Temptation and Lies

Matthew 4:1 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 And 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, “ ‘Man shall 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 set him on the pinnacle of the temple 6 and said 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, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’ ” 7 Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall 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 glory. 9 And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10 Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “ ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’ ” 11 Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him.

Last week we talked about how Jesus came into the world not only to tell us how we should live in ways to please our God, but He also demonstrated for us what obedience is. It is incredible, really, that Jesus would come from the heavens, from paradise, and enter into our world and willingly subject Himself, as a man, to the trials of life that we face.

He was not like the boss who never lifts a hand to get into the filth of the job, but only barks orders from his leather chair. No, Jesus puts on His sandals and walks with people, experiencing the pains, hardships, and the joys of life. That is what He did, not because He simply had to, not simply because He was just born here like we were, but because He chose it. He chose this way, He chose to become like us, and in many ways to feel our pain and our joy, not just to observe it or hear about it from us. And so the writer of Hebrews could say:

Hebrews 2:17 Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. 18 For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

Hebrews 4:15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Jesus experienced life as a man, and He therefore understands us. He understands our circumstances, our trials, our challenges, and perhaps most importantly, He understands temptation. Why? Because He was tempted. Jesus was tempted to sin. As soon as He began His public ministry, just after His baptism by John the Baptist, the Scriptures say He was led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He was led into the wilderness for the purpose of being tempted by the devil. He was not led there by the devil; He was led there by the Holy Spirit.

The devil did not show up right away, he showed up only after Jesus had been fasting for forty days. Jesus had not eaten for forty days and would obviously be hungry. We will see in a moment how the devil used this against Him, tried to use His physical hunger against Him. But while acknowledging that Jesus would have been physically weak, having not eaten as he faces the devil, I think it is equally true that forty days of fasting and worship and communing with the Father would have left Him very strong spiritually.

We will look briefly at each of the three ways that Jesus was tempted, but I want to first summarize each of the three temptations for you. Satan is the father of lies, right? Jesus Himself said this in John 8, while speaking to a group of religious Jews.

John 8:44 You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.

The devil is a liar and his aim is that we believe his lies. In the three temptations of Christ in this passage there are three lies that the devil wants Jesus and us to believe:

  1. You deserve better than this.
  2. God does not care and is not trustworthy.
  3. There is a better way.

Jesus faces all three of these, and you can bet that you and I will be faced with these lies as well. The question is, not how did Jesus do, but how will we do when we face them? Are we in danger of believing these lies? Let’s look at each one.

First: "You deserve better than this."

Matthew 4:3 And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”

Jesus was hungry, and the first temptation from Satan was about serving His own self-interest in a way in which He would have been most vulnerable at the moment. The central motive of our lives should be to please God and to serve Him, and to trust that He will provide for all of our needs. We are to seek His kingdom first and His righteousness, and to believe that He has all our needs taken care of.

The temptation here was the devil's appeal to Jesus' rights as the Son of God. At the heart of this temptation Satan was asking, “Why, as the Son of God, should you suffer physical hunger like this? Why, with the power you have, should you be in such a position, doing without what will bring pleasure to your body? Why, of all who have ever lived, should you suffer? You deserve better than this! You deserve better!"

John MacArthur said regarding this temptation: “The purpose was not simply for Jesus to satisfy His physical hunger, but to suggest that His being hungry was incompatible with His being the Son of God.”

Satan is saying, "You are the Son of God, you deserve better!" This is what Satan through this world tries to tell us every day. "You are a good person, you are a Christian, you try to do good, you are better than most people in this world. Being such a good person, don’t you deserve better than what you have? Shouldn’t you have more since you do more? You should be liked more, appreciated more, revered more, served more, looked up to more, you should be more comfortable, happier. You deserve better than this." And so then what? Well, if that is true then, "Go get more for yourself, serve yourself, go and get what you deserve." And life can quickly be turned upside down for the Christian, trying to gratify self in a self-serving way rather than following the words of Jesus to seek first His kingdom and righteousness. Rather than living to glorify God, if we believe this lie, we will be all about satisfying ourselves. Jesus saw through this and we see His fitting response.

Matthew 4:4 But he answered, “It is written, “ ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ ”

In quoting Deuteronomy 8:3, Jesus declares to Satan that there is something much greater than grabbing satisfaction for ourselves or simply serving our own selves, and that is obeying and depending on God and His provision for us. I love Psalm 34, my favorite Psalm.

Psalm 34:8 Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him! 9 Oh, fear the Lord, you his saints, for those who fear him have no lack! 10 The young lions suffer want and hunger; but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.

Jesus in this first response to Satan is saying, "It is not food that is the most important thing in life. It is the power of God and His Word that will sustain us."

Satan does not stop here, he goes on to further tempt Jesus.

Matthew 4:5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple 6 and said 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, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’ ”

Lie number two is that God does not care and is not trustworthy. What is Satan doing here? He is tempting Jesus to test His Father. Why would Jesus test His Father? He only would if there was some doubt as to the Father's care for Him, or to have the Father prove His care for Him. He is tempting Jesus to put His Father's love and care to the test.

Somehow, Satan took Jesus to the pinnacle of the temple. Some estimate it would have been a 450 foot drop. Tradition says that James was killed by being thrown from the portico, which may have been what this is a reference to. So Satan taunts Jesus, "Throw yourself down." Satan even quotes Scripture here.

Psalm 91:11 For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. 12 On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.

"You claim to trust God, so go ahead, let’s see if He is trustworthy."

Jesus would have no part in this scheme to sensationalize His ministry and simply says: “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

Is God caring and is He faithful? If we believe God’s Word, then we will say yes! He is caring and He is faithful, and so there is no need to attempt to test Him regarding what He says about Himself.

God says, "I will uphold you with my righteous right hand." He says He will supply all our needs, He says He will keep us until the day of our final redemption. The Bible is full of descriptions of God’s character and of His promises. Our place is to, by faith, believe. Not to constantly doubt, but to believe.

Satan does not give up yet.

Matthew 4:8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. 9 And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”

This is interesting. What Satan seems to be offering Jesus is power and control of the world. Now think about this: what will Jesus have as He completes God’s plan of redemption? Power and control of everything. He had it before, and He’ll have it again. But Satan is saying that there is a better way. Or you may even say, that there is an easier way, an easier and better way than God’s plan.

God’s plan for Jesus will be full of trial and suffering. Satan is seemingly offering a shortcut with no pain and no suffering. "Here, just take it all now, trial-free. Forget this foolish earthly suffering, just skip all that and take what is yours." I think that is what was happening here.

The lie is that there is a better, easier plan than God’s plan, and that it somehow leads to the same thing. This is of course a lie. There is no better plan for Jesus or for us than God’s plan.

Psalm 145:17 The Lord is righteous in all his ways and kind in all his works.

God’s plan for us is in His Word. He tells us there how to live, how to act, how to respond to Him and others, how to please Him, how to live by faith, how to love and what that looks like. Forget all the other plans out there, forget the shortcuts to something better that Satan and the world offers. His plan is righteous and it is good, and only His plan leads to life eternal. Jesus of course believed this, and so He said to Satan:

Matthew 4:10 “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “ ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’ ” 11 Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him.

You’ve got to love how Jesus handled temptation from Satan here. He handled it beautifully. I don’t know about you, but I look at this and sometimes lament, thinking, "Wow, I wish I could handle temptation as perfectly as Jesus did." And yet, you know what? You know what is better than you or me handling temptation this perfectly? What is better is that Jesus did. What is better is that He handled temptation perfectly, and His perfect life was given for our imperfect lives so we can live in Him and He in us. It is because He handled it perfectly that we can live forever in Him.

And it is only in Him that we can ever face temptation and not sin. It is only by His strength that that is ever possible. We don’t need to read this passage and only lament, we need to read it and praise the Father and the Son for this perfect work and for letting us into their union. This is the gospel, a perfect Christ living the life we cannot live and applying His perfect record to our lives – that is salvation. Praise God.

I make it a habit to read whatever passage we are in as I close the message each week, and from time to time I have people ask why I close in that way. I do this because my hope is that hearing it at the end will be more meaningful than it was when you heard it at the beginning. That at the end of the message we have been more enlightened as to God’s truths and so we see it differently – it's more meaningful, maybe there's more conviction, maybe greater joy, perhaps more understanding of who Christ is and how He has faithfully lived in obedience to His Father for our good. So that is why I read the passage at the end. Ready?

Matthew 4:1 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 And 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, “ ‘Man shall 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 set him on the pinnacle of the temple 6 and said 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, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’ ” 7 Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall 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 glory. 9 And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10 Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “ ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’ ” 11 Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him.