The True and Tested Son of God
Passage: Luke 3:21–4:13
Think like Jesus, not like the devil.
When I was in seminary, one of my professors started every class period with a quiz. He instructed us to take out a blank sheet of paper and write our name and mailbox number on the top. Then he would proceed to give us twenty questions. He would state the question once, then he’d repeat it once. You would have maybe 20 seconds or a minute to write down your answer, depending on how long of an answer was required for the question. Then he’d move on to the next question. These quizzes were known as some one of the most difficult aspects of his classes.
It’d be nice to say that my days of tests ended when I graduated seminary. But life is full of tests. When you get your driver’s license, you take a written test and a road test. When you want to renew it you have to take a test. We go to the doctor and get eye tests, blood tests, urine tests, and so forth. You have to take tests to enter certain professions: lawyers have to take the bar exam, doctors have to take the MCAT, semi-truck drivers have to pass a test to get their CDL license. You might have to take a drug test when getting hired somewhere. You might take a personality test to find out more about yourself.
Tests are part of life, but we tend to dread them. What is it about tests that we don’t like?
While we usually don’t like tests, what good can come out of a test?
Today we are continuing our sermon series in The Gospel According to Luke called “To Seek and To Save”. This series will give us an up-close picture of who Jesus is and an inside look into his teachings and what it means to be his disciple.
These first chapters of Luke have been setting the stage: Jesus’ birth, John’s birth, Jesus understanding his identity and mission at a young age, John preparing the way. Our passage today is the last story before Jesus launches his public ministry.
In this passage, Jesus undergoes a test. It’s an important test that shows he is fit for the mission God has given him. We’ve already seen in Luke that Jesus is God’s salvation. He is God’s sunrise on those sitting in darkness and in the shadow of death. Jesus is a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to the people of Israel. The angels at Jesus’ birth said, “unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11). We know that Jesus died for our sins and was raised from the dead. But his death could not pay for our sins unless he himself lived a sinless life. If Jesus was a sinner like us, then he could not be our substitute to suffer the penalty for our sins in our place. Why? Because he too would deserve to suffer that penalty. If he also deserves death for rebelling against God, then he cannot die in our place because he is already supposed to die for his own sins. In the same way, he also cannot be the representative and leader of a new humanity if he is just like every other human. So Jesus undergoes a test to show that he is fit to do what he was born to do: to be the King of the kingdom of God and the Savior who dies on behalf of his people.
Our big idea for today is this: Think like Jesus, not like the devil. Another way to say it would be: think like a child of God, not like a child of the devil. So the question is: how does Jesus think? We will see two main categories: 1) what Jesus thinks about himself and 2) what Jesus thinks about God. We’ll also see how the devil thinks as Jesus undergoes his test
This passage has three parts which give proof that Jesus is fit to do what God has sent him to do. The first proof is the Heavenly Proof in chapter 3 verses 21 to 22.
Heavenly Proof - Who He Is (3:21-22)
In the first part of chapter 3, we saw how John the Baptist was preparing the way for Jesus’ coming by proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. He was calling people to turn from their false sources of confidence before God and their sin and turn to God for forgiveness and in obedience. In getting baptized, people were showing their alignment with God’s will and purposes. This is also why Jesus gets baptized. He doesn’t have idolatry, sin, and selfishness to turn from, but baptism shows his alignment with God’s purposes. He will be the one who leads all those who have aligned themselves with God through baptism.
Something significant happens in the baptism. Let’s reread verses 21 and 22:
21 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, 22 and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:21-22)
After being baptized and while praying , the heavens were opened and two events happened: 1) the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus and 2) God spoke from heaven. This is a revelation event meant to endorse Jesus as the Messiah. There is the visible Spirit and the verbal testimony. What’s their significance?
First, the visible Spirit descends like a dove, not as a dove, on Jesus. In the Old Testament, the kings were anointed with oil to mark them as God’s chosen king and as a symbol of the Spirit of God with them. In Acts 10:37-38, Peter describes this event as Jesus’ anointing. Jesus is not anointed with oil, but by the Spirit coming upon him in a visible way. By this, Jesus is endorsed and confirmed as the one who is to come, the one whom John spoke about.
In the apostle Paul’s writings, he describes the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of adoption and sonship. When we are adopted into God’s family, God puts his seal on us by the Spirit, telling us that we belong to him. So it makes sense that the Spirit is given by the Father to the Son as he declares that Jesus is his Son. Of course, Jesus was not adopted by God at this moment like we are. Jesus is eternally the Son of God. The Spirit is also how God pours his love into our heart, so it’s through the giving of the Spirit that God declares his love for his children. God declares his love for Jesus and his pleasure in him as the Spirit rests on Jesus. As one book puts it: “The Spirit is the one through whom the Father loves, blesses and empowers his Son” (Delighting in the Trinity, 30).
This leads us to the second event at Jesus’ baptism: the verbal testimony. God declares: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” This declaration is a combination of two passages. First, “you are my beloved Son” comes from Psalm 2. In Psalm 2 verse 7, the Lord speaks to the king in the line of David, saying: “You are my Son; today I have begotten you.” God calls the king of Israel his son, because the king is to reflect God’s character and represent God’s rule to the people as God’s representative. Just like a son looks like his father, the king is supposed to look like God as he rules, bringing God’s kingdom to earth.
This links back to a promise that God made to king David in 2 Samuel chapter 7 where God said he would be a father to David’s descendant and David’s descendant would be a son to God. God said he would establish the throne of this descendant’s kingdom forever. Here, Jesus is fulfilling this promise. Jesus is eternally the Son of God and God is eternally his Father. And Jesus has come as the king who will truly reflect what God is like and represent God’s rule and reign. God is putting Jesus over his people as their Messiah.
The second part of the declaration says, “with you I am well pleased.” This alludes to the first Servant Song in Isaiah 42:1: “Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights” (Isaiah 42:1a). The verse goes on to say, “I have put my Spirit upon him…” This Servant in Isaiah is also called the Suffering Servant because he undergoes the punishment for his people in Isaiah 53. God’s plan is to use this Servant to bring salvation to his people. So God is identifying Jesus as the Messiah in the line of David who will reign as King AND as the Suffering Servant of Isaiah who will die for his people’s sins.
Our big idea for today is this: Think like Jesus, not like the devil. We will see two main categories: 1) what Jesus thinks about himself and 2) what Jesus thinks about God. At his baptism, Jesus clearly heard what God thinks about him. This is the foundation of what Jesus thinks about himself: I am God’s beloved son, with whom he is well pleased.
What do you think about yourself? What is your core, foundational identity? What’s the source of it? Jesus’ source is what God says is true about him. When we trust in Jesus, we are united with Christ - we are one with him. That means, what’s true of Jesus is now true of us. We have the same status and standing with God as Jesus. God declares this over us, “You are my beloved son, you are my beloved daughter, with you I am well please. I delight in you. I take pleasure in you.”
Genealogical Proof - Who He Is (3:23-38)
The second proof that shows Jesus is fit for his mission is the Genealogical Proof in chapter 3 verses 23 through 28. Both the baptism and this genealogy deal with who Jesus is. Jesus’ baptism affirmed from the heavenly, divine side of things that he is the Son of God. This genealogy affirms from the earthly, human side of things that Jesus is the Son of God. Let’s look at a few significant aspects of it.
First, let’s read the beginning in verse 23:
23 Jesus, when he began his ministry, was about thirty years of age, being the son (as was supposed) of Joseph, the son of Heli, (Luke 3:23)
Notice that people only thought Jesus was the son of Joseph. While Joseph was Jesus’ earthly father, he was not Jesus’ biological father. This ties back to the birth narratives where, again, the Spirit is involved when Mary asks how she will become pregnant as a virgin and the angel Gabriel says: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you: therefore the child to be born will be called holy - the Son of God” (Luke 1:35).
Look now at the end of verse 31. Jesus’ family lineage links back to David, the son of Jesse. This is king David to whom God promised his descendant would be called God’s Son and he would have an everlasting kingdom.
In the Bible, seven is the number of perfection. In total, there are 77 “son ofs” in this genealogy. They just keep piling on top of each other - the son of Jacob, the son of Isaac, the son of Abraham, the son of, the son of the son of. The whole genealogy builds and reaches a crescendo when we finally hear: “the son of Adam, the son of God.” God created Adam from the dust and was supposed to rule over creation as God’s representative and in this way he is God’s son. Luke traces Jesus’ family line back to David, whose offspring would be called the son of God, and back to Adam, whom he calls the son of God.
Humanly speaking, this genealogy affirms that Jesus is the son of God. But it also speaks to his divinity because he was the son (as was supposed) of Joseph. Jesus is qualified for his mission because of who he is: he is the Son of God.
Character Proof - What He Does (4:1-13)
The final proof is a Character Proof. The first two showed that Jesus is the Son of God by who he is. This proof shows that he is the Son of God by what he does. Here, he is tested to see if he will be an obedient, faithful Son.
Verses 1 and 2 of chapter 4 set up the test:
1 And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness 2 for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing during those days. And when they were ended, he was hungry. (Luke 4:1-2)
Jesus leaves the Jordan River area, goes into the wilderness, and is led by the Spirit there. Why does the Spirit lead Jesus in the wilderness? There are many parts to this that echo the story of Israel in the Old Testament.
- When God first told Moses to lead his people in the exodus, God called Israel his son.
- After the exodus, God was present with Israel and led them through the wilderness.
- After Israel disobeyed God in the wilderness, the punishment was to spend 40 years wandering in the wilderness.
- Jesus quotes passages from Deuteronomy that dealt with Israel’s disobedience in the wilderness.
Jesus goes into the wilderness as God’s Son to succeed where Israel as God’s son failed. In the wilderness, the devil tempts him. That brings us back to the garden of Eden. How did Adam do as the Son of God when he was tempted by the devil who came in the form of a serpent in the Garden of Eden? Adam failed as the son of God when tempted by the devil. Not only did Adam fail and Israel fail, but all of humanity has failed to obey God. We have all fallen for the devil’s temptations. Jesus is led by the Spirit into the wilderness to confront the enemy that has defeated every other son of God and every other human.
But perhaps this seems odd to you. Why would God lead Jesus into temptation? Does he lead us into temptation? Why would God want us to face temptation? Testing is a major theme in the Bible. Whether an event is explicitly called a test or not, most of the famous stories in the Bible are tests - tests of their loyalty to and trust in God.
Passing a test means we have resisted temptation. God does not tempt. But he leads us into tests. In every test, there are two purposes at work: the devil wants to turn our hearts away from God while God wants to turn our hearts toward God. The devil wants to make us less like Jesus while God wants to make us more like Jesus. God tests, but Satan tempts. The deciding factor for us is how we respond. Do we give into temptation or do we resist it? When you test something, you see what it’s made of. You see how it holds up. Something or someone needs to be put under pressure and stress to see how it does. You need to see it in action. That’s what God’s tests do to us.
The Holy Spirit led Jesus to the frontlines of spiritual battle to go through a test that would qualify him for his mission as the Son of God. The Son of God came to fulfill the mission of God to seek and save the lost and give his life on the cross. But he must resist the temptation of the devil and not give in where God’s other sons gave in.
First, the devil takes advantage of Jesus’ hunger from fasting 40 days. He says: “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” (Luke 3:3) The devil isn’t trying to get Jesus to prove that he is really the Son of God but wants him to use his position as the Son of God to his own advantage. The temptation behind the devil’s words are made clear by Jesus’ response, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone.’” ( Luke 4:4)
Jesus sees in this a temptation to rely on someone or something other than God The devil tempts Jesus with a shortcut that doesn’t require relying on God. It only requires relying on himself. Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy 8:3. In that context, Moses is telling the people how God let them hunger in the wilderness and fed them with manna. Why? Deuteronomy 8:3 says, “that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.” In other words, they needed to trust God. Would he bring them food for each new day? The manna came every morning and they were only allowed to gather what they needed for that day. Any extra they gathered rotted. Instead of storing up food for themselves so they could know they’d have food for the next day, they were forced to trust that God would keep his word in supplying food for them tomorrow. The question for Jesus is: will he trust God to take care of him - to be his source of life?
Our big idea for today is this: Think like Jesus, not like the devil. How does the devil think in comparison to Jesus? The devil wants Jesus to think, “I deserve this bread and I can get it without God. I can do it myself without him. I don’t have to rely on him.” This a temptation to self-reliance. The devil wants Jesus to see himself as the source of food and life and as the one who provides for himself.
We fall into this temptation whenever we take shortcuts to get what we want instead of relying on God. We also fall into this temptation when we think that we or someone else are the source of the good things in our life other than God. Do we count what we have in our lives as a blessing from God? Who gets the credit?
This is also a temptation to exploit any sort of position or rights we have or think we have to get what we want. Maybe we think that we deserve something because of how hard we’ve worked. We may even think that we deserve better than what God has given us. We may complain that we deserve more or deserve better. This is all thinking like the devil.
How does Jesus think? What does he think about God? He sees God as the source and provider. He sees God as trustworthy. He believes God keeps his word and his promises. He believes God gives him what he needs.
In the second temptation, the devil showed Jesus all the kingdoms of the world then offered to give him all this authority and their glory. But the condition was this: “If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” This is another shortcut. Jesus’ destiny is to have all authority on heaven and on earth given to him (Matt 28:18) and to be king of Kings and Lord of lords. But the path ahead for Jesus to get there was the cross. The devil offers him a crossless kingship and a crossless kingdom. No suffering and death, just skip to the glory and authority. This is all too similar to the temptation he gave to Adam and Eve. The devil put a vision of greatness and glory in front of them that they would be like God, knowing good and evil (Gen 3:-5).
The pattern of the Bible is suffering then glory (cf. Lk 24:26, 24:44-47). But the devil is offering an alternative plan that skips straight to glory. Will Jesus worship God alone? Will he give God exclusive loyalty? Or will he serve himself by bowing to the devil? Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 6:13 which goes to the heart of the greatest commandment to love God with all we have. He says: “You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.” Jesus faced this same temptation when Peter told him he wouldn’t suffer and die. Jesus recognized the temptation of Satan in Peter’s words and said, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” (Matt 16:23).
Our big idea for today is this: Think like Jesus, not like the devil. How does the devil want Jesus to think? “I don’t want difficulties, challenges, suffering, or hardship in life. Just give me the good stuff. Let’s skip straight to the glory.” This way of thinking wants to take shortcuts. It wants to go to the finish line without running the race. The first temptation was about self-reliance, this one is about self-serving.
We fall into this temptation when we want our will done more than God’s will. When we want things to be easier and less hard or challenging, it shows that we aren’t submitted to God’s purposes but our own. Jesus had to submit to suffering and death to fulfill God’s purposes. And when we just want comfort and ease, we are thinking about our own kingdom rather than God’s. God uses difficulties, challenges, suffering, and hardship in our lives to accomplish his purposes. And the devil wants to say, “You know, there’s an easier and faster way to get what you want than God’s way.” You just have to sell your soul to the devil.
In the third temptation, the devil decides to use Scripture to his advantage since Jesus relies on it so much. He quotes from Psalm 91 which speaks about God’s care for those who are faithful to him but the devil prefaces it with the condition from the first temptation: “If you are the Son of God.” If God commands his angels to care for and protect normal faithful people, how much more will he do this for the Son of God? The third basically says, “Fine, if you think God’s so reliable and you trust him so much, why not test that out.”
But Jesus answered him: “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.” This quotes Deuteronomy 6:16, a verse reminding Israel how they tested God by complaining they were going to die because they had no water. The people questioned whether God was really with them or not. The devil here tempts Jesus to prove God is with him by forcing God to protect him. But Jesus knows the punishment the Israelites faced: for putting God to the test so many times, he did not allow that generation into the Promised Land but they wandered in the desert for forty years until they all died and their children could then enter.
Our big idea for today is this: Think like Jesus, not like the devil. How does the devil think? The devil wants us to think that if God loves us and is with us, he should prove it in the way we decide he should prove it. This is about creating a test of God’s presence, care, or love or questioning it. We might do this about something in the future: “God, if you love me, please do this.” “God, if you are real, do this. Prove it.” We might also say it about something in the past that has already happened, “God if you loved me, this never would have happened.” “God if you were with me, I wouldn’t be going through this.” “God, if you cared you would have ended my pain and suffering.” When we fall into this temptation, we define how God’s presence, love, and care should show up in our lives. The first two temptations focused on self: self-reliance and self-serving. But this one focuses on God, seeing if he can be trusted.
How does Jesus think? Jesus believes God doesn’t need to be put to the test. God is trustworthy. His presence, love, and care don’t need to be put to the test. Jesus let’s God define how he will express his love, care, and protection toward him.
When the devil ended every temptation, he departed until an opportune time. Jesus defeated him. It’s clear that the devil is not absent from here forward but is more behind the scenes. In this encounter, he steps out from behind the curtain for a direct confrontation. Filled with the Spirit and led by the Spirit, Jesus went into the very place where Israel failed to show he is the faithful Israelite. He is the true and tested Son of God to serve as the Suffering Servant Messiah.
What’s the wilderness in your life? In Scripture, the wilderness is both a place of meeting with God and a place of testing. It’s often “in the wilderness” that we see ourselves and God most clearly. We see our sinfulness and his holiness. We see how far we fall short. And it’s there that we grow in our gratitude for grace and even more fully devote ourselves to God because we see how amazing he is.
When God brings us into the wilderness, it isn’t because we have done something wrong or because he doesn’t love us or isn’t with us. Why does the Spirit lead Jesus into the wilderness? It can’t be because he isn’t God’s Son, because that was made clear at his baptism. It can’t be because God doesn’t love him, because that was made clear at his baptism. It can’t be because God isn’t with him, because he was just anointed with the Spirit and is full of the Spirit and led by the Spirit when he enters the wilderness. The wilderness is the place where we do spiritual battle with the devil. The wilderness is where God tests us, showing us areas of growth and weakness.
What makes someone a beloved child of God? “Beloved child of God” is a status given by God. Jesus passed the test perfectly on our behalf. Now united with him our standing and status with God doesn’t change. It’s tied to Jesus. It’s based on his test grade. Jesus made a way for us to become God's sons and daughters. We could not be part of God's family without Jesus. And God seals us with his love by giving the Holy Spirit.
But there’s another reality: “Beloved child of God” is a status proven by our actions. Our status and standing with God is based on what Jesus has done, not what we do, but that doesn’t mean we don’t take tests. It means our performance doesn’t jeopardize our relationship with God. Law only measures how far you fall short. But with grace, there’s forgiveness for what we get wrong. Where we fall short is measured but God comes alongside us to help us grow. We should want that. If we don’t, we are either scared of him or we are selfish. Our whole life is a test and Jesus will assess our life. But it won’t be for condemnation; it will be for commendation. Tests verify your status.
Our big idea for today is this: Think like Jesus, not like the devil. What does Jesus think about himself? “I am the beloved Son of God. God is well pleased with me. My purpose is to trust God and worship and serve him alone.”
What does Jesus think about God? “God is my Father. He is with me. He leads me. God is completely reliable and trustworthy. What he says, he will do. God is totally worthy of all my worship and service. God’s ways are the best way and I will do his will no matter what, even if it hurts. God’s presence, love, and care for me are real no matter what the situation looks like or how I may feel. I do not need to test him. He’s reliable to come through in his way and in his time. My suffering or hardship does not mean God doesn’t love me, care about me, or isn’t present with me. God is with me even when things are hard.”
When we are tested, we prove to be God’s children and not children of the devil. As children of God, we want to think like the Son of God, following Jesus’ example. I use the 4Gs to see where I’m being tempted:
- What am I trying to control?
- Who am I afraid of?
- Where am I looking for satisfaction?
- How am I trying to prove myself?
Notice that the temptations the devil puts before Jesus aren’t extravagant sins. He isn’t saying, “Hey, that person wronged you. You should murder them.” He isn’t temping him to steal something or sleep with someone he shouldn’t. It’s very subtle. That’s where the devil started in the garden of Eden too. He didn’t say to Eve, “Hey, you should completely disobey God and eat from the tree you aren’t supposed to.” He started a discussion and which got her to question God and he never even told her to eat from the tree. He just got her to doubt God and desire the fruit.
These temptations that he puts before Jesus aren’t clearly bad. He needs food, right? He’s going to be King anyway, right? If God cares for him, it shouldn’t be a big deal for God to prove it, right? But where do they lead? If you decide in your heart and mind that you deserve things God hasn’t given you and try to find them elsewhere, where does that lead? If you decide that it’s ok to worship and serve someone or something other than God, where does that lead? If you decide God isn’t trustworthy and needs to be tested, where does that lead? Each of these is the start down a pathway that leads to death.