First Mennonite Church
March 14, 2021
Jesus Tempted by the Devil
Text: Matthew 4:1-11
Today, we will shift gears. I will start a new series of sermons focusing on Lent and ending with the resurrection of Jesus on Easter Sunday.
We will begin this new series by considering the Temptation of Jesus according to Matthew’s version. (I do not know if you have noticed, but there is a slight difference in the order of the temptations of Jesus between Matthew’s and Luke’s gospels. In Luke, the second and third temptations do not follow the order as we find in Matthew.)
The temptation of Jesus has as its background the Israelite experience in the wilderness, when Yahweh gave manna to his people. Israel wandered for forty years in the wilderness because it refused to believe in God’s full deliverance. God humbled them and made them go hungry and he gave them manna to teach them that “man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes out from the mouth of God” (Deuteronomy 8:3).
It is very important to take note of the context of Jesus’ temptation, according to Matthew gospel. Jesus just came out of the baptismal waters of the Jordan River. Upon coming out of the water, a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased” (3:17). Therefore, Jesus’ identity had just been affirmed by a voice coming from heaven, which in Matthew’s description, is from God. God identified Jesus as his beloved Son. Therefore, when Jesus is led by the Spirit to the desert, his identity had been publicly revealed as the Son of God.
In the first temptation, Satan tells Jesus, “If you are the Son of God, turn this stones into bread.” This temptation could not come at a more opportune time. Jesus had already fasted for forty days and forty nights and Matthew tells us, Jesus is famish. For Jesus to act on this temptation would have solved his immediate and personal problem of hunger.
Jesus’ response teaches us two things. The first is that he refuted the temptation by quoting Scriptures, which for us, honestly, might not always be that practical. For instance, who of us would quote Colossians four, verse six after we have been blamed for something either with or without reason? At that moment when you are angry or frustrated, would you quote to yourself, “Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one”? I am not sure I have done that nor that I have always been able to hold my peace. Have you? It is most likely that being in such a situation, we might just want to say something back, and maybe not in the most loving way. It sounds funny, but that might be how we might react.
But there is another lesson we can learn from Jesus’ response to this temptation, which should be more practical for us. He knew who he was and more importantly, he knew whose he was. Jesus refused to provide for his immediate need, not because he could not and not because he was not the Son of God. Jesus rejected the temptation because he did not have to prove his identity. He knew who he was, that he was indeed the Son of God and as such, he belonged to God. He would not give in to the temptation, even if it would have met his physical need because of his intimate relationship with the Father.
This is also how we can overcome the temptation. We should remember who we are and to whom we belong.
I remember an incident where someone who was burning with anger and frustration and came to another and started making accusations against this other person. After the first one finished emptying his anger over the other, he asked, “And do you have anything to say?” The other one simply said, “No. I don’t have anything to say.” Being myself one of those who witnessed what had happened, I later apologized to the one who had suffered the abuse. And this is what he told me, “I did not say a word because I know who I am.”
Whenever we are tempted, let us always remember who we are. We are followers of the one who remained silent as a lamb even as he was being led to his death. We belong to the one who is our Master; thus, we would not give in to the desires of the flesh.
When you find yourself at the brink of responding in the manner of “eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth” please remember that you are a follower of Jesus and that you belong to him.
In the second temptation, the Devil put Jesus on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, because it is written, God will send his angels to rescue you from getting hurt.” We should note here that even Satan can quote scriptures. So, why didn’t Jesus obey the scripture, which the Devil quoted? This should make us aware that not because someone quotes scriptures we should feel compelled to align ourselves to that person. We should be cautious as to who is quoting the scripture and what their motives are. Often times, Christians like when their politicians quote scriptures. So, be careful how you respond.
Jesus also responded to the Devil by quoting scriptures: “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” The main reason Jesus did not yield to this temptation, even when it was a quote from scripture was because it would have been the easiest way to gain followers. Had Jesus obeyed the Devil, he would have immediately become a hero to the crowds.
In the third temptation, the devil showed Jesus the world and offered him power and control over it, if Jesus would bow down and worship the devil. Jesus was given the option of becoming Lord and King of the world in an instant, without having to die on the cross. By bowing before Satan, Jesus would have gained control and dominion over the entire world, without opposition or resistance.
At the heart of these three temptations, Jesus’ identity as the Son of God was put to the test. Through these temptation, Jesus was presented with easy alternatives to achieve his work of salvation. Through these temptation, Jesus was given the option of not having to be the incarnate God, who would model for his followers God’s love, righteousness and justice. However, by resisting the Devil, Jesus chose the way of the Father, the way of servanthood, and the way of the cross. He was Lord, yet he sought not be served, but served instead. He did not make bread to satisfy his own hunger, but in his compassion he multiplied the bread to feed the hungry. He himself is the living bread.
At the core of every temptation we face, either at home, or when we are with friends, or when by ourselves or where nobody knows us, is the issue of our identity. The temptation to tell a lie, to cheat by increasing or decreasing the numbers, or the temptation to close our heart towards the needy is for the very reason of protecting self. We live in a world where self-preservation, self-reliance, and being “self-made” are not only lauded but also expected. However, in the effort of achieving any of the “self-something” the human heart not only grows indifferent towards others but even numb at the suffering of others. In the effort of achieving self-preservation, the human heart not only becomes self-absorbed but also aggressive towards the other. Those who seek to preserve themselves demonstrate not only who they are, but also, who or what possesses them.
We should bear in mind that the tyranny of self-preservation defaces the image of God in us and also deface the image of God in others. Jesus honored his Father by preserving his identity as the beloved Son of God.
As for us who follow Christ, let us always remember who we are and to whom we belong. Let us remember that our life does not depend on bread alone, but on the will of God for us. Finally, let us remember what Jesus says, “Whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it” Matthew 16:25). Amen!