Read Matthew 4:8-11 (NKJV)
This whole covid-19 pandemic “experience” has impressed upon us the need to take steps of prevention to avoid getting or spreading the virus. As inconvenient as some of the measures have been, the goal is stopping the spread of the virus and maintaining the personal health of ourselves and others.
As we view this third temptation (as recorded in Matthew’s gospel), we do it with the desire to help maintain spiritual health. And one way to maintain and improve spiritual health is to learn how to avoid “yielding” to temptation.
We begin by considering the significance of this time of temptation in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ Himself. And as you look at this event recorded in the synoptic gospels, it becomes clear that this was a necessary event in the life of our Savior.
The identity of Jesus has been affirmed throughout the first chapters of Matthew’s gospel when we reach this account. We have learned that Jesus is the One who has come to fulfill all prophecies,
He is the Messiah,
He is the One born King of the Jews,
He is “Immanuel - God with Us,” and,
He is the very Son of God.
The previous account before the temptation account is the baptism of Jesus. And at the baptism, Jesus is not only baptized, but the Spirit descends upon Him and the Father declares that “this is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17 NKJV).
So, the identity of this Nazarene has been spelled out in different ways but culminates with God the Father’s own testimony to the identity and quality of His Son.
As the temptation account begins, it is the Spirit of God that leads Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. This is a purposeful leading as all leading of the Spirit of God is.
The temptations take place at a strategic time, the start of Jesus’ ministry. Furthermore, this temptation record takes place after forty days of fasting. These forty days remind us of the forty years of God’s people dwelling in the wilderness. God tested His people there. God’s people failed. Jesus faces Satan’s temptations after 40 days and the Son of God prevails.
He is victorious.
So, this temptation episode reveals further the Sonship of Jesus Christ. It should be no surprise, given His identity, that He was gloriously victorious.
This temptation account affirms the sinlessness of Jesus Christ at the outset of His ministry.
Christologically, especially when we think of the Epistle to the Hebrews, this temptation event was part of the preparation of our Great High Priest for His role on our behalf as He experienced the temptation of the devil even as we do. Also, His victorious overcoming of temptation now serves as an example and an encouragement for us.
He is our victorious Savior who is also our example, our strength, and our sanctifier through His Holy Spirit.
It is helpful to add the observation from Luke’s gospel that Jesus moved on from this temptation “in the power of the Holy Spirit” (Luke 4:14). The temptation did not weaken our Lord at all, indeed he “returned” in power to fulfill His Messianic ministry. Yes, he was ministered to by the angels, but this was not due to any failure on His part.
With these introductory observations about the significance and the necessity of this temptation experience, we now view lessons we need to learn in order to be victorious in the face of temptation ourselves.
Our focus will be the third temptation in Matthew’s account. Why the order is different from the order in Luke’s gospel is a subject for another day. And we are focused on this temptation because it will give us enough insight for this message without trying to expound on all three temptations.
Let’s learn first of all:
“Again, the devil took Him up on an exceedingly high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. (4:8)
And He said to Him, “All these things I will give you if You will bow down and worship me.” (4:9)
The Lord answers the tempter and the temptation abruptly by quoting scripture. There is no equivocation or wavering. At the same time, I think we can learn something from the type of temptation that He was responding to, note:
The evil one takes Jesus to a very high place to “show” Him something. He shows Him the kingdoms of the world and their glory. He is to offer Jesus power and glory, but at a price that Jesus would never pay. He did this by showing Jesus what He was offering. He gave Him a visual presentation. Let’s pause to note the attractiveness of this temptation. He was showing Jesus what was rightfully Jesus’ possession and indeed God the Father’s purpose for His Son. Jesus deserves all the nations and all the glory. Indeed, through His death, resurrection, and exaltation Jesus would be in a position of all power and authority. So, this temptation was attractive in that it was appropriate for Jesus to take possession of what was rightfully His.
Generally speaking, temptations are attractive. That is what gets our attention. James 1:14 speaks of our desires drawing us away and enticing us. We unlike Jesus still have a sin nature, which was not true of the Lord Jesus in His incarnation. He was and is God of very God and Man of very Man. So, the attractiveness of temptation impacts our flesh, and can ignite wrong or evil desires within us. Often temptation is very attractive in and of itself, and it is how we response that leads to sin. Consider also:
Despite Satan’s power and influence in this world, I am not sure that he could fully deliver on his offer. What Satan promised could not ultimately be delivered without God the Father’s permission. There is deceit in the offer. Satan is a liar. Satan is a deceiver. Satan is a destroyer. So, any temptation from the Evil One will contain falsehood and deception. Of course, the main evil will be seen in our next point. But, consider first of all that Satan had to get permission from God to bring special suffering into Job’s life. Satan had to ask for Peter to sift him. The demons were given permission by Jesus to enter the swine in Mark 5. Jesus demonstrated all throughout His life an authority over the devil and the forces of evil. So, we should not give Satan any more credit than the Scriptures do. He is no equal to our Lord Jesus Christ, nor is His level of rule in this world unlimited. He is under the sovereignty of God Himself.
What Satan was doing was offering something that would call for Jesus to forsake the will of the Father and to forsake His given mission. We are presented offers by the evil one that are attractive to our sin nature. But, these offers are deceitful, because there is always a “catch,” and serious consequences are connected that are beyond the immediate satisfaction of the attractiveness of the temptation.
We need to be alert. We need to be sober and watchful. We need to be wise and prepared. We live in the context of deceitful temptations that would cause great harm to our spiritual lives and often much more than that.
Jesus’ primary ambition was to do the will of His Father. His life was given to His Father in worship and service. Satan’s temptation was to gain power and glory, but Satan was demanding to receive worship Himself. The worship of God would be discontinued. This was a call for ultimate disobedience and disloyalty to God the Father. Satan was presenting wrong means to justify an attractive result. As we will see, Jesus dispatched with this temptation abruptly.
Attraction, deception and compromise are common characteristics of temptation. Jesus already has rejected the temptation to make bread out of stones to address His own hunger. In Matthew’s gospel the next temptation involves making a public spectacle of Himself and forcing divine intervention at the Temple site. He rejects that temptation.
This temptation may even be more fundamental. It really touches on the heart of loyalty to the Father. It challenges a willingness to use wrong means for a worthy goal and thus be disloyal to God the Father. Also, it called for exchanging the worship of the One True God for Satan himself.
All temptation when yielded to involves disobedience and disloyalty. We need to be aware of how Satan operates and his goal to disturb and destroy our relationship with God. So, how do we face and address such great temptation that may be on the physical level, the mental level, the relational level, and of course the spiritual level?? I’m glad you asked!
To answer that question, let’s now consider:
Then, Jesus said to him, “Away with you Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord God, and Him only shall you serve.’” (4:10)
Then, the devil left him, and behold angels came and ministered to Him. (4:11)
As we have noted, this is the third temptation in Matthew’s account. Jesus rejected each of Satan’s temptations. Jesus resisted, Jesus rejected. Each time the Word of God was used to end the “offer.” Here Jesus begins by telling Satan to leave, “Away with you, Satan.” Jesus is done with His temptations. He has resisted and He sends Satan away.
Temptation must be resisted and rejected. This needs to be a decisive act. An act is needed. Sometimes this needs to be a radical act. We need to get real and even radical. At times we need to flee. Jesus tells us to cut out an eye or cut off a hand if it causes us to sin. The idea is that a definite choice is needed, and a specific act may need to take place. Enough is enough! We need to be sick of temptation itself. Temptation is not sin, but temptation can lead to sin. We can eliminate that result by cutting off the source of the temptation. Resist, reject, say “no” sooner than later. Praise God that He is a forgiving merciful God. Praise God for His patience and longsuffering with us. Praise Him for the work of the Holy Spirit to help us say “no” and eliminate sins from our lives. But, one of the lessons from this account is to choose to resist and reject temptation’s offer.
Satan is resisted by Jesus abruptly in each “attempt.” “Be gone …….,” is the strong directive Jesus gives as well. We need to be alert and wise to learn to say “no” before it is too late. I don’t write this as one who has never fallen to temptation. I have. I am aware of the need to do what I am emphasizing here. WE must watch out, and do what is necessary.
Each time Jesus was tempted He answered abruptly with the Word of God. He used the “Sword of the Spirit” to respond to the temptation given (See Ephesians 6:10-20). Attack may seem like a strong word, but Jesus countered Satan’s words with God’s Word. Three times “it is written” was His clear and specific reply.
This response by Jesus should encourage us to know the Word of God and to be equipped by the Word of God to answer temptation’s offers and claims. We can’t wait for temptation to come to us to start using the “Sword!” No, we need to be “practiced” in the Word and in the use of the Word. This assumes that we are not only hearers and learners, but doers of the Word of God.
The clear source for finding and affirming truth in the face of Satan’s lies is the Word of God. The Word itself counters wrong ideas, wrong behaviors, wrong offers, wrong attitudes, indeed everything wrong.
The Master’s quoting of this Scripture clearly reveals His commitment to the Word of God as well as to the God of the Word.
The full armor of God is needed to stand “in the evil day.” And while each aspect of the Gospel armor is vital, the “Sword of the Spirit, the “Word of God” is what is used specifically in our text. But, we need the protection of God’s truths found in His Word. And that is illustrated by the full armor of God in Ephesians 6:10-20. Put it on! Use the Word and prayer. We need all the resources that are ours in Christ. We need to be “strong in the Lord and in the power of His might” (Ephesians 6:10). We counter lies, deception, and compromise by the truths of the Word of God. And “attack” is a good word to use because these temptations are attacking God’s people.
But, this leads us to our final consideration in the conquering of great temptation:
What? Yes, replace temptation’s attractiveness with what should be our greatest passion and desire - exclusive allegiance to the worship and service of God. This is what Jesus quotes from the Scriptures.
This Scripture clarifies God’s primary responsibility for us and what should be our primary ambition. This quote from Deuteronomy 6:13 states our highest ambition and the ambition that frames all other ambitions. It can be argued that Deuteronomy 6 is at the heart of the OT. Reading Deuteronomy 6:10-19 will reveal that this call to worship and serve the Lord makes reference also to the failure of God’s people when they put God to the test.
Where God’s people failed, the Son of God prevailed.
Our greatest attraction should be God Himself. He is the gracious God who saves. Indeed, He is the merciful covenant-keeping God who has made a way of salvation for us. He is the powerful God who strengthens us. He is the holy God who sanctifies. He is the faithful God whose presence and promises never fail. He is the God who gives good gifts and never changes. He is worthy of all worship, praise, adoration, and service.
Who or what is more wonderful than the Lord?! Who is more glorious than the Lord?! Who is more beautiful and splendid?! Who has done more for us than the Lord, our creator, our redeemer, the One who loves us unconditionally and eternally?
Jesus counters Satan’s conditional offer with a full affirmation of need and responsibility to worship and serve the One True God “ONLY.”
So, when Jesus uses this text of Scripture to counter the offer and worship of Satan, He also gives the truth and command that should be the highest and most consuming passion of our hearts. Command, yes! Loving response, yes! Privilege, yes, for the Lord God should be our greatest attraction. Our affections need to be set on Him. Temptation’s enticement is countered in us by a greater passion and heart response to the glory of God and to worship and serve Him only!
Jesus conquered temptation royally! Luke’s account tells us that he returned in the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus was not worn out spiritually. Yes, the angels came and ministered to Him, but this is an affirmation of His victory over the Evil One. Soon, Jesus would be thrust into ministry empowered by the Holy Spirit. He was victorious. He is victorious. He can be our victorious helper by His Holy Spirit day by day.
— He can help us resist
— He can help us attack
— He can help us replace temptation’s attractiveness with the attractiveness of Himself. Jesus Himself should be our main attraction as he manifests God the Father by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Here are three simple application questions:
1) What practical steps can you take (in obedience to the Scriptures) to stop facing the same temptations?
2) What Scriptures can be especially helpful in facing temptation?
3) Are my affections and desires set on the Lord?