You are the Christ, the Son of God!” And He, rebuking [them], did not allow them to speak, for they knew that He was the Christ.
Because just as the devil can quote scripture, demons can twist truth to their own ends. While their confession may have arisen spontaneously out of their duress, Jesus knew who He was, what He was doing, and when and how and to whom He would reveal Himself. He didn’t let Himself become distracted by even seemingly positive nuisances. [C.5]
Jesus knew who He was because He had spent time along with Himself, and with His Father — a practice He continued throughout His ministry:
Which gave Him the courage and focus to follow the path of God, rather than that of the crowd:
And the crowd sought Him and came to Him, and tried to keep Him from leaving them; 43but He said to them, “I must preach the kingdom of God to the other cities also, because for this purpose I have been sent.” 44And He was preaching in the synagogues of Galilee.
Which path will we follow?
- Have you been through the wilderness? How did it change you?
- When have you voluntarily given up your rights in obedience to God’s word?
- How can worshipping God alone save us from taking improper shortcuts?
- What does it mean for us to “tempt God”?
- Was your faith or calling ever derailed by seemingly positive opportunities? How did you get back on track?
- Repentance: Where are you taking the easy way out, and missing God’s call?
- Action: Where and when will you spend time alone with the Father?
- Worship: Meditate on how the words “authority” and “power” apply to Jesus in this chapter.
For next week, read 2 Corinthians 4. Whom does Paul serve? Why?
Memory Verse: “For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your bondservants for Jesus’ sake.” — 2 Corinthians 4:5 (NKJV)
- Blue Letter Bible. “Luke 4 – New King James Version.” Blue Letter Bible. 1996-2009. 17 May 2009. < http://www.blueletterbible.org/Bible.cfm?t=NKJV&b=Luk&c=4 >