It Is Written

The devil took Jesus to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written: “‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’” Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test’” (Matthew 4:5-7).

We are concerned here with the devil’s misuse of God’s Word, which is a rather uncomfortable subject. We are also concerned with how we can guard against that misuse. It is the mystery and mercy of God that he has revealed himself in such a creaturely way that he allows the Holy Scriptures to be subject to neglect and misuse. But he does—and praise him that he does! For we sinners can hold his holy words in our hands, we can hear them with our ears, and by them the Holy Spirit works. Through such creaturely means we are certain of life and hope.

God has given his Word in such a way that it can be misused. From this temptation of Christ, and numerous other passages, we can be quite certain that the devil and his disciples misuse the Word of God. We also see this and experience it ourselves.

The devil very subtly misuses Psalm 91 in our passage. There is no obvious twisting going on, only a subtle omission. Even according to the original context of the Psalm, it is hard to see how the devil misuses the text. Psalm 91 promises the Lord’s protection. So how does Jesus see through it?

Jesus’ response suggests that the devil is taking the promise that God can be trusted, and tempting Jesus to turn it into a challenge against God. A challenge by which God must prove himself. The devil is taking one passage, isolated, out of the context of Scripture, and using it for a different purpose than was intended. So, Jesus responds to the devil, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” Jesus here offers a quote from Deuteronomy, recounting the incident at Massah, in which the Israelites demanded that God prove himself. They were suspicious of God and doubted his intentions, so they challenged him. Jesus recognizes the devil wants him to doubt and test the goodness of his Father.

Jesus uses a very important phrase in response, “It is also written.” Jesus refutes the devil’s scheme with an understanding of God’s Word that was deeper because it was broader. It was broader, in that Jesus placed the Scripture quoted by the devil within the context of the rest of Scripture. Since Jesus understood Psalm 91 within context, he realized that Psalm 91 is a psalm of faith. He also knew, by the rest of Scripture, that faith in the Lord’s care is not the same thing as hurling oneself off a building to test the Lord. True faith is confidence in God’s love, sovereignty, and salvation, regardless of experience, while—on the other hand—hurling oneself off a building is testing God’s goodness and intentions. Because Jesus had a broad understanding of Scripture, he also knew it deeply, and he was able to counter the subtle temptation of the devil.

Most of us can hear when music is played poorly. If the music is played extremely poorly, even I can tell when things are not what they should be. But the more trained a person’s ear, the more they can hear. Musician friends of mine will play, and I am in awe of their performance, and then they will talk about all the things they did wrong. I could not tell. I did not even hear the mistakes. In a way, our knowledge of Scripture works like our knowledge of music. The more we hear it, the more we study it, the more the Spirit trains our ear to the Lord’s Word. The more trained our ear becomes, the more we will recognize when Scripture is misused.

Especially these days, our ears need to be trained. We are drowning in conflicting messages and information. We need to broaden our understanding of the Scriptures so that we can go deeper. To broaden our understanding I suggest two simple approaches: The first is to read Scripture more. The second is to read more of Scripture. Through these two approaches we will both broaden and deepen our understanding of God’s Word.

Broadening our understanding means we need to learn what is in Scripture. To know the stories, to know the authors, to know the books. To know the focus of Scripture, which is Christ. Broader knowledge of the content and context helps to keep individual parts in perspective. We need to read Scripture more.

Secondly, broadening our understanding means reading more of Scripture. My wife always accuses me of not getting to the point quickly enough in the passages I choose for Bible studies and sermons. As you read this article, perhaps you think she has a point. I try to read longer passages, because I want to explain what is around a verse to understand its true sense. As we saw with the devil, we can isolate a passage and then misuse it. The Bible is a big book, so we can find and isolate passages to support almost anything we want. We need to read more of Scripture when we work with it.

Growing in the Scriptures, more broadly and more deeply, is a lifelong process. As Christ’s disciples, we are called to live in the Word. Such a life is made clear for us immediately in the Psalms:

Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither—whatever they do prospers (Psalm 1:1-3).

Psalm 1 describes the life of the believer. A life delighting in the law of the Lord and meditating on that law day and night. The psalms themselves then lead us in the process of meditating on God’s Word. The Holy Spirit sustains us through the Word, as a tree is sustained by nearby streams of water. Through the Word he calls, enlightens, sanctifies, and preserves us. Jesus also describes the believer as a living branch connected to the true vine, as we remain in him, and his Word remains in us (John 15:1-8). The life of the believer is lived abiding in the Word.

 The Holy Spirit teaches us the music of Scripture. He trains our ears. But he does so through the mundane rhythms of the Christian life: things like your pastor’s preaching, Bible studies, Sunday School, daily devotions, reading books about the Bible. It is through mundane things like prayer, the hard work of reading Scripture more, and more of Scripture, and even through suffering, that we grow in our understanding of his Word. It is a lifelong process; it is a creaturely process. It is a process to which the Holy Spirit always draws us back. The Word is the Lord’s gift to us. And by broadening our understanding of the Scriptures, the Holy Spirit will nourish us through their depths. He will root us in Christ. He will gird us in the full armor of God, so we are able to stand against the devil’s schemes (Ephesians 6:10-11). And because we will have been tuned to the Truth, we will be able to hear when the devil plays off key.

Rev. Clint Knutson serves as pastor of Birch Hills Community Church (Birch Hills, Saskatchewan) and Saron Lutheran Church (Hagen, Saskatchewan).

No Comments