Sunday, January 14, 2018

[Matt's Messages] "The Temptation of Jesus"

“The Temptation of Jesus”
The Gospel of Matthew
January 14, 2018 :: Matthew 4:1-11 

For today’s message, I’m going to ask you to pretend something with me.

Let’s all pretend that we don’t know how this story turns out. Okay?

We’re looking at the story in Matthew chapter 4, verses 1 through 11, which we can call, “The Temptation of Jesus.”

Not that this is the only time that Jesus was ever tempted, but this is the big test right before He begins His public ministry.

It’s like the final exam before you graduate into real life.

It’s like the clinical trials you need before you become a nurse.

It’s like the decisive test to determine if you are ready to go.

That’s what Jesus is heading into.

And we all know this story. At least most of us do, I think.

But pretend with me that you don’t. Okay?

Try to imagine what it would be like to be there and watch the drama unfold.

Try to imagine what it would be like to read this or hear this story for the very first time. And you don’t know what the ending is.

Now, I’ve known this story for very long time.

And it has a very dear place in my heart because exactly twenty years ago, I preached on this passage, Matthew chapter 4, and the sermon was recorded on audiotape (remember those?), and I sent a copy of that sermon to the search committee of an Evangelical Free Church in Lanse, Pennsylvania. Twenty years ago.

I don’t know that there are any copies of that message still in existence.

But I remember it well. Think about this: I had probably preached less than a dozen times when I sent Wally Kephart that tape!

And now, I’ve preached over 800 times, and I’m still excited about sharing this story!

I’ve preached Mark’s version, and I’ve preached Luke’s version here. But I don’t think I’ve ever got to preach Matthew’s version from this pulpit. So here we go.

We’ve reached chapter four in The Gospel of Matthew, but Jesus has not yet begun His public ministry.

We’ve learned about His genealogy and what it says about Him.
We’ve learned about the unique circumstances that surrounded His birth. His miraculous conception. The meaning of His name.
We’ve learned about the search for Him after He was born. A search by Gentile wisemen to worship Him and a search by an evil king to attempt to assassinate Him.

And last week, we learned about His baptism. How His forerunner announced His coming and then “to fulfill all righteousness,” He identified with us going down in to the water and then coming back up out of the Jordan River.

And remember what happened then? It was very important. Look at the last verse of chapter 3. It’s very important.

“At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.’”

Now pretend you don’t know what is going to happen next.

What would you guess will happen next?

I would guess that the people around Him would begin worshiping Him and the Kingdom of God would come rushing in.

But that’s not what happens.

No, with the voice of God the Father Himself ringing in His ears, Jesus was sent into the wilderness to take a great test.

Matthew chapter 4, verse 1.

“Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.”

That’s what’s next.

Boy, there’s a lot in that sentence, isn’t there?

Who sent Jesus into the desert? It was God’s Spirit. The same Spirit that rested on Him like a dove.

Marks tells us that the Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness. He pushed Him out there to take this test.

That’s important to notice. God is sovereign over this testing. He doesn’t tempt. He doesn’t try to trip up His children. But He does allow their testing. And even ordain their testing.

Which is important to remember if you are being tested. Just because you’re being tested doesn’t mean that you aren’t loved.

Was Jesus loved? “This is my Son whom I love.”

And yet He’s tested. For His good and for God’s glory. And for our salvation. As we shall soon see.

And where does this test take place?

In “the desert” or in “the wilderness.”

What does that remind you of? Who else was tested in the wilderness?

The nation of Israel was. Right?

And how did they do? Listen to Deuteronomy chapter 8, verse 2.

“Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands.”

How did Israel do with that test?

Not so good.

And now Jesus comes to take a similar test. How do you think He’ll do?

Pretend you don’t know! V.2

“After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.”

You think? That sounds like an award-winning understatement to me.

What does that forty days and forty nights remind you of.

Well, Moses and Elijah had famous forty days and forty nights. So it’s a pattern that reappears.

But I think it’s supposed to remind you of those forty years that Israel was tested in the desert.

And Jesus is hungry.

Have you ever been hungry? I mean really hungry?

How are your defense against temptation when you are really hungry?

That’s one of my worst times for temptation.

And Jesus was fully human. Do you see that? “He was hungry.” It doesn’t say that Jesus acted hungry. Or that Jesus pretended to be hungry.

No the incarnation meant that Jesus was (and is!) fully human. The miracle of Christmas worked. And the baby was real. And now the man is real.

And He’s really hungry, and He’s going to be really the tempter himself. V.3

“The tempter came to him and said, ‘If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.’”

Do you think that was tempting to Jesus?

You bet it was.

He was hungry.

And He was the Son of God.

He had all of the power and all of the authority to turn those rocks into bread. To turn the desert into a bakery.

Is your mouth watering at the idea of the smell of bread? All I’m doing is saying, “the smell of bread,” and you mouth is watering?

Imagine having had nothing to eat for forty days and somebody saying, “The smell of bread.”

Now, notice that the tempter (We have no idea what form he took. It doesn’t matter. The tempter...) says that Jesus is the Son of God.

That “if” in verse 3 can translated, “since.”

“Since you are the Son of God...” prove it! Use it. Act on it. Show it!

Remember what just happened at the end of chapter 3.

God the Father has claimed Jesus as His own beloved Son, with whom He is well pleased.

“Well, what good is that if you can’t even use it to fill your belly?”

You know, this is only tempting if He can really do it.

There’s no temptation here if He isn’t the Son of God and doesn’t have the power of God at His command.

The temptation is very real. It’s excruciatingly real.

But Jesus says, “No.”

Verse 4. “Jesus answered, ‘It is written: 'Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'’”

You know where that’s from? Deuteronomy chapter 8. The very next verse from the one I read to you a minute ago. Deuteronomy 8:3.

It is written! The LORD will provide. When He wants to.

And it would be wrong to disobey and to use divine power to short-circuit the Lord’s plan and serve Yourself.

There are more important things than food!

Jesus hungered and thirsted for righteousness.

Jesus had food that other people knew nothing of.

His food was to do the will of Him who sent Him and to finish His work (John 4:34).

And that was enough.

Notice that Jesus said, “It is written.” That’s important.

Jesus knew His Bible and He relied on it. He believed it and He entrusted Himself to what it says. We’re going to come back to that, because He does again and again.

Of course, the devil knows his Bible, too. And he’s not done yet. V.5

“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.'’”

The devil says, “Two can play at that game. I can quote Scripture, as well.”

He takes Jesus up to Jerusalem and has him stand on the highest point of the temple. We don’t know if this a visionary experience or diabolical miracle or what. Whichever it is, it’s real, and it was a real temptation to Jesus.

It’s possible that this was on the corner of the temple that overlooked the Kidron Valley and was about a 300 foot drop the rocks below.

Now the rocks aren’t potential bread. They are potential knives to tear His body to pieces.

And the devil says, “Jump! Since you’re the Son of God, you don’t have anything to worry about. I mean it is written in Psalm 91 that the godly one won’t be hurt. God Himself will “command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so you will not strike [even] your foot against a stone.”

I don’t think that’s how Psalm 91 is supposed to be interpreted and applied. Do you?

But it was tempting to Jesus.

Maybe because it would show the world that Jesus is God’s Son in a spectacular way.

It definitely meant that He would not have to suffer.

This would an easy way of getting followers.

But it’s all wrong.

This is the prosperity gospel of so many television preachers.

“God doesn’t want you to suffer. God doesn’t want you to be poor or unhealthy or even to die. Just name it and claim it!”

“Claim God’s word!”

But Jesus says, “No.” v.7

“Jesus answered him, ‘It is also written: 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'’”

That’s Deuteronomy chapter 6, verse 16.

You don’t manipulate God. You don’t twist God’s arm by quoting and claiming Scripture out of context.

You obey God even if it means that you suffer and you die.

It’s lie that says that God is only faithful when He rescues you from trouble.

No, God is faithful all the time. Even if you die trusting Him!

“It is also written: 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'”

Did you see how He did that?

There He goes again with Bible.

But the devil isn’t done yet. Verse 8.

“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.’”

Now, pretend you don’t know what happens next.

Was this tempting to Jesus?

I’m sure it was.

Not that He gave in. Not even for a millisecond.

And not that He wanted to worship Satan. As if.

But imagine being offered all of the kingdoms of the world that are rightfully yours and not having to go to the Cross.

Skip the Cross. Go right to the Crown.

Sounds good, doesn’t it?

I’m sure it sounded good to Jesus, too.

But He also saw right through it.

He saw that even though Satan is called the “prince of this world,” these kingdoms were not his to give away.

And He saw that to bow down and worship the devil would be to go against every single thing that He knows is true about the world. V.10

“Jesus said to him, ‘Away from me, Satan! For it is written: 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.'’”

Jesus said, “No way.”

And He quoted Scripture yet again. This time again from Deuteronomy 6. Verse 14.

“It is written: 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.'”

There is Only one Who is worthy of all of our worship.

And that is the LORD Himself.

And the LORD Himself will give Jesus all of the nations.

He promised them to Him in Psalm 2, and we are winning them for Him right now as we fulfill the Great Commission from Matthew 28.

Jesus just had to go to the Cross to get them.

And with that third “it is written,” the devil had to run away with his tail between his legs. V.11

“Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.”

And my guess is that they brought Him a big picnic lunch.

Now, what does this story mean for us today?

Why is it in our Bibles? Why do Matthew, Mark, and Luke all tell us about how the Spirit of God led Jesus into the wilderness where He had to be tempted by Satan?

Let me make three points.


You can’t miss that.

Every time Satan threw his temptations at Jesus, Jesus pulled out the Scripture like a big shield of faith and the fiery darts just bounced off.

Bwing, bwing, bwing.

Jesus knew His Bible. He knew what God’s word said.

What God had promised and what God had commanded.

And He believed it.

And that’s how He survived the temptations.

I think that we can learn something from that for ourselves today.

If you are being tempted (and we all are) God’s Word is the way to go.

“It is written.”
“It is written.”
“It is written.”

Do you know what is written?

Imagine getting shot and having no shield.

You’re exposed.

You’re out there in the devil’s crosshairs if you don’t know God’s Word.

That’s why we memorize it.

That’s why we read it.

That’s why we build all of our ministries around it.

Because God’s Word is where it’s at!

“It is written.”
“It is written.”
“It is written.”

Jesus trusted God’s Word. He thought of God’s word as life itself.

“Man does not live by bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

Jesus knew that that’s where life is.

What do you need to do to get into God’s Word and to have God’s Word get into you?

Do you see the spiritual power that Jesus has? The devil has to flee! The devil gets resisted, and he’s the one who backs down.

Because of God’s Word.

I want to know God’s Word like that. And believe God’s Word like that.

Jesus trusted God’s Word.

And when He did that, He proved that He is God’s Son.


Which is an even deeper point of this story.

Remember what had just happened right before He was led out into the desert?

The Spirit had rested on Him. And the Father had said, “That’s my boy!”

And the devil keeps playing on it. Did you see that in verse 3 and verse 6?

“Prove it! Show it!”

And Jesus proves it and shows it, not by some flashy miracle done in His own power but in loyal obedience to the Father in the power of the Spirit.

Jesus proved that He is God’s Son.

That the Father was justified in saying, “With Him I am well pleased!”

In saying, “No” to Satan’s temptations, Jesus showed that He truly is God’s obedient Son.

And that makes Him worthy of all of our worship.

Yes, He’s a model for us in resisting temptation.

But even more, He is the Son of God and God the Son!

And He’s shown it by defeating the devil at his own game.

We should worship Jesus.

You know I know a lot of people who worship God but don’t worship Jesus.

I call them, “Godlians.”

But that’s not enough. We need to be Christians. We need to give Jesus His proper place.

“Worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.”

But that’s Jesus! He is the Son of God and God the Son.

Worthy of all of our worship forever.

Here’s why.


Jesus beat the devil.

Did you see that coming?

This is why I asked you to pretend you didn’t know what was going to happen.

So often in the Bible, when the testing came, they failed, right?

Adam in the garden? He didn’t pass the test.

How many are reading their Bible through this year? I’m in Genesis chapter 30 right now. And I can’t believe how many failures there are so far.

Adam, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob. You name it. They crashed and failed so often.

The whole Old Testament is a story of repeated failure.

Israel in the wilderness. They didn’t pass the test.

Even great leaders like King David. When Satan came knocking? Down they went.

So many thumbs down, right?

And now Jesus comes along and he goes out in the desert, and what happens?

He wins!

Jesus beats the devil!

When I preached this on that audiotape, I think I set it up like a boxing match. “In this corner, we have Satan, the undefeated and reigning champion. You can win against this guy sometimes, but he’s always getting in his shots.

Ever since Genesis 3, he’s been taking down humans.

‘He will strike your heel!’

But in this corner stands...the Son of God.

Fully human. Fully temptable. Fully hungry.

And victorious!

Sorry, Satan. ‘He will crush your head!’”

Jesus beat the devil.

Jesus succeeded where Adam and Israel had failed.

Jesus fulfilled all righteousness.

Jesus passed the test.

And you know what that means?

That means that He could go to the Cross.

And win our salvation for us.

If He had given in, for just a millisecond to any of these temptations (or any of the ones still to come), then we would not have a sinless Savior to rescue us.

But Jesus passed the test!

And that gives all who trust in Him, the victory.

He didn’t bypass the Cross to get the Crown.

The Son of God went to the Cross to win the Crown and to save us from our sins.


Previous Messages in This Series:
01. The Genealogy of Jesus
02. The Birth of Jesus Christ
03. The Search for Jesus Christ