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During the season of Epiphany, we seek to learn who Jesus was by studying His life and ministry. Last week we saw Jesus baptized, and heard the testimony of God the Father. As Jesus stepped up from the waters of the Jordan River, a voice rang out from above, saying,
“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17 ESV).
This week we hear testimony from an even more unusual source. Today, Satan unintentionally testifies that Jesus is the Son of God and the Savior of the world. We read from…
Matthew 4:1-11 (ESV)
4 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4 But he answered, “It is written,
“ ‘Man shall not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ ”
5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple 6 and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written,
“ ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’
“ ‘On their hands they will bear you up,
lest you strike your foot against a stone.’ ”
7 Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord
your God to the test.’ ” 8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. 9 And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10 Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written,
“ ‘You shall worship the Lord your God
and him only shall you serve.’ ”
11 Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him.
Five hundred years before Christ was born, a Chinese general by the name of Sun Tzu wrote a book called “The Art of War”. The thirteen brief chapters of that book became know as the definitive treatise concerning the waging of war. Since that time “The Art of War” has continued to shape military tactics, business approaches, legal strategy, and even the way competitive sports are played. Millions of people have read “The Art of War”.
While Sun Tzu’s book is an interesting read, and full of wisdom, much of what he says is simple, common sense. For example, Sun Tzu writes…
“You can be sure of succeeding in your attacks if you only attack places which are undefended. You can ensure the safety of your defense if you only hold positions that cannot be attacked” (Sun Tzu).
Sun Tzu not only points the commander of an army to common sense, he also directs him to prioritize. If a city poses no real threat, and will be of no great help if it is taken, Sun Tzu would counsel the wise general to march by that city and take the whole province instead.
War is a costly, ugly business. You don’t wage war because it’s fun. You wage war because you have to. And within war, if you’re a masterful general, you don’t fight battles just to fight battles. You fight battles that lead to your objective being obtained.
As crafty and elusive as the Devil is, when he tempted Jesus out in the wilderness, he revealed his hand. He revealed that Jesus truly IS the Son of God, and the Savior that God had sent to rescue sinners from hell.
Why do I say this? Because Satan is a wise general. He doesn’t waste his time taking down those who pose no threat to him. He attacks with a purpose. If Jesus had been a faker, Satan would have happily let Him continue on without any resistance. But Satan knew better.
So Satan tried to USE the truth that Jesus really was the Son of God against Him. Satan said, “Go ahead and prove that you are the Son of God” and then Satan offered different ways for Jesus to prove this truth. But here’s the catch, these different ways would be sinful in one way or another if they were done. In this way, Satan wished to make Jesus sin. ONE SIN would make it impossible for Jesus to offer Himself for us. Only a sinless sacrifice could be accepted by God.
Satan had to take this chance. But in doing so, he actually ends up testifying to the truth of Jesus’ claim to be the Son of God and the Savior of the world.
And this isn’t the only thing that Satan reveals here. Satan also reveals some of his methods for tempting people. For example, we’re told that Jesus fasted for forty days and forty nights. He was alone and hungry. It was then that Satan stepped forward to tempt Jesus with the possibility of food.
In “The Art of War” Sun Tzu said,
“…in war, the way is to avoid what is strong, and to strike at what is weak” (Sun Tzu).
In the human body of Jesus, Satan saw a weakness. “If you’re the Son of God, just make some bread for yourself and stop the hunger pains.” Satan knows that we get tired and hungry. That our emotions get more edgy at these times. He knows our own personal conditions and what things will make us more likely to succumb to his temptations. And he uses these things to his own advantage.
Satan knows that temptation is more effective when we’re physically, mentally, or spiritually weak. It’s at these times that we need to run to God’s Word and call out for God’s help through prayer.
But Satan’s approach didn’t work on Jesus. Jesus refused to use His God powers to feed Himself. Instead He reminded Satan that the Bible says there are more important things than food and clothing. More important things than physical strength and health.
In 1 Timothy 4, it says…
“8 For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:8 NIV).
In Matthew 6, Jesus says…
“31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:31-33 ESV).
It’s not the economy we should be worried about. It’s not our physical health. It’s our spirits that we should tend most closely.
Note that each time Satan tempts Jesus, Jesus responds by quoting God’s Word. Now, we might not all be real great at memorizing Scripture, but that’s not the point. The point is that in the face of temptation, Jesus finds guidance from what God says. Even if we can’t remember chapter-and-verse or word-for-word if we’re in regular contact with God’s Word, we’ll have that word in our hearts and minds as a shield when temptations come.
In “The Art of War” Sun Tzu said,
“…Water shapes its course according to the nature of the ground over which it flows; the soldier works out his victory in relation to the foe whom he is facing” (Sun Tzu).
Satan took note that Jesus responded to his first temptation by quoting the word of God. And since the appeal to Jesus’ weak body didn’t work, Satan moved on to another approach – an appeal to spiritual strength.
In verse 6 Satan brings Jesus to the top of the temple in Jerusalem. Once there, he tells Jesus to throw himself off the top because God has promised in the Bible that he’ll send angels to watch over and protect His people from harm. Satan actually quotes Scripture that seems to say that angels will catch Jesus before He hits the bottom.
If this was indeed what Scripture says, then if Jesus hesitated even for a moment He would have been displaying doubt over His heavenly Father’s power to rescue and His faithfulness to His promises.
But the fact of the matter is, Satan was misquoting Scripture. Psalm 91 to be specific. This Psalm expresses the security that one has who trusts in the LORD. In poetic description it speaks of NOTHING being able to harm the person who trusts in God. The faithful follower of God is described as trampling over lions and poisonous snakes, without being hurt.
Does this then mean that true Christians are impervious to snake bites? No. It’s simply saying that God will not let anything stand in the way of the good of His followers. He’s not encouraging us to be reckless showoffs.
Think about it like this. In the Bible God promises that He’ll never leave us nor forsake us. Does this mean that we don’t have to work for food then? That if we start to starve in our laziness then God will have to feed us miraculously in order to keep His promise to never leave us? This is the type of silly reasoning Satan wants us to embrace.
When Satan tempted Jesus he was appealing to Jesus’ spiritual strength. When he tempts us with this method, he’s appealing to our spiritual pride. He’s basically saying, “You’re a good follower of God, so just put His word into practice!” But what Satan offers us to put into practice isn’t really God’s word. He has twisted and altered what the Bible says so that it now says what Satan wants it to say.
Countless Christians have fallen into Satan’s trap by TRYING to do what God wants them to do. Only to find out later that what they were doing was all wrong. A misinterpretation of the Word of God. A twisting of the concepts of the Bible.
Of course, this method didn’t work on Jesus, because He saw through Satan’s misinterpretation of Scripture right away. He knew that the part that Satan quoted was poetry, expressing that God is powerful to care for His people, not pointing Christians to “go ahead and jump because God will catch you”. Jesus points out that instead of testing God, we should just trust Him. In other words, don’t jump off the cliff to see if God will catch you. But trust that if you do fall off, He will.
So, how do we know when Scripture is being twisted and misapplied? How can we avoid being duped by Satan’s quoting of the Bible? Again, by being in the word regularly. By knowing what God says, so that when we hear it quoted, we already know the context. We already know five other places in Scripture that talk about the same subject. If we know God’s Word, Satan will find it more difficult to fool us with his misquoting of it.
In “The Art of War” Sun Tzu said,
“All warfare is based on deception… …Hold out baits to entice the enemy. Feign disorder, and crush him” (Sun Tzu).
When Satan saw that his twisting of Scripture would not fool Jesus into acting rashly and stumbling into sin, Satan played his final card. At least, for this round. Satan took Jesus up on a mountain and miraculously showed him the kingdoms of the world in all their glory. He held out the bait of wealth and glory. And then he said, “Just fall down and worship me, and I’ll give you all this”.
When Satan is unsuccessful in tempting us according to weakness and worry, he tries tempting us with greed. And what he really wants is for us to knock God off the throne of our hearts, and to replace God with something else. He doesn’t really care what it is, all Satan wants to do is get God off the throne of our heart, then he wins our soul.
Of course, this temptation didn’t work on Jesus. He again quotes Scripture as His shield, saying that the LORD God alone is to be worshipped and served. Not the things that were created by God.
How silly is that thought?! That the pottery is somehow more impressive than the potter who made it. That the machine is more worthy of honor than its inventor. And yet, that’s what Satan has convinced countless people who believe God doesn’t exist, or that that our world came to it’s present condition through random chance alone, and not through the care and crafting power of the Great Creator.
How do we defend ourselves against Satan’s attempt to knock God off the throne of our heart? One way is by remembering to be thankful in our prayers. When we thank God in prayer for the things we enjoy, we are reminding ourselves that HE is the source of these blessings. And if HE is the source, than why would we elevate the gifts He above Him?
Now, to be sure, Jesus offers us a good example in this account. He is faithful. He responds to temptation by quoting Scripture as His guide. But the major takeaway is not Jesus’ example here. It’s the fat that Jesus was successful in the face of temptation, where you and I would have failed.
Later on in His ministry, Jesus’ disciples asked Him to teach them how to pray. One of the things He told them to say in prayer was, “Lead us not into temptation”. It’s a puzzling phrase that we say every time we say the Lord’s prayer. Why would we ask God not to lead us into temptation? Are we really worried that God is bent on getting us into bad situations? We gotta ask him to remember not to do this? No.
When we say, “Lead us not into temptation”, let’s remember how Jesus really was LED INTO TEMPTATION in our place. And where we would have certainly fallen, Jesus did not. He stepped out of the wilderness, still holy. Still able to offer Himself to erase our sins. That’s the main point of our reading today.
At the beginning of our mediation today I said that by tempting Jesus in this way, Satan was actually testifying that Jesus was a serious threat to him, that Jesus really was the Son of God and the Savior of the world.
Our text closes with another reminder from the Father that this indeed was the case. After the temptation of Jesus was ended, the Father sent angels to minister to Him. To provide the things that He needed. To care for Him.
Let’s not overlook this last passage. May it instead remind us that God doesn’t leave His children, but stays with them, and sends powerful help to them in the way that is right, and when the time is perfect.
So, whatever the temptation appeals to, whether to a personal weakness, or to an inner pride, or to an inner desire – may we flee to God’s word for protections. And when we fail, let us flee to Christ Jesus, the one who never failed, and who through offering Himself as a sinless sacrifice, has given us the forgiveness of all our sins.