Flashback Episode — Facing Temptation: Matthew 4:1-11

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Continuing into the gospel of Matthew, following Jesus’ baptism, we learn that Jesus heads out to the desert for a very specific purpose. While it would make logical sense for Jesus to start rallying disciples immediately after launching His public ministry, this is not what happened. Instead, Jesus heads to the desert because that is where God’s Spirit led Him.

Let’s read what Matthew tells us about what happened. Our passage is found in Matthew, chapter 4, and we will read it from the Good News Translation. Starting in verse 1, Matthew tells us:

Then the Spirit led Jesus into the desert to be tempted by the Devil. After spending forty days and nights without food, Jesus was hungry. Then the Devil came to him and said, “If you are God’s Son, order these stones to turn into bread.”

But Jesus answered, “The scripture says, ‘Human beings cannot live on bread alone, but need every word that God speaks.’”

Then the Devil took Jesus to Jerusalem, the Holy City, set him on the highest point of the Temple, and said to him, “If you are God’s Son, throw yourself down, for the scripture says,

‘God will give orders to his angels about you;
    they will hold you up with their hands,
    so that not even your feet will be hurt on the stones.’”

Jesus answered, “But the scripture also says, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

Then the Devil took Jesus to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in all their greatness. “All this I will give you,” the Devil said, “if you kneel down and worship me.”

10 Then Jesus answered, “Go away, Satan! The scripture says, ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve only him!’”

11 Then the Devil left Jesus; and angels came and helped him.

In our passage, we read about three big temptations Jesus faced while alone in the desert. When we draw our attention onto these temptations, some really big themes begin to surfaces, and while we might not think we are capable of being tempted in the same way as Jesus was, it is very possible we experience these three types of temptations on a daily basis.

The first temptation Jesus faced was turning the stones into bread. At the heart of this temptation is the theme of using our resources for our own benefit. While we aren’t able to turn stones into bread like Jesus could have if He wanted to, I know I constantly face the temptation to use everything I earn for myself, my needs, and my wants. While Jesus needed and wanted bread, and while Jesus had the power to fulfill this need, He intentionally pushes back at this temptation knowing that self-service is not part of God’s character. Self-service is not a characteristic of God and we fall victim to this temptation when we place our own needs ahead of God’s desires for our lives.

The second temptation Jesus faced was jumping from the highest point in the temple. While I don’t know of any prophecies or traditions related to the Messiah appearing in this way, this act would have gotten the chief priests and religious leaders’ attention. The goal of this temptation is a self-focused goal on a social level. This temptation is one where Jesus does something to make the crowds look towards Him in a significant way.

But then we have a question: how is this temptation of getting people to pay attention to Jesus different from Jesus performing miracles and turning heads that way?

In the case of the miracles Jesus did, every miracle was aimed at helping someone else and providing an opportunity to praise God. If Jesus would have jumped from the temple, He probably would have had the protection Satan promised in the scriptures, but the act of jumping would have been a self-serving act because it wouldn’t have been a blessing to anyone else. Drawing the focus onto Himself is not part of God’s character, and when we do things to be looked at highly by others, we fall victim to this temptation.

The third temptation Jesus faced was worshiping Satan for a moment in order to avoid the ministry, mission, and ultimate destiny of Jesus’ life. The essence of this temptation is spiritual. This temptation offered Jesus an empty shortcut to achieve His goal, except that Jesus’ goal wasn’t dominion over every earthly kingdom at the height of its glory. Instead, Jesus’ goal is the hearts and minds of His people, and this is something only the cross can purchase.

While it appears on the surface like this third temptation is more Satan-serving than self-serving, the only reason to even consider this temptation is because of self-focused motives. Sometimes the road God has called us to walk is hard. Self-focused motives would opt for an easier path. Satan offers Jesus an easier path, but the cost of taking this easier path is too high a price to make it worth it. If Jesus had fallen for this temptation, He would have sinned, which would have made the sacrifice on the cross worthless, and it would have left those He came to save as lost in their sins. Jesus pushed back at the self-service-focused nature of this worship-based temptation. Jesus, like God, isn’t interested in self-service. Instead, Jesus came to serve and to give His life to save all of God’s people!

Tucked within these temptations are doubts Satan wanted to cast onto Jesus’ self-identity and onto the greatness of Jesus’ mission. Satan subtly counters God the Father’s clear claim at Jesus’ baptism that Jesus is God’s Son by challenging Jesus on this very point in the first two temptations. Each of these two temptations are framed using the opening, “If you are God’s Son”. Jesus was well aware of God being His Father, and He wasn’t going to let Satan cast doubt into His mind about this.

The last temptation was a subtle attempt to elevate Satan into the Godhead. If Jesus momentarily worshiped Satan, then that would elevate Satan to the status of God and Jesus would have broken the circle of the Godhead. Jesus didn’t fall for Satan’s trap in this temptation, or at any point during His ministry, and everything Jesus did brought glory to God the Father.

In all these temptations, Jesus pushed back at Satan using promises and statements from the scripture. When we face temptation, the best way for us to push Satan away is through challenging Him with God’s promises. God has promised to help us when we need help and when we are living in a way that brings Him glory, nothing will stop us from shining for Jesus!

As we come to the end of another podcast episode, here are the challenges I will leave you with:

As I always challenge you to do, intentionally seek God first in your life. When Satan throws temptations your way, choose to push back with God’s Word and with God’s promises. Choose to lean on God for the strength to fight Satan’s tricks, traps, and temptations.

If you don’t know your Bible like you wish you did, be sure to intentionally, regularly pray and study the Bible for yourself, to learn what the Bible teaches first hand. While it is easy to depend on other people for Bible truth, if we do, we short-change our spiritual growth because we are only growing up to the level of those we are listening to. While this might not be bad, God wants to teach us more and He does this when we open up the Bible in prayer and study it for ourselves.

And as I end every set of challenges by saying in one way or another, never stop short of, back away from, chicken out of, or be tempted to leave where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Flashback Episode: Year in Matthew – Episode 4: At the start of His ministry, Jesus is led into the desert to face three powerful temptations Satan has prepared for this moment. Discover how Jesus pushes back and how these temptations are common temptations in our world and our lives today.

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