First Mennonite Church
January 31, 2016
Jesus and Temptation
Text: Matthew 4:1-11
In James 1, verse 12 we are given some insight about nature of trials and temptations. No one, when tempted, should say, I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil and he himself tempts no one. We will be looking at this text more closely at another occasion because today we will make a detour on our series in James. This week I attended several meetings and therefore I had to grab a study I had prepared earlier this month. The temptation of Jesus will make for today.
The Apostle Matthew narrates what happened before Jesus began his public ministry. At the end of chapter 3, Matthew tells us of Jesus’ baptism. He tells us that as Jesus was coming up from the water after his baptism, God gave witness of his approval. The voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” Following the account of Jesus baptism and affirmation, Matthew tells us of Jesus’ temptation.
Matthew 4, 1 to 11.
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. 3 The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4 But he answered, “It is written,
‘One does not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6 saying 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,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”
7 Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; 9 and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10 Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written,
‘Worship the Lord your God,
and serve only him.’”
11 Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.
The First Temptation, Matthew 5: 1-4
Turning stones into bread
The context for the temptations of Jesus seems an obvious place of trials. It is in the desert where the Israelites tempted God, according to Exodus. How it was that Matthew understood Jesus move into the desert as the leading of the Spirit of God, we do not know. But Matthew affirms it was the Spirit who led Jesus into the desert to be tempted by the devil. The desert is what it is. It is a place of need and a trying place. The desert is a place where survival is the main goal. Plants and animals are always in survival mood in the desert. In the case of Jesus he fasted for forty days and nights and was famish. The word “famish” describes the effects of food deprivation for the humanity of Jesus. And bread would have been the perfect solution to Jesus’ need. When Jesus was famish and in need of food the devil came to tempt him.
The devil knows when, where and how to tempt us. He knows when we come into a time of wasteland in our lives. The devil knows when we are in weak and famish in our spirit. The devil knows what we are lacking and what we are going through. Bread is the representation of everything that sustains life. Bread represents the job we have by which we earn a living. Bread can mean the clothes we wear that keeps us warm. It could mean shelter we have over our head. Bread can be the good health we enjoy. It could be our savings, education, and so forth. Our life is invested and spent in securing our bread. And not having bread can mean lacking any of the above mentioned items. Lacking any of the above items is like going into the desert.
Jesus rejected the temptation of turning stones into bread not only because in doing so he would provide for his physical need away from the will of his Father, but also because turning a whole landscape of stones into bread would have been the easiest way to introduce himself as God’s Messiah to his people. In the gospel according to John chapter 6, after Jesus fed the five thousand, in verse 15 says, “When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.” Giving bread to a famish crowd would have secured Jesus their trust without having to die on the cross. The devil wanted Jesus to choose the easy route to being accepted as God’s Messiah. Jesus knew the way to redeem his people and the world was the way of the cross.
The easy way to everything is always a temptation. For a student, cheating is an easy way to get good grades. Cover ups are easy ways to avoid major problems. Winning the Lotto can be an easy way to become a millionaire.
Jesus had the power to turn stones into bread. The devil knew Jesus had just been declared “the beloved Son” by God. The devil knew Jesus did have the power to turn stones into bread because Jesus was indeed the son of God.
When people have power, whether as a boss, manager, person of authority, or simply as a parent, opting for an easy way to get things done can be tempting. Jesus could have had his fill with fresh bread out of a miracle. But Jesus resisted the easy way to satisfy himself. He opted for the will of God. The easy way is not always the right way. Doing the will of God is always the right way to go. Let us, therefore, always choose the right way even if it is the harder way.
The Second Temptation Matthew 5, verses 5 to 7.
Throw yourself down, for God will send his angels to the rescue.
Interpreters have had difficulty identifying both what Matthew means by “holy city” and what the “highest point” would be if the reference is to the Jerusalem temple. Was it the roof or a spire? Yet, implied in this temptation was that there would be a crowd of spectators. If Jesus were to obey the devil, he would have given a sensational demonstration of divine intervention on his behalf as the Son of God. The devil was right in saying that angels were ready to come to Jesus’ rescue. They did after the third temptation.
It is interesting that the devil rightly quoted scriptures. The devil was right when he said that God’s angels would come to assist Jesus if he were in crisis. The devil knew the Bible. The fact that the devil was able to use scripture for the wrong reasons should make us wary about those who quote the Bible too, like if by doing so they prove they are true followers of Christ. Today, it is not surprising that politicians quote scriptures when they try to persuade Christians to support them. It should not surprise us if they do. But we should not be deceived even if they can do it well. The devil quoted scripture and he was right about it. Behind his quoting of scriptures was again his devious plan to divert Jesus from following the will of God.
If Jesus had thrown himself off from the highest point of the temple he would have been known as a performer of wonders, a worker of miracle, and someone completely different from the rest of his people. Jesus would have immediately been regarded a superman. Yet, Jesus came to his own in a humble manner. He came to share in flesh and blood with humankind. He came to be touched and touch others with his loving hands. Jesus came to demonstrate a new humanity, not based only by performing miracle, but as someone who weeps, gets tired, who needs a drink of water, and someone who also shares his bread with the hungry. Jesus came in his full humanity, but who also was the Son of God in power and glory. And whose ultimate glorification would only come by going to the cross.
How so very often we want to cling to whatever makes us able to impress others. Every so often we believe that if the church could perform wonders the world would come crawling to the feet of Christ, or at least into our doors. But we should remember that Jesus rejected the idea of attracting the crowds only because he could perform wonders. Jesus rebuked those who only followed him because they wanted to see him do miracles. Jesus rebuked those who only wanted to follow him because he could miraculously feed them. Yet the crowds did follow him. Yes, the crowds followed Jesus when they discovered that he was a man in whom God’s love, mercy, compassion, and righteousness were visibly displayed by the way he cared for his fellow man. This makes me wonder how often we tempt God when we desire to attract the unbeliever with flashy religious events or other ways that glorifies the person instead of God. We should also remember what Jesus responded to the devil when he was tempted this way.
Jesus said to the devil, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
Let us allow the spirit of Christ take over our lives and may his grace be displayed through us.
The Third Temptation, Matthew 5: 8-10
The Gospel of Luke has a version of this temptation in chapter 4, verses 5 to 7 where it reads: The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. If you worship me, it will all be yours.” It is interesting to note that Jesus does not deny or argue against the Devil’s claim of being the one who disposes of the worldly authority and glory. Yet, the truth is that Jesus is not only Lord of everything, he is also Creator of everything.
Through this temptation the devil’s reveals his knowledge of Jesus’ ultimate purpose of coming into the world. He came to announce the Kingdom of God. A kingdom not imposed through power, coercion or force but through love, service, and sacrifice. Jesus came proclaiming a kingdom whose glory is through the cross and not the byproduct of power or wealth and much less of evil means.
This temptation should remind us that we live in a fallen world and those who exercise power and authority often do through coercion, imposition and in many cases through evil or deceitful schemes. We should also remember that no human institution is exempt from the influence of the power and authority dispensed by the devil. There is a constant desire in the human heart to exercise power and authority. And for the sake of authority and power, many succumb to evil ways to attaining them. Having said that, I am aware that even the Christian church is a human institution. Therefore, it is important for the Christian church to always be on the guard on how it exercises authority and power. Is the church’s power based on its spirit of service, sacrificial love, and compassion? Those are the ways of the cross. The power of the church should not be based on anything but the ways of Jesus; apart from that, it could be power, glory and authority according to the world.
Jesus refuted every temptation by using the word of God. In the second temptation, Jesus did not give in even when the devil used the word of God. Jesus refuted each temptation by staying focused on the will of the Father. Jesus rebuked the devil when he said: “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”
Yes, God is the only one we should bow down to. God is the only one we should offer, not only our worship but also our ultimate allegiance. In doing so, we will also overcome the devil’s temptation of seeking bread outside the will of God, or of seeking glory away from the path of Jesus Christ. Amen!