by Chris Ritter
I ran across an article this week about a 37-year-old Tokyo man name Shoji Morimoto. He has begun renting himself out “to do nothing.” He is willing to eat, drink, and give simple verbal feedback, but nothing more. He has more offers than he can possibly accept and over 250,000 followers on Twitter.
After attaining a graduate degree, Morimoto got a job with a publisher. But was soon fired. His boss told him, “It doesn’t matter if you are here or not.” That got him thinking… there may be people out there who need a someone to do… nothing. He began offering his services for free, but now he charges ten thousand yen per call (a little less than $100).
What kind of people pay Shoji to do nothing? Sometimes a group needs an additional person for a game they are playing, but mainly his requests come from people who don’t want to be alone. One woman rented Morimoto to come along when she met a potential date for the first time. He accompanied another person to a lawyer’s office to sign divorce papers. He went with one person to the hospital to give them the courage to make a visit they had been putting off. Some people just want to talk about their problems with someone who will not try to offer them advice.
The article ends with these words:
In the current age, difficulties have spread to various areas of life. It may be the case that somewhere in their hearts, everyone is longing for someone who will cheer them on. It seems that this may be why the “rent-a-person who does nothing” — who doesn’t tell you to “do your best” or that they “support you,” but stays by your side in silence, has seen endless demand.
It has long been one of the paradoxes of our time that the population goes up, but people tend to feel more and more alone. Technology meant to connect us has somehow made us more isolated. Add into this reality COVID-19 which has separated us from another more than ever. Isolation is a theme of our time.
As we study together the Gospel of Luke, it is interesting to note how solitude worked in the life of Jesus. Our Lord lived most of his earthly life in community. He called his disciples alongside him and was with them nearly nonstop. But there were very intentional times of solitude. Jesus often went off by himself to pray. I expect that Luke is communicating to us the same. God does certain work in our lives only through community. He does other work only through solitude. We need both.
And today we look at a specific forty-day period of isolation that was for Jesus most unpleasant also most necessary as he began his ministry. We continue our “This Changes Everything” series look at good beginnings by hearing the Word of God from Luke Chapter Four:
1 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, 2 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 4:1-13 (NIV)
3 The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.”
4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’”
5 The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6 And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. 7 If you worship me, it will all be yours.”
8 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’”
9 The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here. 10 For it is written:
“‘He will command his angels concerning you
to guard you carefully;
11 they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”
12 Jesus answered, “It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
13 When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.
The Beloved Son & His Mission
The last time we saw Jesus in Luke’s Gospel, he was twelve years old. Now he comes on the scene as a full-grown man. Luke is the only Gospel writer to mention Jesus’ age… about 30 years old. My oldest son, Isaac, had his 30th birthday yesterday and it sort of struck me funny that I would be old enough to be Jesus’ parent!
Jesus is baptized by John. For most people, baptism was an act of repentance. For Jesus, it was something of an inauguration. His inaugural address will come later in Chapter Four.
Luke is the Gospel of prayer and mentions that Jesus prayed during his baptism. As he prayed, the Holy Spirit lighted on him like a dove might land on a post. The word Christ means “anointed one.” Jesus is anointed with the Holy Spirit for the role he is to play. But there is more here than a job to do. There is a bold declaration about the person of Jesus. The heavens opens and a voice came speaking directly to Jesus: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”
In my humble opinion, this is the most dynamic picture of the Trinity in all of Scripture. God the Father pours God the Spirit out upon God the Son with a powerful declaration of divine love and divine pleasure.
When there is a presidential inauguration in America, there is a flurry of subsequent activity. Presidents focus on their first one hundred days. They have a cabinet to get confirmed, executive orders to sign, legislation to propose, etc. But Jesus’ inauguration is much different. As a first act of business, the Holy Spirit leads Jesus further out into the barren wilderness for forty days of isolation.
Jesus taught us to pray that we would not be led into temptation but delivered from evil. But there is something necessary about Jesus facing harsh and direct temptation by Satan himself as he began his ministry.
What is going on here? Jesus is moving through some tests that are necessary for him to be our all-sufficient Savior. We studied the book of Hebrews together last summer where Jesus is declared our supreme and sympathetic High Priest. For him to be the sympathetic Savior that we need, he had to be tempted in every way you and I might be tempted:
“For we do not have a high priest incapable of sympathizing with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in every way just as we are, yet without sin.”Hebrews 4:15 (NIV)
We just came through the Christmas season and sang that great Charles Wesley hymn: “Adam’s likeness now erase. Stamp thine image in its place. Second Adam from above, reinstate us in thy love.”
In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul describes Jesus as our Second Adam. We inherit sin and our earthly, fallen nature from the First Adam. We inherit salvation and a new inheritance in heaven from the Second Adam, also called the “Last Adam.” Where the first Adam failed, the Second Adam had to succeed. But there were differences in the way that Adam was tempted and Jesus was tempted. Adam was tempted amidst the abundance of Eden. Jesus is tempted in the deprivation of the wilderness. Adam and Eve had community and mutual support. They could have helped one another stand against temptation. Jesus will face Satan alone.
There is a connection between temptation and isolation. David was alone in his palace when his eyes fell upon Bathsheba. First Peter describes Satan as a predator. If you watch the nature shows, you know it’s the isolated animal that often becomes the prey:
“Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”1 Peter 5:8 (NIV)
This is why we need to check on one another during this time of isolation. If the devil can get us alone, he can beat up on us. Yet it was God’s plan that Jesus face the brunt of Satan’s trickery alone. This showdown was inevitable. Our Savior had to stand up where Adam fell.
Luke tells us that Jesus was in the wilderness and ate nothing during those forty days. The wilderness was a stretch of Judea about 35 miles long by 15 miles wide. It was called Jeshimmon, which means “The Devastation.” It has been described thus: “The hills are like dust heaps. The limestone looked blistered and peeling. The rocks were bare and jagged.” It was in this terrible devastation that Jesus was tempted.
The forty days mirror Israel’s forty years in the wilderness where, time and time again, they refused to trust God in the lean times. Jesus here needs to take a first step toward a re-constituted People of God who trust and are faithful. The Old Covenant was marred by human unfaithfulness. The New Covenant would be based on the faithfulness of God’s Son.
Luke states the obvious: “At the end of forty days without food, Jesus was hungry.”
The devil says to Jesus, “If you are the Son of God [as was announced at his baptism], tell this stone to become bread.” I am told some of the rocks out in the Judean wilderness look like loaves of bread. This is probably even more true when you have not eaten in forty days!
Would it be a sin for Jesus to use his power to provide bread for himself? There is nothing sinful about bread, is there? Satan is nothing if not subtle. Do you see how he frames “Son of God” in terms of privilege? If you are God’s Son, you not only have the power to create bread, but you also deserve it.” He wants Jesus to feel entitled and make decisions based on that. It is always dangerous to go around telling yourself what you deserve.
This is where credit card debt comes from: “I deserve a little splurge.”
This is where embezzlement comes from: “I am worth more than they pay me.”
This is where pornography comes from: “I deserve a little escape.”
This is where adultery comes from: “I am entitled to a little happiness.”
But Jesus understood his role as “Son of God” in terms of servanthood and mission, not in terms of privilege. He was going to be a suffering servant, giving his lives for others. Philippians 2 reminds us that he did not consider the privileges of divinity a thing to which he should cling. His mission what not about what he deserved, but about what others needed. Jesus did not allow himself to accept Satan’s definition of sonship. He remained in a posture of humble obedience, even in the face of extreme deprivation.
Jesus quotes Moses:
So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord.Deuteronomy 8:3
Jesus stands up to the temptation by maintaining the posture of a servant, trusting the Word of the master. His agenda will be God’s agenda. Nothing more, nothing less. And it will be so even as he lays down his rights.
Next the devil takes Jesus to a high point and shows him all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. If you worship me, it will all be yours.” For a young man from Nazareth, this must have been quite a sight.
Like all good lies, Satan’s word contains some elements of truth. Adam and Eve relinquished their God-given authority to Satan when they fell into sin. The story of humanity is “wickedness in high places” and systemic evil entwined in every facet of life. Jesus, born of a woman, our Second Adam, is destined to take authority back. After his resurrection, Jesus will declare, “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me.”
But Satan is offering a short cut. No cross needed. “Kneel to me and I will give you all this.”
Sometimes we are tempted to think that the end justifies the means. “I might have the stab somebody in the back to get that promotion, but once I am in the job I will use my influence for the good.” You can’t do God’s work with the devil’s playbook. God’s work done God’s way will never lack God’s blessing. God’s work done our way always leads to trouble.
God is looking for simple obedience… his work done his way. No short-cuts. No compromises. No gamesmanship.
The Body of Christ constantly must search our hearts or we will fall into Satan’s traps. Sometimes we are tempted to follow someone who offers us power and influence. We like it when someone says we can “protect this” or “reclaim that.” I heard someone say one time they were going to “take America back for God.” Did God ask you to do that, or is that something you made up on your own? When we are working on our project, even well-meaning ones, we pull ourselves away from the simple obedience that God demands. We become entangled in evil. Beware the desire to belly up to altar of political power and privilege. You might fool yourself into thinking you are serving God when you are really serving yourself.
Do you notice how Jesus responds? He is full of God’s word. The right verse comes up a the right time. That can only happen when the Word is already in you. Jesus doesn’t say, “Wait a minute Satan. Let me get my Bible out and look up whether I should do that or not.” No, Jesus already knows the counsel of God by knowing the Word of God. Look at Psalm 119:
I have hidden your word in my heartPsalm 119:11
that I might not sin against you.
Jesus responds with Deuteronomy 6, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.”
The devil takes Jesus to Jerusalem… to a high point on the temple. This is the temple where Zechariah prayed (Luke 1). This is the temple where Jesus was presented when he was 40 days (Luke 2). This is the temple where Jesus sat at the feet of the rabbis when he was twelve years old. Jesus knew that his destiny was tied up with this city.
Satan does not tempt us with things we don’t want. Jesus had a huge heart for Jerusalem. He had a zeal for God’s house. He wept over this city. But God’s plan for him was to enter Jerusalem on a donkey, not on the wings of fiery angels.
“If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here. For it is written, ‘he will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.'”
Satan wants to get Jesus to succumb to the spectacular, to show those people in the seat of religious power who he really is… in glorious fashion. And it is God’s plan to bring Jesus into Jerusalem and display his glory. Yet it is God’s plan is that this glory will come in the form of humility and suffering.
Did you notice that Satan referenced scripture to support the temptation he offered Jesus? Satan shows that he knows how to quote the Bible, too.
We need to have Bible verses in our heart, but we also need to know the whole council of God’s word. There is not a cult out there that does not use (misuse) scripture. But they twist it. You can make the Bible say anything you want it to say if you have a heart to do that. If you want to hate people of a different color, you can find a verse for that. Just take a verse out of its proper context of the grand narrative of salvation and make your reading of that verse the main thing.
John Wesley said to know “the whole tenor of Scripture.” You need a sense of proportion. You need to know the big story. Be a little suspicious of any group that wants to tell you about “the fifth horn on the dragon in the Book of Revelation.” Jesus was always reminding people of the big picture, the first commandment. Love God with all your heart… and love others.
Jesus answers Satan’s misuse of scripture with a simple passage, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”
It is one thing to trust God. It is another thing to do something stupid and presume upon God to save you. God does protect his people. But he expects us to exercise proper care.
Don’t act foolishly and dare God to bail you out. That would be testing God instead of trusting God. Trusting God is when you take everything God has given, manage it prudently, and rely on God to take care of the rest. I think about the person I saw on TV who announced the were not going to wear a face mask because God would protect them from COVID. God provided you with that face mask. Use it to protect yourself and others. Don’t test God. Use wisdom.
Until an Opportune Time
Having been beaten, Satan left Jesus “until an opportune time.” James 4:7 tells us that if we resist the devil, he will flee from us. But he doesn’t stay gone. He is just looking for the next opportunity. This was not the only time Jesus was tempted. This is the just the opening round.
Sometimes Satan finds opportunities through the words of friends. Jesus shared with his disciples that he would be crucified. Peter rebuked Jesus and said, “That will never happen to you.” Remember what Jesus said in response? “Get behind me, Satan. You have in mind the things of man, not the things of God.” Jesus recognized that same voice he confronted in the wilderness in the throat of his dear friend.
In Luke, Jesus will later say, “Peter, Peter. Satan has desired to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you that your faith will not fail. And when you have been restored, I want you to strengthen your brothers.”
This being the start of a New Year, we are distilling out some principles from the ministry of Jesus related to good beginning. Let me restate a few of these.
First, get clarity on what God has called you to do. Satan trips us up when he can move us off that heading… even slightly. When you feel a little lost, go back to the touchstone of what God has called you to do. Check your heart always. Examine your motivations. If Satan can get you doing the right thing for the wrong reason, that is as good to him as doing the wrong thing.
Second, hide the Word in your heart. Know specific verses, and also know how those verses fit in the big picture of God’s Word. There is no short-cut for this preparatory work. Don’t just read the Bible, study it. Meditate on it. Memorize it. Internalize it. Let it shape your mind and your attitudes.
Third, walk the path of humility. When you keep a low center of gravity, it is harder to knock you down. Most moral and spiritual disasters start with pride. Good beginnings start with humility before God. Jesus was hard to trip up because he was humbled before God.
And, finally, know that God is with you through every temptation. We are never really alone. Christ is with us. The Holy Spirit is in us. God the Father is watching over us.
No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.1 Corinthians 10:13
Sometimes people misquote this passage to say, “God will never give you more than you can handle.” That is not what it says. It says God will not allow you to be tempted beyond your capacity to resist. He will make a way of escape. There is no such thing as “The devil made me do it.” Satan may tempt, but God holds all the cards.
I sometimes think of Martin Luther. He suffered extreme assaults of the devil during his lifetime. There were times when it almost seemed like Satan himself was standing in the room with him. On some occasions, he actually threw things at the devil. Ephesians tells us the spiritual warfare is sometimes like a wrestling match, close and intimate… you can smell the bad breath of your opponent. But Luther left us these words in the great Reformation hymn “A Mighty Fortress is Our God”:
And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us:
The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.
We will be tempted. That in inevitable. But all temptation is surmountable… and temporary. Satan will remind you of your past. Remind him of his future. And then humble yourself before God and set out doing what he called you to do.