Plymouth & District
Rev Colin Roberts' Message
The Jesus we never noticed – The Temptations
The last time we looked at Jesus’ baptism which was followed by his time in the desert;
where his temptations began. Jesus’ temptations were many and widespread. Hebrews
4:15, “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with us in our weakness.
He was tempted in every way just as we are, yet without sin.”
The temptations we have, He had. As a young Christian I naively thought that it was just me who sinned; everyone around me at the church seemed to have it together. I thought you grew out of these temptations as you grew as a Christian. Wrong! These are common experiences because we all battle on the inside, a.) on different occasions and b.) in different ways, c.) over different issues.
I want to talk about these three facets of temptation and from two perspectives – Satan’s and God’s. I will look at these issues from Satan’s perspective now and next time God’s. However, I want to make something clear from the outset, that God does not “tempt us”. He leads us into experiences where we are often “tested” and through that experience, we may be strengthened and set free. It is Satan who tempts in order to weaken us , destroy and enslave us.
So we look at what happens to Jesus following his baptism; He is led into the wilderness.
Matthew 4:1 – “Then Jesus … following his affirmation by the Father at his baptism he
was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted”. This wilderness experience is no accident! I want to examine the ‘attack’ on Jesus and ask three questions, a.) what is Satan doing here? b.) what is he trying to achieve and c.) how did Jesus deal with him? The temptation has an occasion. The Spirit leading Jesus into the wilderness and gave Satan an opportunity to have access to Jesus at a point in time. Paul (Ephesians 4:17) warns us not to give Satan a foothold, something he can grasp, hold on to. Here in the wilderness, Satan finds an access point. How has this happened? Two incidental points to begin with.
First, Matthew 4:2, after 40 days and nights hunger the human body is at its lowest ebb.
42 days is the longest time one can go before the body experiences permanent damage;
you become tired, obviously starved and you become extremely vulnerable, physically,
emotionally, psychologically and spiritually. And throughout this Jesus was tempted.
Vulnerability leads to weakness and we need to understand and identify when we are
vulnerable in the ways mentioned above.
We can all recall times when we have been low and vulnerable. My own experiences in a
stressful occupation has taught me that there had been times when we can seek shortcuts, these being the times when Satan can put his foot in the door. Here, Jesus was tired, hungry, without shelter in the hot dessert by day and cold during the night.
He was vulnerable. This the first specific access point. Second incidental point and specific temptation, which all start with, “If you are the Son of God…” What Satan is saying is, Look Jesus, you have an entitlement; normal rules don’t apply to you”.
We must be very careful of ever making ourselves an exception to the general rule, telling ourselves, “Look, in this situation I find myself at this moment in time, the normal rules don’t apply to me”. We often find ourselves rationalising our actions and thereby justifying them. We so often read about high profile celebrities in whatever sphere justifying unacceptable behaviour. It’s an appealing thought but a corrupting one in which Satan can take a foothold. That is my first point, what is Satan doing here; he is trying to establish a foothold. Now the attack on Jesus was not unique and this attack by Satan applies equally to us and when we are all vulnerable.
1 John 2:16 “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes, and
the pride of life, is not of the Father, but of the world”. Jesus was tempted in these three
ways in the wilderness; lust of the flesh, natural appetite; lust of the eyes, greed; the pride of life, ego. Satan first says, “You are the Son of God, normal rules don’t apply to you, and then three specific temptations.
First, turn these stones into bread, challenging a lust for the flesh. Secondly, Satan takes Jesus to the pinnacle of a temple and says, “throw yourself off, angels will catch you”. Then came the offer of the kingdoms of the world to rule. All temptations from Eve, to Judas and the 30 pieces of silver, follow a simple pattern of natural appetite, greed, ego.
Advertisers know only too well that this formula works. Examine all successful advertising campaigns and you will see this pattern; tried and tested – successful.
However, we can be tempted to do the right but at the wrong time and for the wrong reasons. Satan attacks us when we are vulnerable and weakened (like Jesus in the wilderness), but he also attacks our strengths. Jesus was challenged. “Look you are the Son of God; you don’t have to rely on your Father; I can give you an easier way than ministry and the cross. Just put your trust in me”.
Once we understand our weaknesses the attack will be upon our strengths and Satan will try to persuade us that our own strengths are sufficient and there is no need to put our trust in Gods. What’s the point – you are enough, skilled, talented and confident enough to do this on your own. Time to drop the reliance upon the Father, it is not necessary. How often have we convinced ourselves that we are enough; the problem is that we are not. So, as I asked at the very beginning, firstly, what is Satan doing here? Answer, Satan wants to gain a foothold in our lives by exploiting us when we are vulnerable, physically, psychologically, emotionally and spiritually.
Secondly, what is he trying to achieve? Answer, he will then focus upon our natural desires, our greed, pride and ego. He ought to be the CEO of an advertising company as he attacks our weakness, our vulnerability and our strengths and our reliance on any outside influences, especially our Father in heaven.
This is exactly the plan Satan adopted and played out in the wilderness with a Jesus.
The final question I posed at the outset was, how did Jesus deal with this?
James 4:7, “Resist the devil and he will flee from you”. How did Jesu resist; not by
negotiation, but by on every occasion answering, “It is written ..man does not live by bread alone …” (Deuteronomy 8:13) “Do not put the Lord you God to the test” (Deuteronomy 6:16) “Worship the Lord your God and serve him only”. (Deuteronomy 6:13) Jesus responds with scripture: God has spoken and what God says is final, there is nothing to discuss.
Let us be clear, this not merely an act of quoting, regurgitating passages: it is saying that in God and in the power of his Holy Spirit I have my strength; I am aligning myself with and standing on what God has said, what he has spoken.”Submit yourself, then to God.
Resist the devil and he will flee, obey Him; submit to His word, know His word”. Psalm
119:9 “How can a young man keep his way pure, by living according to your word”.
That is why reading scripture is so important, to pray upon it, because it is so often spoken out of context, as the devil does here in the wilderness as he tempts Jesus. How do we then resist; by using Jesus’ example; trusting in God, putting our faith and reliance upon Him, turning to His word, knowing that His word became flesh in Jesus. We stand on His word and His presence; we need both.
We will never live a ‘sinless’ life but as we will see next time, in this battle, we will see from Satan’s perspective that temptations are meant to weaken and disqualify us, in fact in God’s hands our testing will strengthen us, qualify us, and set us free.