What simple words these are; words which all but the smaller children could easily understand. Only eleven characters form the statement; and yet, coming as they do from the lips of the Lord Jesus Christ, how profound they are. If we will spare a little while to ponder them, they will yield to us both spiritual delight and instruction.
From a human point of view — and the devil seems to suggest that the Lord Jesus Christ was only this (“If thou be the Son of God”) — the time could not have been more opportune than that occasion on which he sought to bear in upon the Lord in temptation. Had the Lord Jesus been born of Adam’s stock, then the results of this temptation would have been far different. This threefold temptation comes after a period of fasting for forty days. For any young man this would have meant hunger; added to which, ambition in a young man would be at its highest — and what better than an offer of the kingdoms of this world! Now add to this the spiritual elation which would come from a spectacular event commanding the wonder of the religious world, and surely everything which a young man could desire would be his for the taking. We might even sympathize with such a young man should he fall to the temptation, or, maybe, some would even encourage him. But we learn very differently concerning the Lord Jesus Christ.
In his gospel, Luke tells us that “Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man”, 2. 52. From this statement concerning the Lord Jesus Christ (coming as it does after His visit to the temple at twelve years of age) we may learn that He had given Himself to the study of the Scriptures which were to be His armoury now in the wilderness. Had He in His Deity prior to His incarnation met Satan, then Satan could never have put forward such a series of temptations in this way, for “God cannot be tempted with evil”, James 1. 13. No! In all the strength of His Manhood the Lord meets the adversary, and in that strength He puts him to worst. In His temptation, therefore, He could effectively say, “I sat where they sat”, Ezek. 3. 15, but with what different results! Blessed Man! Yet another opportunity to bow in worship concerning that wondrous incarnation!
We now turn to the words themselves, and how our souls thrill to see how the Lord Jesus uses them in answer to this threefold temptation which had a bearing on every department of His human life. If Satan approach Him with sympathy for His bodily requirements and the alleviation of His hunger, then His spontaneous reply is, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God”, Matt. 4. 4. If spiritual advantage be the purport of Satan’s reasoning, the immediate response is, “Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God”; or if premature glory and dominion is offered Him, for the small cost (so Satan seems to suggest) of falling down and worshipping him, then again the quick reply of the Lord is, “Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve”.
Each of these statements, taken as they are from the book of Deuteronomy, the Lord Jesus prefaces with the words, “It is written”. What humility that as Man, this was His authority for action, or non-action, as the case may be. He had made the Word of God His delight, and His continuous desire was to abide by it. It could well be said of Him, “Thy words were found, and I did eat them; and thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart: for I am called by thy name, 0 Lord God of hosts”, Jer. 15. 16. To go beyond them was unthinkable to Him: He would add nothing to them. To subtract or detract from them was just as unthinkable. He would not require a lowered standard; He would meet the standard set down.
When He speaks in the discourse known as the Sermon on the Mount, He says, “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time”, Matt. 5. 27, but here He says, “It is written”. “Was” would put the statement in the past, while had He said, “will be” as if in reference to a coming time, that would have indicated the future. Both of these tenses would have left Satan the opportunity of suggesting that obedience now was not necessary. By using the present tense “is”, the Lord Jesus made it imperative to know and obey the Word of God. It was the guide to every aspect of His life. No wonder He says, “I do always those things that please him”, John 8. 29.
If the Lord Jesus Christ found it so necessary to know the Word of God, not just by a superficial and occasional glance at it, but like the man of Psalm 1. 2, “his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night”, in order that His human Being may be maintained for God while He walked this earth in character as a dependent Man, how much more must it be relevant for us in our day? Can it not be said in this as in other ways, “leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps”, 1 Pet. 2. 21? Should not we, like the bride in the Song of Solomon, be asking, “Tell me…. where thou feedest”, and listen for the reply, “If thou know not, 0 thou fairest among women, go thy way forth by the footsteps of the flock, and feed … beside the shepherds’ tents”, 1.7-8.
The sad reflection today is that many seem to be treating the Word of God with so little regard that they do not recognize its absolute authority in the life of the believer. They want to treat it more like some kind of code which needs updating from time to time. “Can we adjust it to suit our way of thinking?“ seems to be the cry of some hearts, rather than “We ought to adjust our manner of life to the teachings of the Word of God”. As Peter says, “They that are unlearned and unstable wrest (twist)”, 2 Pet. 3. 16.
In the wake of this state of things comes an inevitable famine — “a famine … of hearing the words of the Lord”, Amos 8. 11, and its corollary “they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears”, 2 Tim. 4. 3. No longer will sound doctrine (wholesome words) be endured, and the results from such a famine? — a dearth of building among the Lord’s people, and of blessing among lost souls.
Cannot the Word of God still be a blessing to us physically? “Bodily exercise profiteth for a little time (marg.): but godliness is profitable unto all things”, 1 Tim. 4. 8. Can we not adjust our lives so that we return to a dependence upon the God whom we profess to believe, even in these days of material benefits? And what about the things of the soul? The statement of Scripture is plain concerning a man that “as he thinketh in his heart, so is he”, Prov. 23. 7, and we are enjoined by the apostle, “whatsoever things are true, honest (venerable), just, pure, lovely, of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things”, Phil. 4. 8. Our thought-life, and the manner of our life among our fellowmen can only be refined by valuing in greater measure the fact that “It is written”. Finally, what of our spiritual life? Would we not find the words of the hymn writer true:
When we walk with the Lord
In the light of His Word,
What a glory He sheds on our way!
While we do His good will,
He abides with us still,
And with all who will trust and obey.
The reading and meditation of the Word of God is good exercise, and a prerequisite to its study; but in order to practise it we must know it, and this must surely mean we must “study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth”, 2 Tim. 2. 15.
May we together learn to say with the Psalmist, “Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee”, Psa. 119. 11, and may we be as “the valiant of Israel. They all hold swords, being expert in war: every man hath his sword upon his thigh because of fear in the night”, Song 3. 7-8; “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God”, Eph. 6. 17.
Has the Word of God lost its authority? There can only be one answer — it must be an emphatic, No! “It is written”.
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