Matthew 4:1-11 | Christ Tempted in All Points | Dave Lutz
Topic: Worship Gatherings Passage: Matthew 4:1–4:11
This morning we’re going to look into an incident found early in the other three gospels—Matthew, Mark and Luke—the wilderness temptations of Christ. Matthew will be our main text today; and along the way, we’ll be helped by the parallel accounts in Luke, chapter 4, and Mark, chapter 1.
It is truly a joy to look into the word of God with you this morning. Let’s first read this passage—Matthew 4, the first eleven verses.
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.
This passage brings us right up to the start of Jesus’ public ministry. Before we dive into it, it will help to set up a little context. Matthew’s main theme: Jesus is King, Israel’s long-awaited Messiah.
Turn over to chapter 1 of Matthew for a moment, and notice there in verse 1 that the New Testament starts with a genealogy. “The Book of the Genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham.” Notice those names: Abraham, the father of the Jewish nation, Israel, and David, Israel’s shepherd king. Remember that God promised him that one of his descendants would rule over an everlasting kingdom, be an even greater king, the ultimate king over the people of God. So “Son of David” became a title for Messiah to come.
This genealogy demonstrates that Jesus is in the royal line of Israel, thus qualified to be king. And as you glance at these early chapters of Matthew, you see multiple Old Testament prophecies pointed to Jesus as the Messiah, Israel’s long-awaited true king. Over and over in Matthew this theme of kingship. If he is the true king, he must demonstrate his power, his authority over, among other things, the forces of evil; and that’s where our text will go.
Looking at our text in Matthew 4, look over at the first word in verse 1. “Then”—that points us to what’s right before that—the baptism of Jesus and a very important connection. Jesus needs to fully identify with his people, so he’ll go through this baptism every step of obedience, not only here but his entire life, to earn a righteousness for the people he came to save.
Look at Matthew 3:16-17:
And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
Wow, talk about credentials. Has anyone ever come close to an endorsement like this? All three persons of the Trinity—Father, Son and Spirit—distinguished here. The Father’s voice—that’s pretty rare, isn’t it? And God the Spirit shown to descend on him, a special anointing that will empower him for ministry.
You may remember that the title “Christ” means anointed one. It’s from the Hebrew word we pronounce Messiah. The whole Old Testament anticipates his coming. This baptism of Jesus is in a sense his coronation as the Spirit-anointed King. But even with this divine testimony, this endorsement, more is required of him. Look at verse 1: “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness.” For what purpose? “[T]o be tempted by the devil.” He’s driven out for this test.
1 John 3:8 tells us that Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil, so this conflict that he’s heading into now really is war, and nothing short of complete victory is required. Clearly, this is God’s plan. Mark 1:12 says it this way: “The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.” This is powerful. This word for “drive out”—ekballo—literally to throw out, to cast out as to push him, impel him out from that area, the Jordan River, and into the wilderness.
Now, what is this wilderness here? I think it’s hard for us to fully appreciate the term as it’s used here. Behind our house in Prescott we’ve got kind of a forest area between neighborhoods. Many of you live in places like this, close to this, where there are pine trees and bushes and sometimes deer go through there, especially this last year. Sometimes javelina might make their rounds. We might think of this as a wilderness area. That is not what this is talking about.
This wilderness of Judea is very different. Picture in your mind’s eye rocks, cliffs, jagged, deep ravines, yellow sand, crumbling limestone, hot; and lest you start thinking this is Phoenix, this is not Phoenix, because it’s desolate, as in nobody lives there. Mark 1:13 speaks of wild animals there. So there’s no people. One person described it as an area of contorted strata where the ridges run in all directions as if they were warped and twisted. Scholars generally think this is the area about 35 miles by 15 miles west of the Dead Sea. You remember that the Jordan River flows into the Dead Sea, extending westward toward Jerusalem. Many think this is the area referred to in the Old Testament as Jeshimon, which can be translated “the devastation.” This is an area one would call God-forsaken. The curse on creation is highly evident here in this Judean wilderness.
And that leads us to see some pretty dramatic contrasts between this temptation of Christ and the temptation of our first parents, Adam and Eve. Consider these three contrasts. One is the location. What was the setting of Adam and Eve’s temptation? The Garden of Eden, an uncursed, beautiful land where they had everything that they needed all the time. On the other hand, Jesus is tempted here in this God-forsaken, barren, sin-cursed place.
Second, Adam was not alone when he was tempted, right? God had provided Eve for him, for companionship, for help. In contrast, Jesus is alone in this wilderness for almost six weeks. It is necessary that he go through this alone, though in a sense he is not really alone, as he communes with his Father and carries the anointing of the Spirit. But humanly speaking, he’s alone here.
A third contrast, Adam was fed quite well from the Garden of Eden. Food was not yet affected by the curse of sin. Talk about organic food. Think about it—no preservatives, no gluten issues. Must have been wonderful, right? Constantly strengthened by that garden’s food. Versus Jesus. Look at Matthew 4:2. After fasting 40 days and 40 nights. Folks, that’s without food. I would think probably no one in this room has gone without food for 40 days. That certainly leaves anyone in a very weakened condition physically.
When we look at these contrasts, it seems as if God is making this temptation of Jesus so much more difficult. If he can prevail through this, there will be no doubt. If he prevails in these conditions, it will demonstrate his glory all the more.
Now, let’s think further about the purpose of this. Why was this necessary? When Adam, our representative head, was tempted by Satan, he failed. Right? Plunged mankind into sin and separation from God. The New Testament tells us that Jesus came to live on earth as the second Adam or a new Adam, on a mission to succeed where Adam failed, to redeem back a people to right relationship with God, and eventually redeem all of creation, to reverse the effects of the curse. Again, for him to do that, he will need to prevail over the forces of evil and the leader of those forces, Satan himself. This really is a monumental conflict.
Now, the duration of this—40 days and 40 nights. Does that have significance? Well, for one thing, Moses and Elijah, representing the law and the prophets, both had 40-day fasts. Interesting. And there is a sense in which Jesus is here representing the nation of Israel. Now, think about how the dots connect here. Remember, Old Testament Israel, after leaving slavery in Egypt, went through the waters of the Red Sea, right? 1 Corinthians 10:2 tells us that they were baptized in the sea. Right after this baptism, they were led in the wilderness for 40 years where they were tested by God. Do you see the similarities here?
Jesus in going through this test is, in a sense, recapitulating the history of Old Testament Israel. He has come to be the true Israel, and he is working here on behalf of his people.
Now, let’s look at this term “tempted” for a moment. The verb, “to tempt”—ekpeirazó—is, in itself, a morally neutral word. It means to test, to try, or prove. It can have a positive sense, as in a testing for our good and God’s glory, or it can have a negative sense as in leading one into sin. Whether it has a good or evil sense really depends on the intention of the one doing the testing
Sometimes God allows for us to be tested with the intention to grow us, to sanctify us. That’s the sense in James 1 where we read, count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials or testings of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith develops steadfastness. The word for trials there is a form of this same word that we translate temptation. It’s a testing.
James 1:13 tells us that God does not entice people towards sin. He doesn’t tempt that way. So what or who does tempt us toward evil? As fallen human beings, we are tempted to sin by things both inside and outside of ourselves, right? As a consequence of man’s fall into sin, we all have a corruption in us, a disposition toward sin. We call that depravity. We come with that. It’s not something we have to learn. Just watch two-year-olds play.
Jesus, on the other hand, in his miraculous conception—Mary was with child by the Holy Spirit—was not born with that internal corruption. But he faced external forces tempting him to sin; and we face those as well, those being Satan and his demons and world system opposed to God dominated by those evil forces.
Obviously, in our passage here in Matthew, Satan intends this for evil, right? He’s trying to entice Jesus to sin. And the grammar of Luke’s account literally reads like this: He was being led by the Spirit for 40 days, being tempted by the devil, as in continually tempted that whole time. Since in Matthew’s account this conversation between Jesus and Satan happens after 40 days, perhaps what we read here is a culmination or some point where these temptations reach a maximum force. We know that Jesus was tempted constantly during his life on earth, but this appears to be an all-out assault at a time when he is most vulnerable.
I remember reading this when I was a kid and thinking, well, this must have been easy for Jesus because, you know, he’s God, right? Must have been easy. Have you ever thought that? Well, we have a name for that. That’s called an error. Remember that Jesus, God the Son, took on a human nature in a human body when he came to live on earth. We call that the incarnation. Literally “in flesh” as in human.
So, he was fully God and fully man. Two natures—divine and human—united in one person. During his life on earth he never stopped being God, and that’s important. But touching his human nature, he lived and was tempted as a man, and the temptation thrown at him as a man was at times very severe. To show that, listen to this from about three years later, during another time of temptation on the eve of his crucifixion in the Garden of Gethsemane.
This is from Luke 22:42 and 44. Jesus prayed, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours be done.” “And being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling to the ground.” Folks, does that sound easy? Matthew 26:38 says at that time he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to his disciples, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death.” Severe temptation. Severe suffering. Why? Why go through this?
Isaiah 53 says he was a man of sorrows. Listen to this from Hebrews 2:17-18: “Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” So in his temptation, he suffered for us.
Now, looking further at Matthew 4, let’s briefly consider these three different ways that Jesus is tempted by Satan. First, verse 3: “And the tempter came and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’” So Jesus has found Satan. Satan speaks to him. We don’t know what form the devil was in at this point, but we see this personal communication.
The Greek here might be better translated “since you are the Son of God.” Satan knows that Jesus is the Son of God. We find occasions in the gospels where even his demons confess that truth. They know the truth. They know who he is. They hate the truth. Here, Satan tries to use that truth to lure Jesus into sin. Not being fed for 40 days does not exactly line up with your status as the Son of God. What are you doing in this place starving? You’re hungry; you should eat; and you have the power to make that happen.
It’s important to note that these temptations are real for Jesus. Satan comes at him with things that he really wants. Again, in his incarnation, Jesus lived as a man. Humans have appetites. Appetites have their purpose. We need to eat, right? What happens if we don’t eat? Eventually, we die. And it says Jesus was hungry. And not just hungry as we’re all going to be in two hours, but we’re talking without food for almost six weeks.
What is Satan’s intent, his motive here? He’s trying to get Jesus to act outside the will of his Father, act independently of the Father, provide for himself instead of trusting his Father to provide for him in his way in his time. For Jesus to succumb to this would be to disobey, rebel against the Father’s plan. It would be to sin. And think about it. That would in essence fracture the Trinity, create a breach between the persons of the Trinity. It would also disqualify him as king and savior, and no gospel, if he sins here.
And there is something very subtle going on in this. Satan is really saying to Jesus, maybe you can’t trust your Father to provide for you. Maybe he won’t. Listen to me. Do this my way. I will father you. Thankfully, Jesus knows who he’s dealing with. He knows what’s going on here. Yes, he hears the voice of Satan, but he hears another more important voice that he will submit to.
In John 4, interestingly, we see another time in the life of Jesus when there was a concern for his eating. John 4:31: “[T]he disciples were urging him, saying, ‘Rabbi, eat.’” “Jesus said to them [verse 34], ‘My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.’” Basically, he’s saying there, I will eat but know that the my sustenance goes far beyond mere physical food.
John 6:38 he says, “I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.” That’s really the issue here in the wilderness, in all of these temptations. He’s all about doing the will of the Father and that’s what gets challenged here. What’s Jesus’ response? Verse 4: “[He] answered, ‘It is written …’” Literally, it has been written. What’s that referring to, class? In this cosmic battle, Jesus employs the most powerful weapon—God’s word written. He unsheathes what Paul would later call the sword of the spirit. Do you think there might be an example here for us?
Deuteronomy 8:3: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Notice, it does not say man does not live by bread. Man does live by bread as in food. If we don’t eat, we die. But not by bread alone. We are to live by God’s provision—every word that he speaks. Our appetite for food, like our other appetites, is to be satisfied as we obey the Father and live according to his will for us—every word. Yes, he wants us to work and to be active; but we are to ultimately trust him for our provision as we obey.
Philippians 4:19, written to Christians: “[M]y God will supply all your needs.” (NASB) Matthew 6:33, speaking of the necessities of life (food and clothing): “[S]eek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Our God provides. Amen?
Here’s something else we can see from this text that we do well to remember. Sometimes God wants for us to go without some things. Go through a season where we go without. When satisfying our appetite is delayed. This in contrast to the so-called prosperity gospel that tells you that God wants you to be healthy and wealthy and have everything you want all the time. That’s not true. The apostle Paul said, I’ve learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. By the way, that was written from a prison. The issue is, do we trust God for our provision, in His way, in His time?
Jesus resists this. He will submit to and honor the Father’s will and word. Unlike Adam and Eve, he will not obey Satan. He will not sin. And when this is over and angels come and attend to him, as it says in verse 11, very likely then he’s given food; but at this point, verse 4, he will wait.
Now, this is a good time to recognize that in this passage we find three categories of temptations in which we are also tempted. We started to see that here, but before we think about that, one word of caution: I think sometimes we are tempted to read this and go right to our personal application. How does this apply to me?
Well, there is application for us here, but when we look at this passage, let us not miss first looking to Jesus: his experience, how he responds, what he accomplishes here. First and foremost, let us see that glory of Christ here. Amen? And then go to our application.
So, having said that, how do we relate to this temptation? Think about it. Have you ever been tempted to doubt God’s provision for you? How about this last week? I think we all face this. Are you being tempted to doubt that today in some area? Are you being tempted to go out and pursue something that you think would satisfy your appetite that may be outside of God’s will for you, or perhaps something clearly outside of God’s will?
When we are tempted this way, let us pray that we would respond as our Lord did. I will trust my Father to provide for me in this area. I will not succumb to some counterfeit, some sin that ultimately will not satisfy. Some sin that would bring me and the people around me harm. Remember Jesus said Satan is a liar. He’s the father of lies. God, help us to remember that when we face this temptation. Amen? By the way, thank God that as we grow, he reorients our appetites.
The second temptation, verse 5: “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.’” A different strategy. Okay, Jesus, you wanna quote Scripture? Fine. Let’s look at Psalm 91, ultimately written about you, God’s anointed. Wow, Satan has become an expository preacher, quoting Scripture accurately. Could you quote this Psalm this easily from memory? This is impressive.
Now, of the three temptations, this is probably the hardest one for us to understand and relate to, at least at first glance. Probably nobody here is struggling with an intense desire to step off of a tall building, I hope. So what’s going on here? Well, for one thing, Satan is basically saying, if you are the Son of God, prove it; and prove it not only to yourself, but prove it to the world. Make it public.
Once again, the location is important here. In Jesus’ day the temple in Jerusalem built by Herod the Great was a massive structure. I’ve seen estimates of the size of this thing. Some people say you could put twelve, maybe up to twenty, football fields inside the area of this. It was huge and tall. This pinnacle would be some very high point. Many think this is the roof on the southeast corner. There was a portico there. From there it would be a drop of well over 400 feet to the Kidron Valley below. That’s perhaps the most accepted location for this pinnacle. So imagine stepping off of a 45-story building.
Other’s think maybe this was the southwest corner of the temple. There’s some evidence that the priest would blow a trumpet from that point on special festival days. It was high above a very busy street with many shops and businesses, a lot of people there. Jumping off either of these points normally would get you killed. Perhaps Satan is hoping for that.
Why does Satan use Psalm 91? Well, one basic job of a father is to protect, right, those of you who are fathers, especially your family. If your child’s in danger, you’re going to act to protect, right? That’s not something you sit around and think about. That’s just built into human fathers, right? Well, how much more do we see that in our heavenly Father? He is a protector.
Psalm 91 is all about the Father’s protection of his own. So Satan is tempting Jesus here: Allow your Father to demonstrate his protection of you by fulfilling the promise in this Psalm. But the truth is, trying to force this angelic protection in essence would be trying to back God into a corner, trying to test God.
One commentator says this: To test God is to doubt God, and not to trust in him is sin. If I have to test God, it shows my lack of faith, right? I don’t really believe it. Romans 14:23 says, “[W]hatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” How does Jesus respond to Satan’s use of Psalm 91? Verse 7, he quotes another Scripture, Deuteronomy 6:16: “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” He doesn’t need to test the Father’s protection of him. He simply trusts it.
Interestingly, another passage from Deuteronomy, taking us back again to Old Testament Israel, a time when they fell into this very sin. The whole verse says this: “You shall not put the LORD your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah.” The people there at Massah, not trusting God’s care for them, demanding yet another sign despite all of the signs they had already seen. You can read about that in Exodus 17. The name “Massah,” by the way literally means testing.
How does this apply to us? Well, again, we’re probably not going to be tempted to jump off of a tall building or step into a busy freeway or something to test God’s protection of us. But we might be tempted to test God in other ways, maybe pursuing some course that is unwise, careless or sinful, expecting then that God will bail us out. Are you pursuing some path, some decision without thought, without prayer, without considering what Scripture says? Don’t test God that way.
And there’s another aspect of this temptation worth looking at. Picture this young rabbi throwing himself off of this pinnacle, the onlookers holding their breath. It looks like he’s going to die. Angels show up at the last minute to dramatically rescue him. Such a visible dramatic sign which surely would have caused people to think of Psalm 91. It would certainly be a public vindication for Jesus. Consider the rejection and humiliation he will face in the next three years, and he knows it.
Do this kind of sign, show yourself in this spectacular way, and maybe you can bypass some of that humiliation. You’ll be vindicated publicly. We can relate to this. Maybe not with angels rescuing us like that. But think about it, have you ever noticed in yourself a strong need to be right, or beyond that, to be shown to be right. Maybe at work. Maybe at home. Maybe at church. In this fallen world, we are sometimes wronged, and then it becomes, hey, I want my vindication.
Now, to be clear, it’s good that we long for righteousness to prevail, for justice to win out, and there are times when it’s appropriate to take steps to defend ourselves and the people around us. But our problem is that sometimes we don’t want to ultimately leave that up to God. We don’t want to wait for the vindication that God may bring in his time, but maybe not even in this life. We want to make our vindication happen apart from God, grasp it in our own way. That’s sin. And part of where that comes from is a need that we feel in ourselves to protect ourselves apart from God’s protection of us.
So Satan and his forces can tempt us. Seek your own vindication. Protect yourself. Don’t leave that up to God. He might not even do it. When we are tempted that way, it may help us to remember certainly what Jesus cites here, as well as other passages, such as Romans 12:19: “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” I don’t need to seek my own vindication. I will humble myself, look to God’s vindication, God’s protection of me in his way, in his time.
I have to mention one other thing about this second temptation. Satan quotes Scripture here, right? Psalm 91. This is for sure one of the best examples you could come up with of misusing Scripture. Think about it. Look at it. How does Jesus demonstrate that? He quotes a different passage of Scripture as a correction. This is the best example I know of in the Bible of the key principle of Biblical interpretation that we call the analogy of Scripture, or in the Latin, the analogia Scriptura. Analogy speaks of comparison. We compare Scripture with Scripture to come to the right interpretation—what does it mean—and then the right application.
This is critical. If we don’t consider all of what Scripture says, we can easily be taken off into error. And Jesus, the master teacher, demonstrates that here. So the lesson for us: harmonize any passage that you study with the rest of the Bible.
Finally, verse 8 takes us to Satan’s third temptation. “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.” We don’t know what mountain this was. Was there some visionary part of this? We don’t know. Luke says that Jesus was shown all of this in a moment of time.
The glorious kingdoms of the world at that time would have included Egypt, Rome, Athens, perhaps Jerusalem. Luke’s account, Luke 4:6, has Satan saying this to Jesus: “To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will.”
Well, you know that there’s truth in that. John 12:3 and other places Satan is called the ruler of this world. Ephesians 2:2 speaks of the course of this world ruled by the prince of the power of the air. That’s Satan. And 1 John 5:19 says the whole world lies in the power of the evil one. So there’s truth in what Satan says. God has allowed him authority in this world, to a point, for a time.
And it’s also true that all of the earth is to be turned over to the Son, to God’s anointed. Psalm 2:8 says this—Father here speaking to the Son: “Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession.” So that’s true.
We know that deception is most effective when it contains an element of truth. You want to deceive somebody, cover it over with some truth. This is a good place to remember that our adversary works against God and us primarily in two ways. One is deception. Revelation 12:9 says he is the deceiver of the whole world. He and his agents masquerade as angels of light. Deception.
The second way Satan works is by accusation. The term “devil” is from the Greek, diabolos, from which we get the word diabolical. It means literally accuser, slanderer. Typically, Satan will entice you to sin by deception. He makes some false promise. He shows you a different future and hides the consequences. And then once you have sinned, he’ll turn right around and hit you with accusation. “Look what you’ve done; you call yourself a Christian.” Deception and accusation.
Notice in our passage in Matthew, we find three designations for Satan. In verse 3 he’s called the tempter. That’s luring to sin by deception. Then in verse 5 he’s called the devil. Again, that’s accuser. And then he’s called later Satan in verse 10. Literally, adversary. He is against God, against the people of God. He hates the gospel. He’s all about destruction. John 8, Jesus says that Satan was a murderer from the beginning; and while we are not to overly focus on him, it does help to know something about our adversary and how he works.
So, in this final temptation, we see the strategy of deception. And, again, this is a real temptation for Jesus. There’s a right sense that he wants this. It’s promised to him. Paul tells us that God’s plan for the fullness of time is to unite all things in Christ, things in heaven and things on earth; but notice in that verse, “in the fullness of time.” At this point, that’s far off, and to get there Jesus needs to go through suffering, humiliation and death on a Roman cross. That’s how he saves us, right?
The temptation here is to bypass suffering, grasp glory, exalt yourself, without the Father’s plan. I’ve got a better way. I’ll give you the glory. I’ll give you what you want without the pain. But this is a counterfeit offer, counterfeit exaltation. James 4:10 tells us, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.” Here, Satan tries to mimic God’s way of humiliation to exaltation, but under a different god. So this is a counterfeit offer.
Interestingly, this comes up a few years later. Remember Peter at Caesarea Philipi when Jesus tells his disciples that he will suffer and be killed. Peter rebukes Jesus. Far be it from you, Lord; this shall never happen to you. Take a different way. It’s the same temptation. Jesus has heard it before.
Are we tempted like this? Well, for one thing as believers in Christ, we do look forward to sharing Christ’s inheritance. Peter tells us of an inheritance kept in heaven for us. Romans 8:17: “we are heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ”; but listen to the rest of that verse: “provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” Our full inheritance is future. In this life, we are all tempted to avoid suffering, grab our inheritance early (remember the prodigal son) and exalt ourselves.
But sinful pride is not God’s way. How many times do we see it in the Bible that God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble? Are you going through something right now where you are being tempted to grab the things of this world? Are you being tempted in some way to exalt yourself? When we fall to this, in a sense, we worship Satan, or perhaps you could say we worship ourselves. That’s idolatry. That’s sin.
Once again, Jesus sees through this. It will not work. Praise God, verse 10: “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’” (Deuteronomy 6:13). One more time taking us back to Old Testament Israel, the warning given to them as they were getting ready to enter the Promised Land. Worshiping anything other than the true God is idolatry. Don’t do it!
Jesus will not worship Satan. He will look to his Father to exalt him, in his way, in his perfect time. He will not take this apparently easy but counterfeit road to glory; and neither are we to take any counterfeit road to glory. In Luke 9:23 Jesus says, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” God’s way is through self-denial, not self-exaltation.
So, Jesus resists all these temptations. He prevails in this battle with Satan, and he remains qualified to be King and Savior. He succeeds where Adam failed. He’s the seed of the woman promised in Genesis 3:15 who goes on to crush the serpent’s head, render a fatal blow to Satan. Praise God for that, amen? He emerges from this victorious.
Christian, think about it. Christ did this for you. He did this for you. And if you are not a believer in Christ, our plea for you is that you would repent of your life of sin, embrace the gospel—the good news of Christ. He’s the only mediator between God and man, the only way to be made right with God. So repent and give your life to Christ. That is our plea.
You know, in this life, even as Christians, we will continue to face temptation to sin. They may change in different seasons of life, but they’re there. That goes away in heaven. Praise God. But here, we will continue to face these three types of temptations: provide for yourself, protect yourself, exalt yourself. And as Russell Moore points out in his very helpful book, Tempted and Tried, the issue in all of these really comes down to this question: Who will you be fathered by—your Father in heaven or the father of lies?
Temptation can be a rather tough subject, a lot of difficult things here. Perhaps this has caused you to think of a time when you have fallen to temptation. That’s painful. But if you’re a Christian, you know that is not the end of your story. Right? We have forgiveness in Christ. Does the Bible have any good news about temptation to sin? I’m glad you asked.
Please turn to 1 Corinthians, chapter 10. This is certainly worth looking at. 1 Corinthians 10:13: The apostle Paul writes, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man [so join the club]. God is faithful [that’s enough right there, isn’t it?], and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”
God is sovereign over every temptation you will face. He says, this far and no farther. And he provides this way of escape—exodus. Literally the way out, the exit. Sometimes the way of escape is to just flee, right? As in get out of there. In the first place, if you know that temptation to sin is going to be there, don’t go there. But if you find yourself there, get out. Other times, the way out is to go through it, as in to bear up under it, to endure it, by God’s grace, until it is removed.
The truth is, when we’re tempted to sin, we do have options. We have different paths we can take. And because of what Christ has done for us as Paul says in Romans, sin will have no dominion over you. It just doesn’t have the same power. And related to this way of escape, God has given us means to help us to resist temptation.
These would include, number one, prayer. Look at examples of Scripture when people fell to temptation. So often, they didn’t pray enough. Pray, pray, pray. Number two, the Holy Spirit in us. Remember, John says, greater is he who is in you than he who is in the world. Look to him. Yield to him. Three, the church, with its teaching and corporate worship and honest discipling relationships. And four, the word of God. As we understand and meditate on the Scripture, we become fortified to better resist temptation. And it’s powerful. Jesus models that so well here.
It’s amazing to think that we ourselves have access to the same sword of the spirit. Psalm 119:11 says this so well: “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” So, church, store it up. Store it up, so that as we face temptation to sin, we may more often respond as our Lord did with accuracy. It is written. It is written.
And finally, in that Scripture we have the gospel of Christ, who he is and what he did to save us. We need to keep hearing that. We need to keep preaching that gospel to ourselves. We never get past the need for that, do we? The gospel reminds us of our identity, who we are in Christ and who our Father is.
The gospel keeps us humble and protects us from overconfidence, as in confidence in ourselves. There’s a danger in that. Remember Paul told the Corinthians, let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. Be careful. The gospel causes us to turn to Christ, our great high priest. Through him we find sufficient grace in time of need, including temptation.
And that takes us to one last passage to look at—Hebrews 4. Please turn to Hebrews 4:15-16. One last passage to look at and think about this with all that we have looked at this morning. Hebrews, chapter 4, verse 15: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect [or in all points] has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. [Praise God.] Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
That’s where we go—the throne of grace, through Christ. God has given us these means to succeed in our battle against sin. We fight the good fight. So, church, fight well. Fight well. Think about these temptations of Christ and follow your Lord. Yes, we face this battle, but be encouraged as you leave here today.
I’ll close with these wise words from J. C. Ryle, from his book, Holiness. He writes this:
Warfare with the powers of hell is the experience of every individual member of the church. Each has to fight. What are the lives of all the saints but records of battle? What were such men as Paul and James and Peter and John and Polycarp and Chrysostine and Augustine and Luther but soldiers engaged in a constant warfare? The gates of hell have been continually assaulting the people of Christ. Be prepared for the enmity of the gates of hell. Put on the whole armor of God.
The weapons of our warfare have been tried by millions of poor sinners like ourselves and have never been found to fail. Be patient under the enmity of the gates of hell. It is all working together for your good. It tends to sanctify. It will keep you awake. It will make you humble. It will drive you near to the Lord Jesus Christ. It will help to make you pray more. Above all, it will make you long for heaven. It will teach you to say with heart as well as lips, “Come, Lord Jesus. Thy kingdom come.”
Church, would you say amen to that? Let’s pray.
Father, we thank you for the glory of Christ that we have seen in this passage in your Word. We thank you for saving us from the domain of darkness and bringing us into your kingdom, the kingdom of light, because of the work of your Son, including what we’ve seen here. Help us now to live as children of light, representing our King and our Father well.
And Father, I pray for this church that when we are tempted to sin, to provide for ourselves, protect ourselves, exalt ourselves, may we more and more respond like our Lord did, looking to you as our Father, trusting you. And may that bring you glory, because ultimately it really is your doing. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.
More in Stand-Alone Message
August 1, 20211 Corinthians 11:1 | Lessons from an Apostle | Dave Lutz
June 13, 20212 Corinthians 3 | Facing the Right Direction: How We Grow | Jason Drumm
June 6, 2021Psalm 32 | Blessed in the One Forgiven | John Filkey