4 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the
devil. 2 After he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 Then the tempter approached him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” 4 He answered, “It is written: Man must not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”, 5 Then the devil took him to the holy city, 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 give his angels orders concerning you, and they will support you with their hands so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.”,
7 Jesus told him, “It is also written: Do not test the Lord your God.”, 8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 9 And he said to him, “I will give you all these things if you will fall down and worship me.” 10 Then Jesus told him, “Go away, Satan! For it is written: Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.”, 11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and began to serve him. Dear fellow redeemed: We are starting a series of texts that lead up to the great victory celebration that is the Festival of the Resurrection. Our lessons begin early in Jesus’ ministry and lead up to the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. This is right after Jesus’ baptism, anointed by the Holy Spirit as the one chosen to be our Savior. Right away Satan tempted him to swerve from that path, but He remained faithful.
What are we to learn from this? This isn’t a “how-to,” teaching us how to be victorious over the devil, rather it shows how Christ was victorious in our place, so you can …
SEE YOURSELF VICTORIOUS IN TEMPTATION
I. Our Problem with Temptation
Because Jesus was born truly human, He was subject to temptation. That was on purpose because only by conquering temptation and sin could He live out the righteousness that becomes ours by faith. “He made the one who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21, CSB)
We learn that even though He was born under the law, owing God the same obedience we do,1 He was without sin. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15, CSB)
“When the time came to completion, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” (Galatians 4:4–5, CSB)
We, on the other hand, were born in sin and unable to please God. “Indeed, I was guilty when I was born; I was sinful when my mother conceived me.” (Psalm 51:5, CSB) “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1, CSB)
We couldn’t please God because as we were born we didn’t even know him, as it is written in “Now without faith it is impossible to please God, since the one who draws near to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6, CSB)
But having come to faith, we have a new nature so that at least as Christians we want to do the right thing. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, and see, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17, CSB) Part of the Christian life is appealing to this new nature, as Paul writes, “and to put on the new self, the one created according to God’s likeness in righteousness and purity of the truth.” (Ephesians 4:24, CSB)
Even so, we are tempted. “But each person is tempted when he is drawn away and enticed by his own evil desire. Then after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and when sin is fully grown, it gives birth to death.” (James 1:14–15, CSB)
The bottom line is that we and every person ever born were born utterly sinful and alienated from God. Every temptation strikes a sympathetic note with our sinful flesh and we easily fall.
II. Jesus’ Very Human Victory
So now we look at Jesus. He is born fully human, but spiritually alive; for He was conceived of Mary by the Father through the Holy Spirit. That makes Him true man, suited to be our substitute, and true God, able to prevail.
So, it is as a true human being that He is tempted. For example, in this first temptation, 2 After he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 Then the tempter approached him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”
In two ways, Jesus is tempted on a very human level, first simply on the basis of desire of hunger, second on the basis of “proving” who He is. The first has to do with self-control. How do you do in the self-control department? As James says, we not only have “neutral” desires like hunger, but covetousness, greed, lust, and a whole bunch of sinful desires, and just dwelling on them is sinful. The second has to do with a sense of self-importance, in which the truth isn’t enough, but that people must admit the truth to maintain our status. Jesus turned to God’s word. 4 He answered, “It is written: Man must not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”, Even your ham sandwich will do you no good without God’s blessing, and besides that the life that lasts forever is fed by the gifts God gives through His word, not by the grocer.
Jesus turns to God’s word because it provides the truth that puts everything else in perspective. As Christians this can help us put our temptations into perspective also, and so show the deceit of the devil and our own desires for what they are. So, in the second temptation (as Matthew lists them) Satan plays Scripture against Scripture. Like a lawyer looking for a loophole he twists the Bible. 5 Then the devil took him to the holy city, 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 give his angels orders concerning you,
and they will support you with their hands so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.”,
Once again, the devil calls Jesus’ divinity into question and tries to seduce Jesus into the position of defending God with some sign of faith – jumping off a building. Why? To supposedly defend the Bible, for doesn’t the Bible say that you will be protected no matter what? Well, no. Using Scripture against itself is the opposite of using Scripture to interpret Scripture. That’s how people use the Bible to defend impenitence and terrible wrongs. We see that now as the large liberal churches try to justify homosexual practices. They had long since abandoned the sanctity of marriage, so this move is to be expected.
But Jesus uses Scripture alongside Scripture, to interpret Scripture. Jesus told him, “It is also written: Do not test the Lord your God.” God’s watchful care is in the context of what is honestly best for us. There are times that he tests us; it is not for us to test Him. So, are you conversant enough with God’s word that you will not be led astray? We are called to be! “All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16–17, CSB)
The third temptation is a sort of “ends-justifies-the-means” temptation. Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. And he said to him, “I will give you all these things if you will fall down and worship me.” That seems harmless enough, doesn’t it? Say something you don’t really mean in order to win the world for Christ? That can be a temptation for anyone – do what suits us and justify it because of the “good” that is supposedly accomplished.
We are going to divorce “for the children.” We will terminate the baby “so he isn’t unwanted.” We will move in together to “make sure we are ready for marriage.” I’ll cheat because the I need the good grade to make Mom and Dad proud. We’ll cheat at business or taxes because “my family deserves more money.” I’ll give up going to church because “family time is what it’s all about after all.” Just as I emphasized last week, though, the important thing is what the Bible says. Then Jesus told him, “Go away, Satan! For it is written: Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.”
III. His Victory Is Our Victory
There is a lot we can learn here about how to respond to temptation because Jesus was tempted in a very human way. But most importantly we are witnessing our victory over sin here, in the sense that Jesus was our substitute, living the life of righteousness that the Father finds so pleasing, bestowing that righteousness upon us by faith.
That way, God counts YOU as having defeated the temptations that come our way. He counts you as righteous. Remember, “He made the one who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21, CSB)
“… For just as through one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so also through the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.” (Romans 5:17–19, CSB)
Because of what we see here, the obedience of one man, there is for you a righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.