The Temptation of Jesus, Part 1 – Matthew 4

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February 9, 1992
Scott L. Harris

The Temptation of Jesus, Part 1
Matthew 4

While I was growing up in L.A., there used to be a program on the radio on Sunday mornings that would come on while we were on our way to church. It was called the “Cowboy Church” and was produced by Stuart Hamblin. Some of you may be familiar with him for he wrote Hymns and songs such as “Until Then,” “It is no Secret,” and “This Old House.” We always looked forward to hearing the program because we enjoyed the songs and the stories he told to drive in a spiritual point. One such story he told was about a time when he was driving a little faster than he should have to get to his destination because he was running late. He got pulled over by a policeman. The policeman came up to him, asked to see his driver’s license, which Stuart gave him, and then the policeman began to pull out his traffic ticket book. Stuart had been memorizing scripture, so he asked this officer if he was tempted to give him a ticket. The officer replied strongly in the affirmative, at which point Stuart Hamblin quoted 1 Corinthians 10:13 that God would not give him a temptation beyond which he was able to bear. The officer did not say a word, but simply closed his ticket book, and left. Stuart praised the Lord and resolved to be more careful in his driving.

Of course that is not quite what the verse has in mind when it is talking about temptation, but it does bring up our subject for this morning. Temptation. It is something that every person in this room faces every day. Temptation. It covers both areas in which we consciously wrestle with it in hand to hand combat and areas where we give it little thought. Temptation. It is something that we either overcome it or we will be overcome by it. Temptation. It is where the rubber meets the road in the Christian Walk. Will I follow what God wants me to do, or will I give in to doing something else? Temptation. How can we deal with it.

But what is temptation? Is temptation only those things that lure someone into gross sin? Things like immorality, illicit sexual relationships, debauchery, drunkenness, drug abuse and the like? Or is Temptation to be defined by the story about the police officer and Stuart Hamblin?

Webster defines temptation as, “to entice to do wrong by promise of pleasure or gain.” That fits in part the temptation being something that lures someone into gross sin, for there is the promise of the fleeting pleasures of sin or the promise of some sort of personal gain. Yet, temptation is more than that because even gross sins such as drunkenness and most drug abuse is not so much associated with gaining pleasure as it is with removing ones self from pain. In addition, how would such a definition fit such verses as Deuteronomy. 6:16 (KJV) which says, “Do not tempt the LORD your God . . .”. Is God enticed to do wrong by the promise of some pleasure or gain? What pleasure could entice a being that is all sufficient in Himself? What gain could be promised to the omnipotent one, the omniscient one, the almighty of whom no one can resist His will? Another definition given to temptation by Webster is “to test,” and that adds depth to the meaning of the word. It is the sense of “testing” that Deuteronomy 6:16 refers to for we are not to test the Lord our God.

In the New Testament, there is only one word used to cover the meaning of two words used in the Old Testament. That is one reason there can be some confusion over what temptation actually is. For example, James 1:13 says that no man is tempted by God, yet in Gen 22:1 it says in the KJV that God “did tempt Abraham.” Does the Bible contradict itself? No! The reality is that “tempt” in Gen 22:1 is not the same as in James 1:13. In the Old Testament we find that one word (piel) sometimes translated as “tempt” is be better translated “test” or “prove.” It is the common word used of testing or proving the worthiness of something. For example in 1 Samuel 17:39 the same word is used to describe the proving or testing of battle armor. This same word is used to describe God “tempting,” better translated “testing,” of Abraham in Genesis 22:1. The same word is also used of God testing or proving the faith of the Israelites in Exodus 16:4 (manna), and Deuteronomy 4:34 (brought out of Egypt); of Hezekiah in 2 Chronicles 33:31. David asked the Lord to “test” his integrity in Psalm 26:2. It is also the word used in Deuteronomy 6:16 that we are not to “test” the Lord our God. This word is never used in the OT to refer to Satan’s act of enticing men to sin. A different word is used for that ( nasah).

In Genesis 3 we this find this aspect of temptation. An enticement to sin. In verse 13 we find Eve giving her excuse to God for her sin by saying that the Serpent beguiled or deceived her. Deception is a good word for the temptation brought about by Satan for his design is to call into question God’s command and doubt God’s goodness, wisdom and justice and thereby entice someone to do something other than what God says to do. That is temptation. Look at Genesis 3 and see Satan at work.

Verse one. The serpent comes and questions what God has said. The form of the question is in somewhat of a challenge in the sense of “is God holding back from you any tree in the garden?”

Verse 2 & 3. Eve answers the serpent, but notice she does not repeat what God has said, she goes beyond it and adds that she is not allowed to touch it either. The command was given to Adam, so the inference is that Adam taught the command to Eve. It is possible that Adam in an effort to make sure she would obey tells her not to touch it. Eve combines God’s command and Adam’s instruction into one command and reports “God said, don’t eat it or touch it or you will die.”

Verse 4,5. The serpent responds with a challenge to God’s command by calling into question God’s character, in specific His goodness and fairness. “God is not telling you the truth. You will not die, instead your eyes will be opened and will be made like He is knowing good and evil. God is holding back on you.”

Verse 6. Eve then looks at the fruit and it looks like it would be real good to eat. It is a pretty fruit that is pleasing to her eyes, and she would like to be as wise as God, so she eats it. She then gave it to her husband to eat and he eats it. The bottom line is that she rejects what God says and believes what Satan tells her. She then acts upon her new belief and goes against God’s command and sins. In verse 13 her excuse to God is that the serpent deceived her, and indeed he did, for he was the one that did not tell the truth, and because she believed his lie she sinned.

Taking in both of these aspects of temptation, we can define temptation as any challenge to follow God’s will. God can reveal something to us He wants us to do and challenge us to follow it, such as He did with Abraham, which would be a test of our faith. Or Satan may challenge us with his lies and deceit to do something other than God’s will which would be an enticement to sin. Often both aspects of temptation are present at the same time. For example, God reveals to me in His word that I am to seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and He will provide for me (Matthew 6:33). God will test my faith in that I am now challenged to follow His will in setting my priorities in life. At the same time, Satan may challenge me with enticements that God will not provide all the things I may want, therefore I must go and get those things by whatever means possible. I should not trust God, but only myself.

I had such a challenge just before Diane and I got married. I was going to Seminary. I was an Elder at the church I was attending. I was working part time, and I was trying to spend time with Diane. I was also trying to fulfill my responsibilities at home where I was still living at the time. Obviously something had to give. Scriptural priorities were Diane and honoring my parents by pulling my weight at home (though they graciously lessened a lot of my responsibilities around the house). Seminary was seeking God’s kingdom by preparing for ministry and in fact we decided that I needed to take a greater load so that I would be able to finish during the first year we were married. We did not want the pressures of seminary to stretch over a long period of time. The ministry I had at church was just getting off the ground and it was the practical application of all I was learning in Seminary. The only place left to give was work. I examined my bank account, took into account all the bills I would have in the next 5 months and calculated that if I took a five month leave of absence from work, I would be broke when we got married, but not in debt. I was not seeking to test the Lord, but simply put into practice what I believed the Lord wanted me to do at that point in time. The end result? I placed the Kingdom of God and His righteousness first in my life and God provided all that we needed and then some. I was not in debt or broke when we got married and we were given everything needed to furnish our first apartment. We were even able to have our honeymoon in Hawaii. (That sounds more exotic than it actually was, for living Los Angeles at the time, going to Hawaii was about the least expensive place we could go because of the package deals that were offered). That was a test of my faith and Diane’s faith (What would you think if some guy just proposed, you said yes, and he said, “great, I’ll quit my job”?) It stretched both of us, and now we live with that truth as a natural part of our lives. We are not concerned about what we have or don’t have. We seek out first what God wants us to do and then do that with confidence that He will take care of us.

The flip side of this challenge was to stay with the decision and not pursue other means of providing for ourselves. We still live with that challenge. Will we live within what God provides for us? Or do I seek out part time employment to supplement our income, or send Diane out to work so that we can “keep up with the Jones.” Satan seeks to entice us with the “goodies” of the world and make us feel like we are missing something if we do have the same things as somebody else. Satan also challenges us with having our security in God. Should we trust God with our future, or should we seek to find security in a bank account or owning a home or an extensive retirement plan?

The challenge to live according to God’s will covers both sides of the issue. The testing of our faith as we follow His will and Satan’s temptation to depart from it.

One thing we should keep in mind in all of this though is that God is sovereign in it all. God will test our faith, but always to produce greater maturity in us, and He never allows our faith to be tested past the breaking point. That is why James 1:2-4 says, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” We can rejoice when the difficulties of life come against us because God can use them to make us perfect, mature, complete so that we are lacking in nothing.

In addition, though Satan will buffet us, he can only do so to the limit that God sets for him. He is not free to do whatever he wills, but is restricted by our sovereign God. Therefore anything that Satan would seek to do against us must first pass the throne of God, and God will not allow him to do anything beyond what we are able, and God will provide the way of escape that we may endure it (1 Corinthians 10:13). An example of this is found in 2 Corinthians 12 in Paul’s thorn in the flesh which verse 7 says was “a messenger from Satan.” Paul understands completely God’s sovereignty in the situation which is why he entreats God to remove it, but God says that His grace was sufficient for Paul. God was using even Satan to accomplish His own will, which in this case was to keep Paul from exalting himself (verse 7). This same thing can be seen in the beginning chapters of the book of Job. Job is severely attacked by Satan and he loses everything he owns and then his children too. His wife compounds the problem by telling him to “curse God and die.” After this, Job’s health was also taken away. Yet, Job’s faith remained firm. He responded, “The Lord has given, the Lord has taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21), and “Though He slay me, yet I will trust Him” (Job 13:15).

Satan is real and he does attack, but he can do so only to the limit God has set for him. He can not overcome you. We are to “submit to God, resist the devil and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).

In our text in Matthew this morning we will see Satan coming to tempt even the Lord Jesus Christ. Turn to Matthew 4 and lets see how the Lord responds to the adversary. This morning I want to deal with this in a general way and draw out a general principle. Next week I will delve into the specific areas of temptation that Jesus faced.

 1Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.

The first thing we note out of this section of Scripture is that the Spirit of God led Jesus into the wilderness for the specific purpose of being tempted by the devil. God is sovereign in the matter. This did not happen by chance, fate or bad luck, nor was it something arranged by the devil. God the Spirit leads God the Son into the wilderness to face the devil.

Second, the devil is real. He is not a guy in a red suit with a long pointed tail carrying a pitchfork. He is a fallen angel that seeks to usurp God’s glory and honor and take it for himself. Throughout this passage we will see Jesus address the devil as a real personal being. The name used for him here is diaboloV  / diabolos which means “slanderer.” We will see that he does exactly that in his temptations of Jesus. He slanders God and what He has said.

Third, the temptations Jesus will face are real. Hebrews 4:15 tells us that Jesus was “tempted in all points as we are, yet with out sin.” That means that Jesus felt the full force of every temptation because He never gave in. By way of analogy to explain this point – a tree that is blown over in a hurricane only felt the force of wind of that storm until if was blown over. It is the tree that remains standing after the hurricane has past that has felt the full force of the storm.

2 And after He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He then became hungry. This is not a stomach growling because dinner is a little late. You can imagine that Jesus is extremely hungry after this length of time. It is at this point of being famished and corresponding physical weakness that Satan comes. Attacking when you are weak and tired is still a common tactic of the devil and why we must be extra careful when we are. 3 And the tempter came and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.” Since Jesus is the Son of God it would not be difficult for Him who has made all things (John 1:3,10; Colossians 1:16,17, etc.) to make bread to alleviate His hunger. The devil points this out and entices Jesus in the area of his humanity of physical flesh by telling Him to go ahead and make the stones into bread and satisfy His hunger. However, understand what the real temptations here is. The first is the more obvious that Jesus should prove He is the Son of God by performing a miracle and feed Himself, but behind that is a slander against God for he insinuates that God has not provided for Jesus, so Jesus should provide for Himself. The temptation is to satisfy the desires of his physical body though his own means and methods rather than relying upon God to provide.

Jesus responds in verse 4 by quoting Deuteronomy 8:3, “But He answered and said, It is written, ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.'” Jesus places His faith in the Father by putting His body in subjection to God and waiting for His provision.

The next area the devil attacks is pride. 5 Then the devil took Him into the holy city; and he had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple, 6 and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God throw Yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will give his angels charge concerning you’; (Ps 91:11) and ‘on their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.'” (Ps 91:12)

The devil suggests that Jesus could gain the glory and honor of the people by throwing Himself off the pinnacle of the temple and letting the angels catch Him. The people would then see it and then believe He was the Son of God and glorify Him for it. The devil even quotes from Psalm 91:11 and 12 to prove his point. (Which just shows that the author of Scripture twisting in the devil himself). The obvious temptation is for Jesus to feed His pride by doing this and gaining the praise of the people. However, behind it is another slander against God that He had not yet caused the people to give Jesus honor and glory the way they should since He is the Son of God. The temptation is for Jesus to gain the honor and following of the people by His own means and methods instead of waiting on God’s timing.

Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy 6:16 this time and says in verse 7 “on the other hand, it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.'” Jesus subjects His pride to God and will wait for God to do things in His way and timing.

Satan, who is the “prince of this world” and the “god of this age” tries to tempt Jesus a third time by showing Him something that He would want for Himself. It is a temptation in the in the area of the lust of the eyes. Verse 8 “Again, the devil took Him to a very high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world, and their glory; 9 and he said to Him, “All these things I will give You, if You fall down and worship me.” This is another slander against God suggesting that He has not come through for Jesus. The enticement is to gain the all the kingdoms of the world and their glory, but the price is to worship Satan instead of God. The temptation is for Jesus to gain the world by Satan’s method instead of gaining it by having to go through God’s plan for the cross.

This time Jesus rebukes Satan and then quotes Deuteronomy 6:13. Verse 10 – Then Jesus said to him, “Begone, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.'” Jesus subjected Himself to the Father’s will though He knew that it would take Him to the cross. Jesus overcame the devil’s temptations resulting in Verse 11. “Then the devil left Him; and behold, angels came and began to minister to Him.James 4:7 tells us, “Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” That is just what occurred here. Jesus submitted Himself to the Father’s will and in doing so resisted the devil so that he fled from Him. The Father then sent His angels to minister to Jesus at the right time.

One thing I want to make sure that you understand from this passage is that Jesus did not defeat Satan by quoting Scripture. That is a common conclusion from this passage and a reason given for memorizing Scripture, but that would make the Scriptures equivalent to magical incantations. Jesus defeated the devil by knowing the Scriptures and being obedient to them. It is not enough to just be able to quote the Bible. Memorization of Scripture without a willingness to apply it and be obedient to it will not keep you from sin. We memorize Bible verses as a method of learning it well enough to obey what is says at all times (Psalm 119:9-11).

This is the general principle I want to bring out because this is our challenge. We need to know the Word of God well enough so that when our adversary, the devil, comes against us and slanders what God has said and tries to deceive us, we can continue to operate according to the truth. If Eve had held to the truth and been obedient to it she would not have been deceived and fallen into sin. If Adam would have held to the command God gave him and refused the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the human race may have taken a different course. Let us learn from them and seek not to fall into the deceptions of the devil.

Do you know the truth well enough that you can stand firm when the deceptions come? Can you stand strong when your emotions are in confusion and seeking to lead you astray? Or will you waver, and sway and fall to the devil’s slander that God is not good, God has not been fair, God has taken away what you want, God has not given you what you would like, God does not know what is best, so take charge of your own life.

Those slanderous charges can be direct or very subtle as we have already seen in our various Scripture passages this morning. Do you know the truth well enough that you can hold them tight even when everything in your life seems to have come apart and you face the full onslaught of Satan’s deceitful slander?

This has been one of the most emotional weeks of my life. I think most of you are aware, very aware, that little 3 month old Rebecca Quartuccio passed away on Wednesday of SIDS. Most of us are acquainted with the pain that accompanies the loss of a loved one, we are acquainted with all those “why” questions that arise in our minds. People die of various things in old age and we hurt and question, but we also say, they had a good life. Others die younger of disease or accidents and we say what a tragedy, if only this or that were done differently. But when a healthy 3 month old just stops breathing for no apparent reason all those questions become magnified as our souls cry out within us “why?” Our emotions can engulf us in waves of anguish.

I knew when I got the call to go to the hospital that it would be a hard situation. I have been to the hospital a number of times now for children, several times for my own. It is hard to see little ones with tubes going everywhere and all sort of electronic monitors hooked up. But those kids always got better. They eventually got to go home. I was not ready for the death of a three month old. My own emotions came in waves of agony. This was not supposed to happen. It could not be happening, yet it was. I was crying out, “I don’t understand this God.”

That is a prime time for Satan to attack and throw in all those “why?” questions and seek to move us away from trusting the Lord by bringing into our minds doubts about the Lord’s goodness, His mercy and grace, His sovereignty, His love and His wisdom. This is a time when temptation can be at its worse. This is not the relatively benign a temptations to pursue pleasure of gain, These are temptations to sin by moving away from God because of the hurt, pain and fear. This is when my faith is put to its greatest test and I stretch to hold onto the unchanging truths of the Word of God in the midst of emotional turmoil. This is when sorrow can swallow me up in its darkness and I need the light of God’s Word in order to see my way out. Maybe some of the rest of you have felt that like I have this last week or sometime in your past.

How do you deal with such testing and temptation? The same way Jesus did. You hold tight to what you know is true and walk in obedience to it.

Why is there death? Sin has corrupted the world, and that not only includes our spiritual nature, but our ability to function physically as well. Death is an enemy, but it is an enemy that has been conquered by Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15).

Is God good? Yes! In Luke 18:19 Jesus said that only God is good. Goodness itself stems from and is defined by God.

Is God merciful? Yes! Lamentations 3:23 says His mercies are new every morning – great is Thy faithfulness. Jeremiah said that even while looking over the ruins of Jerusalem.

Is God gracious? Yes! He provides for all our needs (James 1:17) and it is by His grace we are saved (Eph 2:8).

Is God kind? – Yes! The Psalms tells us that His lovingkindness endures forever. (Ps 136)

Does God care? Yes! He knows you intimately searching your hearts (Rom 8:27) and knows the hairs of your head (Mt 10:30). He is the God of all comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3). He shares our sorrows (Isaiah 63:9)

Is God fair? In one sense, no, for if He were fair we would all die immediately and be sent to hell. Instead, God is merciful and gracious. In another sense, God is fair, for though we do not always understand His ways, He is righteous and just in all His judgements (Revelation 15:3; 16:5).

Is God sovereign? Yes! He is so powerful that He can work all things together for good for those who love Him and are called to His purpose (Romans 8:28). That even includes when we sin or others sin against us. God can still bring good out of it.

Is God loving? Yes! Proven for all time and eternity in the gift of His Son as payment for our sins (Rom 5:8), and because His love is certain, we have hope (Romans 5:5).

These are truths from the Word of God we can stand firm upon and with which we can face the temptations that Satan throws against us and by which we become stronger in the testing of our faith – regardless of how severe the test or deceptive the enticement to depart from godliness. Temptation carries with it both the testing of our faith and the enticement to sin. We overcome temptation the same way that Jesus did. We hold fast to the truths God has given us in His word and live by them. God always provides a way to endure or escape. And when we do fail, instead of becoming despondent, we learn to overcome by repentance, confession and rejoicing in both the forgiveness we receive from Jesus Christ and the promise that God is still at work conforming us into the image of His Son (Romans 8:29). As Paul said in Philippians 1:6, “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.”

The verse printed on Rebecca’s memorial card sums is a fitting reminder and conclusion of our hope in God. Joshua 1:9 “have I not commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the LORD thy God is with thee withersoever thou goest.”


(See also: The Temptation of Jesus – May 2013)


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