Matt 4:1-11, Mark 1: 12-13; Luke 4: 1-2, 13-14
We face temptations every day of our lives. Some we recognize; others are more subtle, and consequently more dangerous. Sin usually starts with a “small” misstep – a wrong thought we don’t squelch before it takes hold, a little lie that feels more comfortable than the truth, a niggling resentment we don’t rein in before it gallops out of control, an ill-conceived remark we justify until it grows into a full-blown attack.
Adam and Eve fell prey to one of these “small” temptations, and the repercussions were enormous for them and every one of us. One writer has observed that the first Adam failed while feasting in a garden, while Jesus, the second Adam, triumphed while fasting in a wilderness. What can we learn about temptation from what Jesus faced?
First, these temptations foreshadowed those that would come from the people to whom Jesus would be ministering. There would be those who wanted Jesus to provide their daily bread – literally. They would follow him if it meant they got a free lunch (John 6: 26-27). We too will be faced with people who are only focused on what they can get from us.
There would be those who would demand showmanship: Show us a miracle, a sign from heaven. (Matt 16:1; John 2:18, 10:24, 12:37-43). Yet, no miracle would convince them. We also will try to relate to those who demand tangible results, but reject us (and more important, Jesus) no matter what we do.
Finally, there would be those who would want Jesus to take political power, because they wanted their share of it. The history of the Christian Church has been repeatedly stained by those who have seen it as a place where they can take ownership and control. They honor Christ with their lips, but their hearts are far from him (Isaiah 29:13).
This encounter with Satan prepared Jesus to face the same kind of temptations from the people he loved and came to save. To stand up under it, Jesus first of all needed the assurance of his own identity in and relationship with God.
Satan pulled out doubt, his tried and true tool, as his first line of assault: “If you are the Son of God . . .” It had worked in the Garden of Eden: “Did God really say . . . ?” Jesus had to know who he is and be secure in his relationship with God to withstand this assault.
Satan uses this weapon against us too: “Does God really love you? You keep messing up. He must be pretty fed up by now, don’t you think? Did God really call you to do that work, to help that mission, to testify to that person?” We need to know and continue to take hold of who we are in Christ – who we are and whose we are.
Second, Jesus needed a thorough knowledge of God’s Word. Satan will quote Scripture if he thinks it will achieve his ends, but it’s always distorted or incomplete. We need the whole Word of God and the knowledge of God’s character that is revealed there to effectively battle this kind of temptation. This may come in the form of challenges from sceptics who throw out isolated texts and demand a one-sentence explanation, or from people in spiritual leadership who have “enlightened” ideas that reflect the world and not God.
Finally, Jesus needed the wisdom to rely totally on God and not on himself. The temptation to “prove it” – either God’s existence, Jesus’ atoning death and resurrection, or our own Christian walk – comes to most of us. We can be tempted to think it’s up to us to convince others, or we can be challenged by manipulative or insecure people to “prove” our Christianity by doing whatever they demand, trying to meet their every need.
We need the wisdom to know that conversion is the work of the Holy Spirit; we are to be faithful witnesses, and leave the rest to him. In our service to others, we are to be led by the Spirit, and not by the expectations and demands of people. We can’t be their savior; only Jesus can do that. They may try to make us the focus of their lives, thinking we’ll deliver them, but our work is to continually point them to Jesus and support them as they move in that direction.
As Christians, we can be tempted to be popular by supplying needs of people capable of supplying their own. We can be tempted to impress people through showmanship: “Look what a great worker, musician, giver, preacher, healer, helper I am!” We can be tempted to take power – over the lives of individuals, groups, or a church – because people appear to be calling us to.
We also need to remember that temptation will be ongoing; Satan doesn’t give up. He’ll launch his main attacks when we’re especially vulnerable, which he well knows is the most opportune time. As Peter says, we need to stay alert, especially when we know we’re stressed, tired or grieving, because Satan prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8-9). We don’t have to be eaten or beaten if we take hold of Christ’s strength that is made perfect in our weakness. James tells us to submit ourselves to God, to resist the devil and he will flee from us. (James 4:7)
We’re living in a spiritual desert, and in an era of great spiritual hunger. Temptation is all around us. We need to recognize it for what it is, re-examine it in the light of God’s Word and God’s leading, and resist the tempter.