After Jesus was baptized, the Spirit lead Him into the desert to wrestle with Satan. While the death of Jesus on the cross was the victory for all of us, the substitutionary atonement for our sins, Jesus first had to fulfill the law. And the law is nothing more than to do what is good in the sight of God. To do what is not good before God is to do what Satan wants, i.e. the opposite of good.
Jesus later on in His ministry gives a positive affirmation of the commandments, that which God sees as good, and for which we, as Christians, are sanctified by the Spirit. The summary, of course, is well known: Love God with all your heart, soul and mind, and your neighbor as yourself.
However, prior to the start of Jesus’ ministry, He had to over come the same temptations that we face every day. While one can speculate that Jesus faced temptations all through His stay in the physical realm, this is the only place where we read that He is directly tempted, and He wins the first victory. The temptations, and the subsequent resisting of the temptations, shows us that Jesus knew what we face.
But can we resist? When one reads the passage in Matthew, often glossing over it, do we see what it really tries to tell us?
Mat 4:1 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.
Mat 4:2 And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.
Mat 4:3 And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”
Mat 4:4 But he answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'”
Mat 4:5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple
Mat 4:6 and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and “‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.'”
Mat 4:7 Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.'”
Mat 4:8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory.
Mat 4:9 And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”
Mat 4:10 Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.'”
Mat 4:11 Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him.
There are three temptations:
1. Jesus was hungry, and Satan wanted to use that weak situation to have Jesus misuse His power to satisfy a physical need. Jesus resisted not by filling the physical need, but knowing that His Father will provide to Him if He believed, Jesus focused on honoring His Father. Are we not often overcome by the need for physical pleasure and satisfaction, and miss the opportunity to praise and honor God? Even in our weaknesses, real or perceived, in many cases brought on by a commercialized and instant-gratification society, we must look to resist the temptation of living just for our physical needs. Yes, we need to address our physical needs but that alone is not enough. We must address them in the context of worshiping God, studying, meditating and praying over His Word.
2. The second temptation was that of a test. In my birth country, we have a saying that roughly translated goes: “Emergency teaches one to pray.” Here, Satan wants to test God, and see how far He will go. So often we suffer from a temporary faith, and that is exactly what this temptation is. God is not a butler serving up miracles at our command. But that does not stop us from praying for certain things when we feel a need, and then ignoring God the rest of the time. God keeps His promises, in accordance with His decrees and covenants. We put ourselves in bad situations, and then order God around to get us out of that situation. Do not test God, He is faithful, and will love, give and protect us according to His plan. Pray to Him that His will be done, since it is infinitely wiser than ours can ever be.
3. What is your future? Do you want to own the world? Do you serve the world, the material in order to own it? Jesus here lies the foundation for both worship and service to God, instead of trying to gain what the world has to offer. We get so caught up in spending our time trying to gain the world, buying into the measurement of earthly riches, status and intellectual secular snobbery. But Jesus again resists by emphasizing that we must serve God, and God alone. The world seems like it may have glory, and therefore we gain glory by owning a part of it. But in the end, we can only serve one God.
We face the very same temptations today that Jesus did in the desert. We are promised earthly riches, an abundance of physical pleasure, and a problem-free life if only we put God to the test. Unfortunately, this is not limited to the secular realm only, many modern churches preach this, to the detriment of humbling oneself in fear, trembling, awe and adoration. Our needs are put before worship, our desires before a Godly life, our whims before serving.
Know today that to conquer Satan, to resist his temptations, we must read, understand and live by the word of God (v4b), we must understand His decrees, promises and covenants and not put God to the test with a temporary faith (v7), and worship and serve God alone, so that we may partake in His kingdom, not that of the earth (v10).