Being on Life Support (Matthew 4:4)
Topic: Matthew Passage: Matthew 4:4
Being On Life Support
(One Truth: Your Word is Truth)
September 18th, 2016
I. Fasting Facts
Listen to what Dr. Alan Lieberson has said about what the human body is able to endure. He is answering here the question, “How long can a person survive, how long can they go without eating?” Lieberson writes,
“The duration of survival without food is greatly influenced by factors such as body weight, genetic variation, other health considerations and, most importantly, the presence or absence of dehydration. For total starvation in healthy individuals receiving adequate hydration, reliable data on survival are hard to obtain. At the age of 74 and already slight of build, Mahatma Gandhi, the famous nonviolent campaigner for India's independence, survived 21 days of total starvation while only allowing himself sips of water. In a 1997 article in the British Medical Journal, Michael Peel, senior medical examiner at the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture, cites well-documented studies reporting survivals of other hunger strikers for 28, 36, 38 and 40 days.” (ScientificAmerican.com)
Now this might seem like a strange topic to address on a Sunday morning as we gather with God's people. But this doctor's comments actually prepare us for our passage this morning. Look with me at Matthew 4.
II. The Passage: “By Every Word” (4:4)
At the beginning of our time together, we heard Matthew 4, verse 4. And I hope you will also try memorizing that verse this week, especially after we dig into it this morning. Let me share that verse with you again, this time also reading the first three verses of the chapter. Listen to what Matthew records for us...
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.  And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.  And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”  But he answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
Did you see the connection there? Dr. Lieberson mentioned case-studies where individuals in modern times have gone without food for “28, 36, 38, and [even, like Jesus] 40 days”. Can any of us even begin to imagine what that feels like? The pain. The weakness. And I would think...the disorientation.
But as Jesus demonstrates in verse 4 (and right through the other two temptations described in the following verses), He is in clear command of his faculties.
But when Jesus rebuffs, when Jesus counters Satan's temptation, what exactly is He saying? This morning, I want us to answer two questions in our time together. Just two. Here they are: First, “What does Jesus mean when he states that man lives 'by every word that comes from the mouth of God'?”, and second, “What difference should God's “every word” make for our every-day lives?”
Now, just like these two questions, I think we can find answers by considering two things about Matthew 4:4. First, we need to consider this idea of “every word” in the context of Deuteronomy. And second, we need to consider this idea of “every word” in the context of the desert, that is, in the context in which Jesus found himself when He spoke those words.
1. “Every Word” in Deuteronomy (Deuteronomy 8:1-10)
So first, Deuteronomy. Rememeber what Jesus said, “It is written...” You may or may not know that when Jesus rejected the devil's challenge, He was quoting from Deuteronomy 8, verse 3. Turn back to that chapter and look with me at verses 1-10. These are the words of Moses and he instructs the second generation of Israelites, those who were about to do what their parents could not do: enter the Promised Land. This is what Moses tells them. Deut. 8:1:
“The whole commandment that I command you today you shall be careful to do, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land that the LORD swore to give to your fathers.  And you shall remember the whole way that the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not.  And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, 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.  Your clothing did not wear out on you and your foot did not swell these forty years.  Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the LORD your God disciplines you.  So you shall keep the commandments of the LORD your God by walking in his ways and by fearing him.  For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing out in the valleys and hills,  a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey,  a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills you can dig copper.  And you shall eat and be full, and you shall bless the LORD your God for the good land he has given you."
So as I mentioned, and as you just saw, verse 3 contains the statement that Jesus used against the devil in Matthew 4. So if we want to understand that statement, a great place to start is to ask, “What does this phrase mean in its original context?”
I think the context shows us two things about living “by every word that comes from the mouth of [Yahweh]”. First, there is an emphasis her on how God decrees. God spoke and (v. 4) the Israelites' clothing did not wear out, nor did their feet swell. Though they did not have the kind of bread they were used to having, God spoke and they were (v. 3) fed with manna, with bread from heaven. They had been led and fed for forty years because God spoke His word and it happened!
Their lives did not ultimately depend on what they could grow or produce or bake or even plunder from the Egyptians. Their lives ultimately depended on what God determined.
In the same way, second, there is not only an emphasis here on how God decrees, but also on how God directs. God gives (vs. 1, 2, 6...God gives) commandments. Moses was calling the people (v. 1) to do these things; God was calling them to (vs. 2, 6...to) keep his commandments; to (v. 6) walk in his ways and fear him. God provided the Hebrews with clear directions about honoring him. If they would do these things, they would live.
As they moved toward a promising future in a land of abundance, God wanted them humble. That is, God wanted them to be needy, so that they would depend on what He decreed and follow as He directed. There was always the possibility they would simply forget past lessons and run headlong into a future full of pride.
2. “Every Word” in the Desert (4:1-3)
But in a nearby desert almost 1500 years later, Jesus would draw upon these same words of Moses; they were to Him a strength and shield. But think again about the situation.
Like the Israelites leaving Egypt, Jesus has passed through the waters (Matthew 3:13-17). Like the Israelites, Jesus has come through the waters and into the wilderness, that is, into the desert. And again, like the Israelites, Jesus is being tested in the desert. You see, Jesus is the new Israel. He will do here what the people of God could never do: He stands firm in the face of temptation. He does here what he will do throughout his ministry: He obeys God perfectly.
Therefore, just as the Israelites were born into the family of the one man Israel, the completed people of God would be born again through this one man Jesus. So it really isn't surprising then when every verse Jesus uses against the devil in this encounter (down through verse 11), every verse is from the book of Deuteronomy. But why these words from 8:3? Why did Jesus use these words?
Well remember what was happening. Although he almost certainly drank water, Jesus had not eaten for forty days. He was literally starving to death. But He will not follow the devil's advice to take matters into his own hands. His identity as the “Son of God” would not be confirmed by transforming rocks, but by trusting God the Father. He would depend on what God had decreed and follow as God directed.
Jesus knew why He came. He would not die in the Judean desert. He would die on a Roman cross. And so He trusted that God would provide for Him in the desert, just as He provided manna for the Israelites. So what kept Jesus going? Remember what He later told his disciples. John 4:34...Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.”
What Jesus had to do was clear: He would follow His Father's directions, trusting in His Father's decrees. This was the perfect obedience we needed, because only the spotless Lamb of God could meet our deepest need.
III. Every Word, Every Day
Okay. So we've tackled the first question we wanted to answer, the question of what Jesus meant when He quoted Deuteronomy 8 to the devil. But there's still that second question:
in light of both Deuteronomy and the desert where Jesus was tempted, “What difference should God's “every word” make for our every-day lives?”
Well, it's important to see that this verse, that Matthew 4:4, AND Deuteronomy 8:3 of course, that these verses are speaking to us about “life support”. No, I'm not talking about a machine or medication that keeps your heart beating and your lungs breathing. No, this is far bigger. This encompasses your physical body, your emotional life, your relationships, all your circumstance, and your spiritual well-being.
What supports your life? The word of God. “...Man shall not LIVE by bread alone, but [he shall LIVE in this way] by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” And this is true of every single person; every person who has lived, is living, and will live on this planet.
Paul told the Athenians that God gives to all mankind life and breath and everything (Acts 17:25). Jesus speaks in the next chapter of Matthew about the fact that God “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” (Matthew 5:45) Paul speaks of a similar reality, revealing to his listeners the fact that God “did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.” (Acts 14:17) Paul also echoed the psalmist who wrote this of God: You open your hand; you satisfy the desire of every living thing. (Psalm 145:16)
You see, all of us will have what we might call “desert days”, those times in which our neediness becomes incredibly apparent; in which, maybe, we become painfully aware of our needs. Jesus was literally in the desert. The Israelites that Moses spoke about were literally in the desert. In a place of scarcity, both the Israelites and Jesus were tested. The question was simple: “Who will you trust to meet your needs?”
You have those “desert days” as well, don't you; sometimes many “desert days” in just one day. You are tested as well, aren't you? And in those times, you will look for 'life support'. But where will you look? How will you live? That's precisely the question Jesus is answering here. Jesus' examples calls us to live in light of the fact that we live “by every word that comes from the mouth of God”.
So let's think about how we can apply Jesus' answer. I see at least three things here that I believe can be extremely helpful:
First, living by every word from God's mouth means admitting that my 'bread' alone cannot give life.
Of course Jesus was tempted to use His power to provide for his physical needs. He would go on in his ministry to turn water into wine, to multiply fish and bread in order to feed thousands, and even to raise the dead. He could have easily turned rocks into rye if he wanted. That's why we can say this temptation was indeed a genuine temptation.
But would that have given Jesus real life? Is that what real living looks like?
No. Taking matters into our own hands is not real life. Making the things of this world, even the good things into ultimate things, into substitutes for eternal life, that is not real life. In fact, that lie and those counterfeits only keep us from the genuine life only God can give.
What 'bread' are you clinging to this morning? And what will happen in the “desert days”, when God mercifully takes it away?
But second, living by every word from God's mouth means acknowledging that I live according to God's decree.
God's decree to the Israelites was a future in the Promised Land. God's decree to Jesus was a future of suffering on the Cross, but after, resurrection and victory and glory. The Israelites did not trust God to bring them through a land of lack and into a land of abundance. But Jesus did. He trusted in his Father's plan, even when his body convulsed with hunger pangs.
What is God's decree, His promise for you if you have trusted in Christ as your only hope? And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28) And where does that lead: Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.  He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it. (I Thessalonians 5:23-24)
No matter what your “desert days” look like and feel like, no matter how bad the hunger pangs are, the pain of lack, the oppression of uncertainty, God has abundance up ahead...for you. Will you trust Him? Will you trust in his timing? The wonderful thing is that even when we struggle with faith, God's decree is help in our struggles. Isn't that encouraging!
Third and finally, living by every word from God's mouth means accepting that I need God's direction in order to live.
To get through the “desert days”, and every other day, you need God's guidance. The every day choices we make, the way we live our lives, the habits we form, the things we turn into idols, the voices we allow to speak to us...all of these either help or hinder our faith in God's decrees, in His promises.
The larger, ever more fundamental point as we talk about practice is this: we are fed by God's One Truth. And that truth is given to us, first and foremost, in the Bible. How would we know of God's decrees without the Scriptures? How would we follow God's directions without the word?
What a comfort in those “desert days” to know the everlasting God of Isaiah 40:28 “does not faint or grow weary”; what a comfort to know “his understanding is unsearchable”. What encouragement and guidance is ours when we look in the mirror of I Peter 2:9, to know that we are a “royal priesthood”, and that we are called “to proclaim [His] excellencies”. But it all begins with the word. Reading it. Receiving it. Responding to it. Remembering it.
In the days of lack and days of abundance ahead, will you try to live by 'bread' alone? If you do, you will stay hungry. But when we live by and in light of every word from God's mouth, we will be satisfied; and we will find strength through the desert days.
And this is all possible because of the perfect obedience of Jesus. Because He perfectly resisted the temptation, He became our perfect substitute; the perfect sacrifice; the spotless Lamb of God. Let's thank God for the life we have in Christ and through Christ.