Where are you satisfied, what gives you a sense of worth and identity; what makes you feel powerfully, as if you have made it, as if you are a somebody. What do you give yourself to in worship and Service, that promises you everything yet gives you nothing. What do you waste time on instead of God? Today, we are looking at a passage that teaches us about that which overcame me at the age of 6, that which we all face every day whether we are walking with Christ or not: temptation. Matthew 4:1-11 is all about temptation and facing it, it is a passage that teaches us how we should face it and a passage that reveals something significant about Jesus Christ to us:
Previously and Context
As always, it is important to look at this passage and what it is teaching as part of the bigger picture; not just this chapter or even the Gospel of Matthew but the whole Meta-Narrative of the entire Bible. So as we look to Matthew chapter four to learn something more about God incarnate (Jesus) we need to look at chapter three, and at what comes immediately afterwards in order to understand the whole teaching.
Jesus has just been baptised by his cousin John in the Jordan, and as he emerges back up and out of the water the peace of God (the dove) descends down from heaven onto him and the voice of God speaks over him:
“This is my Son, whom I love; with him, I am well pleased.’”Matthew often teaches through the drawing of similarity to pictures from the Old Testament: The Baptism of Jesus was one of those moments and would have drawn the Jewish mind to the moment when God split the Red Sea and his people passed through it on into the desert. Thus, it is important for us to remember and hold the image of the baptism as we look at these eleven verses. Israel, a nation to whom God declared his Son would pass through the water and then on into the desert to be tested and stretched before God. This passage teaches us in parallel to the image of Israel in the Desert, where she was tried and tested, she grumbled and sinned: when Jesus entered the desert immediately after his baptism he was fully tried and tempted; yet, where Israel failed Jesus did not. He withstood the temptation and stayed true to the course that God the father had set him on. He was tempted and did not sin, he was stretched and did not break; he was broken and did not collapse: He stayed true to his identity and calling in God the Father. He proved worthy of the call to be the Saviour of all, where Israel did not. In each of the three temptations, we learn something more about the character of Jesus and the worth of him. We learn it by looking at Christ – seeing where he stood and we fail.
1: The Temptation of Self-Service (3-5)
“The tempter came to him and said, ‘If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.’ Jesus answered, ‘It is written: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” ’”
Matt. 4:3-4 NIVUK
After Jesus’s baptism, he has been in the wilderness spending time in fasting and preparing for the road ahead. Thus, it is at his weakest moment that the devil comes to him; when he is tired and hungry the devil seeks to strike. Yet, we learn from the start that the strength and identity of Jesus were not to be found in food but in God. Satan, knowing the pains of hunger that would have been overpowering Christ at that time, sought to overpower him with his greatest physical need. He tempted Jesus to pursue his own path and not the one God had set out before him. Satan knew the authority Christ had and that if he willed he could speak anything to be anything, so he sought to tempt Jesus to satisfy his immediate desire. He tempted Jesus to fulfil his own desire apart from the will of God.
We are all made in the image of God, and with that comes the desire of the body and the soul: All of which can be good, in the right context. God provides means to satisfy each desire in a way that accords with his plan and will. So the Devil tempts Jesus to show his power, where God’s is seemingly absent, in essence, the devil seeks to convince Jesus to abandon his servanthood and abuse the power of his Sonship to meet an immediate physical need. In doing so the tempter questions the goodness of God, he entices Jesus to question the sovereignty of God.
It’s so familiar to us all. At different times and in different places we find ourselves with a need to meet and a way to meet it, the problem is that often the way may not be God-glorifying: It may not be actually illegal, but often such paths are covered in sin. We are hungry so we overeat, we have had a bad week so we drown our sorrows with a bottle of vodka, we feast on the pleasure of this world all while ignoring the promises of God who told us that he was at work in the world. It is a scene that should be all too familiar to us, in fact in one of the first scenes in the Bible, Satan in the form of a serpent caused Adam and Eve to doubt the goodness and sovereignty of God: Thankfully where Adam and Eve failed, Jesus excelled.
1: Jesus Respond: Only God can Satisfy
Jesus responds to the whispers and lies of the devil with the truth of God’s word. Specifically, Jesus responds by quoting from Deuteronomy Chapter 8:2-3, where he stands firm on the promise that man needs more than bread to fully live, he needs the word of God. Interestingly, the verse that Jesus quotes from specifically relates to the testing of the heart of Israel to see if they were willing to place their faith in God and his goodness to meet their desires according to his word and will. Where they failed, Jesus succeeded. Where Israel refused to remember God’s goodness, Jesus stood firm in it, even when he could not see it. Even when he could not taste it.
1: Learning From Jesus
The truth is that for all of us, where God seems to be absent we often seek to find our own way, just as it was in the desert where God sought to test the heart of a people whom he had made covenant with; He wanted to know and help them to learn to trust him: So it is with us at those times and in those places where we think God is absent, where we feel he has abondoned us – he is working, he is with us and he is testing us, specifically he is testing out hearts to see if we are willing to trust in his goodness and timing, to trust that he is present even when he seems absent. Every temptation is a choice between our way and God’s way: A choice between trusting ourselves or God, we tell ourselves:
“God is not providing for me in the way I think he should, or thought he would, so I will seek my own gratification apart from him because he is not what I thought he would be”
When we face the temptation of self-gratification we must remember that our identity and purpose is in Christ, not in the things we long for; we are not defined by our desires for success, power or whatever we struggle with. When we walk with Jesus he is our hope, purpose and identity. When we face the temptation to seek our own paths, to satisfy our wants, we must look to Christ and seek to, by the power of the Holy Spirit, mirror him. So we look to Jesus who trusted the all-satisfying, all-sufficient goodness of the Father – who trusted even in absence that God was with him and working on his behalf. Who are we to demand that God should meet our desires as we think he should, instead we must trust him to meet them as he says he will. Why? Because our ways of short-term gain will always lead to long-term pain. Additionally; it is simply true that there is no easy way in life, anything worthwhile is worth waiting for.
We must remind ourselves of the Adam & Eve reality. The devil whispered lies to them about the character of God, that he was keeping something from them in keeping them from the fruit on the tree; he convinced them that if they trusted him over the Good Father that not only would they be better, but they would become like God and know good from evil. They trusted the lies of the tempter and followed his path, and with an unnerving immediacy they realised the folly of their decision and sought to hide from God. They realised their attempt at self-satisfaction and short-term gain had left them far worse off.
Let us strive to follow the way of Christ, reminding ourselves of whatever our situation that we are more than flesh, we are a people who are made to live for God.
2. The Sin of Self-Protection (6-7)
Next up Satan takes Jesus to the temple and tells him to jump, however, this is no ordinary taunt. Satan has taken Jesus to stand on top of the place that represents God’s presence and protection on earth, especially in relation to his chosen people. The temple is the throne room and the place in which God’s glory would dwell on the earth, it is the visible representation of God’s presence and protection with his chosen people. When they look to it and worship in it they should be reminded of who God is.
Satan takes the Son of God to stand atop the place that represents the presence and protection of God and then has the audacity to question its very existence in the life of Jesus. Furthermore, he has the nerve to do it by misquoting and using out of context a verse from Psalm 91 – a psalm about the presence and protection of God – Satan says that if this is true then the Son of God will be worthy of it. On top of a place that represents the presence and protection of God, using a Psalm that sings about those truths in the lives of those who follow God, to the Son of God who would extend that presence and protection to all people through the cross: Satan whispers seeds of doubt about God’s presence and protection in relation to the journey that Jesus was walking and suggests that the Son prove the Father is with him. He twists the scripture and the promises of God to tempt Jesus to sin against God.
2: Jesus Responds: God does not need to be tested
Do not put the Lord your God to the Test.
It is an amazing moment in this passage, Satan really is the first false teacher, who seeks to twist the word of God to his own end and purpose. What is more amazing is the fact that his use of scripture seems okay. Like one of those slick modern preachers, it just seems right, or like us when we sin and stuff up and we tell ourselves that the scripture doesn’t specifically speak against this or that. We use scripture for our own end, to our own purpose.
In Jesus we see that the only way to respond to a misuse of scripture is through a proper use of scripture: Jesus responds with a verse from Deuteronomy 6:16, a verse in the middle of a chapter that reminds Israel of their past sins and a time when they doubted God’s presence and protection and put him to the test – specifically Exodus 17:7 at Massah where they demanded God prove he was with them by providing more water: this nation who had seen Yahweh’s hand by day though a pillar of cloud and by night via a pillar of fire, who had seen the wrath of God rain down and destroy a nation and set them free and yet they still had the audacity to ask: “is the Lord amongst us or not.” It is a question that proves a lack of trust in God and doubts his continued presence, protection and providence. Yet, if we are honest it is a question we ask nearly every day – we might not use the same words or form but we question God’s existence, his power, his presence, his protection when things don’t go to our plan? Yet, thankfully Jesus is not us, even though he is fully tempted to take that step off his building to prove his Sonship, to prove that he commands the angels of heaven he does not, he needs not to do so because it was an action that was the opposite of the path of suffering that was ahead.
We are like the Israelites in the desert, we doubt that God is there, that he is with us and we give into the temptation of self-protection: “Well if God is not going to do this for me, then I will do it myself?” What is even worse is that often in the course of our actions to spiritualise it or moralise our sin we take scripture and twist it to suit our ends to help bring people along. We need to turn to Christ, and through the power of the spirit, seek to mirror him when we are tempted to act in self-protection. Where we think God is lacking or not acting we must trust in the unshakable security of the Father and know that we never have reason to test him or doubt him. We must remember the promises of scripture and at times accept that is all we need from God in a given moment, additionally we must use the promises of scripture to dismiss the whispers of the devil in our ear as he speaks: “is he really with you? Then prove it.”
3: The Temptation to take it – The easy way (8-9)
In the final part of the desert narrative, the devil takes Jesus to a high point (either spiritual or a literal physical place) from which he can see all the kingdoms of the world in their resplendent majesty. Standing atop of that place Satan offers it all to Jesus on one condition – that the Son of God would bow down (a position of respect and submission in the ancient near east) and worship (not necessarily religious devotion, the Greek ‘deiknym’ would suggest more an act of honour as in standing before a king) him. You might be wondering what the temptation was for the Son of God, the one who brought all things into existence and the one who comes the end of all will be the King of kings and the Lord of lords: What is the temptation of lordship for the one who will rule all things? The thing is, Jesus knew the road that must be walked to become Lord, the road of servanthood, suffering and sacrifice.
Thus, the devil seeks to place doubt in the path that God has set Jesus on in offering him all. In doing so he is saying to Jesus: “Trust me, over your Father and in return, I will give you everything.” The tempter stands at the shoulder of Jesus as he surveys the wonders of the world and whispers “Why wait? Take it all now, it is your right!” And in the same way, he whispers to every one of us “Why wait? Why not? It is your right – take it now!” To the things we want, the things that are outside of God’s will. Satan gets us to look at the things of this world in all of their resplendent majesty: success, accomplishment, the pleasures, material possessions, position, and power and convinces us that if we follow them then we will have it all, and all that we need. It is the same way that Satan whispered into the ear of Adam and Eve and convinced them that if they took the easy road in eating the forbidden fruit, life would be better; they would become god-like, in a way that God would not want them to, all they had to do was trust him to God and take one bite. Too often if not every time, we are inclined by nature to follow the path of Adam and Eve, to take the easy road and assert ourselves in the world, when we have no right.
3: There is no Easy way, only obedience to the narrow road
One last time we must learn from the Messiah, in how we face temptations similar to this. Satan offered Jesus a choice, and thankfully the Messiah knew there never was a choice to make. Even, knowing the pain and suffering that was ahead for him, he knew the privilege of the path that was before him and that it would lead to a glory that nothing could surpass, he also knew that he was not walking the road for himself – he was walking it so that we did not have to. He knew that nothing was worthy of our worship or service but God, even when the appeals of its rewards were great, even when it seemed to offer nearly as much as relationship with God, still it offered nothing at all. So as we look to Christ we learn one simple thing: the only thing worthy of our worship and service is God. Jesus response of “Worship the Lord your God and serve him only” (Deut 6:13) is one that challenges us to ask the question: What are we trusting in more than God? What do we give our worship to, enslave ourselves in service to because we convince ourselves that it will give us something?
“Jesus refused to exchange the end-time exaltation by his father for the right-now exaltation of a snake” – Russel Moore
Conclusion and Application(10-11)
This is a powerful passage that offers us much. It offers us practical advice and example as we seek to live in a fallen and broken world, as we seek to deal with the things that tempt us and walk the narrow road. Yet, it is so much more than that, it is a passage that gives us a glimpse of so much more:
- Christ is king: Even though he was tempted fully he never strayed from the path that God had set out before him. These 11 verses give us a glimpse of the kingship of Christ, the one who will defeat death.
- Satan will be defeated once and for all: Where Adam & Eve, Israel and all of us failed – Jesus succeeded: where we would take the easy road, Jesus took the unwalked road. This would be the only time that Satan confronted Jesus directly, a time where he realised the authority of the son. Once Jesus spoke and instructed Satan to leave, he had no choice – so he went back down the hole he crawled out of this time with the shame of defeat for us today, a defeat which foretells the cross.
- The Cosmic Reality: From the moment of the angels tending Christ we are drawn to the significance of this moment, in victory heaven itself tends to the needs of the Son of God to prepare him for what was ahead.
It is also a passage that leaves us with something that should affect our now, we should leave here having read this and seek to live differently:
- The work must Go on: In verse 12-17 of this chapter, just after being tended to by angels, we see Jesus learning of the arrest of his cousin. How does Jesus respond to the fact that John is no longer preaching? Simply, he gets up and gets going, he follows on where John left off preaching: “Repent for the kingdom of Heaven has come near.” So for us today regardless of our context, reality, sin or temptation the mission must go out. In all that we say and do we must strive to live out the Gospel so that people can come to know the saving power of Jesus, the one who defeats evil once and for all. How are you living out the mission and playing your part?
- Three Temptations and one Choice: In this passage, we see three temptations that in different ways we all will face and struggle with, yet there is always only one solution to them: God. So whatever our struggle is let us mirror Christ in how we face it and trust that God is bigger and more fulfilling than anything else.
- Knowing Scripture means Knowing God: In every temptation, Jesus responds with Scripture: specifically, he responds using verses from chapters 6-8 of Deuteronomy a book that not many of us have read or loved, a beautiful reminder that all of God’s word is useful and needed by us in our daily battles with temptation. Christ knew that knowledge of scripture meant knowledge of God, that the word of God would reveal the character and the heart of God. Finally, he knew that scripture protects against the lies of the devil because it reveals the ultimate truth of God, his presence and his protection. In the Word we know God, we are a people of the word, so let us go out today from here and be zealous and committed in our pursuit of God as he teaches us through his word. This New Year, what is your plan to know more about God because really we have no excuse with all of our apps, bible reading plans and different bibles.
 Matt. 3:17 NIVUK
 You are the sons of the LORD your God; you shall not cut yourselves nor shave your forehead for the sake of the dead. – Deut 14:1