It is interesting to note that in the original manuscripts on which the books of the Bible were written, there were no chapter numbers or headings to break up the flow of the text. Most of the time, this doesn’t really matter. Yet, one place where the flow is important is the transition from Acts 4 to 5, where we have the story of a generous Barnabas leading into a story concerning selfish Ananias and Sapphira. Another place where this matters is here…from Matthew chapter 3 to chapter 4. An important principle is borne out in Jesus’ life that I believe is common to all Christians. The highlight of Matthew 3 is the glorious event of Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist in the Jordan River. What immediately follows is that Jesus is led into the wilderness for a time of testing. This is significant for a couple of reasons. One is – when we pledge our allegiance to God in baptism, it doesn’t go unnoticed by the enemy. He often does what he can to see if we are serious about our commitment to the Lord…and to see if he can convince us to abandon the pursuit of Christ-likeness and fall back into ranks with him. Paul shares with the Ephesian Christians concerning the reality of the spiritual battle for their souls. It is certainly just as real for us -- we must keep our commitments to the Lord. I believe that all of this, in turn, is proof concerning the importance of our conversion to Christ and in showing our allegiance to the Lord.
In the scenario that plays out in Matthew 4:1-11, Jesus is tempted by Satan. This was not so that the Father could learn anything about His Son, because the Father had already given Jesus His divine approval. Jesus is tempted in order that everyone might know that Jesus is the victor…that is the overcomer of Satan, sin and death. There are some interesting parallels that can be drawn between Jesus and Adam...who was the instrument by which sin first came into the world. Just as the first Adam met the evil one, so now the last Adam, Jesus, meets the enemy (1 Corinthians 15:45). Adam met the deceiver in a beautiful garden…Jesus meets him in a terrible wilderness. Adam had everything he would ever need…Jesus is hungry after 40 days of fasting. Adam did lose the battle and plunged humanity into a realm of sin and death…Jesus wins the battle and ultimately goes on to defeat Satan, sin and death (John 12:31). Jesus’ temptation experience ultimately will help to prepare Him to be our sympathetic High Priest (Hebrews 2:16-18, 4:15-16).
It is important to note that Jesus faces the enemy as a man…as His first words are, “Man shall not live by bread alone…” We must not think that Jesus would use His divine powers to overcome the enemy, because this is precisely what the enemy wants Him to do. It is a matter of fact that temptation involves the will, and Jesus came to do the Father’s will and not His own. Likewise, we must continually yield our own wills to the Father. Satan’s first test involves the love and the will of God (v.3). Satan’s intent is – if your Father loved you, He wouldn’t have led you into this wilderness for you to get hungry. Isn’t that Satan’s way? He always lies or exaggerates matters in order to accomplish his purposes…as he did with Adam and Eve – “you will not die from eating the fruit, it will make you like God.” This is all followed by the suggestion that Jesus use His divine power to meet His own needs. When we put our physical needs ahead of our spiritual needs, we sin. Jesus uses the spiritual resources that are available to us today – the power of the Holy Spirit, and the power of the Word of God -- when he says “It is written…” When we allow circumstances to dictate our actions, instead of following God’s will, we sin. Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 8:3 in order to defeat Satan’s scheming. God’s Word is our food, spiritually.
The second temptation is even more subtle. This time, Satan uses the Word of God, taking Jesus to the pinnacle of the temple, probably about 500 feet up, then quotes Psalm 91:11-12. It is here that God promises to take care of His own. In effect, Satan is saying, “if you really believe the Scriptures, then jump! Let’s see if your Father truly cares for you.” This second temptation is particularly galling, because Satan is actually quoting Scripture to the author of the Scriptures. This is remarkable in a number of ways. Note Jesus’ reply, as seen in His quote from Deuteronomy 6:16…as Jesus defeats Satan yet again…“It is written” (once again). We test God when we put ourselves in circumstances that force Him to work miracles on our behalf.
For Satan’s third temptation, he offers Jesus a shortcut to His kingdom. If Jesus would bow down and worship him…just once…He could enjoy all of the glory without enduring the suffering. Of all of the temptations, I believe this would have been the most challenging. But, Jesus did not need Satan’s offer, because the Father had already promised Jesus the kingdom…but, it would come through suffering (Psalm 22:22-31). If Jesus did not suffer and die for us, not a single one of us would have the opportunity for eternal life. So, we can be thankful that He answers with Scripture once again. Jesus replies with Deuteronomy 6:13 (read). He knows that whatever we worship, we will serve…for worship and service go together. Jesus then says, “Be gone!” Satan goes away a defeated foe…although he does not give up tempting Jesus...as we see with Peter, where Jesus has to tell him, “Get thee behind me, Satan.” Once Jesus’ temptation is over, angels come and minister to Him. Jesus is now ready to begin His ministry.
If Jesus is the Lord of our lives, we are not going to habitually, willfully run headlong into sin. This is not to say that we are not going to make mistakes, because we do…but we have never been expected to live “sinless”…just that we are to be “blameless”. Satan’s biggest scheme is to try to get us to be our own god. He has more resources than ever in this day and time in which we live in order to seek to accomplish this. We must not regularly give in to Satan and his schemes, but fight the good fight of faith and trust. The way that we respond to the temptations that come our way, in a great way determines our spiritual character and shows where our allegiances lie. Will we stand by the Spirit and “It is written” in order to achieve victory over sin and the flesh(?) or try to go it alone according to your own will power…and fail.
I want to close with an encouraging story…A saintly teacher was held in great esteem and admiration by his pupils. One day, a student in one of his classes asked him, “Sir, we want to know the secret to your serenity, even under provocation that would cause us to go down in defeat? Do not the pleasures of sin ever cause you to go onto forbidden paths?” Smiling, he said, “I know something of the things of which you speak. The appealing enticements to sin that trouble you do come to me as well…but, when these temptations knock at the door of my heart, I simply say to the tempter -- this place is occupied.” (1 John 4:4)