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Jesus' Temptation and Response

Series: Matthew

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on Feb 16, 1997

Matthew 4:1-11

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Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He then became hungry. And the tempter came and said to Him, "If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread." But He answered and said, "It is written, 'MAN SHALL NOT LIVE ON BREAD ALONE, BUT ON EVERY WORD THAT PROCEEDS OUT OF THE MOUTH OF GOD.'" Then the devil *took Him into the holy city; and he had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple, and *said to Him, "If You are the Son of God throw Yourself down; for it is written, 'HE WILL GIVE HIS ANGELS CHARGE CONCERNING YOU'; and ' ON their HANDS THEY WILL BEAR YOU UP, LEST YOU STRIKE YOUR FOOT AGAINST A STONE. '" Jesus said to him, "On the other hand, it is written, 'YOU SHALL NOT PUT THE LORD YOUR GOD TO THE TEST.'" Again, the devil *took Him to a very high mountain, and *showed Him all the kingdoms of the world, and their glory; and he said to Him, "All these things will I give You, if You fall down and worship me." Then Jesus *said to him, "Begone, Satan! For it is written, 'YOU SHALL WORSHIP THE LORD YOUR GOD, AND SERVE HIM ONLY.'" Then the devil *left Him; and behold, angels came and began to minister to Him.” 

Thus ends this reading of God’s holy and inspired Word.  May He add His blessings to it.  Let’s look to Him in prayer. 

Our Father, this is Your Word, meant for our edification.  By the Spirit open our eyes that we might see it.  Behold the glory of the Son.  Embrace Him in that glory and walk in His way.  We ask it in Jesus’ name.  Amen. 

This is one of the most mysterious passages in the Gospel because it contains for us an account of the temptation of our Lord and immediately our minds begin to spin.  How can our Lord even be tempted?  Our Lord was sinless, it is made emphatic in the book of Hebrews that our Lord, though He was a great high priest who had a humanity just like ours, yet it is also stressed that He was perfect.  He was without sin, unlike the other high priests who had to offer sacrifice for sin for themselves as well as for the people.  He had no sin to be forgiven.  He had no repentance to make.  He had no imperfection which troubled His nature.  How could someone without sin be tempted?  We are also told by the Scriptures that our Lord had no desire for sin in His breast. 

We ourselves know what it is like to be conflicted.  To love the good and to simultaneously find ourselves seeking after which is evil.  Paul himself, speaks of this in Romans chapter 7, when he knows the good, and yet he finds himself longing for that which is evil and yet at the same time, wanting to do which is good, and yet finding himself not doing it.  And there is this conflict of dual desires.  But in our Lord Jesus Christ there was none of this.  Because that conflict of desires itself, is an expression of sin when we desire in our hearts to do that which is wrong.  The sin has already begun.  And so the Lord would say to His disciples, "if you lust in your hearts, you have already committed adultery."  And the apostle Paul can stress so clearly that those tendencies to sin, those propensities to sin, in our own nature themselves are sin.  The Lord had none of this.

How could Satan tempt someone in whom there was no foothold to be had?  We know that our Lord was impeccable.  He was morally incapable of sin.  He was wholly given over to His Father.  He was in love with the Father.  And He was in love with the will of the Father, and He was bent and determined and focused in one direction to do the Father’s will.  How could a person like this be tempted?  I don’t know.  But the Scriptures tell me that He was tempted.  And in that temptation, there is a world of comfort for you and for me.  And so I would like to point to you, at least four things in this passage today.   

I.   The context of temptation.
First, I would like you to look at the context of our Lord’s temptation.  What we have as our Lord enters into the wilderness is the field of battle for the establishment of the Covenant of Grace.  On this wilderness highland, our Lord would meet Satan face to face, and He would conquer where Adam failed.  Where Adam’s failure in the Covenant of Works plunged the people of the world into an estate of sin and misery, the Lord Jesus Christ would do battle and save His people by His righteousness.  The Lord God’s giving of us into the hand of Christ is not an act of grace.  It is an act of righteousness, Paul stresses so clearly in Romans chapter 1, because the Lord Jesus earned us and here before your eyes, you will see your Lord contest with the one who would sift you like wheat and have your souls.  But He does it for you. 

We read very clearly in verses 1 and 2, that Jesus was lead up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil and after He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He became hungry.  May I point two or three things out about this context.  Notice this battle, this temptation comes immediately after the glorious experience of the baptism.  The heavens have opened, the Father in heaven has spoken of His love for His Son, "This is my beloved Son."  He spoke of His pleasure in the Son.  "This is my Son, in whom I am well pleased." And right after that mountaintop experience, right after that experience of the glory of God, here is Christ, led by the Spirit Himself, into the wilderness into a time of temptation.  After great honors, we must expect great humbling.  Even our Lord in the experience of a great and high and holy moment, a moment of exceeding closeness to His Father and experience is thrust into a situation of temptation.  We, ourselves, should be prepared for this. 

Notice again, that He is led by God, the Holy Spirit.  This is not an accident, this is not the Lord Jesus stumbling into the way of temptation.  This is part of the Father’s plan.  This is part of the Spirit’s work.  He is being lead into the wilderness to engage in deliberate, divine combat with Satan. Now this is not to be taken lightly, because our Lord, in the prayer in which we prayed this morning, and only a few verses later in this book, is going to instruct us to pray,  “lead us not into temptation.”  This comes from a man who knew what it was to be lead into temptation.  The Spirit had taken Him to this place for the purpose of divine combat and when the Lord says to us, ‘you pray, lead us not into temptation,’ He is saying, ‘I know what it is as the sinless Son of God to engage in deliberate divine combat over temptation.  You pray that you are not put in that circumstance.  And don’t you be so arrogant to think that you can enter into contest with Satan and come out unscathed.  But if you do find yourself there, pray that the Lord would deliver you from the evil one.  Rely on Me.’ 

Notice again that our Lord had fasted for forty days, like Moses and Elijah in their time of the wilderness. He had fasted.  He was physically weakened in preparation for this encounter, but He was spiritually strengthened.  He had denied the flesh.  He had prepared Himself for heavenly- minded combat with Satan on our behalf.  And so, in this context of temptation, He engages Satan. 

Let me remind you that the Lord’s combat with Satan was on considerably more difficult fields of battle than was Adam’s.  As far as we know from the accounts of Genesis 2, Adam was full when Satan came to Him.  Our Lord had not eaten in forty days.  There was food available to Adam everywhere he turned.  There was but one tree in the Garden that he could not eat of, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  Our Lord was in a wilderness with no supply of food.  You can imagine the intensity of the first temptation.  Make bread from these stones, Jesus.  Just do it.  Our Lord was in a fallen world.  Adam confronted Satan in paradise.  Adam faced one temptation.  Our Lord faced three temptations from the evil one.  The results though, for Adam, were failure and fall, whereas our Lord gained victory.  He was successful in His combat against Satan and salvation resulted from that combat.  Our Lord enters into a divine combat for the salvation of the world as he faces Satan in the wilderness.  So much for the context for the temptation.  I would point you now to the character of the tempter.       

II.    The character of the tempter.
The character of Satan, the one who is called by different names in these passages.  The character of the tempter is vividly set forth in the names that are used for him in this passage.  In verses 3, 5, 8, and 10, different names are used for Satan.  Three different names are used for the evil one in this passage and those names themselves give us a vivid look at the heart of the enemy of our souls. 

Let me just direct you to verses 3, 5, and 10.  In verse 3, he is called the tempter.  That is he is the one who entices.  One of the ways he tempts is he entices you to partake of the fruit of destruction by making it look so good.  So wise.  So self-interested to partake of that fruit.  He is called in verse 5, the devil, the accuser.  He is the accuser of your conscious.  He is a double-minded thing.  First, He entices you.  Once you have bitten, he then accuses you for having done so.  He is a short-lived friend.  First, the temptation comes, do it, it will be good.  Then comes the word, how could you have done that?  What would your father think of you now?  He alternately entices and then accuses, and then he is called by our Lord in verse 10, Satan.  The Adversary.  And our Lord rightly calls him the Adversary because though he would present himself to us as an angel of light, he is the Adversary.  He is the enemy of our soul.  And his goal, seen in his nature, is our destruction.  In God’s covenant of redemption, He enters into divine conflict with Satan by the Lord Jesus Christ, and God’s people must not be deceived by the nature of that battle.  Let us remember his nature and his purposes as we think on his names.  They tell us something about who he is and what he desires to do.  And let us remember that evil is more than psychological.  It is more than sociological.  It is more than environmental.  It is personal.  Evil doesn’t just come from out there somewhere.  And it doesn’t just come from within.  Though it does sometimes.  There is a one in the universe whose whole purpose of being is to wreck you eternally.  We must never forget that and we must never fail to be dependent upon the Lord and pray the prayer of the Lord’s prayer.  Deliver us from the evil one.   

III.The tactics of the Tempter.
Thirdly, I would like to point you to the tactics of the tempter.  We have looked at the context of the temptation, we have looked at the character of the one who tempts.  We see his tactics in those three temptations.  The first in verse 3, the second in verses 5 and 6, and the third in verses 8 and 9.  We see the tempter in each of these three temptations attack our Lord’s trust in His Father’s providence.  In every single one of the temptations, Satan is tempting to cause Christ to mistrust, to distrust in His Father’s providence.   In verse 3, he comes and he says, since You are the Son of God, command these stones to become bread.  He tempts the Lord to exercise His divine power, to bring relief to His human suffering.  He tempts Him to think, well, perhaps the Father will not provide for my hunger.  I am famished.  I have been without for forty days, perhaps the Father will not provide for Me.  He tempts the Lord to an explicit distrust of the Father’s providence.  Well, perhaps Jesus, your Father has forgotten You.  Perhaps He has forgotten that You need food here in this wilderness.  Why don’t You just turn those stones to bread.  I know that You can do it.  You’re the Son of God.  And yet, it was the Spirit who had led the Lord into the wilderness.  Surely God, the Father, who by the Spirit, had led the Lord into the wilderness had a plan by which to bring heavenly manna to the Son.  Surely He had a way to provide.  He put Him there.  Satan wants Him to distrust what the Father is doing. 

Notice again in verses 5 and 6, Satan says, You are the Son of God, then throw Yourself off of the temple mound.  Yes, it is four or five hundred feet below, yes there are jagged rocks on the cliff.  Yes, but you won’t be dashed against the rocks, because the Scriptures say that the angels will bear You up so that you will not strike Your foot against the stone.  I mean, You just told me that You trust in God’s providence.  Why not throw Yourself?  All the world would then know that you were truly the Messiah if You were spared such a fate.  And yet he tempts the Lord there to foolishly abuse the doctrine of providence.  To presume upon the Father’s goodness.  To presume that the Lord would provide even if we do that which is against His law, by putting Him to the test. 

And then in the third temptation, he tempts the Lord Jesus in verses 8 and 9, to alienate the Father’s honor, when he says, I will give you everything in the world.  I will give you the kingdoms, I will give you their glory, if you will just bow down and worship me.  He tempts the Lord to disobey the first commandment.  It is a radical distrust of providence because he seems to be tempting the Lord Jesus to receive the kingdoms of the world to Himself without going the way of the cross.  He knew the Lord Jesus had already set in his heart the motion towards the cross.  He knew the pain.  He knew the sufferings.  He knew the humiliation, and the degradation that that was going to cost our Lord to go to the cross.  And he said, Lord, Jesus, I will give you the kingdoms of the world and their glory if you will just worship me.  You won’t have to go the way of the cross.  He tempts the Lord to distrust the providence of God.  How appealing it would have been in the wilderness, famished realizing what the contest was going to cost for our Lord to give in.  Satan’s grand strategy is deception.  He could not produce in any of these temptations what he promised.  He never does.  But he presents what is evil in attempt to convince us that it is good.  He presents to us what is evil.  That is which is what is inherently self-destructive and he says, this will be the best thing that you have ever had.  He says, if you go the way of righteousness, it will be such a bitter, such an unsatisfactory, such an unfulfilling way to walk.  Surely, surely, you need to experience these satisfactions which are not found in the way of righteousness.  Trust it.  Sin is satisfying.  It is fulfilling.  Your Father’s way, the way that God has said for You to walk, will lead to leanness.  It won’t be fulfilling. 

And this is the lie that Satan uses.  And you have heard it in your own ear.  When that call comes, O, friend, you are in a fulfilling marriage, if you would just experiment a little bit on the outside, it won’t be hurtful at all to that marriage, but it will bring you fulfillment that you are not finding with your spouse.  It will really give you the satisfaction that you deserve.  And yet it is destructive.  Losing everything that you have because sin is inherently self-destructive and the evil one hides that and he says, no, sin is satisfying.  It is good.  It is good for you.   And what the Father has in His hand of providence is bad.  Righteousness is bad for you.  Sin is satisfying, it is fulfilling.  And only we have taken the bite of the apple, do we find out that the exact opposite is true.  Only in the light of God’s character and in His word, do we find out how miserable a mistake that we have made to trust Him.  But this is precisely what He does to the Son.   

IV.  The response of our Lord.
And yet we find, and this is the last thing I would like to point to you today.  We find our Lord’s own response to him recorded in the passage in verse 4 and 7 and 10.  The response of our Lord comes by the book.  To every temptation of Satan, He responds, "It is written."  He reverts to Scripture.  He depends upon Scripture.  He asserts the authority of Scripture.  Our Lord Jesus’ love of the Word and His acknowledgment of its absolute authority is so clear in passages such as this. 

Finally, we who are His sons and daughters, the sons and daughters of God, the brothers and sisters of Christ.  We accept the Scriptures authority out of an act of devotion to our Lord.  For He accepted them as infallible.  He accepted them as inerrant.  He accepted them as finally authoritative and sufficient for everything in faith and life and so embrace them ourselves out of an act of devotion to Him.  And when He was faced with temptation, these words come from Him.  It is written, He refuses to be tempted to mistrust, to distrust, to abuse God’s providence.  He says, no, man does not live on food, he lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God, and therefore Satan you are telling Me that I need something that God tells Me I don’t need.  God tells Me that He will give Me what I need, and that I need Him above everything else.  And therefore I will not succumb to the temptation to produce myself what I think I need.   I will depend on the Father’s supply of My needs.  I refuse to be putting the Lord to the test.  I will not be presumptuous by hurling Myself down, because the Scriptures themselves say, do not put the Lord to the test.  Do not foolishly test His providence.  And I will not worship you because the Lord God has said in His Word, worship Him only.  And I choose the cross as the way I will receive the kingdom of the world, though it seems to be the way of self-destruction.  I know that it is the way of God’s providence, and though I do not understand myself in My humanity how that can be that the way of glory is the way of the cross, I choose to embrace it because the Father has said so.  And so He rebukes, He sends away the tempter. 

When we face temptation, we too, must resort to the word.  You see how the Lord Jesus uses the word in this passage.  He uses it to do two things.  What had Satan done?  Satan had attempted to break down His belief and His trust in the Father’s providence.  And in His resort to the word, He remembers and quotes from Deuteronomy 6 and from Deuteronomy 8.  I will not be like the unbelieving children of Israel in the wilderness.  I will believe that if God has brought Me to the wilderness, He can bring me manna from heaven.  I will not distrust Him.  He uses the word to scope His faith, so that He will not distrust His Father. 

And then He uses the Word to remember that in the wilderness that even though there was not visible means of feeding the people of God, but there God brought the quail, there brought the manna.  God’s providence prevailed.  The people should have trusted; they didn’t.  The Lord Jesus remembers that God is to be trusted.  And God will provide despite all the evidences to the contrary.  And so He uses the Scripture to stoke His faith and to stoke His trust in God’s providence.  If we use the Scripture so, in our temptation, as we face temptation, we must rest in the grace of the victory that our Lord Jesus has won for us. 

We must remember our adoption because over and over, Satan will want us to forget that we are the adopted children of God.  He will want us to forget that the Father cares for us.  He will want us to think that the Father is stingy in His provision for us.  And that somehow he is going to open up this wide vault of blessing for us.  And in that time, we must remember that God always provides, beyond all that we can ask or think, everything that we need, but that to trade what we need for what we think we need, is the road to destruction.  Our problem you see is not that we want too much, it is that we are satisfied with too little.  Satan brings his trinkets and he says these will make your life whole.  And we take the trinkets instead of the blessings of God.

Are you prepared to face the whisperings of the tempters?  By grace, and by the Scriptures, are you protected by the one who has won us in the field of battle?  Will you face the temper alone?   This tempter can only be met by the armor of God provided by grace.  Embrace Him now and find in Him your all in all.  Let us pray. 

Our Lord and our God, we thank You for the victory of the Son on this field of battle and on all the fronts that He fought.  We pray O God, that we would embrace Him and that you would deliver us from the evil one for His sake.  We ask it in Jesus’ name.  Amen.

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