No Audio Available
Jesus – Life in the Spirit
Reading LUKE 4:1-15
Much of the way people live today is guided an idea which can be put very simply:
"Do as you wish as long as it doesn't harm anybody else."
I wonder whether you've ever heard this kind of thinking being used to justify dubious or questionnable behaviour. It is the kind of of argument that is brought forward to defend all kinds of sexual perversion between "consenting adults". It is one of the arguments used to justify the practise of euthanasia.
You might be surprised to learn that this saying "Do as you wish…" was first made popular by an infamous occultist who has had a great influence upon rock music with all its rampant hedonism and self-serving.
Of course we should not be surprised that such thinking readily appeals to a fallen humanity – after all we don't appreciate having any constraints being placed upon us. Contemporary western society has lost any faith it once had and with the loss of faith Biblical morality has been jettisoned. This has left men and women with no universal guiding principle. Having rejected the Bible we have lost the very foundation upon which the success of our society has been built; we have lost the concept of truth and all we are left with is "If it feels right for you it must be right for you"!
Such a situation is hopeless and in practice it is impossible to live like this. So we call upon the government to pass ever more laws to try to bring about some sort of conformity to what the majority think of as reasonable. But why should we conform to an arbitrary set of rules and regulations that simply reflect the political correctness of the day? There really is no substantial reason why we should do so if there is no such thing any longer as absolute truth.
So our society muddles along increasing selling off the family fortune of our Christian heritage and wondering why things are as they are.
And where is the Christian in all this? He is not immune from the trends that are taking place in the society he lives in and from the pressures which that society brings to bear upon him. And it doesn't take long for him to hear others using expressings such as "the Spirit told me" or "I felt the Spirit leading me".
And of course the language sounds so good, so positive, so spiritual because the Spirit does lead and the Spirit does guide us. Yet we have to take care that we are not simply putting a "christian gloss" onto very worldly desires and that is so very easy a thing to do.
Let me tell you what I mean:
It is very easy for us to come to God and to his Word the Bible with our minds already fundamentally made up. When we do that we notice and retain those things that seem to fit with what we already want to believe!
So we like to read verses like these:
Ps.23:1-3a "The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul."
But are possibly less enthusiastic about what comes next:
Ps.23:3b "He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake."
We share the Psalmist's desire expressed in:
Ps.143:10b "Let your good Spirit lead me on level ground!"
But are possibly less enthusiastic about what immediately preceded this:
Ps.143:10a "Teach me to do your will, for you are my God!"
We might make a similar division with this verse from Isaiah:
Is.48:17 "Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: "I am the LORD your God, who teaches you to profit, (so far so good) who leads you in the way you should go (well here come those restraints again…)."
Yes, the Spirit does lead! Yes, the Spirit does guide! His intent, however, is not to cushion our lives by pandering to our every whim of our self-centred feelings but to promote the glory of God. The Spirit works to that same end in the life of the Christian and therefore he works to promote our own greater godliness
This morning, with the LORD's help, we will think together about what life in the Spirit really looks like as we consider another episode in the life of the Lord Jesus.
A Reminder: Luke's Description of Jesus so far
As we enter chapter 4 of Luke's gospel we meet with a Jesus who is aged about 30 years old. He is just in the process of entering into the active ministry phase of his life. Entering into this phase was no light matter – Jesus knew what would be required of him in the successful accomplishment of his mission. He was totally committed, as he needed to be, because he knew that this new phase of his life would climax with the events of his crucifixion, resurrection and ascension!
But what else do we know about this committed man? What has Luke thought it necessary to tell us?
His commitment was already in evidence – even at the young age of 12 he already knew that "he must be about his Father's business".
He had matured and as he had done so he had gained the favour both of God and of men. The Father was, in fact, fully satisfied with his Son in every respect.
He was a spiritual man – the Spirit of God had come upon him at the time of his baptism and had not done so in a temporary or fleeting manner but having come upon Jesus the Spirit remained, filling him.
It was just this sort of man that we now encounter in Luke 4. This upright, respected and divinely approved man, Luke now tells us, is to be led and guided by the Spirit of God.
Do you wish to be led and guided by the Spirit?
Then, firstly and fundamentally, you must be prepared to be a Christian and secondly you need to be prepared that you might live as a Christian.
Let's think a bit more about this.
Since Jesus returned to heaven and sent the Spirit to earth, the Spirit has exercised different though related ministries. As he ministers amongst us, his first task is to lead us to Christ. Has he brought you to repentance, faith and trust? If you are not yet a Christian then you need the Spirit to bring you to Christ. He will do this by showing you your sin and the consequences of your sin and how desperate your situation actually is. When you realize this he will show you Jesus as God's answer to your predicament. He even gives you the faith you so stand in need of!
But the work of the Spirit is by no means ended by bringing a man/woman/boy/girl to Jesus in faith. Having prepared you to be a Christian he then proceeds to prepare you for your life as a Christian believer – we are not in this on our own but God the Spirit continues to work in us and with us!
So, if you want the Spirit to lead and guide you, you must first become a Christian and then grow in your life as an increasingly spiritual person with deepening concerns for God and his glory.
But how did the Spirit lead Jesus?
Our opening verse simply records, in a straightforward matter-of-fact way, that Jesus "was led by the Spirit in the wilderness".
Luke doesn't give us more explanation – but does he need to? God has no problems in guiding and we needn't be anxious concerning his ability to guide us. The Jesus that Luke has described is a man whose goal is to glorify the Father – instead of worrying ourselves about how God might guide us let us rather concentrate our efforts upon making sure that we, like Jesus, are committed to glorifying God in our lives.
As we leave the matter of guidance to him, let's make sure that we are ready to be guided as he sees fit.
When we read Mark's brief account of these same events the way in which he describes how the Spirit led Jesus is put somewhat differently. Instead of writing of the Spirit "leading" Jesus Mark writes of the Spirit "driving" Jesus into the wilderness – there is a compulsion about this, Jesus was as it were not left with any other alternative. May I suggest that sometimes our being led by the Spirit will be similar? He will shut up other options and we will be constrained to go one way rather than another. Now the wilderness wasn't a great place to be and there may well be times in our lives when we will be led/driven into places (be they geographic or sitiational) we'd probably not naturally choose for ourselves. Yet the wilderness was the Spirit's choice for Jesus at this moment in time.
How we need to beware of those voices that suggest that if we are "led by the Spirit" that our lives will be full of comfort, wealth, health and happiness. There is nothing of the triumphalistic name-it-and-claim-it school of blasphemous thought here as Jesus goes into the wilderness where the Spirit has plans for him.
Jesus, the most spiritual man who had ever walked on the planet, led by the Spirit of God, is brought into a most inhospitable place where he will experience the most intensive time of testing that ever a man has experienced. Do you really want the Spirit to lead you if that leading might take you into difficult places where you will meet with deprivation and hostility? Do you, do I, really want to be right with God and right where God wants me or are you, am I, only interested in material, physical and temporary blessings? Following the Spirit's lead we will not be left on our own, Jesus has promised never to abandon his own, but the benefits of being led by the Spirit are not to be measured by the things that the worldling values but by the pleasure and glory given to God.
Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness where, during a 40 day period, he was involved in an intensely spiritual battle in hostile circumstances. During those forty days Jesus didn't eat – there was no food there for him to eat. As he followed the Spirit's lead there was no earthly comfort to be had and the very absence of food was made the subject of a serious temptation.
The temptation came for him to use his special powers to transform stones into the bread he needed. The appeal was made to satisfy his natural appetites – how easy it would have been to rationalise and to agree – after all he had the power and ability to act, surely God would want the best for him and surely that must include living a fulfilled and satisfied life…
But Jesus knew that to act like that would be to call into question the goodness of the Father and the wisdom of the Spirit in so leading him, it would be tantamount to calling God a liar and declaring that the Father's love was not worth anything. So Jesus refused to go along with what looked on the surface like a very plausible suggestion and to resist this temptation he quoted Scripture.
Luke 4:4 quoting Deut.8:3 "Man shall not live by bread alone…"
Isn't it interesting that this man so evidently led by the Spirit does not resort to feelings or impulsions, nor does he imagine himself to be such a special case that the Bible is no longer applicable to him, but he submits to its teaching and relies upon the providential goodness of God. No word of wisdom, no unique revelation just for him, no emotional/feelings-based guidance, just the word of God. A word that had been written down centuries earlier but, because it is God's word, is ever relevant.
As a Christian there will be times when temptations come your way to imagine that you are a special case, that no-one has ever experienced what you're experiencing, that it's hard to be a Christian and you'll be tempted to react by saying that the normal rules don't apply to you, that you're not bound by the word of God. Sometimes that temptation will come as you experience hard times; sometimes it will come as the result of real blessing. You can be tempted in both to think that you are exempt from the word of God because you have been led by the Spirit. Think again, and think of Jesus!
How easy it would have been for him on each of the three occasions he was confronted with a plausible and appealing-to-the-flesh-temptation to have given way. Surely for such a spiritual one that old book, the Bible, wasn't necessary, wasn't he now being led by the Spirit after all?
But what a mess we make of our lives when we react like that! The Spirit does not lead counter to the Word of God but in accordance with it. Jesus did not heed the siren voices appealing to him to cut corners and do things "his way" rather than God's way. Each time he countered with "It is written…", "It is written…" "It is written…"
In fact during the entire encounter there is no further mention of the Spirit until the battles have been won with the Word of God. It is only after Jesus had overcome every temptation that the devil could use against him that we read of new help being given to Jesus. Led by the Spirit he maintained his stand by the "ordinary" means of the Bible. Matthew informs us that Jesus was strengthened by angels once the devil had withdrawn from him. Luke doesn't mention angels but he does speak of Jesus return from the wilderness and he returned in the power of the Spirit of God! There is not the slightest hint of criticism that might suggest that Jesus had adopted the wrong tactics in his battles with the devil.
My intention this morning has been to try to help you gain a clearer understanding of what it means to be led by the Spirit and what it does not mean. If you have wrong notions about this then it will inevitably bring you into trouble. You will adopt wrong attitudes, you will do the wrong thing, and you will judge your own situation and that of others according to wrong set of criteria.
Being led by the Spirit is all about God promoting his own glory and furthering his own plans – it is not primarily about our own immediate perceived interests and desires.
Being led by the Spirit is not to be measured by the degree of personal peace and happiness that are the immediate fruit of a particular course of action:
Just because things go swimmingly (for a time) is no indication that you are necessarily following the Spirit – remember the problem the Psalmist had, he saw that the wicked and godless and they prospered!
And neither do problems necessarily suggest that you're not being led by the Spirit – Jesus' case must surely convince you of that.
This is very important because we so want to believe that following the Spirit, walking God's way, will be good for us. And that is of course true but we must be careful about just how we assess it all. We long for instant solutions to our problems but our God is not hasty in going about his work.
You mustn't assume that "being led by the Spirit" will secure instant blessings for if you do you may well begin unnecessarily to doubt your faith and even be tempted to abandon the faith altogether – believe me those thoughts can easily be sown in your mind - when the going gets tough and those blessings don't materialise. But just think for a moment – Satan would have been undefeated if Jesus had done an about turn and left the wilderness at the first pang of hunger. He stayed where the Spirit had led him – forty long days of deprivation and difficulty but victory was secured in the end and he returned in the "power of the Spirit".
I wonder if you've ever heard of Russian vine – it's also known as mile-a-minute-vine because it grows so fast. It grows fast but is no use for anything – I'd rather go to sea in a ship made of good old English oak that try to use that vine. But the oak grows much more slowly. Don't be fooled by appearances.
Finally, being led by the Spirit does not lift us on to a different plain where we have a private hotline to heaven and so don't need the Bible anymore. If ever a man had such contact with heaven it was Jesus but in his spiritual battles he didn't rely on any weapon other than the written Word of God.
So you need to work at knowing the Bible for yourself too. To read it, to think about it, to listen to it. John Bunyan the author of Pilgrim's Progress was not a highly educated man – he was a tinker that is he made his living by repairing and making pans and kettles – but he knew his Bible. People said of him that the Bible flowed through his veins so that if you pricked him Bible verses would flow out. You can become like that. Don't admire or envy those who seem to get by without referring to the Bible in their lives – those people are really very little like our Lord Jesus.
It is the privilege of every Christian to be led by the Spirit of God – our task is to make sure that we don't walk out of step with the Spirit whose delight is to glorify the Lord Jesus. May that be our delight too.