Christ’s Temptation

Matthew 4:1-11

Oscar Wilde, the famous playwright of the late nineteenth century once said, “I can resist everything except temptation.” Don’t we feel that way sometimes? We think that temptation is the only irresistible force left in the world. At the very least, we think that Satan can overcome all obstacles in us to get us to sin. We love to blame Satan for our sin, don’t we? We are going to learn tonight that Satan the tempter is a defeated tempter, and that it is possible for us to resist him by using the sword of the Spirit, God’s Word.

The passage before us is the beginning of the ultimate contest between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. The tempter won round one, but he will not win round two. You can bet that Satan will attack Jesus.

It is true that pirates will attack the ship with the greatest amount of treasure on board. All our treasures of salvation belong to Jesus. Therefore, Satan the pirate will attack Him the fiercest. Hebrews tells us that Jesus was tempted in all ways like us, except that he was without sin. Does this mean that Jesus could have fallen into sin? The answer is yes, Jesus could have, because He had a human nature like us. However, Jesus did not have a sin nature like us. Therefore, Jesus never sinned.

The sinlessness of Christ might make us think that, in reality, he cannot sympathize with us, since He has not actually sinned. By way of answer, we need to see several things here: one is that Jesus resisted to the uttermost. He drained Satan’s skills to the very last dregs. You know, it is only the one who resists to the last who really knows how strong Satan’s temptations really are. Satan does not use any more skill than he needs to in order to tempt someone to fall. If we resist to the end, not falling, it is only then that Satan will unleash his most violent assaults. That is exactly what happened to Jesus. So Jesus is actually able to sympathize with us very well indeed.

Next, we need to see that Jesus was tempted in the very worst conditions imaginable. Compare Jesus’ situation with Adam and Eve’s situation: Adam and Eve were probably not hungry, given the fact that they could eat from any tree of the garden. Jesus, on the other hand, has just finishing a 40 day fast. Adam and Eve were in a beautiful garden. Jesus was in the wilderness. Adam and Eve had each other. Jesus was alone. And yet, Adam and Eve, for all they had going for them, fell into sin and temptation, whereas Jesus, having entered the most difficult situation imaginable, conquered temptation to remain sinless. Jesus can sympathize with our temptations.

Jesus was tempted in three ways: the lust of the flesh (the first temptation to eat), the lust of the eyes (all the kingdoms of the world), and the pride of life (using his miraculous powers for show). But we can see that Jesus, our prophet, priest and king, overcame all these temptations in order to give us the strength to do the same. Jesus was a prophet in using God’s Word properly, a priest in being a sacrifice for us, and representing us against Satan, and a king by coming into His kingdom the right way, through the cross. Let’s look at these three temptations.

First we need to notice that the Holy Spirit leads Jesus into the wilderness in order to be tempted by Satan. In Mark, the language is more forceful: the Holy Spirit drives Jesus into the wilderness. The Holy Spirit does not do the tempting however. The way the Holy Spirit is testing Jesus is by putting Him in the fire to see how pure the metal is. Is the baptism that Jesus just received really genuine? The Holy Spirit tests Jesus. Satan is God’s instrument of testing. The Holy Spirit is not tempting Jesus to sin, but rather testing Him to prove His genuineness. We are not to suppose that God tempts us to sin. God puts trials in our way to test us. That is why we pray “Do not lead us into temptation,” since Jesus was already led into temptation and conquered sin for us. Rather, we pray to be delivered from evil, since we know how frail we are.

The first temptation is perhaps the most obvious one to us. Jesus was hungry. Satan tells Him to take care of the problem. Notice that Satan, as it were, has listened in on Jesus baptism. God the Father says, “This is my beloved Son.” So Satan says, “Has God really said that you are His Son?” Satan is trying to make Jesus doubt God’s provision. Doubt is the lever of temptation. Specifically, it is doubt of God’s Word that is the lever of temptation.

By way of background here is the Jewish expectation that a second Moses would come and repeat the miracle of the manna in the wilderness. Satan prods Jesus to do just that for selfish purposes. So Satan gives Jesus two options: die from hunger, or turn these stones into bread. Jesus does neither. Instead He quotes God’s word, from Deuteronomy. All of these quotations in Jesus’ temptation are from Deuteronomy, by the way. What Jesus means is this: the power of sustaining life is not ultimately to be found in bread. Bread could not sustain a person for one second unless God says it will. Food will not keep a man alive, unless God says that that man will live; and if God says that that man is going to live, then that man will live, whether he has food or not. Again, Jesus is going to where Adam and Eve were sent. God sent them into the wilderness outside the garden. Jesus went to where they were so as to bring humanity back into the garden. Jesus conquered Satan’s temptation of the lust of the flesh. Notice how Jesus defeats this temptation: by quoting God’s Word. Jesus knows God’s Word. He knows that God has promised him bread, and will not therefore give him stones, to quote a later passage. The Word of God is even more necessary for the soul, than bread is for the body.

But Satan has studied God’s Word as well. Satan takes Jesus up to the highest part of the temple, probably overlooking the Kidron Valley, which was a drop so long that Josephus says you could not see the bottom from this highest point. We are not talking about a twenty foot drop here. It is more like two hundred feet. And here Satan twists God’s Word. First Satan tried to attack Jesus where He was weak, namely, the area of hunger. Now Satan tries to catch Jesus the Word in the area of Jesus’ greatest strength, His knowledge of God’s Word. This is often how Satan works. If we guard ourselves in the weak areas of our lives, then Satan will attack our strength, hoping that we will not have cared too much about defended our strongest points. Satan likes to take us up to a great height, in order that our fall will be greater. This is Satan’s attack of jiu-jitsu. But Satan here wants Jesus to fall in exactly the same way as he himself fell. By taking Jesus to the top of the temple, it is as if Satan is taking him up to heaven, and showing Jesus how to fall just like himself. Satan fell, and so he wants all others to fall as well. But notice here that Satan cannot force Jesus to fall. The same is true with us. Satan can only tempt us. He cannot force us to fall. The difference between Jesus and us lies in the fact that we still have a sin nature. Satan works with our sinful nature, knowing exactly where our weak points are. However, the encouraging news is that Jesus has conquered sin. He shows that right here in our text.

Jesus conquers by using correctly the sword of the Spirit, God’s Word. Satan misuses God’s word here. Satan leaves out a phrase from Psalm 91. The text should read, “He will command His angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.” “In all your ways” then would mean “In all your righteous ways,” for we cannot expect God to guard us in our sinful ways. Satan ignores the context, and picks and chooses what he wants out of Scripture. This is in stark contrast to how Jesus uses Scripture.

Jesus knows that he is in a wilderness condition. He is being tempted in exactly the same way that Adam and Eve were tempted, and in exactly the same way as Israel was being tempted in the wilderness. Jesus is the new Israel. That is why this quotation from Deuteronomy is absolutely perfect for this situation. Instead of testing God, as the Israelites did by grumbling about food and water, Jesus is the obedient Israelite who will not put God to the test. So Jesus quotes correctly the OT.

This leads us into a very important point of application. We must use Scripture. And we must use it correctly. We must use Scripture because it is our weapon. Satan has no weapons of defense. The only thing he can do is to attack. However, our sword of the Spirit, God’s Word, is a weapon of offense and defense. We can attack as Jesus did here. But to be able to use this sword we need to know it. We need to study God’s Word. Studying God’s Word means more than reading the passage, and reading a one page devotional. Studying God’s Word means to ask the text questions: who, what, where, when , why, how? It means to look up parallel passages. Most of us have Bibles that have cross-references. It is very helpful to look those up. Buy a Bible dictionary, so that you can look up unfamiliar places and names. In our passage tonight, for instance, it would be helpful to know that bread was something without which you died in that culture. That gives us a deeper knowledge of what Jesus means when He says, “You shall not live by bread alone.” You could find information like that in a dictionary. You might look up angels, stones, testing, temptation, wilderness, and fasting, to get more information. Next, we need to read what comes before and what comes after. It is not enough to merely read the passage by itself. Tonight, in our passage, for instance, it is important that Jesus has just been baptized. We need to ask ourselves the question, “Why is Jesus’ baptism followed immediately by His temptation?” Notice the key words t the end of chapter 3: “my beloved Son.” Chapter four then answers the question, “Is Jesus the beloved Son?” The single most important key to understanding the Bible is the context. Context means the immediately preceding passage, as well as the immediately following passage. It means also the historical context. For instance, in tonight’s passage, it helps to know that the Jews were expecting a second Messiah who would repeat the manna miracle in the wilderness. That gives more edge to our understanding of Satan’s temptation about the bread. Some tools you might consider purchasing are a good concordance, a good dictionary, and a good commentary, such as Matthew Henry. With just these three tools, you can go far indeed. If you want to dig deeper, then ask your pastor what would be good tools for a particular book or topic. Some of you have done so. This is partly what it means to have a sharp sword ready at hand. But it also means that we need to memorize Scripture. David said, “Your Word have I hid in my heart,” Why? So that he might not sin against God.” That is exactly what Jesus does, and it is exactly what we need to do. Having the Bible in your heart is important. If Satan wants to burgle your soul, then you need a weapon that is not locked away in your weapons chest, unavailable for use. You need it ready to hand! And, we need to use Scripture correctly. If we don’t, we will cut ourselves, rather than the enemy. We cannot do as some do, called “lucky dipping.” That is the practice of opening Scripture at random and finding guidance for your life. If you do that, you might find this interesting guidance: “Judas went out and hanged himself; go thou and do likewise; and what you do, do quickly.” That is a travesty of a sword. That is not even a pen-knife. That is a little needle which winds up stabbing the person who is trying to use it. We must use Scripture correctly. This is something we are all called to do. It is not jut the pastor who must read and handle Scripture correctly. It is all of us.

The last temptation of Jesus is also fairly obvious. Satan offers Jesus a short-cut. Jesus will receive all this power and honor and glory. That is what Jesus says at the end of Matthew: “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” But the way that Jesus has to choose is the way of the cross, or the easy way out. Satan is offering Jesus a short-cut to the kingdom. All Jesus has to do is one little bitty bow to Satan, which is much easier than going to the cross. But Satan hides the poison. This is how Satan often works: he fishes for us by presenting the bait in front of our greedy eyes, while hiding the hook. Here, the hook is that Satan would be the real master of the universe if Jesus bowed to him. In our temptations, Satan does the same thing: he offers to us money, while hiding the fact that it will not ever make us happy, and that is true of any addiction. That is giving us the bait, while hiding the hook. The hook is always soul-damning. The example here is that of a famous character in literature, Faust. Faust wanted the girl, but the girl didn’t want him. So he made a bargain with Satan in order to become irresistible to the girl. In the end, Faust did not gain the girl the way he wanted to, and he lost his own soul into the “bargain.”

Jesus replies with a stern, peremptory command, “Begone!” That is often what temptation requires, isn’t it? If we allow sin time to tempt us, then we are really giving in. Giving sin a foothold is the same as giving in, because sin is quite the mountain goat. One foothold is all it needs, and then it is all over the mountain, completely unrestrained. No, give sin a stern, immediate, rough rebuke, “Begone!” But it is then important to put something in its place. Think of Jesus seated on His throne in the heavenly realms, having conquered sin and death. Think of your Savior when you are tempted, for that is exactly what Scripture is all about! It is God alone whom we must worship, and not ourselves, or Satan, or anything else.

When we resist Satan, then he flees from us. That is exactly what happens with Satan here. Instead of resisting everything except temptation, as Oscar Wilde says, we will then be able to resist temptation. Our hope is that Jesus conquered temptation for us. We must believe and trust in Him.

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