Jesus faced some powerful temptations. We face the same kinds of tests. The way that he overcame them can help us to trust him to overcome them in our lives also.
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Matthew #7 . 4:1-11
Last time we saw how, at the baptism of Jesus, the Father and the Spirit showed how pleased they were with him. The next thing Matthew records is that the Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. Mark records that this happened immediately after:
Immediately the Spirit drove Him into the wilderness. (Mark 1:12, HCSB)
There is an important point here. It isn’t the main message of the text, but I think it is very significant for many of us. The Father was pleased with Jesus. The Spirit was with him, leading him. And he was brought into a desert wasteland where he had no food and had to fight with devil.
You don’t have to go very far in America to hear a Christian says something like this: “If you just follow God, he’ll take care of you. Your life will go better.” The Father was pleased with Jesus. The Spirit was leading him. However, his life did not get better, but harder. Following God is not a guarantee that everything will go well for you. That’s hard, but it’s the truth. When we follow God, his goal is to lead us to the place where we understand that this life on earth is not the main focus.
There is something else that many people may need to hear today: Our circumstances do not necessarily reflect how God feels about us. Jesus had nothing to eat. He was assailed by the devil, and living in a desert wasteland. And the Father was so pleased with him; the Spirit was with him. The Father has his reasons for allowing Jesus to go through that. But his reasons had nothing to do with his delight in Jesus.
Sometimes, when I’m going through tough times, I think maybe God is mad at me, or perhaps I’ve done something that has caused him to teach me a lesson. Another thought I have sometimes is that I’m going through hard times because I’ve made the wrong choice, and not listened to the Holy Spirit. But that could not have been the case with Jesus. The Father was pleased with him. The Spirit was leading him.
I think this passage calls us to dare to look at our circumstances differently. In Jesus, the Father is pleased with us, too. What we are going through is not necessarily a sign of how God feels about us. It’s true that, unlike Jesus, we sin. Sometimes we go astray and hard circumstances are a result of our bad choices. But Jesus shows us that you can follow the Spirit and still end up in wasteland with no food and the devil attacking you constantly. Just because you are in a hard time does not mean that God is displeased with you. Trust his love and grace to you!
Now, let’s take a look at some of the specific temptations faced by Jesus at this point. By the way, Matthew does not claim that these were the only ways Jesus was tempted by the devil. These are just a few of the many. But they were very powerful and difficult. You could classify these three incidents as temptation to doubt God’s provision, his protection and his purpose. But I think it’s worth looking at all three more closely.
Jesus was fasting. In some ways, fasting is all about dependence upon God. It’s almost like saying, “I need you more even, than I need food!” In my experience, when done right, fasting leads me to a greater sense of dependence upon God, regardless of what needs I may perceive in my life.
4:2 says that Jesus was hungry. Satan came along and said, “Why don’t you just create some food for yourself? You are God in human flesh, after all.” Pay attention, now. Being hungry isn’t a sin. It was natural for Jesus to be hungry. He was hungry because He himself had created the human body to need food. So, the temptation here is not about eating – it is about control. Satan was saying, “You’re hungry. You can satisfy your own hunger. Just reach out and do it – meet your own needs.”
Jesus, in taking on human nature, committed himself to live in complete dependence upon the Father, even as we humans are called to live in dependence upon him. To live as a human, to fulfill his mission, he had to trust in the Father to take care of him. In reply to the devil, Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 8:3. The whole verse says this:
He humbled you by letting you go hungry; then He gave you manna to eat, which you and your fathers had not known, so that you might learn that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. (Deut 8:3, HCSB)
In that verse, Moses was reminding the people of Israel how God dealt with them in their desert wanderings. The point is, the hunger came about as a result of God’s work, and the hunger was ultimately satisfied by God. Jesus was saying: I will not meet my own needs. I will allow the Father to put me in a place of need, and I will allow Him to meet those needs in His way, and His time.
We experience similar situations, even when we aren’t fasting. Maybe it is in regard to physical needs, like hunger, or physical intimacy. Or maybe we are “hungry” for emotional needs. God wants us to depend on him to satisfy our needs in his way and in his time. Satan wants us to insist upon our needs getting met in our way and in our time. The temptation is to take control of the situation rather than trusting God. Jesus chose to trust God even while his need to eat was not being met. He calls us to that same kind of faith. Can we trust God to meet our need for love, even when we feel unloved? Can we trust him to take care of us, even while we can’t pay the bills?
We can’t manufacture that kind of faith. But Jesus has that sort of trust in the Father, and he put it into action as a human. And if he we trust Jesus, his strength, faith and integrity are available to us. Through faith, we can let Jesus, living inside us, overcome those temptations and bring us to a place of trust in the Father.
The next temptation recorded may not seem like much of a temptation to most of us. The devil suggests that Jesus should throw himself off the highest place in Jerusalem. From there, he would certainly die, unless God saved him. I think there are several temptations here. One is an inducement to suicide. Jesus faced some incredible hardships within a few years. It would be easy to simply retreat from life, and go back to heaven through death.
Without contradicting that, there are other things going here also. I think the devil was trying to cast doubt on Jesus’ sense of identity as the Son of God. He says, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down…” In other words: “You think you are God’s beloved Son? Prove it.” Again, the devil is inviting Jesus to doubt God, to doubt what had been said at Jesus’ baptism. As an evil twist, he is also casting doubt about whether the Father really would rescue Jesus, really protect him.
As a final, diabolical element, Satan quotes scripture, twisting its meaning and purpose, to try and convince Jesus to do it. I think that is a very important point. In this world of sin, anyone’s words can be twisted and misused, even God’s. Psalm 91 (quoted here by Satan) is an assurance of God’s care for his people. It is not an invitation to commit suicide and see if God will stop you. It’s not an invitation to force God to prove something.
But I think we all have the temptation sometimes to want God to prove himself to us. Sometimes we all doubt whether God will really keep his promises, and we think it would be nice if we could make him show us. We also feel the temptation to doubt who we are in Jesus. The bible says that in Jesus, we have forgiveness and redemption; we are holy and blameless; we have every spiritual blessing; we are more than conquerors; we have rest for our souls; we are the righteousness of God; we are a new creation, we have real life, everlasting life; we have peace; we have grace; we stand in God’s favor…and much, much more. It all seems too good to be true. That can’t really be us. The devil will tempt you to believe that it IS too good to be true. He’ll make you doubt your true identity in Christ. When he does, ignore him, and trust Jesus in you to send him packing.
In verses 8-10 the devil makes Jesus an offer: “Worship me, and you can have the world.” I think we read this and sometimes think, “That’s silly! Jesus is Lord, why would he worship the devil?” Remember, however, when Jesus lived on earth, he made himself completely dependent upon the Father, just as we are completely dependent upon him. The Father had a mission for him, and it involved a lot of hard work and pain and suffering. What the devil offered Jesus was a shortcut. Jesus came to save the world. The devil says, “I’ll give you the world without all that suffering. Just call me ‘Lord.’”
Remember, the previous two temptations questioned Jesus’ very identity. Now, the devil is trying to assume he has succeeded, and Jesus is willing to doubt himself enough to do that. Along with that, he is offering the inducement of an easy way out. He’s saying, “You can accomplish your mission without all that hardship and pain and suffering. I’ll just hand it all over to you. The Father is trying to make you jump through hoops – I won’t do that. Just worship me, and I’ll take care of everything else.”
Since the time of Jesus, there have been many stories about people “selling their soul to the devil” in exchange for some wonderful thing. But the truth is, the temptation is not usually so blatant as that. I think it is more like these examples:
You really just need to relax and “check out” of all the stress for a while. You want some peace. There’s pill you can take, or a joint you can smoke that will take care of it all, or you could drink enough alcohol to “take the edge off.” Smoking, pot, taking the pill, or having a few drinks is easy. It’s deals with the pain or the stress quickly. But it doesn’t really deal with it – not permanently. And in exchange, you give up control and end up needing the pot or the pill, or the booze. You trade more and more of your life away in order to keep those things in your life. You think it’s a momentary out, a harmless short-cut. But you are trading your life to the devil in exchange for it.
Let me say something briefly about marijuana. Everyone I’ve spoken with who smokes it tells me that it is not addictive. I think it’s true that physically, there are no withdrawal symptoms if you quit. But the same people who say it isn’t addictive keep smoking it, even when it costs them their jobs or their relationships and even sometimes their freedom. If you are willing to give up friendships and livelihood for it, you are addicted, no ifs, ands or buts.
Here’s another soul-trade. You want security in your life. You want to make sure that you will never be in a place of need. So you work long hours. You give your life to your career, and exchange you get a savings or investment account. But it turns out, no amount is enough to make you feel secure. You work harder, and trade more time with your family, more time with God – more and more of your life – for this security. It’s a deal with the devil. It costs too much.
People do the same thing with status and fame and power. Maybe a little bit of “tough business practice” which is really just cheating, will allow you to get where you want to be. Maybe just a little more time away from the family.
Sometimes people even think they can accomplish God’s mission but do it the easy way. Just go to church, throw some money in the offering plate, and then you can ignore God the rest of the week. It’s easy.
Now, I don’t mean to say that it’s never easy to do what God wants of you. Sometimes it is extremely grace-filled and easy. But we need to pay attention to the deals we make to get what we want.
Real peace comes from trusting Jesus in the middle of hard times. Real security comes from trusting Jesus in hard times. Sometimes God just gives peace, or sometimes he just gives us sense of security. But those things come as we trust him, not from taking short-cuts.
When we look to anything but God for peace, security or comfort, we are in danger of looking to that thing as an idol. I don’t mean that we can only have peace or comfort through severe meditation and scripture study. The Lord may touch you through music, or a friendship, or a good book or movie, or a meal enjoyed (without gluttony). The Lord blesses us through all sorts of things. But we need to look beyond the things themselves to the Lord who gives them. And certain things and activities are just deals with the devil.
Jesus overcame this the third temptation the way he did the other two – he relied upon the scripture, throwing the truth at the temptation. This is one reason why it is important for us to know the bible for ourselves. It is vital ammunition in the spiritual battles we face.
One final thought from this passage. The temptation, the fasting and the desert wasteland were a season for Jesus. It came to end. The trials do not last forever. When it was over, angels came and ministered to Jesus – in other words there was relief from the difficulties that Jesus had faced. Some of us need to hear this – that our hard time does have an ending. We can’t predict when that will be, but there is light at the end of the tunnel, and it isn’t just an oncoming train.
Let the Holy Spirit speak to you right now.