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“Lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil.”
That’s what Jesus teaches us to pray in the Lord’s prayer. “Lead us not into temptation” because we easily fail. “Deliver us from evil” because when we sin, our only hope is that God will deliver us.
Our sermon reading for today is the story of how Jesus was tempted in the wilderness. Here we learn two basic lessons. First, we learn that when Jesus was tempted, he didn’t sin. If Satan could just get Jesus to sin, JUST ONCE, then Christ wouldn’t be able to offer himself as a perfect sacrifice on behalf of all sinners. One wrong thought, word, or deed, and our Savior would have been unable to save us.
But Jesus didn’t fail. He remained holy throughout this time of temptation, and throughout his life. He was thus able to offer the sacrifice which was required. The sacrifice which has redeemed us from sin and hell.
The second lesson we learn from here is how to overcome the temptations that Satan and his crew use on us daily.
To strengthen our faith, we remember how Jesus remained sinless and offered himself in our place. Our salvation is finished and secure. To overcome daily temptations, we remember how Jesus overcame temptation—by bringing to mind what God’s Word says.
The first temptation that Jesus faced in the wilderness, was a temptation concerning to his body.
Matthew 4:1-4 (NASB)
1 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.
2 And after He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He then became hungry.
3 And the tempter came and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.”
4 But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.’ ”
Satan is no dummy. As a spirit being, Satan has no need of food. Seeing that Jesus was truly human, with a body that longed for food, Satan carefully timed this first temptation to be most effective.
Jesus was not doubt exhausted, and ravenous after his forty day fast in the wilderness. But I can’t see why it would have been sinful for Jesus to just eat something. The temptation was not so much in the eating of food, as it was in the way that Satan wanted Jesus to GET the food. Satan wanted Jesus to create bread for himself by using his Godly powers.
In the book of Hebrews it says,
“For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15 NKJV).
The Son of God became human to live a perfect life in our place. If he used his powers as God to make his life easy, he wouldn’t have been “in all points tempted as we are.”
On other occasions Jesus did use his powers to provide bread, but not for himself. When he fed the five thousand, and the four thousand, he did that for others, to show them he was the Savior sent from God. That use of his divine power was fitting and proper. Making bread for himself in the desert would not have been.
In the book of First Chronicles, there’s an interesting passage where king David is preparing to offer a sacrifice to God. Someone kindly offers to donate the goods needed for the sacrifice. But to this David replies,
“…No, I insist on paying the full price. I will not take for the LORD what is yours, or sacrifice a burnt offering that costs me nothing” (1 Chronicles 21:24).
In the same way, Jesus refused to offer himself as a partial sacrifice—calling on his God powers to soften the way. We see this also at the cross when Jesus refused the narcotic laced drink which would have deadened some of his pain. Jesus came to live life like us, to feel the full pain of human existence, and to fully suffer the wrath of God in the place of all sinners. This is why he refused to use his divine power to make bread for himself in the wilderness.
In response to Satan’s first temptation, Jesus quoted from the Word of God. Referencing Deuteronomy, Jesus says…
“Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4 NASB).
With these words Jesus directs us back our surest defense against temptation—the Word of God.
Our culture today makes a lot of health and nutrition, sometimes elevating physical fitness and bodily wellness to the level of a religion. But Jesus notes that the highest form of life comes from taking God’s Word into ourselves, not from taking the right foods into our bodies.
Feeding our souls with the faith sustaining Word of the Gospel is far more important than following the food pyramid and avoiding trans-fats. With the Gospel flowing through our minds our grip on eternal life will stay strong, even if our bodies waste away with disease and illness.
This is why it’s so important to pick up that devotion book, to read from the actual pages of the Bible, and to return here to worship with our fellow Christians. Where the Word is, there life is.
The second temptation that we find Satan throwing at Jesus had more to do with Christ’s trust in God that anything else. As strange as that sounds, the second temptation was a temptation by faith.
Matthew 4:5-7 (NASB)
5 Then the devil took Him into the holy city and had Him stand 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,
So that You will not strike Your foot against a stone.’ ”
7 Jesus said to him, “On the other hand, it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ”
Seeing that Jesus was well versed in the Bible, Satan tries to get Jesus to read more into the Scriptures than is really there.
The Psalm that Satan quotes here is a Psalm that speak of how powerful God is. Powerful enough that he can protect those who trust in him from even the smallest of injuries if he wishes to do so.
In this temptation Satan tries to get Jesus to jump to conclusions, conclusions that God’s Word simply doesn’t support. Some examples of doing this today might be, “God will take care of you if you trust in him, so you don’t need to go to the doctor when your appendix ruptures. Just trust in the Lord!” Or, “God wants to bless you, so that means if you trust in him enough, God will make you a millionaire.” Or, “God sent his Son to pay for your sins, so go ahead and do what is clearly wrong, and God will forgive you anyway.”
Each of these examples take God’s Word and try to force it to say more than it does. God does indeed care for those who trust in him as their Savior, but part of that care is providing good medical resources for our bodies. God does want to bless us, but he doesn’t promise that we’ll all be rich in this life. God did send his son to pay for our sins, completely, but his Word also directs us to avoid sin. And when we do sin, God’s Word moves us to repent and reject that sin, bringing it to God for forgiveness and setting our hearts to avoid that sin in the future.
When Satan tempted Eve in the garden, he started by adding to God’s Word. Satan asked Eve,
“Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’” (Genesis 3:1 NIV).
When Satan tempted Jesus this second time, he used a similar approach. “God said he’ll protect you Jesus, so that means you can jump from the top of the temple and all will be well. Don’t you trust him enough to do that? Go ahead, jump.” But that was going beyond what God had really said. God’s promise to protect us isn’t license to be frivolous and irresponsible.
Jesus wasn’t buying what Satan was selling. And so, Jesus corrected Satan with God’s Word. Quoting from Deuteronomy, Jesus said…
“On the other hand, it is written, ‘You shall not put the LORD your God to the test’” (Matthew 4:7 NASB).
In other words, don’t try to force God to protect you, or provide for you, or forgive you—on your terms. But instead, bow before God in humility. Wait on HIM to decide how he will do these things.
At the end of this set of temptations in the wilderness, God did indeed send his angels to help Jesus. Verse 11 says,
“Then the devil left Him; and behold, angels came and began to minister to Him” (Matthew 4:11 NASB).
What did they do for Jesus? Did they bring him food for his body? Did they encourage him with their presence, or with a message from the Father? We aren’t told. But we do know that they didn’t come because Jesus tried to force God to send them. They came after Jesus had humbly endured temptation and waited for the Father to provide.
The third temptation that we find Satan throwing at Jesus didn’t have to do with his hunger, or his faith. Instead, in this last temptation Satan tried to tempt Jesus with worldly glory.
Matthew 4:8-11 (NASB)
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 things I will give You, if You fall down and worship me.”
10 Then Jesus said to him, “Go, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.’ ”
11 Then the devil left Him; and behold, angels came and began to minister to Him.
We’re blessed in this modern age with so many technological wonders. Not only can we travel from one side of the globe to the other in jet planes, we can also drive into the wilderness to view the wonders of God’s creation. And if we’re not up to such travel, we can just sit in front of a television screen, or a computer monitor and watch films which bring the ends of the earth before our very eyes.
When Satan took Jesus up on that high mountain, we’re told that he showed Jesus, “all the kingdoms of the world and their glory.” He didn’t just see what God had created, but also all the wonderful things mankind had constructed. Gardens, palaces, cities, temples, ALL the great places which so many people longed to go to. The world had so much to offer to this young Galilean man, and Satan said it was his to give.
Satan offered to give all the glory of the world to Jesus in return for one little thing. Just bow down to me. It was essentially an offer of everything NOW, at the expense of everything TOMORROW.
We face temptations like this all the time, don’t we. The temptation to enjoy something now, and lose something in the future. The credit card offers instant gratification, at the cost of financial freedom in the future. Indulging in food now offers instant gratification too, at the cost of weight or health issues that we’ll have to work through, or tolerate tomorrow. The thing is, Satan wasn’t just offering Jesus a credit card or a delectable meal, Satan was offering the world and all it’s glory. All for the “small price” of spiritual unfaithfulness to God.
And remember, Satan didn’t have to get Jesus to DO these things. A sinful thought would be enough to topple the hopes of mankind forever. One covetous thought, and the Savior would be unable to offer the perfect sacrifice needed to redeem sinners.
But Jesus knew the Word of God too well. And quoting once again from Deuteronomy, Jesus said…
“Go, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the LORD your God, and serve Him only’” (Matthew 4:10 NASB).
Satan would have torn us to bits if we had faced this temptation. How often haven’t we chosen temporary gratification over serving God? Daily.
But Jesus didn’t. He took up the sword of God’s Word and overcame Satan’s temptations—for us. He remained holy, and thus able to offer the sacrifice of himself on the cross which has brought us peace and security forever.
Like I said earlier, there are two basic lessons to take away from the account of Jesus’ temptation. First, when tempted, Jesus didn’t sin. And because he remained sinless, the sacrifice he later offered was accepted. Through Christ, we stand forgiven.
And the second lesson? Go to the Word of God daily so that you are properly armed when temptation comes your way. Whether that temptation is one that concerns your body, or your faith, or the offer of worldly glory. Go to God’s Word, and arm yourself to fight the good fight of faith. Amen.
And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts, and your minds, in Christ Jesus.