Dear Radio Friends,
You will remember that we are engaged in a study of the temptations of Christ as recorded for us in the holy Scriptures, in Matthew 4. If you would read that chapter, you would see that shortly after Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan River He was led of the Holy Spirit into the wilderness where He was tempted of the devil. There were especially three temptations that Satan brought.
The first was that He would change stones into bread. Satan was aiming at Jesus’ physical hunger, and trying to get Him to think that God was not showing Him favor or blessing.
The second, which we want to begin considering today, was when the devil immediately took Him from the wilderness to the pinnacle of the temple and challenged Him to cast Himself from that pinnacle in a display of His trust in God.
Finally, the chapter tells us that the devil took Him to a great mountain where Jesus could see all the kingdoms of the world, and he told Him, “Bow down and worship me, and I will give you all that your eye sees.”
As I said, we want to begin looking into what the Scriptures tell us about that second temptation.
First, let us have a little review of that first temptation.
We saw that in the first temptation Satan sought to undermine the word of God. We emphasized that this is always the case. This is always at the heart of every temptation. Every temptation is trying to draw us away from the certainty of the word of God. The devil had witnessed the baptism at the Jordan River and had heard the voice of God from heaven saying, “This is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” Now Satan comes with a two-barbed dart: “If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made into bread. God has said that You are His Son, that He is well pleased with You. Is that so? Look at You. Is it enough for you to rely only upon God’s word? Demonstrate it. Use Your power for Yourself to provide for Yourself. Oh,” said the devil, “I’m not saying that His word is not true. But would You point to something outside of His word which will show that it is true?” So the devil was attacking the reliability, the certainty, and the trustworthiness of God’s Word.
The Lord’s answer was beautiful: “It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord.” That is, He would tell the devil, “It’s not what’s in My stomach and it’s not where I sleep that determines God’s favor, but God’s favor is revealed to Me in His holy Word.”
Now the devil, we read, immediately takes Jesus to the pinnacle of the temple. He says, “If Thou be the Son of God, cast Thyself down, for it is written, He shall give His angels charge concerning Thee and in their hands they shall bear Thee up, lest at any time Thou dash Thy foot against a stone.” This time the devil seeks the Savior to display a false trust in God, to commit the sin of presumption. “You say that you trust in the Father? Prove it. You claim to live by every word of God? That’s what You just said. You said that You live by every word of God. Well, really, do you really live by every word of God? Prove it. Jump off the pinnacle. Don’t You believe the word of God when He says He will give His angels charge and keep Thee from dashing Thy foot on the stones below?” So he is seeking the Savior to demonstrate the sin of distrust or, rather, false trust in the word of God.
Let us look, first of all, in the challenge here.
The second temptation came on the heels of the first. We read, “Then the devil taketh him up into the holy city, and setteth him on a pinnacle of the temple” (v. 5). There is no doubt what that means. In some way, we are not told how (the gospel according to Luke tells us He was carried), the devil takes Christ to Jerusalem and the temple. “The holy city,” is Jerusalem. In the Old Testament it was just that: the city where God had chosen to dwell, where the throne of David was, and where the temple stood with its Holy Place. The devil setteth Him on the pinnacle of the temple. The temple was built on Mount Moriah, situated atop a cliff. The pinnacle refers to the edge of the temple building. It was not the top of a church spire or steeple or balcony, but the peak of the roof or edge of the temple roof. That was where the devil set Him down. The architecture of the temple was not like the Moslem mosque with its spires, peaks, and minarets. But it was a box – a square with a flat roof. We are told that the height would have been something around 450 feet. At least one of the walls was built rising up from the valley floor which was strewn with rocks and boulders. A fall from the peak or edge of the roof would bring immediate death. That was the setting.
Then, very quickly, the devil took Him to the edge of the temple roof looking down from its dizzying heights. And he said to Him, “If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone” (v. 6).
His reasoning is along these lines. You have just confessed that you rely upon the word of God. You say that you will not gauge God’s provision for you by merely looking with your human eyes, but you will rely upon God’s word and trust His word that He favors you, even if the things you see with your eyes do not necessarily show that. I tried to point out to you the fact that, from your condition – having nothing to eat – you had nothing to substantiate the word of God. You had no visible proof that you were His beloved Son. But you said that you trusted and lived by the word of God. Your confidence was complete in the word of God. That is what you said to me. All right. Now you have an opportunity to prove your confidence in the Father. You just quoted Scripture to me. Well, let me remind you of another Scripture. (For the devil knows his Scripture. He quotes from Psalm 91 in which the Lord says He will give His angels charge over Thee to bear Thee up lest at any time Thou dash Thy foot against a stone.) Doesn’t the Word of God say the angels will arrest your fall? Will they not bear you up and set you down safely so that you will not even bruise your foot on one of the sharp stones below?
Notice how Satan seeks to build on the answer of Christ. In the first temptation the Lord’s answer was: “I rely upon the Word of God.” Well, Satan now seeks to use these words for the next temptation. He is very quick and he is very clever. He does not just dig into his bag of temptations and let fly. No. The devil is a dead shot. He aims his arrows. He tries to use the Savior’s own words. That is the way he often works in your life too.
There are two things I want you to notice in this challenge.
The first is this: The second temptation is the very reverse of the first. That is astonishing. The devil does a 180-degree turn. It reminds me of how you would attempt to get a post out of the ground. If you do not have the power to pull it straight out, what do you do? You push it one way and you push it the other way, back and forth. That is the way the devil works – back and forth. He can turn 180 degrees and come at you just from the opposite way he came the first time. In the first temptation, he suggested that the Father did not care, that the Father had not made provision. “You’re hungry. Your Father says He’s pleased with you. But look. He’s driven you into the wilderness. Your needs are not being met. You had better make these stones into bread. You had better not rely upon Him. Take care of yourself.”
Now he comes from the other side – a 180-degree turn. “Your Father has said that He will care for you? He said that long ago in the book of the Psalms, that the angels will be watching over your every step. You trust in God? You said you trust His word. Just let go, then. Jump off the roof of the temple.” Astonishing. First he says the Father does not care. Then he says, “Well, the Father cares so much you can throw caution to the winds. Here, create a situation in which God must act to show His power and His care.”
There is the evil of this second temptation. Satan tries to get Jesus to show a false trust in God. It seems that Satan is saying, “Just trust God.” That sounds legitimate. And we often encourage one another to do exactly that: trust in the Lord. But, understand, Satan is not proposing to Jesus to act on faith, but to act on His own presumption, to rush in impetuously and to tempt God. Do something God has said don’t do. Only, do it in faith. Leap out in faith. How common that is today in the church world. The idea that God will protect you, no matter what you do.
Notice with me, secondly, that having been rebuffed by the word of God in his first temptation, the devil now takes Scripture to use for his own ends. He uses the pure word of God to serve his own ends. He selects his texts very carefully. Psalm 91 is Messianic, that is, it portrays the coming of the Savior, the Messiah, the Servant of the Lord. He says (and he’ll say this to you), “Oh, you want to talk the Bible? Let’s talk the Bible. Let’s do this biblically, then. Let’s do this within the framework of Scripture.” He says, “I don’t reject them. I can talk the Bible with you.” You see, if Satan outright acknowledges that he hates the Word of God, then the lines are drawn very sharply. But he wants it to appear that there is no difference between him and the Scriptures. That is the impression he wants left in the church. “There is no difference, really, between the lie and the truth. Oh, all of these lies really are not lies. They can be found in the Word of God somewhere.” He does not say to Jesus, “I don’t trust God’s word.” No, “I trust God’s word, too. Do you? Cast Thyself off the temple.”
Once again the Lord’s response is beautiful and shows us what Satan’s intention was. Satan’s intention was that Christ would tempt God, would put God to the test, would create a situation designed to see if God would work or not. And Jesus, we read, said to him, “It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God” (v. 7). There the Lord is quoting from Deuteronomy 6:16 where we read, “Ye shall not tempt the LORD your God, as ye tempted him in Massah.” Moses was reminding Israel about the time when they had rebelled in the wilderness in Massah (you may read of that in Exodus 17:1-7). It was shortly after they had been delivered from Egypt. Israel blamed Moses for bringing them out into the wilderness to nothing, to bitter water. They were in one of their fits and tantrums. And they moved against Moses. “No water, Moses. You brought us out here to die. Give us water to drink.” Then Moses told them, “You are tempting God. You are challenging Him to provide. You are saying, Is the Lord among us or not. You are tempting God. You are saying, If God is among us, then He will provide water as He did in the past. We cannot wait. We need it now.” Christ takes that very word, and in the heat of His trial He brings that word as His defense. “Satan,” says the Lord, “you are asking Me to tell God that He must prove Himself, that He must reveal His goodness to Me in a way above and beyond His decree and purpose. He must do something to demonstrate that He is really God, that He has what it takes to deliver Me. Just like the people in the wilderness were saying that God has to prove that He has what it really takes to get us out of Egypt into the promised land. He has to prove it to us.”
So, the Lord is saying, “You are asking Me to tempt God, to put God to the test. You are asking Me to set up conditions, to set up a testing. And through this testing to determine whether or not God is going to prove Himself to Me, to prove that what He said is so. That’s what you are doing, Satan. You tell Me to challenge the faithfulness of God by throwing Myself off this edge in order that the reality of what He said in Psalm 91 would be fulfilled.”
In Deuteronomy 6:16 God declared that that is tempting Him. That is taking His promise and saying, “If that promise is so, then I will be delivered from this situation. Then I can devise my little experiment and discover whether or not Psalm 91 is true or not.” That is what Moses warned the people of God never to do. Satan said to Jesus, “Throw yourself off the pinnacle. Put God to the test. Find out if that word of God is really true when He said that He would give His angels charge over you. You had better put that to the test. Find out.”
So it is very common for us today to hear these words, “Just let go and let God. Prove God. Show that you really trust in God. Let God show that He is really powerful and good to His word.” What that is is not pious and godly. And it is not faith and trust. What that is is the attempt to manipulate God, to try to pull His strings. Rather than walking in His word and in His will in the assurance that His word is true and His will is wise, we would walk outside of His will. We would do something dramatic in order that we might set up a test to show how great God is.
Jesus said to Satan, “Satan, I have come to do His will. I will never tempt Him. I will never put God on trial. And I will not judge by God’s response to a difficulty whether or not His word is true. I will never dare God. That is blasphemy. That is unbelief, presumption.” The Lord says, “I believe that God will keep Me. He will keep Me safe. But I receive that assurance exactly in the way of walking even as He has told Me to walk. He has told Me that My body is the gift of God – not to be cast off a temple over rocks, just to make a big show and demonstration to you. No,” the Lord says, “I will care for you in the way of your walking in obedience to My word.”
So the Savior’s use of Scripture is very appropriate. You may not tempt God. You may not set up situations in your life in which you put God to the test. You may not come to God and say, “Well, if the Word of God is true that He is really going to take care of me, as He has said in His word, then I’ll just venture off in this. I’ll leave reason out, I’ll depart from His will, I’ll dare Him to keep me even in this dark and difficult way that I am orchestrating for myself.” That is to tempt God. That is sinful. And that arises out of the deceit of Satan and out of the evil of Satan’s heart.
Do you do that? Do you come to God and say, “Well, I’m going to put the Word of God to the test. I’m not really going to believe it or really think that it can stand on its own unless there is some big test for it. I’m going to devise my own test. If the Word of God is true that He is able to keep and bless me, then I can just abandon my reason and abandon my responsibilities and venture forth doing whatever I please, even though it puts my family and me in a way of threat. But I trust that God will take care of me anyway.”
That may sound to some very pious. It may sound very pious, but it is not pious. It is sin. It is to tempt the living God. No, do not tempt Him. Believe Him. Yes, have the assurance that God will take care of you. But have the assurance that God will take care of you in the way that God is pleased to give you the assurance – by following His Word, by walking in your calling, by doing your utmost to be faithful to Him. In that way you may know that He will give His angels charge and that He will keep your soul even unto life eternal.
Let us pray.
Father, we thank Thee again for Thy precious and holy Word. We pray that its truths may enter into our heart and be our rejoicing all the day long. We ask for Thy blessing upon Thy church, upon Thy kingdom, and upon Thy children in all of their trials and difficulties. In the midst of our trials may we, by faith, give glory to God, hoping in Thy Word and trusting and finding the comfort that comes in committing our way unto Thee. Through Jesus Christ do we pray these things, Amen.