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Temptations

Temptations

Lent 2020 Message #4

Throughout this year’s Lenten season, we are, in the Sunday morning sermons, considering many examples of Jesus suffering. We of course realize His ultimate suffering was His time on the cross, on which He died as the sacrifice for our sins, but there were many other times Jesus suffered before the crucifixion.

For instance, Jesus suffered when His disciples were so slow to learn and understand His power and love. He suffered from having such a very busy ministry, so many people following Him most of the time of His ministry, at least most of them wanting Him to teach and heal them. He suffered when, toward the end of His ministry, just about all those who had been following Him drew back from Him, no longer choosing to follow Him. He suffered when He was threatened with death, even before it was His time to die as our sacrifice.

Interestingly, with each of those instances of suffering, there were good things seen.

Even though His disciples were slow to learn and understand, Jesus was still willing to work with them. He is willing to work with us if or when we sometimes struggle spiritually.

And even though Jesus was constantly in demand, He was always willing to help those in need. He is willing to help us as well, no matter how many times we ask for His help. 

Even though Jesus was threatened and rejected, He stayed true to His mission. He still is true to His mission. Even now we can follow Him, even if others do not.

Jesus suffered, not only on the cross, but throughout His ministry. Including what we will think about today, which is the very first record of Him suffering, that coming in what is recorded in Matthew 4. Suffering that happened in a wilderness. Suffering at the hands of the devil, who tempted Jesus.

The timing of the temptations is, to me, intriguing. The intrigue relates to what is recorded in the last part of Matthew 3.

What happened in chapter 3 is that Jesus, at the age of 30, was baptized by John the Baptist. Being baptized is a memorable experience for anyone. However, it was extra special for Jesus because right after He came up out of the water, something happened that added to the experience. The sky above Jesus opened. From the sky descended the Spirit of God, descending like a dove, which landed on Jesus. Then a voice was heard. The voice of God, saying, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

I will mention that in the Gospels of Mark and Luke, which also tell of Jesus’ baptism, God is quoted as speaking directly to Jesus, as in, “You are My beloved Son.” Either way, whether to Him or about Him, Jesus heard God proclaim that He was God’s Son and that God was well pleased with Him, no doubt because He was willing to take on His ministry of helping people. Helping them to the point of Him dying.

What a wonderful experience Jesus had. Being baptized, then hearing God’s encouragement. Would it not be expected that Jesus’ ministry would begin right away with some spectacular, meaningful success of some kind? A success in full view of many people?

What is intriguing, at least to me, is the fact such a well-viewed success did not happen. Instead, the Holy Spirit led Jesus away from where He was baptized, which had been done in front of others. The Holy Spirit led Jesus into a wilderness. A dry, rugged, windy, hot location, far away from other people. It was there Jesus stayed for 4o days and 40 nights, all the while fasting. 

Of course Jesus drank at least some water during that time. He had to have had water or His human body would not have survived. But the amount was no doubt only enough to sustain life. And that was it. No food was consumed for 40 days, which is just short of six weeks.

What do you suppose Jesus did during those 40 days? His daily schedule is not shared with us, so we can only guess. My guess is that Jesus spent many hours praying, asking God, I imagine, for the strength to continue His ministry, despite all the sufferings He would face.I imagine His prayers included thanks for the words Jesus had heard right after He was baptized. Words of encouragement from God. Jesus no doubt asked for continued assurances He would be doing what God would expect from Him.

I think the 40 days in the wilderness were a very close time between Jesus and God. But then someone else entered the picture. The one who entered was the devil - Satan - who presented to Jesus three temptations, each one designed to get Jesus to turn away from His mission and purpose of being the sacrifice for sins.

The report of the temptations begins with verse 3 of Matthew 4. The stage is set in verse 2. That verse tells us Jesus fasted for 40 days and nights, then ends with, “And afterward He was hungry.” You think? Of course He was hungry. How could He not be hungry?

But interestingly, it was Jesus’ hunger that was the source of Satan’s first temptation. Verse 3. Satan - the tempter - came to where Jesus was, still in the wilderness. He said to Jesus, “If You are the Son of God, command these stones on the ground to become loaves of bread.”

Some more intriguing words. “If You are the Son of God.” Remember Jesus had, right before this, heard from God that He was God’s Son. But Satan tried to get Jesus to question what had happened. “Are You sure You heard it correctly, Jesus? Are You sure God was not just kidding You? The Son of God? Really? Are You sure?”

Satan tried to get Jesus to question who He was. The devil then tried to get Jesus to do a miracle.  

Remember Jesus was hungry. The first temptation had to do with that. Satan pointed out to Jesus some of the stones that were part of the wilderness. Stones that, in that area, were about the same size and shape of loaves of bread common at that time.

Satan said to Jesus, “See those stones? Command them to become loaves of bread. If You are the Son of God, You certainly have the power to do that. And just think. The hunger You feel? Poof. You could have more than enough to eat. Just change the stones into bread.”

That definitely was a temptation. And this occurred to me when I prepared this message. It was just Jesus and the devil. Jesus could have done what Satan suggested. What the devil prodded Jesus to do. There were no witnesses, so no one had to know if Jesus followed Satan’s lead.

What did Jesus do? He did not follow Satan’s lead. He instead answered the devil, doing so by quoting Scripture. Jesus quoted Deuteronomy 8:32. He said, “It is written, man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”

Apparently Jesus did indeed trust that He was God’s Son and that God was pleased with Him. Pleased even then that Jesus would follow Him rather than Satan. Of course Jesus was hungry. Of course it would have been nice to have lots of bread to eat. But even in His state of hunger, spiritual food was more important to Jesus than physical food. It was God’s word to which Jesus would remain true.

Satan failed. However, He was not through with Jesus that day. The devil instead presented to Jesus a second temptation.

For that one, he took Jesus to Jerusalem. He took Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem. He took Jesus to the highest point of the Temple. A point that looked down on one of the courtyards of the Temple, where many people were going about their Temple activities.

At that spot, the devil again said to Jesus, “If You are the Son of God.” That was a second attempt to get Jesus to doubt Himself and His relationship with God. “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down.”

Then Satan did an interesting thing. He quoted Scripture. Jesus had done that in the first temptation. For this second one, Satan made it clear he knew Scripture as well.

He did that when he quoted to Jesus Psalm 91:11-12. “God will give His angels charge over You. On their hands they will bear You up, lest You strike Your foot against a stone. Jesus, if you really are the Son of God, those words apply to You. If God really does love You, He will protect You. Yes, it is a long way from the peak to the ground, but the promise is that You will be kept safe. You will be safe if You are who You think You are.”

Remember in the first temptation, no one was around to see what Jesus did. With this temptation, a huge crowd of people would see. And be impressed. Think of the impact Jesus jumping would have. In fact, witnessing Jesus jump dozens of feet and survive might cause a huge following without all the suffering of frustration and hard work and threats and rejection that were coming. Jesus could immediately be accepted as a great hero.

What did Jesus do? He did not follow Satan’s suggestion. He instead answered the devil, once again quoting Scripture, once again from Deuteronomy, this time verse 16 of chapter 6. Jesus said, “Again it is written, you shall not tempt the LORD your God.”

Would Jesus have survived the jump? Of course. But it was not God’s will that Jesus show off for others. Therefore, Jesus would not jump off the Temple.

Jesus survived that temptation, as He had the first, which means Satan once again failed. However, the devil still was not through with Jesus that day. The devil instead presented to Jesus a third temptation. 

For that one, the devil took Jesus to a very high mountain, from which they could see all the kingdoms of the world, including the glory of those kingdoms.

The devil said to Jesus, “All these I will give You. That would be nice, wouldn’t it, Jesus? Think of the power and the authority and the wealth and the honor and the respect You would have. Or, Jesus, if none of that is Your cup of tea, think of what You could do to help all the people in all the kingdoms of the world. All that is Yours, Jesus. All You have to do - just one little thing - is fall down and worship me. Do that, and all the kingdoms - all their people and wealth - are Yours.”

What did Jesus do? Again, this was a temptation because it would have made Jesus the object of power, authority, wealth, honor, and respect. And, as with the first temptation, there was no one else around. Who would know if Jesus worshiped Satan?

Actually, there was someone else around. God was around, at least in spirit. God would know if Jesus fell to the temptation. So it was that once again, Jesus did not follow Satan’s offer. Instead, He said to the devil, “Begone Satan.” The feeling I get is that this time, Jesus was more forceful than He been the other two times. “Begone Satan, for it is written [Jesus again quoted Scripture, this time Deuteronomy 6:13], you shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only shall you serve.”

For the third time, Jesus survived what the devil threw at Him. After which angels came to minister to Him, which was needed. Jesus was still hungry. He was tired physically and emotionally. He needed some care.

And, as the angels ministered to Him, Satan left Him. That, as recorded in Luke, brings up an important point. Luke records that the devil departed from Jesus, but adds the words, “until an opportune time,” which reminds us there were other temptations - other  sufferings - Jesus endured when He left the wilderness and carried out His very active ministry, all the while trusting, relying on, and obeying God.

Endurance including, as we have discussed this Lenten season, the suffering of frustration with His disciples, which Jesus survived by continuing to work with them - and us, His followers now.

The suffering of being physically tired from all the demands on His power, love, and time, which He survived by always having a willingness to help those in need - a willingness He still shows us.

The suffering of threats and rejection. How easy it would have been for Jesus to turn away from His ministry because some people tried to kill Him and others walked away from Him. Yet He survived that suffering, choosing to stay true to His God-given mission of being the Savior - an offer that is valid for us as well.

And as discussed today, the suffering of temptations from Satan, all of which He survived.

*       *       *       *       *      

As the Lenten season continues, and of course beyond it, let’s be thankful for the strength - the physical, emotional, and spiritual strength - displayed by Jesus throughout His ministry. Let’s use Jesus as our example of staying true to God’s purpose, trusting the Lord to share His strength with us, including when we suffer. Suffering such as we are experiencing now with the disease that threatens us, and suffering because of our faith in Him.

We are, this Lenten season, in addition to considering examples of Jesus suffering, also thinking about some of what the Bible says about suffering in store for followers of Jesus. This is done, not to scare us or discourage us, but to prepare us for what is promised in the Bible.

For today, words from Jesus about what His followers will face. Words recorded in John 16:33. “In the world, you have tribulation.” Not might have or could have. You have tribulation in the world.

Again, that is a promise of trouble. And yes, as mentioned each week of Lent, we have very good days, and we have the future hope of Heaven. The point is not that our Christian lives are nothing but gloom and doom. It is just that Christians will also have some difficult days at the hands of those who do not believe in Jesus. Again, Jesus Himself said that. “In the world, you have tribulation.”

Guess what, though. Jesus ended that prediction with these words. “But be of good cheer. I have overcome the world.” Overcome in many, many instances, including the frustration of followers so slow to learn and understand Him and the demands of very busy ministry and physical threats and rejection and, as discussed today, surviving Satan’s temptations.

What hope there is in Jesus. The hope of us being able to survive whatever problems we face because of our faith. The ability to survive as we rely on Him. What a privilege we have as Christians.

Let’s pray. Lord, our lives can indeed sometimes get wild and restless. And yes, some days do feature toil and cares. We are certainly experiencing all that right now. However, we can survive. We will survive as we rely on You, who over and over again overcame all sorts of problems.

On difficult days and on good days, help us to know You, obey You, serve You, and love You more than anything or anyone else. Amen.


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