Matthew 3:13 – 4:11 – Patterns of Temptation

This sermon was preached on February 17th, 2013, at Peace Hill Christian Fellowship.  To listen to the audio, just click on this link – Lent#1 2013.

In this 1st Sunday in Lent, we begin a spiritual journey towards the cross where Jesus will offer himself up for our sins.   Today we will talk about how Jesus faced temptation on our behalf – the same patterns, or kinds of Temptations that are at the core of our experience.

The Temptation to Distrust God and Provide for Ourselves.

Jesus was Tempted to Distrust God:    And after He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He then became hungry.  And the tempter came to him and said, ‘If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.’”

This is more than just an issue of hunger – although Jesus was, no doubt, intensely hungry, and alone, and suffering. However, Jesus was tempted to do more than eat here.  Both Matthew and Luke tell us that  Jesus was tempted immediately after his baptism – and the great experience where God spoke from heaven and called Jesus his beloved son.   After 40 days of hunger, Satan is now going to test Jesus to see if he still believes what God had said.  And to really understand what’s going on here, we have to see the parallels and contrasts between Jesus temptation here – and Adam and Eve’s temptation in the garden.

  • Adam and Eve were in a garden surrounded by food  – Jesus is in a desert and hungry.
  • Adam and Eve are offered food they weren’t supposed to have- Jesus is told to make his own food
  • Adam and Eve are barred from the Garden by an angel – angels attend Jesus after he withstands temptation.

These parallels and contrasts suggest that a similar kind of temptation is happening with Jesus.  Just as Satan had called God’s word into question in the garden – (the command not to eat from the tree of knowledge) – so now Satan is calling God’s word spoken to Jesus at his baptism into question (This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased).  But Satan is pushing Jesus to call these words into question with an act –‘If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.’”  For Jesus to turn stones into bread and eat would have been like him saying – I can prove that I am the Son of God – and I need to prove it because there is still a question in my mind about what God said at my baptism.

We Have a Deep Distrust of God and His Word:  Our distrust goes back to the Fall of man in the Garden of Eden – it is a foundational part of what it means to be fallen (it is engrained in us).  Consequently, we tend to question God, to assume that he is distant, unloving towards us, that He may have it in for us in some way.  In other words, our primary temptation and gut reaction to suffering, is to trust ourselves and to distrust God – to assume evil of God.

The Response of Jesus:   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.’  Jesus responds directly to Satan by saying, in essence, it isn’t bread that I need – that I live by – but rather every word God says is what I believe and hold on to.

What Jesus says here gets to the heart of the matter for us.  There is only one way to fight temptation like this (once we acknowledge that it is, in fact, true), and that is by holding on to what God says about himself.  The more that we trust and accept what the Scriptures say about God in his faithfulness, love, compassion, graciousness, the more we counteract our natural distrust of God.  In fact, one of the great meanings and effects of worship is to proclaim the great goodness of our God.  Worship is the activity that pushes against our distrust of God.

The Temptation to Test and Put Conditions on God.

Jesus was Tempted to Make His Trust of God Conditional:   Then the devil took Him into the holy city and 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 command His angels concerning You’; and  ‘On their hands they will bear You up,  So that You will not strike Your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus has just said to Satan that every word that proceeds from the mouth of God is what gives him life.  So, of course, Satan now uses God’s word – a quote from the Psalms – to reformat Jesus’ relationship with God into something that is conditional – a relationship that demands God prove his care and love and goodness – that puts God to the test.

The Temptation to Trust God Conditionally:  In Exodus 17, after the Israelites crossed the Red Sea, they came to a desert region where they quarreled with Moses and tested God – asking, Is the Lord among us or not? (Ex.17:7).  They tested the Lord, not just by asking this question, but by the conditional nature of their faith.  They were ready to turn back from following – and to go their own way – despite the miraculous events that had just happened to them.

Our gut response to suffering is to ask this question:  Is God with me, or has he abandoned me?  To put the Lord to the test is to make our obedience and our worship dependent on how we feel God is treating us – in a sense, to quarrel with God – to distrust God.  This is something that we are tempted to do all the time.  We are prone to despair of God’s presence and care.

But Jesus refuses to put his relationship with God on these terms.  Instead, Jesus accepts God’s care for him and his obedience is unconditional – Jesus said to him, “On the other hand, it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’

The Temptation to Get What You Want by Compromising Yourself.

Jesus was Tempted to Gain the World by Compromising Himself:   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 I will give You,  if You fall down and worship me.

Satan offers Jesus all of the kingdoms of the world – all of mankind.  This looks too blatant to us to be tempting.  However, Satan is offering what looks like certainty.  To turn down this offer will mean the uncertainty and suffering of living in hope and doing what is right – and ultimately, going to the cross.

The Temptation of the Certain Easy Way:  It is painful and often difficult to live in hope.  It is difficult to trust the promises of God, which are often distant, when we are people who really like certainty.  It is difficult to continue to do what we know is right when we do not see the results or feel rewarded.  We want the spiritual life to be rewarding, validating, and full of easy results – but the spiritual life often does not work that way.   Our gut response is to distrust God in the absence of these things.  We run after the kinds of things Satan is offering here.  We exchange hope for certainty – doing what is right for doing what is easy and rewarding.

Jesus’ Response:   Then Jesus said to him, “Go, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.’  What does Jesus answer here mean, besides the obvious refusal to worship Satan?   It means that Jesus is willing to worship and serve God – to hope in God – even though there is not immediate reward or validation – even though it is not an easy way – even though his obedience and worship will lead to the cross.

 Jesus Overcame Temptation On Our Behalf.

Jesus Has Passed Through Temptation on Our Behalf and Has Overcome Where We Have Failed:  One of the things that Matthew is doing here, as he writes the Gospel, is showing us how Jesus has, in a sense, gone back to the Garden of Eden – gone back to the Exodus – and has overcome where Adam and Eve, and where Israel had failed.  Jesus did not just overcome temptation for himself – his overcoming is representational.

This first Sunday in Lent, as we begin our lenten journey towards the cross, we want to see three things.

  • We want to confront and acknowledge our gut reactions to God in suffering and hardship.
  • We want to be thinking about how Jesus has experienced those same gut reactions – because that is what it means that he was tempted, and that is why He sympathizes with us as our Great High Priest.
  • We want to see how Jesus, in his life, became our champion – how he overcame these things for us – how he loved us – even as he looked forward to the cross.

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