Publication:Pastoral Letter, February 2019
Dear Friend in Christ:
In these beginning weeks of 2019, the Lord has reminded me of the power of His Word. We hear a lot today about “Fake News”, and there certainly is a lot of that coming at us non-stop from so many different directions. However, my focus is on the Good News given to us in God’s Word, the Holy Bible.
The Bible is our compass, which we are able to read through the grace and wisdom of the Holy Spirit. God’s Word shows us the target and keeps our aim true. When I was a little boy, my mother taught me a short song based on Psalm 119:11, which says: “Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You.”
The Apostle Paul tells us in Romans 12:1 that we are not to be conformed to the world, but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. The Word of God transforms us as we read it, meditate upon it, memorize it, pray it, sing it, share it, and fellowship with the One Who wrote it. Our minds are renewed, our hearts are strengthened, and our behavior is changed; not by external force, but by internal transformation.
LIVING BY THE WORD
Luke 3 shows us Jesus, Who had just enjoyed an amazing experience being baptized in the Jordan River by his cousin John the Baptist. John prophesied over Jesus and recognized Him as the Messiah. Father God filled Jesus with the Holy Spirit and declared: “This is My beloved Son, in Whom I am well-pleased.”
Life doesn’t get any better than that—to receive your identification and approval directly from the Father! The anointing of the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus like a dove. It was a truly glorious moment!
Out of this wonderful experience recorded in Luke 3, we move into chapter 4:
“Then Jesus, being filled with the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, being tempted for forty days by the devil. And in those days He ate nothing, and afterward, when they had ended, He was hungry. And the devil said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” But Jesus answered him, saying, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God’” (Luke 4:1-4).
Jesus was filled with the Spirit and led by the Spirit. So far, so good. He was led by the Spirit … into the wilderness. Wait. What? He was led where? Surely not! The Holy Spirit wouldn’t lead Jesus into the wilderness. Would He? Would the Spirit ever lead me into the wilderness? Or you?
The wilderness is a hostile and barren place. In that vast wilderness where Jesus was, there is no food or water or trees. Temperatures can soar to 120 degrees. There are scorpions there. There’s not a Holiday Inn for miles!
On top of the natural difficulties, the devil himself was there to tempt Jesus. Hear this: Jesus didn’t “miss God”. Jesus wasn’t lost. He wasn’t led into the wilderness as punishment from the Father. In our own carnality or limited understanding, we think that if we are really walking right with God, we will never have a wilderness experience; if we are “really spiritual”, we won’t have trouble. But Jesus was full of the Holy Spirit, in the center of God’s will, and He was led by the Spirit into the wilderness.
In the midst of this excruciating circumstance, the devil himself showed up. The devil knows how to appeal to the weaknesses of the flesh on our “best” days. Can you imagine the potency of his temptations in the middle of an unforgiving wilderness?
Hebrews 4 says that in His life, Jesus was tempted in every way that a man can be tempted, but was without sin. In the midst of this specific epic physical and spiritual struggle, Jesus was fasting. He was humbling Himself before God, facing physical hunger as a sign of His hunger for God’s will and God’s wisdom. Fasting is a way to humble ourselves before God, to prepare a place for His grace to be manifested in our lives, to make room for God’s strength to be displayed in our weakness.
At the end of the fast, Jesus was hungry; He wanted food. The devil had a crafty plan to appeal to Jesus’ hunger and any sense of pride that he imagined Jesus must have: “You can do miracles, and there are a lot of stones out here … just turn them into bread!”
However, the Lord doesn’t do miracles at the devil’s command. His will and supernatural power cannot be manipulated. We know that Jesus was hungry and physically weak, but it was in this difficult moment that Jesus reached deep down into His storehouse for an answer to His enemy. He said these three words: “It is written!”
The Word of the Lord is forever settled and unshakable (see Psalm 119:89-90). It is the light that cuts through the darkness and fog of confusion; a trumpet blast that summons strength in the midst of weakness and despair. Jesus knows Who He is and He knows what the Word says.
In fact, John the Beloved Disciple tells us that Jesus is the Living Word (see John 1). Jesus is “God’s Word with skin on”, the Incarnated Word of God. The Word of God was in His heart, in His mind, in His mouth, and in all He did.
Jesus looked at Satan the tempter and quoted Deuteronomy 8:3, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God.’” In this context, when Jesus says we live by the Word, we see that Jesus did not only mean that the Word of God guides our lives, but it actually gives us life … it is our sustenance, it is our very bread. As we feed on the Word, we receive life, health, strength, and joy.
Paul opened many his letters with the phrase, “Grace and peace to you ….” God’s Word provides us with grace and peace as we hear and obey it. At one point, Jesus told His disciples that His “food” was to fulfill the Word of God and do the will of God (see John 4).
When facing down the crafty, cunning, relentless, evil tempter who sought to intimidate, confuse, and corrupt, Jesus employed the only effective weapon: the Word of God, the Sword of the Spirit (see Hebrews 4:12). This weapon divides that which is of the Spirit from that which is carnal (our own fleshly thoughts, desires, impulses). This Word is mighty in God for the pulling down of strongholds; the Word that casts down phony arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God (see 2 Corinthians 10). The Word reveals reality; it teaches and empowers us to discern the authentic from the counterfeit.
This attempt to tempt Jesus failed, so the enemy decided to try something else:
“Then the devil, taking Him up on a high mountain, showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. And 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. Therefore, if You will worship before me, all will be Yours.’ And 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’” (Luke 4:5-8).
Satan is not equal to God, but he does function in the supernatural realm. That’s why we must never try to access or operate in the supernatural apart from the Lord. Satan was in that realm a long time before us; without the Lord, we are way out of our league!
So, here in this passage, we see Satan, the skilled illusionist, laying out a mirage of what he could “give” to Jesus if Jesus would only worship him. This is one of the devil’s more common tricks, by the way; He lies about his authority and dominion, feigns benevolent trustworthiness, and offers you the world if you will only give him your soul. But Jesus once said, “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his own soul?” (see Matthew 16).
Ultimately, Satan has nothing to offer us but lies and misery. A spirit of deception is a terrible thing. But in the wilderness, the Word of God was alive in Jesus and He had discernment and fortitude. He never even entertained the enemy’s temptation. He said, “Get behind me! It is written, ‘Worship the Lord Your God and only Him shall you serve!’” (see Deuteronomy 6:13).
Any temptation, any confusion, was immediately shattered by the hammer of God’s Word. For Jesus, an emphasis on the Word was not a hindrance to worship, but it was the foundation for worship. The Word of God keeps our worship rightly focused and pure. It reminds us that worship is not about us, but is all about Him. It kills selfishness and releases the sweet incense of selfless service and praise.
That was “Strike Two” for the devil, but he had another trick up his sleeve. In next month’s Pastoral Letter, we will talk more about that, as well as how the Word of God works on our heart and minds to wash, heal, and transform. Are there areas in your life where you need times of refreshing? I know I need this; usually whatever I write about or speak about is what God is dealing with me about! I hope you will share this month’s letter with friends and let them know about what is to come next month. You can also read these Pastoral Letters online via our website.
SPIRIT & TRUTH
Speaking of our website, you can register online for our upcoming annual 2019 CSM Gatlinburg Conference, happening May 14-16, on the theme: “Spirit & Truth”. Among our inspiring speakers will be Charles Simpson, Brad Sullivan, Chris Hyatt, Jamie Johnson, and Curtis Forman. Once again, times of praise will be led by the outstanding Abundant Life Worship Team. We will be hosted by the Doubletree Park Vista Hotel nestled next to the spectacular Great Smoky Mountains National Park. We hope to see you there!
Please continue to remember us in your prayers and in your giving this month. Your friendship, encouragement, prayer, and financial support are key to us continuing forward in our mission of “Embracing the truth with our lives” as we extend the kingdom of God around the world … one person at a time. We are in a generation that is dying and desperate for God’s grace and truth. Let’s reach them together!
God spoke His Word and the universe was created. Receiving His Word into our hearts and minds will transform us, sustain us, and work through us to do what is impossible with men. May His love, joy, and peace be with you this month and always!
Stephen Simpson, President
Scripture references: Psalm 119:11; Like 3; Luke 4:1-4; Hebrews 4; Psalm 119:89-90; John 1; Deuteronomy 8:3; John 4: Hebrews 4:12; 2 Corinthians 10; Luke 4:5-8; Matthew 16; Deuteronomy 6:13