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Facing Temptation

Last Sunday we spent some time looking at the baptism of Jesus. And of course, one of the big questions that comes out of that story is “Why did Jesus need to be baptized anyway?” 

John the Baptist had been baptizing people as they confessed and repented of their sin. But as the sinless Son of God, Jesus had no sin to confess or repent of. He had lived his life in perfect obedience to God and so baptism would seem really unnecessary. John the baptist even said to Jesus….

“I am the one who needs to be baptized by you,” he said, “so why are you coming to me?”

15 But Jesus said, “It should be done, for we must carry out all that God requires.”

Matthew 3:14b-15a

And that’s the key right there… Jesus had to carry out all that God required. 

Namely, that Jesus identify with sinful man – taking our sin upon himself as if it were his own. This was a key part of God’s plan to redeem mankind. This would be one of the first steps in Jesus’ journey to the cross where he would ultimately give his life as the payment for our sin.

And of course, as Jesus obediently submitted to the will of His Heavenly Father in baptism, both God the Father and God the Holy Spirit expressed their approval of what had just happened – in a very dramatic way. The Holy Spirit descended like a dove and settled on Jesus and God spoke from heaven saying “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.”

This was very clear affirmation for all those who witnessed this – that Jesus was indeed the Son of God and that He was doing exactly what his Heavenly Father wanted Him to do. This was almost like a commissioning of Jesus as be began to carry out His life’s mission.

However, there was one further step of preparation before Jesus could begin his public ministry. In the very next verse, right after God said “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.” – we read this:

“Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted there by the devil.” Matthew 4:1

This may seem like an odd thing for God to do – right after He declares his approval and the joy He has in His Son, why would the Holy Spirit then lead Jesus out into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil?

What’s that all about? Is this like a test – some kind of final exam for Jesus before He begins his ministry? Is this another necessary part of God’s plan to redeem mankind? Is there something else going on here? How does this all fit together?

Well, that’s exactly what we want to look at this morning.

Today we’re going to be looking at Matthew chapter 4 – verses 1 through 11. We already read verse 1, but let me read that again together with verse 2 now because these two verses kinda set the stage for the rest of the passage.

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted there by the devil. 2 For forty days and forty nights he fasted and became very hungry.

Matthew 4:1-2

First of all, you’ll notice that Jesus was led “by the Spirit” into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. God intentionally brought Jesus into a place where he would be tested & tried by Satan Himself.

Now to be clear, God was not doing the tempting, but He did intentionally bring Jesus to a places where he would be subjected to temptation. The question is why? Well, the short answer is that we’re not specifically told. The Bible doesn’t explain God’s motives and reasonings in this instance.

However, I think we can deduce a few possibilities.

One reason could be that this was a necessary part of Jesus’ growth and development in his relationship with his Heavenly Father. You’ll remember that as a human, Jesus had to grow and learn – which is hard for us to wrap our heads around, I know. But Hebrews 5:8 reminds us:

8 Even though Jesus was God’s Son, he learned obedience from the things he suffered. Hebrews 5:8

Now of course, that’s not to say that Jesus had been disobedient previously, but it seems that the depth of His trust and dependance on God grew as Jesus went through difficult things – which is just how our faith grows too! 

I think that most of us would recognize that the most difficult times in life are usually the times that cause us to draw close to God and to trust in Him. When things are going good, we tend just to rely on our own strength. But when life gets hard, we realize how much we need to trust in God. And so these difficult times in our live are really a blessing because they teach us to stop relying on ourselves and instead to put our trust in God.

And so for Jesus, these forty days and forty nights fasting in the wilderness – spending time alone with God in prayer – would no doubt serve as a unique classroom for Jesus to learn even greater dependance on God. And I think we’ll see some of the results of that as keep going through this passage.

Another purpose for the Holy Spirit to lead Jesus out into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil could be that this was yet another way in which Jesus would identify in every way with mankind. Two weeks ago we read Hebrews 4:15 which says….

15 This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. Hebrews 4:15

In his humanity, Jesus experienced all the same testings as we do. When Jesus was tempted in the wilderness, Satan did his best to draw Jesus into sin, just like he does with us. And so Jesus knows what it’s like for us to face the schemes and lies of the devil – because he faced them himself! And what’s more, He had victory over them. This verse in Hebrews tells us – and our passage today affirms – that Jesus did not sin.

And I think that one of the key applications of this passage for our lives is to see how Jesus did that. Jesus models for us how we can stand against and have victory over the temptations that Satan sends our way.

And so with that in mind, let’s take a look at the first of these temptations and see how Jesus deals with it.

Verse 3…

3 During that time the devil came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become loaves of bread.” Matthew 4:3

Now you’ll remember as we just read back in verse 2 that Jesus had not eaten anything for 40 days now and he was very hungry – which is completely understandable – and probably quite an under-statement. The internet tells me that death occurs somewhere between 43 and 70 days without food – and so Jesus is right there. Starvation is imminent. 

And so Satan comes along and offers Him a simple way to fix the problem. “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become loaves of bread.” And most commentaries say that Satan wasn’t trying to get him to prove that he was the Son of God. The phrase “If you are the Son of God” really means “Since you are the Son of God”. 

Neither Jesus nor Satan had any doubt about who Jesus was… And both of them knew that Jesus had the power to as the Son of God to turn rocks into bread if he so desired.

The question is whether or not Jesus would choose to satisfy the demands of his flesh – effectively taking a shortcut to the end of this test that the Holy Spirit had led Him to – rather than submitting to the will of God – waiting for God to provide for his needs in God’s time and in God’s way.

And of course, eating food is not a bad thing! In fact, it would be necessary very soon or Jesus would die! But Jesus had been led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness to fast and to learn dependance upon God. To take matters into his own hands now would be a failure to trust and obey His Heavenly Father.

And by the way, that’s very often the way that Satan tempts us – not with things that are necessarily bad in themselves – but by taking matters into our own hands. Doing things in our time and in our way – rather than waiting to do things in God’s time and in God’s way. It’s failing to trust that God’s ways are best. 

Most of the time we have legitimate needs and desires, but Satan tempts us to satisfy those needs and desires in way or time that is outside of God’s will. That’s really the basis for most of our temptations. 

And so I think Jesus’ response to this temptation is really helpful for us in our temptations. Let’s have a look – Jesus responds in verse 4…

4 But Jesus told him, “No! The Scriptures say,

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

Matthew 4:4

This is actually a quotation from Deuteronomy 8 as Moses addresses the children of Israel after their time of wandering in the wilderness – let me read you those verses so that you can see the context: This is Deuteronomy 8 starting at verse 2.

2 Remember how the Lord your God led you through the wilderness for these forty years, humbling you and testing you to prove your character, and to find out whether or not you would obey his commands. 3 Yes, he humbled you by letting you go hungry and then feeding you with manna, a food previously unknown to you and your ancestors. He did it to teach you that people do not live by bread alone; rather, we live by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. 4 For all these forty years your clothes didn’t wear out, and your feet didn’t blister or swell. 5 Think about it: Just as a parent disciplines a child, the Lord your God disciplines you for your own good.

6 “So obey the commands of the Lord your God by walking in his ways and fearing him.”

Deuteronomy 8:2-6

Now certainly we can see some parallels between Jesus spending 40 days in the wilderness, the Israelites spending 40 years in the wilderness. And for both groups, during that time, God used their hunger to teach them to trust God.

You’ll recall, that as the Israelites wandered in the wilderness God provided manna for them to eat each day – but God gave them very specific instructions about how to gather it. They were to only gather enough manna for that day – if they tried to save extra for the next day, it would go bad over night and be full of maggots the next morning. However, on the day before the Sabbath, they were told that they should gather enough for two days and it wouldn’t go bad since there would be no manna to gather on the Sabbath.

The lesson being in all this, was that God would always supply for their needs – they didn’t need to worry about that. What they did need to worry about was being obedient to God! That was to be their primary concern! And as long as they did that, God would always provide for them!

And that’s what Jesus is bring up here. Bread is important, yes… But not nearly as important as being obedient to every word of God.

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

Matthew 4:4

And that’s such a great reminder for us too! God knows that we have needs. God knows about our needs for food and shelter, for love and acceptance, for security and comfort. Those are all very real and pressing needs. God understands that and He has promised to meet our needs.

Paul writes in Philippians 4:19

19 And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:19

God will provide for our needs. But so often, we are tempted to take matters into our own hands. We don’t truly believe that God is going to give us what we need, and so we sin in our attempt to get what we want – we do things things that we know are outside of the will of God.

But what we need to do is just to trust God and to be obedient to Him – trusting that He will take care of our needs. We need to do things in His time and in His way. As urgent as our many needs are, there is nothing more urgent or more important for us than to be obedient to the Word of God.

Jesus would later teach this very principle to his disciples. He said in Matthew 6:25…

25 “That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? 27 Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?

28 “And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, 29 yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. 30 And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith?

31 “So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ 32 These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. 33 Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, [that is, live in obedience to the word of God] and he will give you everything you need.

Matthew 6:25-33

And I know that seems easier said than done – but Jesus could say all this from experience. He had learned to be obedient and to trust God in the wilderness (among other times, I’m sure) – and God did provide for all his needs – as we will soon see. 

And so Satan’s first attempt to draw Jesus into sin utterly failed. Jesus refused to waiver in his trust in God. But Satan wasn’t about to give up. Verse 5 now.

5 Then the devil took him to the holy city, Jerusalem, to the highest point of the Temple, 6 and said, “If you are the Son of God, jump off! For the Scriptures say,

‘He will order his angels to protect you.
And they will hold you up with their hands
so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.’”

Matthew 4:5-6

Having seen how Jesus countered his first temptation with Scripture, Satan decides to quote some Scripture himself. We ought not think that Satan is ignorant of what the Bible says – I imagine that he has it better memorized than perhaps any of us. But simply knowing what the Bible says is really of no benefit if you refuse to obey it and properly apply it to your life. And I say “properly apply it”, because here, Satan is trying to get Jesus to apply this Scripture in a way that was never intended. Satan is taking this passage from Psalm 91 and is twisting it to say something that the author never meant.

While Psalm 91 does talk about how God will rescue from danger those who trust in Him – what Satan is suggesting is that Jesus create an artificial crisis to force God’s hand. 

It’s one thing to trust God as you live in obedience to him even through difficult circumstances, but it’s quite another to purposely put yourself in a perilous situation to prove to everyone that God is with you.

Certainly, it would be quite spectacular for Jesus to throw himself off from the temple peak – in view of all the crowds that had gathered there – and to have angels come to his rescue and safely bring him down to the ground! This would be quite a miracle that would really kickstart Jesus’ ministry. How could anyone deny that Jesus was the Messiah after that!? 

But of course, like we mentioned earlier, that would be taking matters into his own hands – not waiting do things in God’s way and in God’s time.

For Jesus to throw himself from the temple roof would not really be a display of trust in God (as Satan was suggesting), but rather it would really an act of trying to manipulate God.

And so in response to Satan’s attempt to twist the Scriptures, Jesus responded with a properly applied passage – this one from Deuteronomy 6.

7 Jesus responded, “The Scriptures also say, ‘You must not test the Lord your God.’” Matthew 4:7

The passage that Jesus is quoting here refers to the time when Israel tested the Lord by complaining in the wilderness that they didn’t have any water! Through their complaints, they were doubting God’s presence and ability to provide for them. Exodus 17 says that they tested the Lord by saying, “Is the Lord here with us or not?”

But you know, if you have to test God, that shows that you really don’t quite trust Him. You don’t have to test something that you have full confidence in. 

For example, when the water on the lake begins to freeze in late fall, you are probably wise to check and test the ice before you go out in the middle. But after three months of -30, you don’t even bother checking – you just drive your truck right out there! 

You don’t have to test something that you have full confidence in.

And that’s the principle here. We don’t need to test the Lord, because He has already proven Himself time and time again! To test God, is really to doubt Him.

And Jesus had no need to test His Heavenly Father. He had perfect confidence in God and He didn’t need to do anything spectacular to prove it.

And so the second of Satan’s temptations fell flat. But Satan wasn’t done yet. Verse 8.

8 Next the devil took him to the peak of a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. 9 “I will give it all to you,” he said, “if you will kneel down and worship me.” Matthew 4:8-9

Now this, of all of Satan’s temptations, may have been perhaps the most potentially appealing for Jesus. The whole reason Jesus had come to earth was to bring about the Kingdom of God – to free God’s creation from the bondage and curse of sin. But to do that, Jesus would have to take on the sin of the world, and die on a cross. Jesus would have to suffer like no man ever did before or ever since.

And in these verses, the devil appears to be offering Jesus a shortcut around the cross. If Jesus would just kneel down and worship Him, the devil would hand it all over to Jesus. No cross necessary.

Now of course, Satan is a liar and the father of lies. There is really no reason to believe that He would or even could deliver on his promises. While Satan does have some dominion and authority over the kingdoms of earth – the Bible is quite clear that Jesus’ death and resurrection was the only way to redeem mankind.

But none the less, Satan was willing to say whatever it took to try to get Jesus to worship Him. Perhaps Jesus in his weakened state would consider this a better option than going to the cross!

You’ve probably noticed in your temptations too – that Satan always makes big promises but never delivers. The promised thrill and satisfaction of sin, are never quite as good you imagine they will be – and they always come with a hidden cost. Guilt, shame, broken relationships, and a whole host of other consequences always follow sin. And ultimately the Bible says the wages of sin is death! But of course, Satan never mentions that in his sales pitch, does he? It’s important to remember the true cost of sin – especially in those moments when we’re being tempted.

And so for Jesus, while the idea of being able to avoid the cross may have been appealing,  Jesus knew better than to listen to Satan’s empty promises! So how does Jesus respond? verse 10:

10 “Get out of here, Satan,” Jesus told him. “For the Scriptures say,

‘You must worship the Lord your God
and serve only him.’”

11 Then the devil went away, and angels came and took care of Jesus.

Matthew 4:10-11

As he did both times before, Jesus again counters Satan’s temptations by quoting the Word of God – pointing to one of the clearest commands in Scripture that God is only One worthy of our worship and our service.

And its at this point that Satan went away (for a time anyway) and the angels came and took care of Jesus – meeting all of the needs that Jesus had trusted God to provide for.

Even though Jesus had been tempted in every way – just like we are – and even though Satan attacked when Jesus was at his weakest and most vulnerable, after having fasted for 40 days in the wilderness – still Jesus never sinned. He never gave in – not even once.

He countered every temptation of the devil simply by quoting and then acting in obedience to the Word of God.

And that I think, is probably the one of the greatest applications we can make to lives from this passage this morning.

Our victory over sin and temptation is found in knowing and being obedient to the Word of God. And you’ll notice that there are two parts there.

The first part is that we need to know what God has said in his Word. That means reading or listening to it daily. If you think it’s important to put food in your body each day, how much more important is it to put God’s Word in your heart & mind every day! Jesus said ‘People do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’

That’s 100% true! A constant diet of God’s Word in our lives is even more important than food and drink! But of course, just knowing the Scriptures isn’t enough. After all, as we saw in our passage today, Satan knows the Scriptures…

The second part of our victory over sin and temptation is that we actually trust and obey the Word of God.

In every temptation that Jesus faced, He knew the truth of what the Scriptures said, and He chose to trust and obey God in that truth.

Even though he had very real and pressing needs that, in the moment, were unmet – Jesus trusted that God would take care of Him.

Even when God’s way seemed to be the long, painful, and difficult way – Jesus trusted that God’s way was best.

And so I would just encourage you to follow the example of Jesus. As Jesus had victory over the temptations that came his way, we too can have victory over the temptations that we face. Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 10:13…

13 The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.

1 Corinthians 10:13

This is a great verse, but the part that many people over look is that “the way out” that God shows us… is what He has written for us in His Word. As Jesus has illustrated for us, every temptation that we face today can be answered by the Word of God. Our task then, is to know what God has said – and then to obey and trust that what He has said is true.

And so this week, I would just encourage you to be diligent in spending time getting to know God and getting to know his Word. And when Satan tempts you to take matters into your own hands – and to meet your needs and desires in ways that are outside of God’s will, choose to trust the Word of God. Go back to those Scriptures and remember what God has said – and then choose to be obedient to Him. As Jesus said, “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.”

Choose to live in obedience to every Word that comes from the mouth of God.

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