READ Matthew 4:1-11
Matthew Chapters 3 & 4 are all about the groundwork that was laid for Jesus to be prepared and ready to launch His public ministry. Matthew (and the other gospels) are clear – undergoing and resisting temptation was an essential prerequisite for Jesus. Why would Jesus need to be led into the wilderness for 40 days to be tempted by the Devil himself? Answering this question clarifies the nature of Jesus’ redemptive mission and helps us understand the place of temptation in our lives.
What is temptation?
Temptation, by and large, is a lost concept in our day. Maybe this was something people talked about in Medieval times or in Puritan England or America but it’s not viewed as a valuable part of our current moral & ethical conversation. When we do use it, we often refer to the temptation of food or sexual attraction in a harmless, all in good fun kind of way. For most people in our culture, temptation is a trivialized concept. But for a smaller subset of people, temptation is actually a magnified concept. For some religious groups, everything in the culture is a temptation to be avoided or feared. These groups create sub-cultures or go into hiding. To admit temptation or to fall into temptation is to feel like you’re a pariah or an outcast.
What’s the Bible’s perspective?
The story of Scripture tells us that the entire trajectory of human history was changed because of temptation. In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve gave into temptation resulting in the entrance of sin and death into the world. The same is true for our personal stories - how we handle temptation can also alter the trajectory of our lives. But the Bible also teaches that, though temptation is dangerous, it doesn’t define us. It’s a normal and expected part of our being human in a world where evil and sin exists. We could define temptation as anything that draws us away from God’s will and call for our lives. From this definition, we see temptation is distinct from sin and is ultimately relational – temptation lures us away from a trusting relationship with God Himself.
Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness by the devil was a vital part of his mission to confront and conquer the power of evil and sin over us. There are three ways we see this:
1) It was a Reversal.
The same Greek word, Peirazo, can be translated as trial, test or temptation depending on the context. This is important for understanding temptation because the same event can be a temptation from Satan to weaken our faith and, at the same time, a test from God to strengthen our faith in Him.
It’s crucial we know that temptation and the devil are not outside of God’s sovereign purposes & control. God actually turns the tables on Satan and beats him at his own game. In passing this test, Jesus is even more secure of His identity as God’s beloved Son and was better prepared to face the suffering, resistance and ultimately the cross.
2) It was Real.
Jesus’ temptation wasn’t a show. It is important to affirm Jesus was really tempted. Not only did Jesus experience real temptation, Jesus experienced temptation more fully and powerfully than any other human being who ever lived - because he never gave into it. Jesus knows the power and lure of sin better than anyone.
3) It was Representative.
Matthew’s main point in telling this story is not to give us an example of how to resist to temptation but a champion who resists temptation for us. The two most tragic falls into temptation in the story of Scripture are Adam and Eve’s fall in the garden and Israel’s many failures in the wilderness journey. We see parallels to both of these failures in Jesus’ temptation. The message is clear. Jesus is the true Adam and the true Israel – He resists where they fell. He has come to restore what was lost in Adam and to fulfill the calling Israel never was able to fulfill.
Though Matthew’s main point is to show us Jesus’s victory over temptation for us, we do learn some important lessons about how we can handle temptation in our lives from this text.
First, we are encouraged to recognize temptation in our lives.
Just as in Jesus’ life, temptation often follows on the heels of spiritual high points and at times when God is calling us to something new. The devil went after Jesus’ weak spots and he goes after ours too. Do you know the ways you are currently most tempted to be drawn away from God’s will and call for your life? If we don’t know our weak spots, we’ve already been defeated.
Second, Jesus helps us see how temptation is resisted.
Jesus recalled Scripture (all from the book of Deuteronomy) to counteract the deceit and lies of evil. If Jesus needed to have the truth of scripture at the ready, we – all the more – need the word of God to fill our minds and hearts. Jesus also stood firm in remembering his baptism. Satan tried to undermine his identity (If you are the son…). Jesus remembered and stood firm in what was most true about him – he was God’s beloved son, in whom His Father was well pleased.
Third, Jesus’ temptation shows us how to recover when we fall into temptation.
Recovering from a fall is one of the most important parts of spiritual maturity and growth. When we fall, we can either go deeper 1) into despair, self-focus, beating ourselves up, doubting and thus be weakened against future temptation OR 2) into the gospel, focus on Jesus, into repentance and thus be strengthened against future temptations. Jesus is the only one who resisted all temptation. His victory frees us to admit our struggles and failures and find grace when we fall. As Alister McGrath writes, “When we fail - as, sadly, we will - we need to allow God to put us back on our feet again and recommission us into his service. God has a long history of taking self-confessed failures and doing great things through them. Perhaps when we fail, we are most receptive to the grace of God.”
1. What about the sermon most impacted you or left you with questions?
2. Do you agree that the concept of temptation is largely a lost and trivialized concept in our culture? Or do you come from a background where you’ve magnified temptation as something that, if admitted, would have made you an outcast?
How does it help to know the Bible teaches that temptation is dangerous but never defines us?
3. How might knowing that God turns the tables on temptation and uses it (as a test) to strengthen our faith change how we think about and deal with our own temptations?
4. Look up Hebrews 2:14-18 & 4:14-16. Do you think of Jesus as someone who completely understands your greatest temptations? How does knowing that Jesus sympathizes with our weakness help us handle times when we are tempted or fall into temptation?
5. “Matthew tells us the story of a champion, not an example.” What difference does it make knowing that this story isn’t a manual in how to resist temptation but a report of Jesus’ victory for us?
6. Where are you currently most tempted to be drawn away from God’s will and call in your life? Jesus’ 3 temptations can be seen as representing 3 major weak spots where we are drawn away from God. Which do you most struggle with and how are you resisting?
· Temptation of Pleasure + Comfort – “Turn the stones to bread” Does your temptation for the pleasures and comforts of life numb you to your deeper spiritual hunger for God’s living word?
· Temptation of Praise + Credit – “If you love me you’ll make my life about me, my agenda, plans and success. If you don’t, I won’t trust you.”
· Temptation of Power + Control – “You can have all power, if you worship me.” The temptation to look for security or control over our lives anywhere but in God always leads us into compromise/idolatry.
7. Read the Alister McGrath quote above. How have you learned to recover from falling into temptation? Do you tend toward despair and despondency or have you learned how falling can drive us further into grace?