This is the second sermon in a series introducing Jesus Christ and His time on earth. Today we look at Jesus just as His three years of ministry are getting started. We know this story as Jesus being tempted in the wilderness.
There is a story told about a little boy in a grocery store that I think illustrates the nature of temptation. The boy was standing near an open box of peanut butter cookies. “Now then, young man,” said the grocer as he approached the young man. “What are you up to?” “Nothing,” replied the boy: “Nothing.” “Well it looks to me like you were trying to take a cookie.” “You’re wrong, mister, I’m trying not to!” That’s temptation!
There was once a poor country pastor was livid when he confronted his wife with the receipt for a $250 dress she had bought. "How could you do this!" he exclaimed.
"I don’t know," she wailed, "I was standing in the store looking at the dress. Then I found myself trying it on. It was like the Devil was whispering to me, "You look great in that dress. You should buy it."
"Well," the pastor persisted, "You know how to deal with him! Just tell him, "Get behind me, Satan!"
"I did," replied his wife, "but then he said "It looks great from back here, too."
How many of us have shrugged and said, “The Devil made me do it!” and used that as an excuse when caught doing something we weren’t supposed to? It’s a convenient defense. But there’s one problem: the Devil can’t make us do anything. He may be clever, but he’s not all powerful.
It may feel that way, however, when we’re dangling on temptation’s hook, because Satan has a tried-and-true strategy for luring us into his net. We all know what a fish hook looks like. Of course normally there is bait hanging on it or you can use bait that is colorful and attractive to lure in a fish. Isn’t it interesting that artificial bait is often referred to as a lure? One person wrote about it this way.
A. He lays out the bait. Satan knows people like a skilled angler knows fish. He notes our habits. He observes our hangouts. Then he prepares a tailor-made lure and drops it right in front of our noses.
B. He makes the appeal. He can’t make us bite, but he does know what happens inside us when we catch a glimpse of that tantalizing bait. Our fleshly nature draws us to it. We linger over it. We toy with it. We roll it over in our minds until it consumes our imagination.
C. The struggle begins. Immediately, our conscience jabs us in the ribs, warning us of the danger. We know it’s wrong to take a bite. We may even see the barbed consequences poking through the bait. But Satan’s invitation looks so delicious.
What do we do?
Fourth, the temptation ends with the response. Either we resist or yield; swim away or swallow it whole. Anyone who has resisted knows the feeling of freedom that decision brings. On the other hand, anyone who has yielded knows the feeling of emptiness that follows and the pain of the hook in your cheek.” [Charles Swindoll. The Origin of Something Glorious: Jesus Birth and the Beginning of Ministry - A Study of Luke 1:1-6:49. Bible Study Guide. (Anaheim, California: Insight for Living. 1994). p. 83]
Picture of person “hooked” from anti smoking campaign in the UK.
Today we are going to see Jesus meet and master temptation. In this story we will see three general kinds of temptation that our adversary is still using against us. By way of introduction I want you to see with me when the testing of Jesus came about.
“Then Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan River. He was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where he was tempted by the devil for forty days. Jesus ate nothing all that time and became very hungry.” Luke 4:1-2
A. Matthew 4 records that this temptation of Jesus came directly after He was baptized. It was here that God the Father spoke and said, “This is my son in whom I am well pleased!” What a spiritual high. You will discover that testing will often come on the heels of a spiritual high point in your life.
B. It came at time of physical weakness; Jesus had not eaten in 40 days. Temptations often come when we are a weakened state physically or emotionally, when we are exhausted and emotionally spent.
“In a survey on temptation among readers of the Discipleship Journal, the respondents noted temptations were more potent when they had neglected their time with God (81 percent) and when they were physically tired (57 percent). Resisting temptation was accomplished by prayer (84 percent), avoiding compromising situations (76 percent), Bible study (66 percent), and being accountable to someone (52 percent.)” [Discipleship Journal, November / December, 1992.]
C. This temptation came to Jesus when he was alone. We are the most susceptible to temptation when we are alone.
Now let us look together at this story from the life of Jesus. We find it in Luke 4:1-13.
1. The Temptation to do it yourself instead of trusting God
“ Then the devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become a loaf of bread.” Luke 4:3
Don’t be mislead by a false understanding of the Devil’s statement when he says, “If you are the Son of God” - this is not a supposition but an affirmation. It literally means “since you are” or “ in view of the fact that you are the Son of God.”
The first temptation would be no temptation at all if Jesus were not the Son of God. The devil is well aware that God exists and I don’t think that he expends a great deal of effort trying to dissuade us from a belief in God. His basic strategy is to make us believe that God can’t be trusted. Satan entered into the Biblical picture at creation in the form of a serpent. He said to Adam and Eve:
“Do you really believe that God is good? He has told you not to eat from that one tree because he knows that the moment you do so you will be as wise as He is? He is not your friend. He is holding out on you”(Gen. 3:4).
The temptation sounds innocent enough, doesn’t it? You could almost sense the innocence in the devil’s presentation of this temptation – “just make these stones into bread” – what’s the big deal? You the Son of God – just do it! There is no law against turning stones into bread. It won’t hurt anything. Jesus had been without food for six weeks! Because he was the Son of God he could invoke his supernatural powers, the temptation was very real. Jesus could have done it in an instant and his hunger was screaming, “Do it.”
Satan is suggesting to Jesus that there must be something wrong with the Father’s love since “His beloved son” was hungry. Satan was tempting Jesus to disobey the Father’s will by using his divine power for his own purposes.
John Piper says that sin …"gets its power by persuading me to believe that I will be more happy if I follow it. The power of all temptation is the prospect that it will make me happier."
But Jesus told him, “No! The Scriptures say, ‘People do not live by bread alone.’” Luke 4:4
We often brag that we are “people of the Word.” But are we really? The question is not how much Bible do you know but how much of the Bible that you know are you applying in your life.
Jesus lived by the word. The key phrase in each of his answers is, “it is written.” He did not allow the situation or the circumstances or even the enemy to dictate the truth. The answers to all three temptations came right out of Deuteronomy, the story of God’s pilgrim people coming out of bondage.
Jesus in his answer was saying, “ I will not complain. Neither will I take matters into my own hands. I will trust my Father and his word.”
Our temptation is not to turn stones into bread because the impossible does not tempt us. But the compliant behind the temptation is still very strong. The devil’s ploy in this world is to make us believe that if we want something done we need to do it ourselves – not trust in God. We regularly are tempted to go outside the confines of God’s will to satisfy our personal needs or desires. We often promote ourselves and let our ego’s take over because we are sure that God will not do it. We scheme and we plan for our well-being, because we assume that God does not care or maybe does not know about our needs.
Jesus show us to trust instead of succumbing to temptation
2. The Temptation to take the easy way instead of trying
“Then the devil took him up and revealed to him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. 6 “I will give you the glory of these kingdoms and authority over them,” the devil said, “because they are mine to give to anyone I please. 7 I will give it all to you if you will worship me.” Luke 4:5-7
The devil was not lying when he promise Jesus, “because they are mine to give to anyone I please.” The devil was offering Jesus a kingdom without the cross. Why go to all the trouble and pain to win the world when it can be handed to you on a silver platter. No suffering, No Struggling, No Sacrifice. But a crown without the cross would mean that there would be no forgiveness for our sins.
We know that even hours before His death Jesus was praying that if it were possible that God the Father would let Him avoid His impending crucifixion.
“Jesus replied, “The Scriptures say, ‘You must worship the LORD your God and serve only him.” Luke 4:8
We do not have to look far to see the application for today. Our world teaches us to avoid pain, to take the easy way, the path of least resistance. Avoid sacrifice. Why give all that money to the church when you can spend it on a new fishing boat. Why spend the rest of your life with the same mate? Go out and find yourself someone new – after all you only live once. You deserve to be happy. What is the result? We are living in a country with children whose lives are being destroyed because of their parent’s selfishness.
3. The Temptation to not believe it until you see it by testing God
The devil took Jesus to the point of the temple roof that overlooked the Kidron Valley, which is about a 450 ft. drop. Whether he took him there physically or in a vision we do not know. But once there he made Jesus very tempting offer. Having seen Jesus defeat him two times by quoting Scripture, Satan now quotes it himself, for his own purposes
“Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, to the highest point of the Temple, and said, “If you are the Son of God, jump off! For the Scriptures say, ‘He will order his angels to protect and guard you. And they will hold you up with their hands so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.” Luke 4:9-11
Satan misquotes the promise of God, it was right as far as it went, but he did not quote it all. For Jesus to have supernaturally survived a fall from the pinnacle of the temple in the full view of the people would have immediately identified Him as the Messiah. But it would have insisted that God “show” that you love me and is a test of God. This would be the equivalent of saying to God –“I won’t believe in you until I see you SHOW it to me by MY terms.”
“Jesus responded, “The Scriptures also say, ‘You must not test the LORD your God.” Luke 4:12
But Jesus understood to start His ministry by dramatically jumping from the pinnacle of the Temple would be completely contrary to the will of God. To do so would be to test God. Jesus refused to take this shortcut.
There are many subtle ways that we can put God to the test. We may not jump from the top of the church – but we do it in other ways. We do it when we not put the worship of God and attendance at church as a priority – and yet we expect God to keep our children on the right path – that is putting God to the test. We do it when we dive into a path of our own choosing and then cry out to God to bail us out. We do it when we test the boundaries of known sin. God says, “Here is the line,” and see how close we can get to that line. Then we are surprised when we fall. Then we blame God. But it happened because we tested God.
The one thing common to all three temptations is that they attempted to distract Jesus from his mission or destroy his relationship with His heavenly Father.
Don’t miss the truth given in verse thirteen, “When the devil had finished tempting Jesus, he left him until the next opportunity came.” This verse says that “when the devil had finished tempting Jesus” – the temptation was “finished” when he carried it to completion and every avenue of attack was employed. When it says that the Devil “left Him” the Greek is much more blunt it says he “stood off.” This battle was over but he had not given up.
Margaret Thatcher, the first woman prime minister of England stated, “You may have to fight a battle more than once to win it.” This verse reveals that the Devil will always be lurking in the shadows, watching, waiting for the next vulnerable moment.
Let me give you some closing observations about this event in Jesus life. Many of these come from the writing of Phillip Yancey in his book, The Jesus I never Knew.
„X When John Milton wrote the sequel to his epic Paradise Lost, he made the temptation, not the crucifixion, the hinge event in Jesus effort to regain the world. It was in a garden that Adam and Eve had fallen for Satan’s promise of a way to rise above their assigned state. Thousands of years later – the Second Adam, as Jesus is referred to in scripture by Paul, faces a similar test. Instead of can you be like God, Jesus test was can you be human?
„X It is interesting that understanding there were no eyewitnesses to this story all the details came from Jesus Himself. He felt the need to share this story so that we might gain insight from it.
„X Malcolm Muggeridge came to the conclusion that the temptation revolved around the question uppermost in the minds of Jesus’ countrymen: What should the Messiah look like?
A People’s Messiah who could turn stones into bread to feed the multitudes?
A Torah Messiah, standing tall at the lofty pinnacle of the Temple?
A King Messiah, ruling over not just Israel but all the kingdoms of the earth?
„X Satan was offering Jesus the chance to be the Messiah we think we want. We want anything but a suffering Messiah. When Peter rebuke Jesus for saying he was going to be killed, Jesus showed some anger and responded to Peter by saying, “Out of my sight Satan! You do not have in mind the things of God but the things of men.” Even in death the temptation to escape suffering was heard from a taunting criminal hanging on a nearby cross: “Aren’t you the Christ, save yourself and us.’
„X Ivan Karamazov coined a phrase about the temptation of Jesus that I want to really get in your heads and hearts today. The phrase is, “the miracle of restraint.” The miracles Satan suggested, the signs the Pharisees demanded as proof of Jesus being the Messiah, and even prayers we long to see answered would pose no real challenge for an omnipotent God. More amazing is His refusal to perform and to overwhelm. God’s terrible insistence on human freedom is so absolute that He granted us the power to live as though He did not exist, to spit in His face, to crucify Him. All this Jesus must have known as He faced down the tempter in the desert, focusing on His mighty power on the energy of restraint.
„X Yancey writes, “We sometimes use the term, “savior complex” to describe an unhealthy syndrome of obsession over curing others’ problems. The true Savior, however, seemed remarkably free of such a complex. He had no compulsion to convert the entire world in his lifetime or to cure people who were not ready to be cured. In short Jesus showed incredible respect for human freedom. When Satan asked for the chance to test Peter and sift him to wheat, even then Jesus did not refuse the request. His response, “I have prayed for you Simon, that your faith may not fail.” When the crowds turned away and many disciples deserted Him, Jesus said to the twelve, almost plaintively, “You do not want to leave too, do you?” As His life moved toward doom in Jerusalem, he exposed Judas but did not try to prevent his evil deed—that, too, a consequence of restraint. “Take up your cross and follow me,” Jesus said, in the least manipulative invitation that has ever been given.”
When you and I feel temptation rising within us what are we do to?
Many of us have felt the defeat and pain of succumbing to a temptation if we are honest.
Let us return to this story and realize that Jesus suffered and that He didn’t take the easy way out. Hear these words from the writer of Hebrews:
“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 without sin. . .Because He Himself suffered when He was tempted, He is able to help those who are tempted.”
If you really want to overcome temptation in your life there is power through Christ to do it. It won’t me easy and it won’t involve any shortcuts but you can do it with Christ by your side. On your own you probably don’t stand a chance.
I have used this story before but I need to share it again:
James Michener, writing in his book, The Source, tells the story of a man named Urbaal, who was a farmer living about 2200 B.C. He worshipped two gods: one, a god of death, and the other, a goddess of fertility. One day, the temple priests tell Urbaal to bring his young son to the temple for sacrifice—if he wants good crops. Urbaal obeys, and on the appointed day drags his wife and boy to the scene of the boy’s “religious execution” by fire to the god of death. After the sacrifice of Urbaal’s boy along with several others, the priests announce that one of the fathers will spend next week in the temple, with a new temple prostitute. Urbaal’s wife is stunned as she notices a desire written more intensely across his face than she had seen before, and she is overwhelmed to see him eagerly lunge forward when his name is called. The ceremony over, she walks out of the temple with her head swimming, concluding that, “If he had different gods, he would have been a different man.” Folks, what you believe determines where you go, what you do, how you spend your time. What you believe determines how you respond to hard times, temptation, pressures around you. And what you believe determines where you will spend eternity, and how quickly you get there. Really, what you believe determines who you are.
When Martin Luther was asked how he overcame the devil, he replied, “Well, when he comes knocking at the door of my heart, and asks ‘Who lives here?’ the dear Lord Jesus goes to the door and says, “Martin Luther used to live here, but he has moved out. Now I live here.” When Christ fills our lives Satan has no entrance.