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The Temptation of Jesus

Date: Oct. 18, 2015

Author: Michael Mark

Matthew 4:1-11

Key Verse: Matthew 4:1

“Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.”

It seems like it’s midterm season here at IIT. Who here likes tests, quizzes and exams? While most people don’t like them, they are necessary, and actually beneficial. When you take a test, you find out how much you really understand, and you can see where you need to improve. A test reveals the quality of the thing being tested. Last week we saw that Jesus was baptized and revealed to be the Son of God. Before he begins his public ministry, however, he has to undergo a series of tests. Through these tests we will learn more about the character and qualities of Jesus the Messiah, and what that means for us. Jesus went through these trials not just for his own sake, but for our benefit as well.

Look at v.1, “Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” Immediately after he was baptized, he was led by the Spirit into the wilderness. In other words, God led him there. It was a part of God’s plan, and not a random event. What do you think about when you hear the word “wilderness?” In America, the wilderness is generally a lush, green forest. But where Jesus lived, the wilderness was a barren, lonely, rocky desert with very few plants. Jesus was led in to the wilderness for the express purpose to be tempted by the devil – I mean this was the big boss. Jesus wasn’t sent to the wilderness to confront bears, or even demons. He was sent to confront the devil himself, mastermind behind all that is evil. There, the devil will tempt him to sin.

Why was this trial necessary? First, it will prove Jesus’ qualification, obedience, commitment and submission to the will of God. If the devil succeeds in tempting Jesus to sin, then the work of God would be destroyed, because sin would indicate disobedience toward God, and there would be no perfect sacrifice for sin. Second, the tests will make Jesus perfect. What? How? Isn’t he already perfect? True, he is the Son of God, but he is the Son of God in human flesh. At this point the flesh has not yet been tested; it has not proven to have overcome sin. Heb 2:10-11 says, “In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered. Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family.” Heb 5:8-9 says, “Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” Third, Jesus’ trials will enable Jesus to help us, as it says in Heb 2:18, “Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” We face temptations every day, but because of what Jesus has done he will be able to help all those who are being tempted. Sin and temptation comes from the world – John writes in 1 John 2:16, “For everything in the world – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life – comes not from the Father but from the world.” The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life just about sum up all the sin in the world, and it is through these three categories that we will look at the temptations of Jesus.

Look at v.2, “After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.” Jesus did not eat for forty days and forty nights. In the Muslim religion when they fast, they will fast for one month, but the people get together and eat at night. Jesus did not eat at night either. Has anyone tried to fast for over 24 hours? Mary and I tried that one time, and by 7pm we were on the floor barely able to talk. It was only 7pm, but it felt like it was 10 o’clock. I’d imagine that Jesus, after 40 days, was not only physically tired, but also mentally drained and of course, very very hungry. It was at this time, in perhaps his most weakened state, that the tempter came. This was a great opportunity to Satan to attack, and it seems like he would have a great advantage over Jesus. So he said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” He begins his assault with “If you are the Son of God.” The devil certainly knew who Jesus was. This greeting was more of a taunt, like a challenge to Jesus to prove himself.

He said to Jesus “Tell these stones to become bread.” Changing the stones to bread was not sinful in itself. In John’s gospel we even see that Jesus changes water to wine. But here Jesus’ trust, dependence and obedience to the Lord was being tested. Sure, he had the power to change stones to bread, but when the Son of God came to earth he made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, made in human likeness. He would trust in the Father to sustain him, and God sustained him for 40 days without food. He would receive food from God when God would provide it. He would have to obey God from beginning to end, and now that Satan had told him to tell the stones to become bread, he would be following Satan’s lead instead of God’s. He would sin by doing what Satan told him to do.

This temptation was an appeal to the lust of the flesh – it was an attempt to entice Jesus to sin by fulfilling his physical desires. For us, we experience the lust of the flesh when we indulge in gluttony, drunkenness, sexual immorality or drugs. These things are already sinful in and of themselves, as the Bible speaks directly against these actions. To commit them is direct disobedience to God, but the devil has tempted every person to these lusts. Now going back to Jesus, imagine how difficult it would have been for him to resist. He was the Son of God, but he also had our human nature. He gets tired, and he gets hungry. He could feel the pangs of hunger at this moment, and he had it in his power to make instant bread. He didn’t even have to make flour or dough, or find some eggs and an oven. He just had to say the word “Let there be bread,” and bread will appear. Imagine the temptation that may have gone through his mind “Oh how I can smell the scent of fresh baked bread” – white bread, wheat bread, pita bread, rye bread, the sweet smell of cinnamon buns wafting into his nose…

Jesus reached the height of human desire, but to all of our great relief and comfort he did not succumb to the devil’s temptation and he did not give in to sin. Look at v.4, “Jesus answered, ‘It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’’” Jesus was not only able to just resist, but he conquered! He did not only say, “No Satan,” but he said “No” and hit Satan back with the word of God, showing what the right thing to do would be. Notice Jesus first says “It is written.” He will say this in all of his responses. Although Jesus is full of the Holy Spirit, he still appeals every time to the written word of God. The word of God is our best weapon against temptation, it is the sword of the Lord, sharper than any two edged sword. It is of utmost importance to study and know what is written in our Bibles.

There’s an important truth what Jesus said, that “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” It means that we live by obedience to the commands of God. God’s commands are given to us so that we would have law and order, and would know what are the right things to do. When we disobey God’s commands, it leads to sin, which leads to death. Bread is no good to a dead man. God knows we need bread to live, and he is the provider of bread, but more importantly we have life by living in obedience to the laws of God. Often though, and every day we fail, but Jesus Christ has kept them perfectly. The score is Jesus 1 and Satan 0. Let’s continue and see more of Christ’s work.

Look at v.5-6, “Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. ‘If you are the Son of God,’ he said, ‘throw yourself down. For it is written: ‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’” Having failed at tempting Jesus to sin the first time, he tries again, and turns up the heat. This time, he also uses the word of God! He takes Jesus to Jerusalem – I don’t exactly know how, whether he literally carried Jesus to the high point, or if they walked there – but Jesus was really there, standing on top of the temple. The devil quoted the word of God, promising that Jesus will not be harmed, because God has promised to keep him from harm.

Notice Satan also has to suggest to Jesus to throw himself down. There is a limit to Satan’s power – he cannot throw Jesus down himself, but can only tempt. Even his ability to tempt Jesus has to be approved by God. In this scenario he is tempting Jesus by the pride of life. Jesus is standing on top of the most recognized landmark in the holy city – there might have been crowds everywhere and priests inside the temple. Jesus has not even begun his ministry yet, but this act could bring him instant fame and glory. He would jump off the temple, and God would have to save him, because he is the Son of God, so the angels would catch him in mid air and deliver him to safety in the Temple. While Christ the Son of God may not care for such glory, the human flesh might like the idea of some notoriety. He might like the idea of a reputation, to have the respect of the high priests and not have to suffer under the people or their leaders. He would be “that guy,” in town, people would call him “Governor.” They might even call him the Messiah, but he would be an empty Messiah, because without the Messiah suffering, there would be no salvation.

Jesus did not give in to the devil’s temptation, look at v.7, “Jesus answered him, ‘It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” This time Jesus says “also,” and corrects Satan’s misuse of the verse. The Bible never contradicts itself when you understand the big picture of the Bible, and everything in context. Satan used the verse to get Jesus to jump. While the verse in itself may be true, that God protects those that are righteous, the verse is to be used to strengthen the faithful, not to be a justification for Jesus to throw himself down. Satan was using the verse to put God to the test, which Jesus says we must not do. The sin is putting God to the test, and two of the underlying sins of testing God is unbelief and presumption. An example of unbelief would be when the Israelites were wandering in the wilderness. God had done great miracles to deliver them out of Egypt, parted the Red Sea, and was a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. But they said if they die in the wilderness by thirst, it would mean that God had abandoned them. That God was not with them anymore. God was there with them, but in their unbelief they tested God, who showed them great love and kindness. The other underlying sin is presumption, which is what we have here. Since Jesus was the Son of God, then no matter what if he jumped God would have to save him. That’s presuming upon God. Another example of presumption is say, I decided to fast for 40 days and 40 nights, but God did not call me to do it. My presumption is, if I do it for God, he will have to sustain me. But this is dangerous, and if I actually tried to fast 40 days and 40 nights, you might not see me on the 41st day. The antidote to unbelief or presumption is faith – trusting God, taking him at his word and believing in him, not needing to test him or provoke him to do something. Jesus was not willing to test God, and entrusted that God would glorify him in his own time. The score is now Jesus 2, and Satan 0.

The last temptation of these trials is in v.8, “Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor.” Here now is the lust of the eyes – covetousness, envy, seeing things, and wanting them. This was now away from the city, and on a very high mountain. This was probably not the wilderness since there might not have been anything to see there. Here you could probably see out into the Mediterranean Sea, with the bright blue expanse. You can see the puffy white clouds and the clear blue sky, the green meadows, the little towns and the little houses. During some break time I had as I was reading news, I saw an article that showed the 10 most expensive houses in the world, and who owns them. These houses were hundreds of millions of dollars, they had their own swimming pool, tennis court, basketball court, movie theater and bowling alley. One house required 600 people just to maintain it. Some of the houses were located along a coast, with little white yachts dotting the lake. What if I told you all this could be yours. A 25 million dollar penthouse in downtown Chicago, with 20 foot ceilings, a basketball court, 8 car garage and a personal chef.

“All this I will give you,” Satan said. There’s some truth to Satan’s claims – who ruled Egypt, who ruled Babylon, Greece, Rome? Some of those rulers seemed to be Satan’s very own. It’s hard to imagine Jesus even thinking about this for a second, but he was tempted, in the flesh, to experience our temptation. Though he may be immune to the high pressure sales tactics of Satan, he has knowledge now of what goes on in our heads and our hearts when we are tempted. Remember Jesus had a human nature. Now for all of the kingdoms of the world, here comes the price, ready - “if you will bow down and worship me.” For all this, all you have to do is sell your soul to the devil. Satan has made this offer to Jesus Christ, the Son of God. It had to be the height of his arrogance and pride to even suggest for Jesus to do this.

Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan!” Here Jesus is offended and repulsed. Jesus calls him out by name, and orders him to go away. Jesus does not give in for a second to the temptation, and finishes with a written word, saying, “For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’” The lust of the eyes is greed, and greed is idolatry (Eph 5:5, Col 3:5), so having envy and covetous desires is sin, because it goes against the word of God. What do you worship? Is there something or someone that you love and revere more than God? Are you serving God? You can serve God as a student, as a worker, as a parent or sibling or friend, also as a church member (leader, prayer, music, offering, website, etc.) if what you do is for the glory of God. Jesus was offered all the kingdoms of the world, though they were not his yet, he knew that one day he would receive all of this and more. By worshipping God and serving him only, Jesus would inherit both heaven and earth, receive an everlasting kingdom and reign forever.

Look what happens after Jesus speaks to Satan, in v.11, “Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.” The devil, sent to tempt Jesus, was obedient to Jesus and left. The angels then came and attended him. They were not there before. Through the trials it was just Jesus vs. Satan, 1 on 1. The trials were over, and Jesus won with a sweep 3-0. It was a victory celebration, and the champion has won. Who is this, who defeated the devil, who the devil obeys, and whom the angels minister to? Who is this great and valiant warrior? He is the king of kings and Lord of Lords, the Messiah, the Son of God, the man Jesus Christ. The angels who came to attend him must have brought him some food. Though he fasted 40 days, now was the time to eat, and God provided. It probably might have tasted better than stone bread. The angels encouraged him, and prepared him to enter into his public ministry, where he will go forth and carry out the plan and will of God.

Before Jesus embarked on his public ministry, he was tried and tested through temptation. He was tempted by the lust of the flesh, the pride of life and the lust of the eyes – he was tempted in every way we were, and yet he did not sin (Heb 4:15). He proved to be completely submissive, trusting and obedient to God, he was the only one who could pass those temptations. There was not one soul ever born on earth who could pass the trials perfectly as he did. Not even his great ancestor, King David, or even his relative, John the Baptist, who was the greatest man to be born of a woman. Jesus came in the flesh, and that flesh was made perfect through the obedience through all of the trials. He took our flesh and brought it to a new level. Now there exists a perfectly holy and perfectly righteous man, one who was entirely without sin. He came to do the will of God, which was to become a sacrifice for all of us who were lost in sin. What could we offer to God to satisfy his wrath? All of us are corrupt, and vile – so Jesus the Messiah came, and offered up his body. This offering pleased the Lord, this offering God accepted and was made the satisfactory payment for our sins by his innocent shed blood. So therefore his blood covers us. Our sin became his sin, so his perfection became our perfection. Jesus was made perfect so that he could make us perfect.

Jesus showed us the way. We cannot overcome the lust of the flesh, the pride of life and the lust of the eyes by our own power, so he came and did it for us. By faith in him, just as he had faith in God are we justified and declared righteous. By faith in him and in his power, we may live on the word of God, we dare not to test God, and we shall worship and serve no other. Do you like exams, quizzes and midterms now? You probably haven’t changed your mind on that, but the fact of life is that the trials will keep on coming. You may be tempted when you are at your weakest, but also understand that you may be tempted just as much when you are at your strongest. We have to keep watch, be vigilant, be on guard, and always be near to the grace of God. Tests will come so that they will help us measure ourselves, and they come to help us grow – but we do have help. 1 Cor 10:13 says “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. So take heart, persevere, and put your faith in God through Jesus Christ our Lord every day.

Be holy, be perfect, as it is written in 1 Pet 1:16 and Matt 5:48. Not that we are already perfectly perfect or perfectly holy, but we are being made that way, and in Christ we are already considered perfect and holy. We should then strive to live up to our calling, and strive and press on towards holiness day by day. He is faithful and will help us. Last week I got into an argument with my wife. I felt the anger rising up within me, I wanted to be vindicated, I wanted my way, but often when I am angry I also feel hurt, and when I open my mouth I hurt others. This is a bit of suffering, a bit of temptation. But in that time, at least when I was able to catch it, I didn’t say anything, but prayed to the Lord. I don’t know what he would do, but I took it to the Lord, I brought my suffering before the Lord, even without words, but like groanings. Eventually he worked things out between me and my wife – it took a submission to the Lord.

For those who are struggling with the same sins, giving in to temptation over and over again – come to the Lord, submit to the Lord, and ask him for help. He will give you strength, he will give you wisdom, and he will help you to find a way out, and as you practice depending on the Lord you will become stronger and stronger. Never feel as if he can never forgive, that would be testing or tempting the Lord. He is able and willing, but we must submit. Lean on him, lean into him, and depend on him. James 4:4-10 says, “You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us? But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: ‘God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.’ Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.”

Lastly, for students and young people, be holy. Especially those young, in their roaring 20s, there is a lot of temptation with the lust of the flesh, the eyes and the pride of life (as with anyone), but strive to be holy. This is a hard thing to do, and very unpopular in the world, but is precious in God’s sight. I want to share a quote by an old English author William Gurnall, who lived in the 17th century: “Say not thou hast royal blood running in thy veins, and art begotten of God, except thou canst prove they pedigree by this heroic spirit, to dare to be holy in spite of men and devils.” He’s saying don’t say you have royal blood in your veins, that you are a child of God, a child of the King, unless you can prove your pedigree with this heroic spirit: to dare to be holy in spite of men and devils. It is a bold thing to be holy, it is courageous in this world. It’s not popular in the world’s eyes, but to a Christian it is essential. Be holy, be perfect, as it is written in 1 Pet 1:16 and Matt 5:48. He is making you perfect, and one day, when he comes again to establish his kingdom, you will be perfect. Instantly, completely, absolutely and eternally perfect.

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