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Matthew 4:1-11

The Temptation of Christ

Sermon Notes + Quotes

We study through books of the Bible here at The Village Chapel, and if you’d like a paper copy to follow along with, raise your hand, someone will get you one, hand deliver it to you. Well, any chili cook-off attenders here this morning? That was fantastic and all I’ve got to say for you dear friends that are joining us online, I’m sorry we can’t email you chili. It was really fun. It was cold outside, but the chili was hot and it was delicious, it was so good.

So, we’re going to continue our study in Matthew today, what we’re calling, “The King and His Kingdom.” And if you remember last week, Pastor Jim led us through Chapter 3, which was all about the baptism of Jesus, and it ended up with what we call that imprimatur of heaven, with God saying in an audible voice, “This is my beloved son in whom I am well-pleased.”

And today we’re going to study through the first 11 verses of Chapter 4. And if you think about it, immediately after God has given this ringing endorsement, we’re told immediately the Holy Spirit leads Jesus up into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And if you think about it, Chapter 3 was all about establishing the identity of Jesus. “This is my beloved son in whom I’m well-pleased.”

This part of Chapter 4, this is about establishing Jesus’ authority, and this is all about preparation. He’s going to begin his public ministry next week, as it were, as Jim leads us through starting in verse 12 of Chapter 4. So this test that Jesus faces, it’s not an audition, okay? It’s not trying to see if he’s got what it takes to be the Messiah. We’ve already seen that he is the Messiah. He is the beloved son of God. His identity is sure. This is about establishing his authority, His ministry. It’s not the authority of a conqueror king, although he is that because he’s conquered our last and greatest enemy, death. This is about establishing the authority of a suffering servant. The one who has born our shame, carried our sorrows. The one who’s pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities. This is about establishing Jesus’ authority by putting him in a situation where he experiences fully, what it is to be human. And therefore, He can begin to restore and reclaim for us what it fully means to be human.

Hebrews 2:17-18 tells us that, “Therefore He had to be made like his brothers in every respect so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because He himself was suffered when tempted, He is able to help those who are being tempted.”

Philippians 2 reminds us that, “Although Jesus was in the form of God, he did not count equality with God, a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men and being found in human form, He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” That is what is going on out in the desert.

R.T. France says this in The New Bible Commentary

“The focus is on Jesus’ recently declared status as Son of God: what are its implications for His relationship with His Father? The three tests examine aspects of that relationship, and the ways in which a misuse of that status could ruin Jesus’ ministry. He must be ready to accept privation in fulfilling His God-given task without ‘pulling rank;’ to trust his Father’s care without the need to test it by forcing God’s hand; and to reject the ‘short cut’ [which is what the devil wants him to do, shortcuts and compromises] to the fulfillment of his mission which would be achieved at the cost of compromising His loyalty to His Father.”

So a friend of mine has a son who’s just getting ready to be deployed overseas as a Naval rescue diver. I think officially it’s called Naval Air Rescue Swimmer. And he’s going to be one of those guys, if you’re a pilot coming in to land on the aircraft carrier, and you have to ditch your F-18 in the ocean, this guy’s one of those guys who’s going to hop on a helicopter, fly out, and he’s going to dive out of the helicopter into the ocean and rescue you. And when he’s not doing that, he’s going to be tracking submarines. Pretty awesome job. So, okay, he’s completed all of his basic training and all these levels, special forces training, all this stuff. It’s taken two to three years, he’s officially bad to the bone. This kid’s amazing, right? Well, he’s getting ready to be deployed. And the last thing that he has to do… There’s a group of them. They’re going to take him up, dump him out in the woods, out in the wilderness. And the instructions are, “Be at this point in five days. Stay alive. Don’t get caught.” Well, they have to eat. They have to stay alive. They’re going to get caught because this is special forces prisoner of war training. The whole plan here is for them to get caught and undergo anything that you can think of a soldier would go through as being a prisoner of war. It’s not establishing their identity. This is not a final test to see if you’re good enough to be a sailor or soldier. They’re already in. This is about prepping them for the mission ahead. That’s what this passage is about.

He’s the Messiah. He’s the son of God incarnate in the flesh. We know that. This is about preparing Him for his ministry and Him experiencing fully what it means to be human. Oh, this is something else that I thought of this week. It is a massive victory over the devil, because the devil would have liked to have used this opportunity to ruin Jesus’ ministry before it even began. So, this is a massive victory over the devil.

Let’s pray, church and then I’ll read the text. “Father as we come before you to hear your word this morning, what we know not, teach us. What we have not, give us. What we are not, make us, for the sake of your son, our savior. Amen.”

Alrighty, so Matthew Chapter 4:1-11, I’ll read out of the ESV, just so you guys know. I’m going to read the last verse of Chapter 3.

“‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.’ Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting 40 days and 40 nights, he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’ But he answered, ‘It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, He will command his angels concerning you, and on their hands they well bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Again it is written, You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’ Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, ‘All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.’ 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.’ Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him.”

Jim pointed this out this week, Pastor Jim, while we were talking about this, don’t you love the heart of God? That as soon as this trial was over, man, the angels were right there to care for Jesus. I just love that heart. Well, what a story, right? Praise God for this victory of Jesus. He endured everything for us and won the battle, both then, throughout his ministry, going to the cross and walking out of that tomb.

So, what can we take away from those six weeks that Jesus spent out in the wilderness? What does this mean for us? What can we learn about what he faced? How the devil tempted him, how he responded, what does this mean for us? There are four different things for me that I’ve been just ruminating on this week, that have popped up to the surface, and that’s what I’d like to share about. Thoughts on the wilderness and temptation.

So, the first thing that I think this passage reminds us of, is that the temptation of Christ was part of God’s plan. Does that idea seem foreign to you? Because at first, it’s like, wait a minute, that’s not right. The phrase, “Led by the Spirit tempted by the devil.” It’s a pretty accurate paraphrase of verse one, but it sounds like a bad country lyric, doesn’t it? We saw the relationship of the Trinity on display at the end of the last chapter and at the beginning of this chapter, where after the baptism, the Holy Spirit immediately leads Jesus into the wilderness. I mean his hair is probably still wet from the Jordan River and his ears are still ringing with his Father’s, “This is my beloved son in whom I’m well-pleased,” and immediately the Spirit is prompting him to head out into the wilderness. And this is not Jesus just hiking the back country, sudden urge to go climb a mountain. No, it’s the Spirit leading him out with purpose.

This trip, it’s not a result of the lack of a close relationship with his Father. This trip into the wilderness is the result of a close relationship with his Father. In order for Jesus to be the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, to be that spotless lamb, he had to be spotless himself. He had to be tempted and tried and remain true. In order for Jesus to be that faithful and effective high priest that we read about in Hebrews, he had to be tempted and tried and found to be true.

Again, from Hebrews, on a little bit of a Hebrews kick this morning, which is good, Chapter 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.”

And friends that’s some good news to hang onto, for each of us in our lives. This test, it was the perfect opportunity from the devil’s perspective, it was the perfect opportunity to ruin Jesus’ ministry. But because the Heavenly Father had other plans, it’s the perfect opportunity for Jesus to deny himself, resist temptation and cement his ability to be that spotless lamb and faithful high priest. It was the perfect opportunity for Jesus to begin to reclaim this idea of what it means to be a human. That we don’t have to give in to the temptations we’re buffeted with. The first Adam was tempted in the bliss of the garden and utterly failed. And here the last Adam is tempted out in the arid harshness of the desert and he triumphed. He won the battle for us.

Michael Green says in, The Bible Speaks Today, commentary on Matthew, this a long quote, but it’s so good you guys.

“Why does God allow temptation? That is a question Christians often ask. Well, He allowed it for Jesus. And after a high spiritual experience, such as the baptism undoubtedly was for Jesus, temptation frequently comes and properly comes. It sorts out the emotional ‘high’ from the reality of spiritual conquest and growth. We are not meant to live on spiritual highs. We are meant to live on the bread that comes from God alone, even if it is bread in the desert. God deliberately allows temptation.” Boy, that’s a stunning sentence. “God deliberately allows temptation. Its arrival does not mean that God’s blessing has evaporated.” Amen. I mean, man. “It simply allows the ephemeral and the emotional to be separated from the lasting. Temptation builds spiritual muscle.”

Michael Green, The Bible Speaks Today

So friends I’d like to encourage you, that boy, some of you might be out in the wilderness today, but I want to encourage you, you might be right where God wants you. Being out in the wilderness does not mean the lack of a relationship with God, right? The arrival of temptation in our lives does not mean that God’s blessings have evaporated. We got to hang on to that. Trust that the Lord has a plan and a path for your life. Man, sometimes that path is going to wind up gloriously on the mountaintop, right? Sometimes that path’s going to wander down in the valley of the shadows. And sometimes that path might take you out into the wilderness.

Psalm 139:9-10 reminds us that he is with us everywhere he takes us. “If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me and your right hand shall hold me.” He is with us even in the wilderness.

Okay, so the second thing that I think that we can learn from this passage reminds us that if the temptation was part of God’s plan, it also reminds us that sadly temptation for us is a part of everyday life. If Jesus himself was tempted, why should we be shocked or surprised when we’re tempted?

Ever since Adam and Eve made that choice in the garden to listen to the voice of the serpent, to trust the serpent, to disobey God, to not trust God in His goodness and His mercy and in His commands, ever since they made that choice, we are stuck with having to face temptation on a daily basis. It’s just part of our fallen world.

Verse 2, I think this is really interesting, because I think this has something pertinent for us. Matthew 4:2 says, “After fasting 40 days and 40 nights, he was hungry.” I haven’t had anything to eat yet this morning. I’m starving. But think about it at the end of that 40 days and 40 nights, man, he was really weak, really hungry. And that’s when the testing began, the 40 days was just prep for the testing. Jesus suffered the way we suffer because he was fully human and he had to be, he was suffering fully the way we would in that experience, hungry, thirsty, tired, suffering emotionally, spiritually, physically. In order to fully transform human nature, Jesus had to fully take on human nature.

So after all that time, weary, gaunt, dry, scratchy throat, that’s when the devil started whispering in his ear. That’s when the testing started. I think we need to pay attention to that because as a general rule, I think there’s two times when we’re really susceptible to temptation. One of them is when we’re really down, sick, tired, depleted, angry. When we’re at a low state like that, we’re really susceptible to temptation. Ironically, when we’re really euphoric and excited and on an emotional high, we are also susceptible to temptation. There’s something about the highs and lows of our emotional life. When they’re at extremes, something about that leaves us a little bit more open to temptations.

This is a Jim Thomas quote, “Temptation is a given, an incitement to sin, to rebel against what God wants for our lives.” But you know what? Temptation in of itself is not a sin. It’s the acquiescing, the giving in. And you got to remember that, when you’re buffeted with crazy thoughts and desires, temptation in of itself is not a sin. God has created us with all of these strong and glorious and good desires.

For example, we have to eat and drink to survive, right? Which ironically, that’s what Jesus went without in this passage. We have to eat and drink to survive. And part of that good thing that God has done, he’s given us all of this glorious food to eat. And enjoying good food and good drink, whatever that is, can just be a glorious testament to God and giving him thanks. We can enjoy it. We can have parties with our friends and enjoy it, right?

And yet, overindulging in this glorious, good, God given desire, overindulging in either food or drink, whether we’re up or down, because sometimes that’s when we indulge, when we’re really happy or when we’re really down, overindulging can be an issue. So, our issue is not the desires themselves. It’s wanting to fulfill those desires outside of God given boundaries or making those desires the ultimate thing in our lives, the center thing in our lives, instead of God.

Tim Keller puts it this way,

“According to the Bible, the primary way to define sin is not just the doing of bad things, but the making of good things into ultimate things. It is seeking to establish a sense of self by making something else more central to your significance, purpose and happiness than your relationship with God.”

Timothy Keller, The Reason for God

So my question for us friends today, is where are you getting your identity, your purpose, your sense of self? What tempts you? What reaches out and tempts you? What drives you? What is at the very center, the core of who you are?

Paul talks about the universality of temptation in 1 Corinthians 10:13,

No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man.”

But he also tells us that,

All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”

So this is a universal thing that we all have to deal with in our fallen world. There’s a danger in either overestimating or underestimating temptation. We overestimate temptation by believing the lie that because I’m tempted this way or this appeals to me, or I have these desires, that’s who I am. That’s who I’m predestined to be, and that is a lie. It’s just a desire. So, we’re overestimating temptation there, but we also fall prey to the lie of underestimating temptation, when we say to ourselves, and boy I’m guilty of this, “Well, at least I’m not cheating on my wife. I’m not a murderer. I’m just a little irritated and bitter because my buddy got a better gig than I got.” We’re underestimating again, temptation. Both of those lies are whispering in our ear that our identity is tied up in our actions, our sins, our success, our failure, anything else, but the love of God.

Frederick Dale Bruner says this about temptation,

“The typical temptation of the young is lust; of the middle-aged, ambition.” Getting a little painful in here. “And of the elderly, bitterness. Actually, all three drives are similar and related: ambition is a refined lust, bitterness, a disappointed one.”

Frederick Dale Bruner, Matthew

So temptations come at many levels and we might have different temptations at different ages and stages of our life. Here’s another important reminder from this passage you guys: The enemy of our souls has a strategy. Hey man, we saw his strategy with Jesus. Man, I’m going to get you to do this and you’re done pal. Well, no. But people, we have an enemy of our souls and here’s what he wants to do. He wants to eat you. He wants to have you for lunch.

The Bible tells us, “The devil walks around as a hungry lion, looking for those to devour.” He wants to do anything he can. He has a strategy to separate us, hopefully through sin, right? He wants to separate us from God, from our neighbors, from ourselves. He wants to get us to distrust God and his motives. That’s what he did with Eve in the garden, from the very first time that we hear him speak. He comes to Eve and he says, “Did God really say?” He just wants to plant that seed of doubt that maybe God’s not all good. He wants to get us to put out our identity, our value and our performance, whether that’s relationships work, our faith, the performance of our faith… Are we good Christians? Are we bad Christians? Which that means nothing of course, but anything that gets us to take our eyes off of our savior and put it on us. Whether the devil can get you to take the bait of either illusions of self-grandeur or self-loathing, and sometimes we struggle with both, either one of those is going to work, as long as he can get you to form your identity on your present circumstance and not on the love of the Father and the gospel. The devil loves shortcuts and compromise. That’s what this was all about in this passage. Each of these temptations were an attempt to shortcut the path to the cross.

Don Carson puts it this way in, “The Expositor’s Bible Commentary,”

“Satan’s aim was to entice Jesus to use powers, rightly His but which he had voluntarily abandoned to carry out the Father’s mission. Reclaiming them for Himself would deny the self-abasement implicit in His mission and in the Father’s will.”

D.A. Carson, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary

You could just hear the devil talking in Jesus’ ear with those three temptations, the stones, the temple, the world. Hey, you hungry? I bet you are. You’re the Son of God. Look, turn those things into bread. It’s like manna in the wilderness. It’s like sourdough. It’s going to be good. Or take him up to the top of the temple. Bro, you’re the Son of God, aren’t you? Sorry. Throw yourself off the top of the temple. And your father will send angels who will set you down light as a feather. You’re His favorite. You know you are. What a great opportunity to prove your daddy loves you for the whole world to see. And then the last one. Oh, Jesus. Look at all the beauty in the world. Look at all of this. It’s so good. You’re here to save the world, aren’t you? Just worship me. I’ll give it to you instantly. No strings attached. Just swipe buy now on the bottom of the app, it’s all yours. It’s all about a shortcut to get Jesus to avoid the path of suffering servanthood that leads to the cross.

The devil might be crafty, but he’s not original, is he? All he’s capable of doing is not creating anything, he’s just capable of distorting what is good. He’s like a two-year-old throwing a temper tantrum because he’s so mad he can’t get his way. He’s throwing things around, trying to wreck God’s good creation, trying to wreck all that is good and beautiful and true.

Russell Moore talks about this in his book, Tempted and Tried. I highly recommend that book by the way. It’s really well written.

“Temptation is so strong in our lives precisely because it’s not about us. Temptation is an assault by the demonic powers on the rival empire of the Messiah. That’s why conversion to Christ doesn’t diminish the power of temptation – as we often assume – but actually, counterintuitively, ratchets it up. If you bear the Spirit of the One the powers rage against, they will seek to tear down the icon of the Crucified they see embedded in you.”

Russell Moore, Tempted and Tried

Man, the devil is hell-bent on doing one thing, separating us from God whom he hates, and by our association with him, he hates us too. But praise God, God is intent also on doing one thing, bringing as many sons and daughters to glory as he can.

He is intent on rescuing and redeeming us, which brings us to our last reminder from Matthew 4. Through His resistance to the devil, Jesus shows us how to resist temptation. We are all tempted. I’m tempted with stuff. I don’t know what you guys are tempted with. It’s not like I’m going to say, Fred the Lord told me you’ve been eating M&Ms three nights in a row and not brushing your teeth. Yeah, I don’t know. But I know that we’re all tempted. We are all tempted. It might be just starting to flirt with temptation. You might be struggling with something that you’ve been tempted with and falling into caving for years. I don’t know.

But here’s what we do know, Jesus provides us a way out. First off by Him dying for us, by living the life that we couldn’t live. What did he do when the devil tempted him? He responded every time with the Word. And I actually think through those 40 days of fasting, Jesus was probably wandering around, meditating, praying, most likely really meditating on the word. And he must have been meditating on Deuteronomy, because every time the devil tempts him, he responds with a counterattack from the book of Deuteronomy, which I think is amazing. But he’s living under the authority of the word. He’s taken it to heart and living under its authority. And I want to encourage you, if we treasure the word in our heart, if we actually take God at His word and live under its authority, then we can resist temptation. We can say, okay, I feel a desire for this thing, but that’s not in keeping with your word. And because I’m living under the authority of your word, that gives me hope and the ability to at least try to resist that.

Psalm 119: 9-11 says,

“How can a young man keep his way pure?
By guarding it according to Your word.
With my whole heart I seek you.
Let me not wander from Your commandments!
I have stored up Your word in my heart,
That I might not sin against You.”

Friends, if we store His word up in our heart and treasure it, we will have ammunition to fight off the devil. We’ll have that armor, the shield of faith. James, the half brother of Jesus told us to, “Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” Sometimes the best offense is a good defense. Yeah, that’s right. Sometimes we have to flee temptation like Joseph did with Potipher’s wife.

Sometimes we have to avoid people, places, things that we know are going to be a temptation to us. I realize that’s a bit of an obvious statement, but it’s true. I’m going to borrow another little illustration from Jim Thomas here. If you’re struggling with sugar and eating too much sugar, and you’re trying to avoid eating donuts, don’t drive around the Krispy Kreme parking lot, waiting for the “Hot now,” sign to turn on, right? Avoid it. And I know it’s funny and yet it’s true, because I’ve got to confess that there’s times where I don’t want to sin, I don’t want to sin. Actually, I really want to cave to that temptation. So spiritually speaking, I’m hanging around till the, “Hot now,” lights come on and I encourage you to flee from that. God does not abandon us in our temptation. If we fail and fall, grace meets us. God stands eager to forgive us and bring us back home.

1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

So, just to close out here, because Jesus was able to win this victory, Hebrews reminds us that He is that great high priest who’s been tempted as we are, and yet without sin. And that gives us the ability to boldly go to throne of grace, where Hebrews says, “We receive mercy and find grace to help in our time of need.” So that is really good news, isn’t it?

I’d like to close with this quote from writer, Rachel Gilson, reminding us of the beauty of saying, “Yes,” to Jesus. She says,

 “Saying, ‘no’ to something that our hearts long for can be a powerful display of the beauty and worth of what we are saying ‘yes’ to in exchange.”

And that is Jesus and he is worth saying, “Yes” to. Amen. Amen. Let’s pray church. “Oh, Jesus. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for a lifetime of saying, no to yourself, to temptation, to whatever trial in order to say yes to us. Thank you for resisting temptation so that you could present yourself spotless perfectly in our place. By your wounds we are healed. By your death we are saved. Thank you, Jesus. In your name we pray, Amen.”

(Edited for Reading)

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