taking the words of Jesus seriously

EDITOR’S NOTE: In this new Bible study series, we explore the words of Jesus and how they apply to our lives. Much of Jesus’ teachings are figurative parables and phrases which are subjective, defying one absolute interpretation. This study in no way represents the final authority on scripture or topics discussed. We welcome your thoughts and feedback in the comments, recognizing there is abundant room for disagreement without being disagreeable.

Ever wonder what were the first teachings or sayings of Jesus. Who was his first audience? What did he say? What was the lesson? Certainly, the first sermon must hold some foundational truths, like “God 101.” The answer may astound you.

The audience for Jesus’ first letters in red was the devil (Matthew 4:1-11 and Luke 4:1-13), and the setting was 40 days in the wilderness without food or water. The words of this first sermon are embedded throughout his teachings like steel cords woven within the soft cloth of a garment, comfortable to wear, yet strong as iron.

In future articles, we will examine each of the three temptations separately. Here in our first, we will examine the circumstances which lead up to these fundamental teachings and let the actions of what Jesus did and did not do speak to us.

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry. —  Luke 4:1-2

How do you deal with those who offend you, insult you and generally drive you up the wall? Loving the lovable is easy, enjoyable even. But loving the unlovable — the brutish and self-assured, those who live in self-created worlds of confirmation bias, the prideful and angry, the resentful and unforgiving, the unrepentant — is not so enjoyable. The old saying “those who need love the most deserve love the least” is easy to understand in our broken world.

Three temptations are given to us, but the scripture is clear that there were 40 days of continuous temptation — not just three on the last day. The three given us represent the essence of all temptation, the consolidation or condensed version of what every human goes through in the course of a lifetime. The tests we pass and the tests we fail. Further, these 40 days continued to accumulate pressure, upping the ante of discomfort, thirst, and hunger with each passing day. Pressures which built up like water drops into a glass until the glass is full. Drops of hunger, thirst, and discomfort much like the droplets of responsibility, the expectations of those around us, requirements of family and jobs, the politics and difficult relationships, heartache and disappointments of life, divorce, addiction and death, the accumulation of 40 years of life and living. Just thinking about it makes me want to hide in a cave by myself.

But Jesus did not. His actions are our letters in red. He did not close himself off. He did not escape into Netflix binges, retreat into social media, or run off to a local bar. No matter how badly you have been offended, been disrespected, how warm the tears on your cheek, no one has been transgressed more than God — transgressions we all have played part in. The chief architect of God’s offense is the devil. Yet Jesus was led to this encounter by God Himself (Matthew 4:1).

I frankly would have been pissed off and lashed out. Maybe thrown some verbal abuse or four-letter expletives his way, maybe tried to unravel his twisted logic about Job or the Garden of Eden. But Jesus loved him, was patient with him, respectful even, allowing him to talk or tempt. Here we see vividly Jesus’ application of his own doctrine toward his “enemy.”

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” —  Matthew 5:43-45

So too, we are led into the wilderness of our world. Christians tend to consolidate, isolate and exclude, building bigger universities, churches, and communities when Jesus calls us to “get out the house and play with the other kids.” If Jesus can have a conversation with the devil, then certainly I can take a homeless person to dinner or host a block party for my neighbors regardless of their religious or political affiliation.

Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” —  John 20:21

Why is it that God’s people are so easily offended when God is not? Why is it that Jesus’ disciples can be so disagreeable with others when Jesus is not? Jesus was out in the world, but why do Christians avoid the world beyond church doors or dodge conversations to avoid an argument or conflict? Why not just listen?

Our God has a very thick skin because He is, well, God. We do not have to be so thin-skinned as Christians. We can take an insult or offense, a contradiction or slight and be okay because we have read the end of the book. Our book has a happy ending.

If God is our God, then there is no fear of being wrong. No need for challenge, vindication, or having the last word. The last word is His, and all humanity will bow before it regardless of all our political or religious attachments.

The one who rejects me and does not receive my word has a judge; on the last day the word that I have spoken will serve as judge. —  John 12:48

The question of “will I bow” has been resolved in the cross. The question that remains is “when will I bow”? Will I bow before him now, here this day? Or will I bow in the last day when I fall to my knees before the Almighty?

Our anger and frustration at others who debate is born of our own fear. The level of our offense is the measure of our own unbelief. It is the fear that they are right. It is the fear that we will starve in the wilderness, that Jesus will not give His angels charge over us and that all the “kingdoms of this world” is a good deal and we should take it while it is on the table. It is the fear born of a lifetime of heartache and heartbreak, disappointments, and resentments which have worn us down and made us doubt that He is who He says He is and will be who He says He will be. That He is God, perfect Father, perfect Mother, constantly abiding, always with our best interests in mind.

If God is God, then offense bounces off of us like bullets off Superman. To be clear, nothing — no created thing in this world or the spirit world — can dent or scratch God’s armor. (Romans 8:37-39). This truth means we can relax in the face of unbelief, doubt, and indignation, yes even in the presence of the devil himself. We can let them walk on our shoes because we walk on His. We can love because He is love.

How, you may ask, can we overcome 40 days or 40 years of fasting and wilderness walking? How is it that we cannot be worn down into doubt by the everyday horrors of our broken world which come at us like drops of water in a glass? How is it we can be loving, kind people in such an unloving and unkind place? How did Jesus stand before the devil with such compassion, grace, and composure? And how can I do it in the face of my own devils?

The answer is simple, but I will warn you, like so many simple answers, it is not as easy as it sounds (Luke 4:1 -2). Jesus was full of the Holy Ghost and led of the Spirit. Human strength is too weak to carry the day, day after day, year after year, decade after decade. Only the Spirit can bring us the refreshment that we need to continue until that last day, that last great day when we see God’s face. Only the Spirit can energize and help us drink from the glass of human sorrows, pick up the pieces, and carry on again. There is no replacement for, or substituting, the dynamic relationship that happens in the secret place.

But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. —  Matthew 6:6

It may seem simple, but the truth is a lifetime of trying and the willingness to start over — even though you will screw it up again and again. We must learn to allow ourselves the do-over. It’s like the old expression, “I know what the balance looks like, because I see it each time I pass by it.”

In this wilderness walk, we can face our devils just as Jesus did, with compassion, respect and loving consideration because he is within us, energizing and supplying that which is exhausted. Knowing we will get it wrong is a large part of getting it right. Allow yourself the room to try in the Spirit, reaching out in love and respect to those who drive you nuts, to the devils in your wilderness walk.

Questions to consider:

  • How do I deal with those who offend me?
  • Am I a thick-skinned or thin-skinned Christian?
  • How do I want to respond to the “difficult’” people in my life?
  • Do I use TV, drugs, alcohol, or social media to escape or avoid others?
  • What can I do to get more involved in the wilderness world around me?
  • How many unbelieving or non-church friends do I have?
  • Do I remember times of greater spiritual strength?
  • How can I build upon and develop a deeper spiritual connection?

About The Author


Stephen Carey is the founding pastor of Main Street Mission, an inner city Christian street ministry. For more than 20 years, Main Street Mission has been “seeking and saving that which was lost” on the streets of Manchester, NH from a small storefront church. Steve is also active in recovery from substance abuse and is author of "9 Keys of Recovery," an addiction recovery program based on the teachings of Jesus. Steve and his wife Carol of 35 years are the proud parents of three boys. They live in the southern NH area with their springer spaniel, Oreo. Steve enjoys writing, fly fishing, and woodworking. View more of Steve’s work at WWW.OrnansThreshingFloor.com Ornan’s Threshing Floor is a selection of journal entries, sermon parts and pieces, and both secular and faith-based writings.

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