Jesus is Tested
Mt.4:10 "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.’""
This morning we referred briefly to the fact that Jesus was contested right at the outset of his ministry by the devil and this evening we are going to think a little more about that encounter and what was involved.
While the enemy of our souls sought to turn Jesus aside from his divinely appointed mission the encounter itself formed part of that divine plan. Having been publicly baptised and affirmed by that voice from heaven which had declared:
Mt.3:17 "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased."
it was the Spirit of God that led/drove (see Mk.1:12) into a lonely place so that the encounter might take place. For Jesus to become truly the Saviour of the World he would have to prove himself worthy.
The first man Adam had failed when he was tried and his test had taken place in the Garden of Eden. There in the Garden Adam was surrounded with good food of every kind and he did not experience the gnawing pains of hunger. He could eat anything he wanted with the fruit of only one tree being withheld from him and yet Adam caved-
Jesus’ test was much sterner than the test Adam experienced. The second man would begin to secure his victory over Satan not in a beautiful garden but in the much less favourable circumstances of the wilderness.
Jesus was tested in the wilderness. The wilderness was not only a barren place with nothing to eat, it was also a lonely place where Jesus did not have the benefit of human company. Now being able to withdraw for a while to enjoy a bit of peace and quiet might sound appealing but few of us would relish the thoughts of 40 days without any human contact at all. I know there are plenty of lonely people in the UK and this loneliness is generally recognised to be a real problem – it is a loneliness with which Jesus can sympathise for he has been there too.
When we compare the various gospel accounts of this testing time we are led to the conclusion that Jesus was tempted throughout the entire period. The three well-
Heb.4:15 "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin."
The fact that Jesus was alone without human companionship during this period means that he must have been the one who told his followers what had happened there. That he did so tells us that he considered his experience there to have been important, something his followers should know about, and they wrote it down for our benefit.
We benefit in at least two ways:
We learn that Jesus’ victory over Satan is wide-
We learn too from his example how we too might do battle with Satan when he comes to us with his temptations.
The Diversity of Temptation
Both Matthew and Luke describe in some detail three different temptations that Satan presented to Jesus and this should alert us to the simple fact that temptations are many and varied – they do not all present themselves to us in the same way.
With the three temptations Jesus experienced there are both similarities and dissimilarities – things which are the same and things which are different.
Two of the temptations contain the words "If you are the Son of God..." while the third doesn’t. It is interesting that these words reappear to introduce a further temptation right at the end of Jesus life as he is hanging on the cross paying the debt sinners like us could never pay. His enemies mocking him challenge him:
Mt 27:40 "and saying, "You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.""
We have already noted that the voice of the Father speaking from heaven some 40 days previously had declared Jesus to be his beloved Son – Satan now in the wilderness seeks to sow doubts in the mind of the Saviour. The devil had used this ploy with success in the Garden of Eden when he spoke with Eve and now he tries more of the same with Jesus.
After forty long, tiring and food-
The very name "Satan" means adversary – the one who opposes – and he never has the best interests of others at heart but is always bent on destruction. He knows that all is lost for himself and seeks to drag as many into destruction with him as he can. When he speaks and makes suggestions his motives are never pure – he was and is a liar and you will listen to him at your peril. When his words sound reasonable, sweet and appealing remember that Satan is the devil, the one who accuses, the one who slanders. Listen to him just the once and he will remind you what you’ve done over and over again trying to convince you that you belong to him and that you can’t do anything about it and that you’re no longer good enough for God and a host of things beside. If he can’t rob you of Christ he will try his hardest to rob you of the enjoyment of him and his blessings.
Had he won the day and managed to entice Jesus to follow his words of advice how glad he would have been to have thwarted God’s plan of salvation! How glad he would have been to keep all his captives hostage in his realm of darkness and that for eternity! But he failed due to the vigilance and the resolve of the Saviour and we can enjoy the forgiveness of sins and peace with God because Jesus did not fail then!
"If you are the Son of God..."
We can understand this little phrase in two ways.
Firstly we could understand it as questioning the truthfulness of the statement. Taken this way Satan calls into question the very idea that Jesus is the Son of God. And of course the circumstances seem to lean in Satan’s direction don’t they? After all who would really expect to find the Son of God in a barren wilderness famished after having had nothing to eat for the last 5 weeks!
Basically Satan would be suggesting that you can’t trust God’s word alone you need to have some supplementary evidence. If you really want us to believe that you are the Son of God then you’re going to have to prove it! And then the turning of stones into bread would be seen a means of proving the fact of Jesus’ identity.
But Jesus knew you could trust the Word of God. No-
It is however possible to interpret Satan’s word "If you are the Son of God" in a different way. Instead of them being understood as calling Jesus’ identity into question the words can be taken as meaning "since you are the Son of God". What follows then is Satan’s advice as to how he thinks the Son of God ought to act because of who he is. The temptation would shift from focusing on his identity to focusing upon the type of action that fits with that identity.
The devil is cunning and will use both methods to try to trip you up. He’ll want to make you doubt God’s word and then on other occasions he’ll want you to take it seriously but encourage you to draw wrong conclusions and to make false applications of it.
Jesus overcame the first temptation. He knew who he was and he knew he could trust God’s word. He didn’t need to do certain things in order to be sure that God was telling the truth! He also needed no advice from Satan as to what he ought to do as the Son of God. He knew he had not come into the world to promote his own self-
The second temptation that Matthew records also begins with the words "If you are the Son of God" as its opening line but this time the emphasis has shifted somewhat. This time he tries to make the action suggested appear to be right – after all it’s backed by scripture isn’t it? But the application is all wrong. The verse quoted was designed to encourage a confident trust and as such it contained a wonderful promise but Satan wanted to push Jesus to deliberate precipitate a situation in which he would need such care. This is not trust but presumption and it would be wrong.
Jesus saw through this ruse too. The real issue at stake was trust in God and Jesus knew that God could be trusted without being put deliberately and irresponsibly to the test.
We sometimes face this temptation in a slightly different way. We long to see our preaching or our testimony backed-
These first two temptations Jesus handled effectively following the same procedure on both occasions. Knowing his Bible Jesus was able not only to identify the temptations for what they were but also how to respond in the right way: "it is written" was good enough for Jesus. This ought to inspire us to know our Bibles! The same spiritual weapons that Jesus used are available to us if only we will use them. Jesus would have given a hearty "Amen" to the words of the psalmist the question is: Could we?
Ps.119:11 "I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you."
That brings us to the third temptation that Matthew described. We’ll find the same "It is written..." response from Jesus there are a number of other lessons for us to learn here too.
A Change of Tactics
Satan’s approach was rather different in the last temptation that we are going to consider. Whereas the first two temptations had a certain subtlety about them asking a question and suggesting a course of action the third on the other hand is a full frontal attack with a forthright contradiction of some of the most important Scriptures you’ll ever read.
There was also a suddenness about this temptation which seems to arrive out of the blue. Luke in his account tells us:
Lk.4:5 "And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time,"
It all happened so quickly and was evidently in a visionary sort of format – Jesus was shown all the kingdoms that he had actually come into the world to win! And you can have them all Satan said to him.
There was absolutely nothing wrong for Jesus to aspire to exercising his authority over these nations that Satan somehow placed before his gaze. There is such a thing after all as lawful ambition. But there was a barb in the offer, it didn’t have anything to do with the end but everything to do with the means.
You can have it all there’s just on this condition. It was in the small print if you like to think of it in that way. Satan tried to dazzle Jesus with his offer of instant pain-
Mt.4:9 "All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me."
Instantly the offer was seen for what it was, a temptation. And instantly the offer/temptation was rejected. The condition was utterly and completely unacceptable to Jesus. There is no hesitating, no negotiating, no weighing up any potential pros and cons. No, this temptation was brazen: this was the stuff of the 10 Commandments – to offer his worship to a creature rather than to the Creator was unthinkable! And what a foul creature this was! The devil might like to go about about as an angel of light but the reality is far otherwise.
Jesus was certainly not about to worship him! How clear the Word of God was on this matter! Jesus would refer to Deut.6:13 in his answer but he could have quoted plenty more:
Deut.6:14 "You shall not go after other gods"
Deut.10:20 "You shall fear the LORD your God. You shall serve him and hold fast to him, and by his name you shall swear."
Jos.24:14 "Now therefore fear the LORD and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD."
1Sam.7:3 "Samuel..."direct your heart to the LORD and serve him only"
But Jesus’ first word to Satan this time was not to quote Scripture but to issue a stern word of rebuke:
v.10 "Be gone, Satan!"
Short and very much to the point! What else could be said to one who dared make him such an offer?
Oh yes, he will follow it up with another Scripture quotation explaining just why such an offer is so offensive:
v.10 "For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’"
but he begins with a stern rebuke and word of dismissal.
And the same procedure is urged upon all those who put their faith and trust in Jesus as Lord and Saviour!
Jam.4:7 "Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you."
1Pet.5:9 "Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world."
The path that Jesus trod is the path that his disciples must follow if they would be true to their Master.
How different our world might have been had our first parents, Adam and Eve, met the ancient serpent’s approach in the garden as Jesus had met him in the wilderness. But no, Eve would discuss and reason and so found herself drawn in until she was duped. She and Adam sinned and brought catastrophe on the world.
And still we won’t learn. How much trouble and heart-
But we must not despair – we have no reason to after all. For the second man, the Last Adam has come and conquered where we all fail. When we fail there is hope! It is to be found in Jesus. And he has not only delivered us from Satan’s clutches and from saved us from the wrath of God but he has left us an example whereby we might learn to overcome temptation.
May we all be serious about this and may our desire for Jesus be greater than our desire for our darling, besetting sins.