Text: Matt. 4:1-11; Mark 1:12-13; Luke 4:1-13.
Lk 3:38 has indicated the connection between Christ and Adam. As the first Adam had been tempted by Satan, and failed the test, it was proper that the last Adam should similarly be tested, and prove his perfect obedience to the Father. ‘Adam was tempted in a paradise, and yet fell: Christ was tempted in a wilderness, and yet stood.’ (JFB)
Note when these temptations took place – soon after our Lord’s baptism and commissioning for his public ministry. ‘After the approval of heaven comes the assault of hell; after the dove, the devil.’ (J.O. Sanders).
And so it is for us: seasons of great joy and power are are often quickly followed by times of stress and conflict. Let us never think ourselves immune from attack, this side of the grave. The devil still goes about as a roaring lion, full of malice; worse still. he yet clothes himself as an angel of light, tempting us with plausible arguments and incentives.
We suffer deep disquiet at the powerful and frequent temptations we experience. But remember that the Holy One was also subject to repeated and virulent temptations. It is not temptation itself, but yielding to temptation, which is sinful. The devil is a master of temptation. Note his strategies:-
(a) Satan temps us to doubt God’s providential care. After had, Jesus had been fasting for a very long time. Why not miraculously make some food? Jesus refused to perform the miracle (a) because it was Satan who challenged him to do it, and he would not give place to the devil. Miracles are performed in order to confirm faith, and Satan has no faith to be confirmed; (b) because the miracle would have served his own needs, and eased his own situation, and he did not come to please himself, but to serve and to suffer for others; (c) there was indeed a demonstration of Christ’s divine Sonship, and this was neither a turning of stones into bread nor even coming down from the cross: it was in his glorious resurrection from the dead; (d) he wished to be identified with his brothers, hungering as they hunger, and suffering as they suffer, that he might be the more fully prepared and equiped for his role as High Priest.
(b) The devil tempts us to value the things of the world too highly. Lk 4:4-6. The devil suggested that Jesus take up worldly power by unlawful means. There was so much to be gained, and the concession seemed small! Satan’s promises are generous: to Eve he had said, “You shall be as Gods.” But his promise to Eve was a lie, and to Christ an attempted deception. To both, he promised what was not his to give. He has no power to give anything that is worth having.
(c) The devil tempts us to presume upon god’s love and protection. Lk 4:9. The third strategy was suggest an act of presumption, buttressed by a (misapplied) text of Scripture. ‘But what is this I see? Satan himself with a Bible under his arm and a text in his mouth!’ (Bishop Hall). Note the taunt, ‘If you are the Son of God.’ The devil challenged Jesus to prove his credentials. So might people today ask for more proof than God has been pleased to give. ‘If there is a God, then why doesn’t he…If you are a Christian, then why do you…?’
The devil had a purpose in tempting Christ: his purpose was to ruin his trustful obedience to his Father and so completely thwart his whole redemptive plan. But why does God allow it? James 1:13-17 reminds us that God never tempts us to sin. Yet God has a purpose too in allowing his children to be tempted (remember that Jesus was led ‘in the Spirit’ into the place where he was to be tempted). God’s purpose was to test and prove his Son’s obedience.
For all the devil’s malignant power, he cannot make anyone perform an evil act; he can do no more than suggest. ‘The devil may advise, but cannot force, to sin.’
Three times the Devil tempts Jesus; three times he answers from Scripture. Once even the Devil quotes Scripture himself. Jesus’ use of Scripture in answering the devil is interesting and important. There is a wrong way (the devil) and a right way (Jesus) to use Scripture. All of Jesus’ quotes are from Deut 6-8: this is a passage which describes the wilderness experience of Israel, and it is highly likely that our Lord meditated long and hard upon this as he thought and prayed about his own mission and experience.
He relies on the simply, authoritative word of Scripture. ‘Though he had the Spirit without measure, and had a doctrine of his own to preach and a religion to found, yet it agreed with Moses and the prophets, whose writings he therefore lays down as a rule to himself, and recommends to us as a reply to Satan and his temptations. The word of God is our sword, and faith in that word is our shield.’ (Henry)
Jesus went into the desert ‘full of the Spirit’. But he did not neglect the word of God. There is no conflict between a Christianity of the word and a Christianity of the Spirit. To be ‘full of the Holy Spirit’ does not mean that we may neglect the use of Scripture. Take up then the sword of the Spirit. When we are tempted, let us take comfort and encouragement from the fact that Christ was tempted. Let us use the same weapon that he used – sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
Be encouraged by the experience of Christ. One of the great purposes of Christ’s temptation was to provide him with an experience which would form the basis of his sympathetic concern for our human condition. Cf Heb 2:18; 4:15.