What a wonderful thing it is to know, as a child of God, that our Savior, Jesus Christ the Son of God, was tempted in all points like as we are. We read that amazing truth in the Word of God in Hebrews 4:15: “For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.” What a comfort that is to know that our Savior was also tempted, yet without sin.
As Christians, we know that our life now consists of many temptations. Though saved by the grace of God, and possessing the wonder of Christ’s resurrection within our hearts, yet we know that there remains our sinful flesh. And we are in a sinful world. That sinful world and sinful flesh and the devil cease not to tempt us, to allure us back to the ways of sin and death. How shall we stand?
We shall stand. By the grace of God, a grace of God that comes to us through His Son, Jesus Christ. Through the Son of God who, in the days of His flesh, while He was on the earth, was tempted – tempted like as we are, yet without sin.
Scripture records for us in Matthew 4 three temptations that our Lord experienced at the very beginning of His ministry. These temptations are set forth in the Scriptures to give to us rich instruction concerning the beauty and sufficiency of our Savior Jesus Christ for salvation. They are also set forth in the Scriptures to teach us valuable lessons that we need if we are to stand in the midst of temptation. For the Scriptures call you, as a child of God, in such passages as Ephesians 6, to stand fast, to take to yourself the whole armor of God, to resist the wiles, the cunning plots, of the Evil One, not to return to any way of sin, the former life of sin, but to leave that way of sin and to walk in a new and holy life.
We are going to talk, in the coming weeks, about the temptations of Jesus under the theme “Tempted Like As We Are.”
Let us look into this first temptation recorded for us in Matthew 4:1-4.
The first thing that we must notice is that an amazing scene had just taken place on the banks of the Jordan River. Jesus had come to John to be baptized of him in the Jordan. And we read that as Jesus came out of the water, the heavens were opened and the Spirit of God descended like a dove and lighted upon Him. And, lo, a voice from heaven said, “This is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” A wonderful scene and a dramatic moment had just taken place. For the Lord Jesus Christ has now officially entered into His ministry, His saving work.
Then, in chapter 4 of Matthew, we see that everything changes. The glorious entrance of the Son of God into His ministry, the voice of His Father from heaven saying, “This is My beloved Son” – it seems as if it is all replaced by dark clouds, for we read, “Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil.” On the heels of His Father’s affirmation, and on the heels of the Holy Spirit’s coming upon Him with power, immediately He is led into the desert to be tempted of the devil. Why? Why this sudden change? Because, you see, the conflict of the Seed of the woman vs. the seed of the serpent (check your Bible in Genesis 3:15) has come. The Lord has come as was foretold already to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. He is come to crush Satan’s head. He is come to deliver His people from their sins.
We read that the Lord was led into the wilderness. The wilderness was the high desert region in which John the Baptist was laboring. It was a remote and dangerous place. You must not think of the Sahara with miles and miles of rolling sand. You must think of thousands of acres of barren, dry land – rocks, shrubs, and many vicious animals, crooked and gnarled trees, sharp stones, lizards, and ravenous beasts. We read in Mark 1:13, “And he was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted of Satan; and was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered unto him.” The wilderness was not a populated area, partly because of the dangerous lions, snakes, and wild beasts which roamed there, so that human life was in peril.
God sent Him into the wilderness, not into some closet or some haven in the mountain regions near Jerusalem, not into some beautiful chalet, but into that place where the curse of sin upon creation was seen in all of its starkness. We read that Jesus was led of the Spirit into the wilderness. That is very striking. The word “led” is the same word used when Jesus is arrested later in the garden and we read that He was led away unto the judgment hall of Caiaphas. It refers to a restraining escort. We read in Luke 4 that He “was led by the Spirit into the wilderness.” The idea is that His going into the wilderness was not simply a momentary feeling. It was not as though He came out of the Jordan River and felt a little prompting to go into the wilderness. But the Word of God speaks to us that there was a great influence upon Him from the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit taking Him and almost driving Him by force into the wilderness. Not that the Lord Jesus Christ was ever unwilling or disobedient. He was able to say in Psalm 40 regarding all of His works, “Mine ears hast thou opened…. I delight to do thy will, O my God.” But the holy child, Christ, the Son of God in our flesh, knowing the purpose of His going into the wilderness, felt a revulsion even to be tempted. So the Spirit makes Him aware that He must go to be tempted of the devil.
When we consider what that means, then we understand why He is led of the Holy Spirit into the wilderness. No, I say again, it was not that He did not want to do the Father’s will or that there was ever a moment of reluctance in Jesus Christ to perform all that the Father had determined for Him to do. But He has a holy soul. He is righteous. Let me read to you from Hebrews 7:26 these words of our Savior Jesus Christ: “For such an high priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners.” Now His holy soul is to be exposed to temptation.
The word “tempted” is a very significant word in Scripture. It can refer to a testing, or a trial. And when we speak of temptation and trials, we must distinguish sharply in our minds concerning the intent. A trial is given by God for our benefit and for His glory, to strengthen our faith. And a trial always appeals to our faith. A temptation is intended by Satan and appeals to our sinful flesh. It is intended for our hurt, our ruin, to bring dishonor to the name of our God. We speak of trial and temptation.
A trial, then, of faith, is any providence of God, any way of God’s leading, by which God is pleased to put our faith to the test and in which God is pleased, by His grace, to preserve us in that trial. A temptation is something which is intended to wound us, to ruin us, and if possible – and it would be apart from God’s grace – to destroy us. A trial is for our good, in order to teach us to see the greatness of God and to trust in Him. But in that trial we are also tempted, that is, we can also be lured to perform sin, to give ourselves over unto sin. Temptation, then, is something that we must constantly resist.
Satan, now, is going to seek to tempt Christ to sin.
The common interpretation is that Jesus fasted forty days in the wilderness in order to be prepared for this temptation. But that is not the correct understanding. In Mark 1:13 we read, “And he was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted of Satan.” And again in Luke 4:2 we read: “Being forty days tempted of the devil.” The idea is not that Jesus went into the wilderness for forty days to fast in preparation for temptation and then at the end of forty days suddenly became aware of the devil tempting Him. No, the idea is this: continually, for forty days, He was tempted. There was an onslaught of the devil upon Him for forty days. In that onslaught and spiritual warfare, He ate nothing, so intense was the struggle. He did not go into the wilderness to fast. But He went into the wilderness to be engaged in this spiritual struggle with the devil. And after this He was an hungered. He was a man. He was hungry.
That is the setting of the first temptation – on the heels of being baptized in the Jordan River He is led of the Spirit into the wilderness. And after forty days of being tempted in such a way that He ate no food, “Jesus was an hungered.”
The devil came to Him with this temptation. Remember, when the devil comes with temptations, he always aims at the spiritual jugular vein. The devil said this: “If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread.” Satan is attempting to undermine the Word of God. You will remember that, in the beginning, when Satan picked Eve out to be tempted first, he said these words to her: “Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?” Always Satan’s purpose is to attack the trustworthiness and the truth of God’s Word. God had said from heaven only forty days before, “This is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” So Satan comes to Jesus, not by saying, “You are not God’s Son!” just as he did not come to Eve saying, “God has said you may not eat of those trees.” But he comes in such a way that he might create doubt concerning the Word of God. Satan had stood watching the baptism of the Lord Jesus Christ. He had heard the word spoken of the Father, “This is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” Now he begins to tempt Jesus. He sees that the Christ stands before him. And he says, “You have heard that you are the Son of God. You have heard that the Father is pleased in you. That is the word of God. But is that really true? Is that really possible? Look at you. You’ve been driven into the wilderness. You are suffering trouble, battling temptation, you have had nothing to eat for forty days. Your physical needs are not being met by God! No provision has been laid out for you by your heavenly Father? You are the Son of God in the flesh, and there’s nothing here for you to meet your needs as a human being? Prove, then, that what God said at the Jordan River is true. Use your power to help yourself and to make up for this lack of bread. Speak to these stones lying around here, since your Father made them. You turn those stones into bread and have something to eat. If the Word of God is true about you, then you can certainly do that.”
So, Satan is here seeking subtly to undermine the Word of God. The Father had said, “My Son in whom I am well pleased.” Satan says, “How can that be? If you are in the wilderness, famished after forty days with nothing?”
The Lord’s response? It was wonderful! “But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” Our Lord sees immediately what Satan is attacking. Our Lord sees that Satan is attempting to undermine the trustworthiness, the reality, and the certainty of God’s words. His answer is: “I trust the Word of God. I stand upon the Word. I rely upon the Word of God. Yes, Satan, I hear you. But I will tell you that I trust God’s Word in itself. And I will answer you from the Word of God.”
Our Savior quoted at that time from Deuteronomy 8:3. That passage does not imply the importance of food alone. It is not saying that bread alone is the important, vital thing. But the passage is teaching us that the vital thing is the Word of God. The passage is teaching us that the central vital thing in all of our life is God’s Word – that is the most important thing, that is priority. Is it priority for you? So, the Savior was saying to the devil, “Yes, food is very important. And in My weakened, human state, I am very hungry. But there is something more important. What is crucial is the Word of God. God’s blessing is not to be found simply in that things are going My way, but God’s blessing is to be found in His Word. The Word of God is the most important thing to Me,” says the Savior. “The Word that God speaks concerning Me, My life, what it must be, His will – that’s the most necessary thing.”
Is it for you? One can have many good things for the body. One can have many things going his way. One can be “successful.” But all of this can be without the blessing of God. You can have your cupboards full, your refrigerator packed, your bank account flush, health and rosy cheeks. You can have it all your way, but unless the Word of God is your treasure, unless you cherish that Word of God and seek to live in the light of that Word of God, all of those things do you no good.
The opposite is also true. You can be going through a way of lack, trial, and heaviness. And you wonder if you are going to make it. You have fears for yourself not only, but for your family. Yes, child of God, right now today you might be going through a very difficult way. But if, by the grace of God, you have His Word, you trust that Word, you cherish that Word, you desire to be obedient to that Word, you have everything! That is the Savior’s response to the devil. He is saying to the devil, “Satan, I live by the Word of God. If God has said that I am His beloved Son, I believe that. I do not gauge His approach by the external circumstances of my life. Yes, for forty days I have hungered. But I will not gauge the Father’s good pleasure by My external circumstances. I gauge it by His Word – the Father said it. Therefore, I trust and believe it. Further, Satan, I will depend upon His Word. My strength is not found in earthly bread. I do not gauge God’s favor to Me by My surroundings. I don’t gauge it by what’s in my stomach. I don’t gauge it where I sleep at night. I don’t gauge it by the abundance or the lack of things that I possess. I gauge the Father’s favor from His Word.” Do you?
The Savior is saying, “I trust His Word.” Do you?
What is of highest priority in your life? This is why God will often bring us into ways of trial, which for our sinful flesh become temptation. Sometimes the Father will lead in ways of great trial and testing in your personal, family, or church life. He does it in order that He might burn into our souls the wonder of the sufficiency of His Word. If you have His Word in your soul, all is well.
Is the Word of God your priority? The holy Scriptures, do you love them? Look around you. As you look, do you say this: “How can it be that God’s Word is true to me?” Is that what you say? “Look at all the troubles, illness, death, the fact that I don’t have enough to make ends meet. I’m going to go under. Look at all the hard times, the despair and depression of my own heart. How can God’s Word that says, Blessed are those that trust in Him, be true? I don’t feel blessed. Look at me, look all around me.” Is that the way you reason?
That is the way Satan wanted Jesus to reason. That is the way he wants you to reason.
The Lord responded, “Satan, I do not gauge, determine, blessedness by what My eyes see. Oh, yes, Satan, so often the Lord’s goodness is seen through the eyes, too.” Then we rejoice in the Lord our God. But we do not make the standard of God’s favor the external circumstances of life. We make the standard of God’s favor His Word. What did He say? He said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” That means for you, today, that you are to trust and believe in God’s Word because it is God’s Word. And you are to believe that Word that He speaks to you in Jesus Christ of blessing. You are to believe that Word above all other voices which would whisper to you, “It is not so.” You are to believe it because it is God’s Word. And every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord is sure and trustworthy.
Is that true for you? Do you respond to this temptation as did the Lord? May God grant it ever more so in our lives.
Let us pray.
Father, we thank Thee for these brief moments in the Word of God together. Refresh our hearts in them. Now, also, guide us in the week that is ahead. Bring us back together to this hour where we may return to this rich Word of God in order that we might receive the important truths that we need to withstand all temptation. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.