The Temptation of Jesus

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The Temptation of Jesus Study

The Temptation of Jesus
Matthew 4:1 “Then Jesus was led out into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit to be tempted there by the Devil.”
Read Matthew 4:1-11
When I read this chapter, I first wondered, “Why?” Why did Jesus have to suffer temptation. He was sinless, and he was going to be sinless whether he felt temptation or not. I am fascinated many times at how Jesus was fully God, yet fully human! It blows my mind! His ability to feel temptation, and to actually suffer temptation, almost surprises me. Hebrews 2:18, “Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”
He endured powerful temptation for us. For you and me! (As if lowering himself to human form and then dying for us was not enough.) He had to feel what we feel. Hebrews 4:15 says “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are- yet was without sin.”
1 Corinthians 10:13 says to believers that “no temptation has seized you except what is common to man.” Sin is not new, and all that tempts us to sin has been around from the beginning of time. Temptation can take many forms for each of us, and it seems the Enemy has a way of targeting us where we are weak, but the sin itself is “common to man.” Jesus was tempted with those same sins so that He could truly sympathize with us. Yet it also seemed he was targeted specifically to breed doubt and discontentment with the Father’s plan for him, which was ultimately to die on the cross for you and me.
This passage about the temptation of Jesus is sandwiched between Jesus’ glorious baptism and the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. I had to look harder at what the Devil tempted him with, how, and why?
Walking Alone
We know that Jesus was in the desert, alone, fasting for 40 days. Isolation would have probably been as painful for me as the fasting. (Neither sound pleasant, to be honest.) There is some real truth in the fact that we are the most vulnerable when we are isolated. How easy is it to be completely isolated today? For example, if you were suddenly suffering from acute agoraphobia (fear of stepping foot out of your home), could you survive without the help of anyone? With a computer and a credit card, YES! You could live it up, order everything you could ever need via internet, and do quite nicely. Our technological age has given us every opportunity to communicate with one another, and yet live completely independent of others. The Bible is clear about the body of believers being central to our walk with Christ. Hebrews 10:25 says “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another- and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” It is clear that we are not meant to do this alone. When Jesus began his ministry, the first thing he did was surround himself with people, his disciples, to walk with everyday. Even Jesus was not meant to walk alone. Being isolated just makes us a prime target for the Devil. This was, of course, the point in Jesus’ going out for the purpose of being tempted. If you find yourself “walking alone” most of the time, you have also painted a giant X on yourself for the Devil to attack.
Temptation #1
Jesus was fasting. He was denying himself of one of our primal urges- food! The scripture says that Jesus was very hungry. Then the Devil enters the scene, and says “If you are the Son of God, change these stones into loaves of bread.” (emphasis mine)
Now, we notice that the Devil immediately taunts him with “If you are the Son of God…” He knew full well who Jesus was! He knew he was talking to the only Son of God, the King of all Kings! But his first tactic is to remind him he is God, and yet he is lowered to this! He has skin on, and is feeling intense hunger pain, and Satan says ‘For what!? It’s real easy! Just change these stones into bread, and eat! Why are you denying yourself?’
Walking the Christian walk is about denying ourselves, all for the glory of God. John the Baptist said, let me decrease, so He can increase! Less of me, and more of Him! But when we start to deny ourselves, the Enemy will creep in and say ‘Why!? You deserve this!’ Just as he was saying to Jesus. We don’t like to deny ourselves. It goes against our flesh in every way. Look at us as Americans. We deny ourselves nothing! What do we not have that we could possibly want? We get what we want, when we want it, and it’s never enough to make us happy. We certainly don’t deny ourselves food, since we are the fattest country in the world. We don’t deny ourselves material things, since we have so much we can’t fit it all in our house. I guess it’s not hard to understand sometimes why the rest of the world hates us. We are gluttons in every way. Satan is always whispering, ‘Don’t deny yourself! You are certainly entitled to that.’ Sadly, most of the time we believe it. Jesus knew what it meant to deny himself. He is the perfect example for us to cling to. He was GOD, yet he denied himself for his Father’s glory.

Study Questions:
Is there any chance that you are trying to “walk alone” in your walk? Evaluate how connected you are to a body of believers. Are you really being held accountable by someone in your body? Are you meeting together regularly? Or are you just a spectator in a church at best? Read Romans 12:4-8. What is your role in the church?

In what way do you think you should be denying yourself more, but often feel tempted not to? Should you be giving more time, money, glory, service, or something else to the Lord? If you can’t identify one, ask the Lord to show it to you. Consider fasting for one day to regain a concept of denying ourselves as Jesus did.

Temptation #2
We know that Satan targets us in our weaknesses, specifically, but we also know that every sin that he wants to lure us into is sin that is common to all man, and has been since the garden. Let’s establish a few more things about the way the Enemy works, not because we want to study him, but because we ought to be on guard against his tactics.
Truth or Lie?
The Devil is sneaky. Does that sound incredibly elementary? He is not always obvious is his seduction to sin, in fact so much so, that we often don’t realize we’ve been hooked until we are completely gone. Why? Maybe because we are not on our guards, and we’re not recognizing his attacks from the get-go. For example, in temptation #2, he uses scripture against Jesus. Sadly, the Enemy might know scripture better than you or I. (That should light a fire under us!) And his talent is to twist scripture to suit his own purpose. Do you see that in our Christian culture today? People set out on an agenda, and then find scripture to support their opinion. We often times take scripture completely out of the context and purpose it was written, isolate a few verses, and build an entire doctrine around it. Sounds crazy? It’s in churches everywhere. We need to respect and love the Word enough to read it without pretense, and just be willing to follow what it says, whether it suits our desires, feels good, or feeds our emotions the way we would like. I think we all will be held accountable for using the Word of God for our own purposes, puffing ourselves up, rather than just asking God “Teach me what You want to Lord! I’m a blank slate.” Question what you have been taught, and study the Word to see if it lines up. If it is not fully supported by scripture, if it’s a man-made rule, or cultural tradition, then to be honest, it is not worth much. Our final authority in life must be the Word of God, and we must hold everything up to that standard, without twisting it, changing it, or omitting the parts that don’t feel good. Satan is notorious for taking a lie and wrapping it in a fragment of truth. He is the Father of Lies. Any good lie will feel believable, and will probably feed our emotions. That is how he works. We must know the Truth so entirely in order to recognize the lies.
Temptation #2
In Satan’s attempt #2, he takes Jesus to the highest point of the Temple and says “If you are the Son of God, jump off! For the scriptures say ‘He orders his angels to protect you. And they will hold you with their hands to keep you from striking your foot on a stone.’” Jesus responded “The scriptures also say ‘Do not test the Lord your God.’”
I think Satan’s end game here was to cause Jesus to doubt the Father’s ultimate plan, that he would die on a cross for all of humanity. Satan says, in a nutshell, God is supposed to protect you! See, even the scriptures say that you won’t even strike your foot on a stone! If He loves you, why is He sending You out to harm You? Jesus knew as he was about to begin his ministry how his ministry would end. Satan is tricky, in that he wants to cause us to doubt God, and his love for us; to doubt His plan for our lives, and make us feel like WE need to be “looking out for #1” because God doesn’t care. Of course this is all a lie. God IS love. He loves us SO MUCH that “he gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
I think in the bigger picture, the sin that we all can identify with also that Satan is tempting Jesus with is, “Prove it!” He’s saying to Jesus, If you are the Son of God, then let’s see it! How tempted Jesus must have been to display his power. It reminds me of when he was on the cross and they were taunting him saying “If you are the Son of God, just call all the angels to come and save you!” That always gets to me, because I’m pretty sure that’s what I would have done. That would feel good, wouldn’t it? Besides, we all want to walk by sight, not by faith! That’s our flesh. But God knew from the beginning of time, if we walked by sight alone, there would be no faith. There would be no decision to make. We wouldn’t have to actually trust Him. Faith is defined in the Bible in Hebrews 11:1. “What is faith? It is the confident assurance that what we hope for is going to happen. It is the evidence of things we cannot yet see.”
The Jewish people had been long awaiting their Messiah to come, and reign as King. Their idea of what that meant was to be a glorious King who exercised his power like an earthly king. They wanted Him to show up and show out! But that’s not the King God intended Him to be on the earth. He was born to a humble woman, in a barn for heaven’s sake, and raised in a common family, who did honest work. He didn’t sparkle and shine the way they wanted Him to. They wanted to walk by sight, and not by faith, and that’s just not the way the God Almighty works. Do we know why? Not completely, but that is faith. Isaiah 45:11-12 says “Do you question what I do? Do you give me orders about the works of my hands? I am the one who made the earth and created people to live on it. With my hands I stretched out the heavens. All the millions of stars are at my command.” This is the glorious thing about our God. He is so vast and complex! Romans 11:33-34 says “Oh what a wonderful God we have! How great are his riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his methods! For who can know what the Lord is thinking? Who knows enough to be his counselor?” Isaiah 55 says his ways are higher than our ways, and his thoughts are higher than our thoughts! Thank goodness! When we follow our ways and our thoughts, it leads to disaster every time. How we fool ourselves, thinking we are smart. What God really wants of us is to walk by faith. It would feel good to have proof at every turn to “show out” to the world. But we know that one day, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. When we are questioning God, and thinking the answers are so obvious, why is He not “showing out”? Remember that God can be trusted, and that we don’t always understand His ways. We won’t! But that is faith.
Jesus’ simple reply to this was “The scriptures also say ‘Do not test the Lord your God.” We don’t have to test God to find out if He can be trusted. He is a God worthy of our trust. Hebrews 10:23 says “Without wavering, let us hold tightly to the hope we say we have, for God can be trusted to keep his promise.” (NLT)

Study Questions:
How do you think you could know and recognize the Truth more easily? Make three goals in your quest for Truth (for ex. A scripture memorization plan, reading through the bible in a year, finding Bible Study software to deepen your Bible Study time, etc.)

Can you identify a weak area in which you often feel tempted? (Like pride, lust, isolation, self-pity, etc.) If so, now do a study on that topic and find all the scripture you can pertaining to that. (This is where Bible software comes in handy!) Commit the scripture to memory to fight the Enemy!

Do you sometimes doubt God’s plan for you, wondering if God can be trusted? In what ways are you walking by faith right now, when your flesh would really like to walk by sight? Look at Hebrews 11, in what I call the “Faith Hall of Fame” and choose some of the great men of faith to study. (Take some real time to dive into their story.) In what ways did they walk by faith, not by sight?

Third Strike
Satan got three shots, and this was it. This had to be the clencher for him. I wondered why he would give up after three, but looking back at this passage, he did not. Jesus rebuked and dismissed him with this one, and because Jesus is the Son of God, we have to remember, Satan knew who was the superior. Satan seems a bit the over-achiever, thinking he could cause the Son of God to sin…but then again, that’s always been his problem. (Satan became God’s enemy because he desired power over him.) He saw this rare opportunity of observing God in the flesh. I’m sure he jumped at it! But we also have to remember that Satan is fighting hard in a war that he’s already lost in the end. We know the outcome, and we have victory! Jesus also knew that although this road was going to be painful and he would suffer much, that He would conquer death.
But let’s get down to temptation #3. Matthew 4:8:
“The Devil took him to the peak of a very high mountain and showed him the nations of the world and all their glory. “I will give it all to you,” he said, “If you will only kneel down and worship me.”
“Get out of here, Satan,” Jesus told him, “For the scriptures say ‘You must worship the Lord your God; serve only him.’
Then the Devil went away, and the angels came and cared for Jesus.”
I couldn’t really wrap my brain around this one at first. I kept thinking, did Satan really think Jesus would bow down and worship him!? Come on! Why would Jesus want this world, when he knew better than anyone this earth is not his home. But this is the sin that we see woven throughout humanity since the beginning of time. It’s so basic, I think we often overlook it in ourselves; the hunger for power, position, and recognition. I have to confess to you, I dismissed this before really examining how this might be manifested in my own life. Obviously, I don’t want to be a ruler of the nations! I’m not looking for power! But like sin has a way of doing, it is hiding in me in subtle, ugly ways.
So why would Jesus be tempted with this? He already was the King of Kings! But as we already mentioned, he was a King on this earth without the robe, the palace, the servants…the kingdom, basically! He was a King without any recognition. Even his own disciples doubted his Kingship over and over again. How frustrating that must have been! Think of a time when you were genuinely good at something, but no one would recognize you for it. It drives us crazy! We feel so desperate for the recognition that we “deserve.” We think we are entitled to it as our right. Guess what? (This might blow your mind, because it did mine.) We don’t have rights. For real. That may be a whole other study, but for now, we must understand that we don’t have the right to recognition. When we get down to it, our flesh craves self-importance and recognition. We see people in power who we “know” we could out-perform, or we feel our gifts are being wasted because we are not being recognized. Even the church is plagued with one pathetic power-play after another. We desire power.
For us as women, at the fall, when sin entered into the garden, the Bible said our desire would be for our husbands, and he would rule over us. Women have been making a power-play ever since to gain power. Many women desire to be in charge in the home, and many of them are. We can see the utter destruction of the family when, for one reason or another, the man is not present or not allowed to be the head of the family.
I hear women say over and over that all they want is “to be recognized” for their work. I know I’ve felt the same way! My work as a stay-home Mom is not glamorous, and the world is certainly not going to recognize me for it. I am very blessed to have a husband who recognizes the good work I do, but if he didn’t, I would need to be just as satisfied with the work God has given me. This is the bottom line. We desire men’s praise over our God’s. It sounds crazy, but it’s true. We are more concerned with what man thinks of us than what the God of the universe is thinking of us. Our only concern should be if we are leading a life pleasing to the Lord. He calls us to submit to authority, and to work without complaining. Jesus was a perfect example of this for us. He must have been tempted to desire power and recognition, or this would not have made the top 3 list. He was a King who came to save us, and man rejected him. They mocked him, beat him, and killed him. But he did just as the Father asked of him, and now he is seated at the right hand of the Father. Eternal recognition awaited his good work, just as it does for us.
In what ways might you desire power, position, or recognition? In what ways do you dwell on wishing to usurp authority because you are sure you can do better? (Pride seems to be at the root of almost all of our sins, doesn’t it?) Jesus’ reply was to worship the Lord your God and serve only him. None of us imagine ourselves bowing down to anything or anyone else, but we are often times bowing down to the almighty god of ME. Our days revolve around what is good for ME, our prayers center around ME, and like one of my pre-schoolers, we do a whole lot of whining when things are not working out for ME. Be careful, this sin might be hiding in unexpected places, as it was for ME. Jesus submitted to the will of the Father, as difficult as it must have been at times. Think of it as an opportunity to allow the Father to make you look more and more like Jesus. That might change your perspective.
Finally, when Satan fled, it says that the angels came and cared for Jesus. Temptations can seem overwhelming, but we know, according to 1 Corinthians 10, that he will not tempt us beyond what we can bear, and that he always provides a way of escape for us. Just as the angels cared for Jesus after he was tempted, so does God care for us. We absolutely will suffer temptation, as Jesus did, but God has given us victory over sin!

Can you think of an example in your life where you have longed for power, position, and recognition? How does it take your focus off of the Lord? (Think hard!)

Are you satisfied with your work (whatever that may be in your life) without any earthly recognition? What is the eternal value in what you do? (Remember, obedience to God in any area is of eternal value.)

Read 1 Thess. 4:11-12 and Phil. 2:14-15. What does the majority of our complaining and grumbling center around?

What temptation to sin are you facing right now on a regular basis? What is the way of escape that God has provided? Are you “escaping” temptation at every opportunity, or are you flirting with sin?

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