Temptation

Matthew 4: 1-11

 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written,

“‘Man shall not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple 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,’

and

“‘On their hands they will bear you up,
lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 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.’”

Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him.

Understanding And Applying the Text

Jesus had spent His entire life as a carpenter. He had served men by building and creating structures. His service now turns to the spiritual.

After His baptism, the Spirit guided Jesus to the Judean wilderness. Jesus had spent His entire life around people. Now He was alone. In this place of solitude, he emerges no longer a carpenter. He is no longer a guy from a small town, from among common people. Rather He is the highest teacher of the church. He is the Father’s ambassador.

Christ abstained from food and drink for forty (40) days. This was not an exercise in endurance. It was to achieve greater authority. Separation from the ordinary allowed Him to emerge as an angel from heaven, not as a man from the earth. Was it the fasting that caused this? There is no virtue in going without food. There are those who assume magical power in a forty-day fast or even fasting a day. There is no reason we should follow Christ in this matter. In fact, there is no command in the New Testament to fast.

There are descriptions and examples of fasting but there are no commands to fast. We must be careful not to take didactic passages and make them imperatives. That is, we must not take historical narratives and make them commands. Historical narratives teach what happened.

Why then do some think we should fast? There are some verses that suggest we should fast. The closest we come to an imperative is Matthew 17:21. “Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.” (KJV) Most modern translations do not contain this verse. The reason is we are almost certain it does not appear in the original Greek text. And there are passages that describe how to fast as in Matthew 6:16-17. And Jesus told the Pharisees His disciples would fast when he was no longer with them. (Matthew 9:15; Mark 2:19-20; Luke 5:33-35) But there is no commandment to fast. It is not a sacrament or means of grace.

Jesus had a specific mission. It is not our mission. We could not fulfill what Christ did.

There is no command to take part in a forty-day fast. Any attempt at it is nothing more than a selfish desire to be Christ. Well, we are not Christ. What He did we cannot do.

Christ’s fast weakened Him. It made Him more susceptible to Satan’s temptations.

God Himself tempts no one. (James 1:13) But, our temptations are part of His sovereign plan. And they are for our good. If we overcome, they strengthen us. If we succumb, we have a clearer recognition of our need for God’s grace. Jesus overcame. As a result, they strengthened Him.

Satan preyed on Jesus’ weakened state. I will take some license here. Here is my take on Christ’s interaction with Satan.

“There is no reason you should be hungry. You are supposed to be the son of God. Maybe you are and maybe you aren’t. I know you think you heard God saying you were His son. But that was a month and a half ago. You could have been imagining it. Are you really sure about what you think you heard? Tell you what. Let’s find out if you really are the Son of God. Turn one of the stones into bread. Prove it. Prove it to me but more importantly prove it to yourself.”

This is like the temptations we have. We doubt God’s word. “Did God really say …” Jesus faced the same temptation we face. Jesus replied by quoting scripture. Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God. (Deuteronomy 8:3) Scripture is our only defense. We are not strong enough to withstand it alone.

Satan’s first attempt was a swing and a miss. But Satan refused to quit. “Ok, so you don’t doubt God’s word. That’s good. Doubting God is never a good thing. Good for you. But do you believe it? I mean do you really believe it? Do you trust Him with your life? He promised to watch over you and protect you. If you trust him show you trust Him. Words are cheap. Action is what counts. Do something to show your faith and trust in God. Jump off this temple. God has promised He would not even let you stub your toe. So trust God. Jump! Because if you don’t, you know what that means. You don’t really trust God. So jump!

Faith in God does not mean, we are to play in the middle of the street. It does not mean we are not to prepare for danger. Trust in God means we are to take advantage of all He provides. He is good. Trusting in God’s providence does not mean we are to tempt God. Jesus once again replied to Satan with scripture. “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.” (Deuteronomy 6:16)

When Satan takes Jesus to the pinnacle of the temple and tells him to jump, he quotes Psalms 91:11-12. But he abuses the text. He makes it say the opposite of what it means. The Psalm is an exhortation to trust God. Satan turns it on its head. He makes it a test. He casts doubt on God’s faithfulness. To presume on God is not faith. It is no faith at all.

Satan distorted Scripture. What does Christ do? He does not argue about what it says. Satan was accurate when he quoted Scripture. But we must let scripture interpret scripture. Does Christ allow him to seize and carry off the Scripture? No, He quotes Scripture in his turn and refutes Satan’s wicked slander. Satan often covers his deception with Scripture. Men try to subvert our faith the same way. Let’s use the armor of Scripture to protect our faith.

Satan was not through yet. So he said to Jesus. “Look I know who you are and why you were here. You and I both know the end result. We both know in the end you gonna win. You are going to go to the cross and die a painful and slow death. And between here and there people are going to hate you. They are going to despise you. It is going to be a hard life. And it will end in a painful death. So tell you what. Since we both know you are going to win. Why don’t I surrender now? All I ask in return is a little worship. That’s it. Don’t put yourself through all that. Why do it the hard way? No one is here. No one will see. No one will ever know. You can have it all without the pain, without the suffering. What is one little genuflect compared to all I’m offering you.

How many times has the temptation overtaken us? It seems like such a little thing. No one will know. This is a private matter. What difference does it make? Those private sins are still sins. They are rebellion against God. Sin is not about who knows. It is about rather or not we are obedient to God.

This offer seems to energize Jesus. Begone! Jesus is through playing games. Satan had stepped over the line. Jesus once again recites scripture. “You shall worship the Lord and him only shall you serve. (Deuteronomy 6:13-14)

At that Satan left. He knew he crossed the line.

Much ink is spilled on spiritual warfare. Christ gives us an example. He quotes scripture. I can sum up how to win a spiritual battle. No need to buy all those books. Know the scripture. If you were hoping for a secret formula there it is. There is a saying. If you want to keep something secret put it in a book. So there you go. You know where all the secrets are. They are in THE book.

Satan was after our salvation. Jesus did more than pay for our sins on the cross. He lived a perfect life. He imputes His righteousness to us. If Satan had succeeded we would have no hope of salvation.

Jesus was tempted in every way like as we are. (Hebrews 4:15) But He did not sin. He represents us before God as a “merciful and faithful high priest.” (Hebrews 2:17) He knows through His human nature what temptation is.

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