1st Sunday in Lent
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
Matthew 4:1-11 Sermon
February 12, 2005
Hymns (from The Service Book and Hymnal):
556 "Rise Ye Children Of Salvation"
374 "God Calling Yet, Shall I Not Hear"
150 "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God"
520 "Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah"
TEMPTATIONS WILL COME
TEXT: (vs. 1) “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.”
I’ve got something to show you this morning, sort of an “object lesson.” Allow me to introduce “Diet Piggy.” As you can see, this is a small, pink plastic pig. (A photo of the Diet Piggy is shown above.)
Diet Piggy is intended to sit on a shelf in your refrigerator. It operates on two AA batteries, and has a light sensor built into it. So whenever the batteries are inserted, and everything is working, diet piggy will sit silently in your refrigerator while the door is closed and everything is dark. But when you open up the door and the light comes on, diet piggy starts making this loud grunting noise.
Of course this is a novelty item, and I’ve seen them in various stores from time to time. But what diet piggy is supposed to accomplish, is that whenever you have the munchies and open up your refrigerator to find something to eat, he will remind you that you shouldn’t be “pigging out” on those fattening between meal snacks. That grunting pig noise is supposed to prick your conscience.
You’re probably wondering how I got this. When I lived in Australia, I had a vicar living with me for a year—that’s a seminary student intern. He thought he’d be cute; and so he bought this “diet piggy” and put it in my refrigerator.
I must say that this “diet piggy” has to be the most annoying thing I have ever had. To have something start grunting at you the second you open the fridge for whatever reason…well, you get the picture.
It must have annoyed my vicar about as much as it did me. One day when I came home, I opened the freezer to get some ice cubes, and I discovered diet piggy sitting in the freezer. My vicar said that he was in there “chilling out.”
Anyway, this little pink plastic pig, even though it is only a novelty item, is intended to help people on a diet resist temptation, even to the point of irritation.
Resisting temptation. That’s the topic of today’s meditation. And as we think about the things that tempt us in our daily lives, we will come to the realization that it takes more than a plastic pig to help us overcome our temptations.
As we look at our text for today, we find Jesus going into the wilderness for 40 days and 40 nights for a time of prayer and fasting. This happened after Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River by John the Baptist, and before he began his ministry. The event just following his time in the wilderness is the famous “Sermon on the Mount”—the record of which begins in the very next chapter, Matthew chapter 5.
Anyway, Jesus is now in the wilderness, and he isn’t alone. Satan is there trying to tempt him. In fact, Satan is really playing hard-ball with Jesus, so he pulls out all the stops and does his worst.
The first thing we have to remember is that besides being fully God, Jesus was also fully human. Being fully human meant that he could be tempted just like any other person. Jesus would experience first-hand what it was like for other human beings who experience temptation.
The temptations Jesus faced were intense efforts by the devil to rob the world of its Redeemer. Satan had been successful in leading Adam and Eve into sin in the Garden of Eden. This is why it was necessary for God to promise a Saviour in the first place. And now it was time for Satan to attack Jesus, that promised Saviour, to frustrate his work in redeeming the entire human race.
The first temptation is something we all know only too well. Satan tempted Jesus because he was hungry. He hadn’t eaten in 40 days. Now I don’t know how it is for you, but I know how I feel when I’m hungry. I can’t begin to imagine going without food for 40 days, even though I probably could stand to miss a few meals.
Verses 3 and 4 of Matthew 4 give us the dialogue between Jesus and Satan: “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 proceeds from the mouth of God.’”
Here Satan was probably suggesting, “Hey, since you are the Son of God, you don’t have to go hungry. There’s a simple solution—simply turn some of these stones into bread.”
And it does seem logical too. The Israelites had been fed Manna from heaven in a miraculous way during their 40 years in the wilderness. According to human logic, there shouldn’t have been any reason for Jesus not to provide for himself in a miraculous way as well.
But of course there was a reason for Jesus to refuse Satan’s tempting suggestion. Jesus was being tempted to use his divine power to relieve his physical hunger, and not to rely on the Father who had already sustained him for those 40 days. Satan was tempting Jesus to shift the focus of his trust away from his Father and toward himself.
Another thing that is worth noting, is that Jesus never once used his divine power for his personal benefit. His miracles were always for the benefit of others.
So Satan begins attacking Jesus at what might be considered his weakest link. Hunger and the need for food is the most basic of human desire. It starts at birth, and continues throughout life. Jesus indeed felt hunger like everyone else. And Satan tries to turn this into a situation where Jesus would no longer trust his Father.
Jesus counters Satan by quoting clear Scripture, namely Deuteronomy 8,3: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” Jesus gives a similar response in John 4, 34 to his disciples when they urge him to eat something: “My food…is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.”
The first temptation is over, and the score is Jesus 1, Satan 0. But of course Satan wasn’t going to accept his defeat easily. It was time for round two.
Reading now verses 5-7 from Matthew 4: “Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. ‘If you are the Son of God,’ he said, ‘throw yourself down. For it is written: He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’ Jesus answered him, ‘It is also written: Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
It’s interesting to note that Satan is quoting Scripture to Jesus. He’s quoting Psalm 91, 11-12. This serves as a reminder that Satan can and does quote Scripture. He knows the Bible very well. So we need to be careful, because not everybody who can quote passages of Scripture is a true servant of God. In this case, Satan is taking a promise of God and twisting it completely.
Satan takes Jesus to the highest pinnacle of the temple in Jerusalem, which is on the east side overlooking the Kidron valley. The drop from there is some 450 feet, which would be a fall that nobody could survive.
Satan seemed to be indicating that if Jesus didn’t jump off the temple and trust God to save him, that he would be demonstrating some type of lack of trust in God. But of course to do something like this is not an act of faith. It is a way of demonstrating doubt.
In response to that, Jesus quotes Scripture right back at him. “Do not put the Lord your God to the test,” Jesus says. That’s Deuteronomy 6, 16.
Those words were originally spoken to the Israelites at a time when they were placing huge demands upon God. Even though God had acted miraculously in their lives, yet by their demands they demonstrated that they still did not completely trust God. And so they continued to test him.
Jesus didn’t have to prove anything to Satan. He couldn’t get the better of Jesus by tempting him to engage in some sort of foolish stunt.
So at the end of round two, the score was now Jesus 2 and Satan 0.
Now we look at the third temptation. In Matthew 4, 8-10 we read: “Again the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. ‘All this I will give you,’ he said, ‘if you will bow down and worship me.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Away from me Satan! For it is written: Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”
Here is probably the most outlandish temptation of all. The Bible clearly states in Psalm 24, 1: “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world and all who live in it.”
For Satan to offer to make this deal with Jesus, he first had to claim the authority of God the Father for himself. Satan was trying to strike some sort of deal with Jesus, pretending that he had the power to make things easier for him. All Jesus would have to do is bow down and worship Satan. Now how’s that for a ridiculous idea?
Here we see one of Satan’s huge lies. Satan could never have kept that promise, even if he had wanted to. He was powerless against God. And for him to think that Jesus would be gullible enough to believe it—well it’s obvious that he was grasping at straws.
When Jesus responds to Satan, he quotes the words of Deuteronomy 6, 13: “Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.”
With this, Satan has to leave. The score was now Jesus 3 and Satan 0. Satan had his three strikes, and failed miserably with each attempt. Jesus just wouldn’t succumb to his tempting.
I’ve taken a bit of time detailing this text, because I think it is important that we understand some of the motives behind what was going on here. In the first instance, we have the temptation to distrust God. In the second instance, we have the temptation to mistrust God. And in the third instance, we have the temptation to trust in someone or something other than God.
When we apply this to ourselves, the writer to the Hebrews really captures it all. In Hebrews 4, 14-16 we read these words: “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”
The temptations to sin are many. We are always tempted to do the wrong thing. The urges to commit sin are strong and frequent. And far too often we give into them; in fact we frequently offer no resistance at all.
Speaking from personal experience, my own personal temptation list is a long one. I’m not about to share them all with you, as many of them are very private and they are between God and myself.
I think this goes for all of us. Parents aren’t aware of all the things that tempt their children. Spouses don’t know all of the things that tempt the other. Some things of course are obvious, but there’s a lot that dwells under the surface.
We can look at all of these things however, and see that they usually fall in the three categories in which Jesus was tempted in the wilderness.
Satan tempted Jesus when he felt hunger pangs, which could be translated to the various sins of the flesh which tempt us. The physical urges and desires which cloud our judgment and cause us to sin is what Jesus would have been feeling at that time. That certainly covers a broad area.
Satan tempted Jesus to act foolishly, thinking that God would certainly protect him. We too have been tempted to act in a manner which would put God to the test. I’m sure that all of us have done things, after which when we look back, have been completely foolish.
And finally Satan tempted Jesus to replace God with a false god. And we too have been tempted to make our own gods of others. We have been tempted to allow Satan to be our god, and give him rule over our hearts and lives. Again, this is a very broad category.
But as we examine ourselves, and if we are honest with ourselves, we have to admit that our temptation list is rather long, and that we have indeed allowed those temptations to take over in our lives.
As we see these temptations, we are tempted to say, “Oh, Jesus was never tempted like I am. Jesus would never understand this temptation of mine. Jesus has no way of knowing what things are like for me.”
But the writer to the Hebrews assures us that Jesus was indeed tempted in every way, just the same as you and me. Satan worked hard on him, harder than he ever works on any of us. So yes, Jesus knows what it’s like, and only too well.
But the hope in all of this comes in Hebrews 4, 16 where we read: “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”
With temptation being such a burden, these words have to give us comfort. Jesus took all of our temptations, and took it with him to the cross. The sinless Son of God, who refused to break under the pressure of Satan, did this so that our burden would be lifted. So we approach the throne of grace, believing that Jesus our Saviour did all this for our sake. We believe that God has forgiven us for all those times we have given into sinful temptation. And so we can approach that throne of God with confidence, knowing that we will receive mercy, forgiveness, and strength.
My little “diet piggy” is something that is supposed to help people overcome the temptation to snack from the refrigerator when they get the munchies. Unfortunately, Mr. Diet Piggy has no concept of understanding. He is very unforgiving. All he knows is how to grunt when someone opens up the refrigerator door, regardless of the circumstances.
Thankfully God doesn’t deal with our temptations like that at all. Rather, we are told that Jesus knows what’s going on, and he sympathizes with us. So we go to the throne of grace with confidence. And what do we find there? Hebrews 4, 16 tells us that we will “…receive mercy, and find grace to help us in our time of need.”
May we always remember that when Satan is doing his best to lead us astray through temptation, God will indeed help us to resist temptation. He isn’t going to bark at us or beat us over the head. Rather, because of his grace shown to us in Jesus, he will indeed help us. All we need to do is trust that he will do what he has promised.