In Matthew 4:1-11, Jesus Christ was temped by Satan in the desert. I want to briefly explore his temptation by looking at how each of the temptations came, what each of the three forms meant for him, and correspondingly what they each mean for us. Finally, I will offer a brief answer to the important question of why the Lord Jesus was ever tempted at all.
1st Temptation — Distrust
To disobey the wisdom of God.
And the tempter came and said to him, "If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread." (4:3)
It was the Spirit of God that led Jesus into the desert to fast and undergo this trial. Therefore, if Jesus had used the power entrusted to him by God to turn the stones into bread, it would have been rooted in distrust of the path the Father had chosen for him, and in turn, a direct disobedience to what he had called him to do.
Our temptation is to live life on our own terms, by our own wits, and according to our own judgments. God’s commands are the proper course of life for every human being. Obedience isn’t the inhibitor of joy, it is the foundation for joy. Nevertheless, we are tempted to disbelieve that God’s ways are better than ours and therefore determine by our own wisdom what is right and wrong.
Overcoming The Deception
What is perhaps most deceptive about this temptation is the fact that bread is a good and necessary thing for life. Temptation does not always come in the form of clearly evil things, but more often it is intermixed into what we would generally see as something good for us, even useful. We cannot lean on our own understanding when it comes to obedience. We must wholly depend on the wisdom of God provided through his Word. Rash decisions that are based on our feelings are very likely to land us in sin.
2nd Temptation — Presumption
To make God our servant.
"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..." (4:5-6)
Jesus was being tempted to take advantage of God’s loving kindness. In other words, he was being tempted to use the promises of God as a license for selfish behavior. Some believe that within this temptation, Jesus was also being tempted to put on a show for the world, or to seek fame for himself through self-promoting flare and dare-devil stunts. If Jesus had conceded, God would be reduced to the servant rather than the Master. And did you notice what Satan was using to try to convince Jesus? The Word of God. Satan was using the Scriptures to attempt to sway Jesus to treat God as if he were at his every beckoning call. In short, Jesus was tempted to put God to the test, or to make God subservient to his own desires.
Our temptation is to live recklessly and presumptuously regarding the kindness of God. We are tempted to purposefully misinterpret the generous promises found in Scripture and use them for our own ends. Take for instance the promise that, “The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them,” (Psalm 34:7). This does not mean that I can drive 100 miles per hour down the highway with my eyes closed and that I won’t end up in an accident. As you read this, I am sure you would agree, but we must be careful not to assume that this temptation is not close to our own hearts. Every sinful human heart is guilty of presuming on the kindness of God. We must remember that while God is lavish in his love, he is not foolish of our motives. We cannot continue in sin because we know of the depths of God’s grace. Our temptation is to look at the crucifixion of Christ as a license to say yes to our sin because we know that it has already been paid for on the Cross.
Overcoming The Deception
Romans 2:4 helps us understand the impact that God’s grace is meant to have on a sinners heart, “Do you presume on the riches of God’s kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” We overcome this temptation by taking the grace of God very seriously, by meditating upon it, by believing all that the Bible says about our condition in sin, and all that the Bible says about our new condition in Christ. A growing understanding of the depths of the grace of God will conquer the sin of presumption.
3rd Temptation — Exchange
To forfeit a right relationship with God for the things of this world.
"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." (4:8-9)
After showing Jesus all the glory of this world Satan made Jesus a seemingly low-cost offer: "Worship me, and it’s all yours." Jesus was tempted to exchange a right relationship with God for the riches of the world. The path to glory and honor and fame offered by Satan was an easier road than the one offered by God. To receive the glory that Satan could give, Jesus only had to bow down on his knees, but to receive the glory offered by God Jesus had to be lifted up by the nails of the Cross. Satan's path was wider, his gate more broad. But the end of his glory is death, even if the road which leads there is paved with treats and treasures and all kinds of indulgences. Jesus was tempted to take a shortcut to glory through a path of sin.
Our temptation is to base our lives on the short view and pursue the best of this world. We are tempted to behold the glories of this world, whether possessions, positions, or popularity and to cling to them through disobedience to God and worship of idols. Any time we make something other than God central to our lives, or the basis for our decision-making, we have exchanged a right relationship with God for the things of this world. And in our capitalistic society we need an extra measure of sobriety in this area. Every day we are bombarded with advertisements and seemingly good deals. We have been trained by the world from birth to find the low-cost, high output, quick-fix solution to every problem. This can be a very slippery slope.
Overcoming the Deception
If we are to overcome these constant schemes we need more than a surface analysis of the propositions presented to us, we need prayer and the Word of God. The offer presented to Christ looked flawless, as do many of the offers presented to us, but hidden in the fine print was the reality that by saying yes to the glory of the world, we would be simultaneously saying no to a right relationship with God. Carefully consider the things you are committing yourself to, and always read the fine print of life.
But Why Was Jesus Ever Tempted At All?
The fact that Jesus was tempted is often very troubling for people because James 1:13 says, “God cannot be tempted with evil.” So if Jesus is God, and Jesus was tempted, how can the Bible be true? The answer is actually incredibly simple and at the same time infinitely profound. John 1:14 helps us gain a glimpse of what theologians call the incarnation; “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Or take Colossians 2:9, “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily...” Jesus is God, and Jesus is Man; Jesus is the God-Man. In Christ, God took on the likeness of men so that he could function as our eternal representative before God. Paul wrote this glorious truth in 2 Cor. 5:21, “For our sake, he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
Jesus was tempted so that where you and I have utterly failed, he could represent us in perfect victory.
Rest in the finished work of Christ, and fight the fight of faith by grace.