Last week we started a brand-new twelve-week series answering a very important question. Can anybody remember what that very important question was? “Who is Jesus Christ?” This is the question that philosophers, scientists, and theologians have debated for almost 2,000 years. And while last week I read some interesting quotes from some skeptics, we determined that the ultimate source of truth about Jesus of Nazareth is from the Bible. And so throughout this series, we are going to look at twelve key events in the ministry of Jesus Christ that reveal not only who He is, but also what it means for us.
Last week we looked at the baptism of Jesus, and how that baptism served as a launching pad for His public ministry on earth. His baptism by John showed how His ministry was promised, and how it was verified by God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. But we also read how baptism was set up by Christ as a way of identifying with Him and His ministry. And just in case reading it wasn’t enough, we saw first-hand how Stacy identified with Christ through the ordinance of baptism. But today we are moving on from the Jordan River, and looking at a time in Christ’s ministry where Satan was attacking Him from every side. In case you haven’t already figured it out, this morning we are going to look at the temptation of Christ in the wilderness, and our Scripture text is Matthew 4:1-11.
“Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He was afterward an hungered. And when the tempter came to Him, he said, ‘If Thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread.’ But He answered and said, ‘It is written, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.”’ Then the devil taketh Him up into the holy city, and setteth Him on a pinnacle of the temple, and saith unto him,’ If Thou be the Son of God, cast Thyself down: for it is written,” He shall give His angels charge concerning Thee: and in their hands they shall bear Thee up, lest at any time Thou dash Thy foot against a stone.”’ Jesus said unto him, ‘It is written again, “Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.”’ Again, the devil taketh Him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth Him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; and saith unto Him,’ All these things will I give Thee, if Thou wilt fall down and worship me.’ Then saith Jesus unto him, ‘Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, “Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve.”’ Then the devil leaveth Him, and, behold, angels came and ministered unto Him.”
Let us pray.
This morning the title of my sermon is, “Jesus: The Defeater of Temptation.” Beyond simply observing the fact that Jesus never sinned against God, we are going to look at seven different facts that we can learn about temptation from this passage. If you have a pen and paper handy, I would encourage you to write down these seven principles. Writing down the principles shown here in Scripture is a great way to not only retain more of the message, but also to have a resource you can fall back on when temptation is coming your way. So if you are taking notes this morning, at the top of your paper you can write, “Seven Facts about Temptation.” Now let’s dive into God’s word together.
Fact #1: God Allows Temptation
Look at verse one again. “Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil.” Before we look at the verse itself, look at the placement of this verse compared to our passage last week. You’ll notice that this verse happens right after Jesus gets out of the water and God the Father says, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” As a matter of fact, in Mark’s gospel, the Bible says that the temptation in the wilderness happened “immediately” after the baptism at the Jordan.
In this verse, who does it say led Jesus into the wilderness? It says it was the Holy Spirit! The Bible even elaborates the Spirit’s intentions by saying that He led Jesus up into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. At this point, we need to look at the difference between testing and temptation. The Bible says that God tests people’s faith to strengthen them. Satan, on the other hand, tempts people so that they will be weakened and ultimately destroyed by sin. Sometimes the test and the temptation look eerily similar, but with the test, God is cheering you on in the background, desiring for you to choose Him. With temptation, though, Satan is constantly whispering in your ear saying that it is okay to sin, and he is hoping that you will sin and separate yourself from God’s will. I know this sounds strange, but I think that many times, God’s testing and Satan’s tempting happen simultaneously in our lives. What do I mean by that? Take for example the horrible things that happened to Job in chapters one and two of the book of Job. His kids died, his livestock was stolen, and even his health was ruined almost to the point of death. In Job’s case, was this situation God testing Job, or Satan tempting Job? I think the answer must be both. The key to understanding this concept is that God is in control of everything, and nothing happens without His approval. So in essence, no temptation comes your way that God does not allow to happen.
So the next logical question is, “Why?” Why would a loving God allow Satan to tempt us to sin against Him? God knows that Satan hates us with all of his heart, so why would He allow that monster anywhere near us? I think there are two important answers to this question, and you may want to write these down. The first reason God allows temptation is because we come out stronger when we succeed. If you look at the end of the book of Job, all of Job’s possessions, and even his family size doubled because he was obedient to God. And while that reason alone should make us okay with the thought of temptation, the second reason is more important. The second reason is that when we defeat temptation, God is glorified by our victory. Going back to Job again, remember how Satan had challenged God, saying that Job would fall if God allowed Satan to ruin his life. But when Job remained faithful to God, God was glorified because His servant obeyed Him. God allows temptation in our lives because it is an opportunity for us to say, “No way Satan, I don’t follow you anymore, I’m with God now.” When we repel the temptation to sin, our God is glorified. So now that we have looked at the foundation of why God allows temptation, let’s begin to look at how we can defeat temptation in our lives.
Fact #2: Defeating Temptation Requires Preparation
Look at verse two of our text again. “And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He was afterward an hungered.” What we need to realize about this verse is that Jesus knew that temptation was coming His way. He knew that the devil was going to come and attempt to defeat Christ by causing Him to sin. And notice what Jesus did knowing temptation was coming. He fasted for forty days and for forty nights. Jesus didn’t work up clever one-liners to throw at the devil. He didn’t work on his left hook or his right jab. He didn’t even write a 200-page thesis on why He was not going to fall into temptation. No, what did Jesus do when temptation was coming? He fasted. Now fasting is an art that has almost been forgotten in this day and age, but it is an extremely powerful tool that God has given us to defeat the evil one. Fasting is essentially where we agree to not eat for a specified period of time. That time could be from sunrise to sundown, or that time could be for a period of two or three days. And the fast does not necessarily have to be from all food. You can fast from dessert, you can fast from soda, and if you want a really easy one, you can even fast from Brussels sprouts. But the idea of fasting is to replace your time of physical nourishment with a time of spiritual nourishment. So if you are fasting from sunrise until sundown, the proper thing to do is to spend time praying and meditating on God’s word during lunchtime, or during afternoon snack time. Jesus in this verse was so dedicated to His upcoming trial that He did not eat for forty days and forty nights. Now in case any skeptics tell you that it is impossible to survive that long without food, and that this means the Bible isn’t true, you can gently remind them that the world record for not eating is forty-three days, and so the Bible wasn’t joking when it said that Jesus went forty days without food.
But the point in this verse is that Jesus prepared Himself for temptation. He knew it was coming, and He took the time to arm Himself, not with witty remarks or great boxing skills, but with the power of God. And if God the Son took the time to prepare Himself to fight temptation, shouldn’t we mere human beings take time to prepare ourselves for the battle? Most definitely! And one of the weapons that God gives us to defeat temptation is fasting. And intimately tied in with the concept of fasting is the concept of prayer. One reason God has us pray is because it gives us the power to defeat Satan whenever times get rough. So to sum up this point, we can be absolutely sure that temptation is going to come, just as Jesus was absolutely sure that the devil was going to be tempting Him. And because we know temptation is coming, it is our job to prepare ourselves for when it does happen. Now that we’ve seen how to prepare ourselves, let’s look at one method to fight temptation when it comes.
Fact #3: We Must Be Thankful For What God Has Given Us
For this point, we need to read verses three and four again. “And when the tempter came to Him, he said, ‘If Thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread.’ But He answered and said, ‘It is written, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.”’” In these two verses we see the devil actually approach Jesus and begin to tempt Him. In this first temptation, the devil tempts Jesus to turn stones into loaves of bread. Now, I don’t know about you, but if I just skipped one meal, I would be tempted to give into this temptation. But Jesus had not eaten in 40 days! I can’t imagine the kind of hunger He must have felt when Satan told Him to turn the stones into loaves.
But the one big question that popped into my mind was this: Why was it wrong for Jesus to turn the stones into bread? Jesus was intimately involved in the creation process of the entire universe, so why was it wrong for Him to simply make some bread? I believe that Jesus in this verse was setting a powerful example for all of us to follow. Jesus quoted a verse from Deuteronomy chapter eight and told the devil that man did not live by bread alone, but by every word that God says. Jesus was essentially saying that He was going to be dependent upon God, instead of being dependent upon Himself. Jesus could have turned that stone into the best fillet mignon you’ve ever sank your teeth into, but He wanted to trust in the Lord to provide for Him.
So how does this powerful example apply to us? What we must come to realize in our lives is that God is our ultimate provider, and we rely on Him for everything we have and everything we need. And you might say, Brother Josh, I’ve got forty hours a week that says that I provide for myself, thank you very much. Well, who gave you the health? Who gave you the privilege of living near a place that is hiring? Who gave your stomach the ability to digest the food that you buy for yourself? God! God is our ultimate provider, and as soon as we think we are taking care of ourselves, we stop being thankful for what God has given us, and as soon as we stop being thankful, we become extremely susceptible to sin. When we begin to want more and more for ourselves, Satan seizes that opportunity to tempt us. And if you are discontent with your lot in life, Satan will win every time. So if you are here this morning, and you feel like Satan has been bombarding you with the temptation to want more and more stuff, you may need to ask yourself if you are truly thankful for what God has given you. Because man does not live by bread alone, but he also needs everything that comes out of God’s mouth. So fact number three is that we must be thankful for what God has given us.
Fact #4: We Must Not Test God’s Grace
Satan attacks Jesus with a second temptation in verses five through seven. Let’s look at those verses again. “Then the devil taketh Him up into the holy city, and setteth Him on a pinnacle of the temple, and saith unto him,’ If Thou be the Son of God, cast Thyself down: for it is written,”He shall give His angels charge concerning Thee: and in their hands they shall bear Thee up, lest at any time Thou dash Thy foot against a stone.”’ Jesus said unto him, ‘It is written again, “Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.”’” So in these verses, Satan instantly takes Jesus to the pinnacle of Herod’s Temple in Jerusalem. The Jewish historian Josephus said that the pinnacle of the temple overlooked the Kedron Valley, and when you stood at the top of it, you could barely see the ground because of how far down it was. And standing on top of this pinnacle, Satan told Jesus that if we would merely jump, the angels would catch Him and not allow Him any harm. And was Satan right about this claim? Absolutely! And even if the angels hadn’t caught Him, He could have stopped in midair and landed gently on the ground, or He could have allowed Himself to hit, yet be miraculously unscathed. So why was it wrong for Jesus to jump off this pinnacle and display God’s protection of Him? Look what Jesus says. He quotes Deuteronomy chapter six and says that it is a sin to test God.
I think that just like the first temptation, Jesus was setting a powerful example for us to follow. You don’t have to turn there, but I’m going to read 1 Corinthians 10:13. “There has no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way of escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” In this verse, God promises to never hit us with a temptation that we are not able to bear. So what exactly does it mean for a Christian to test God? I believe that we are testing God when we do the things that we know bring on temptation in our lives. For example, let’s say you have a problem with drinking, and you decide to go to Wal-Mart and pace up and down the liquor section. Yet your goal isn’t to cave in, you just want to pace back and forth and claim the promise that God would not give us a temptation that we couldn’t bear. But that is simply not the way that God proscribed for us to defeat temptation. Would it be possible for you to pace up and down that aisle for an hour and never buy anything? Yes, God said you could defeat any temptation. But nine times out of ten, we are going to fail, because we tested God’s grace. But you want to know how to succeed in not buying alcohol ten times out of ten? Don’t go to places where they sell it! And since that’s pretty difficult in Texas, stay as far away from the stuff as possible. So fact number four is to not test God’s grace, which for us means that we will successfully defeat temptation more often if we refuse to go where temptation lurks.
Fact #5: With Satan, the Price Always Outweighs the Reward
Let’s finish out the passage by reading verses eight through eleven again. “Again, the devil taketh Him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth Him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; and saith unto Him,’All these things will I give Thee, if Thou wilt fall down and worship me.’ Then saith Jesus unto him, ‘Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, “Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve.”’ Then the devil leaveth Him, and, behold, angels came and ministered unto Him.” Now in these verses the gloves really come off, and Satan tries one last gambit on Christ. He says that if Jesus will bow down to Satan’s authority, then Satan will give Him all the kingdoms of the world. Now this begs the question whether or not Satan even owned the kingdoms in the first place. But did you know that Jesus called Satan “the prince of the world” several times throughout the gospels? You see, ever since Adam and Eve sinned, this physical world has been Satan’s playground. And so yes, Satan could have given Christ some sort of physical power. But as these verses say, Jesus did not worship Satan. Instead, He said that it was only right to worship God.
But a question I feel like I need to answer is whether or not Jesus even had the ability to sin. And frankly, this is a big question that people debate in seminaries across America. So, could Jesus sin? Personally, I believe that Jesus could not have sinned, because part of His being God meant that He could have no part in sin. Now personally, I don’t believe that Satan understood the truth of Christ’s identity, so I believe that Satan thought he actually stood a chance of deceiving Him.
But whether or not Jesus had the ability to sin is a moot point. Why? Because he did not sin. And something that these verses show us about Satan and temptation is that with Satan, the price of sin is always higher than the reward. If Jesus had agreed to worship Satan then yeah, He would have gained a few kingdoms, but then He could not have been our Savior. The price of sin was simply too high. And so often in our lives, when we are bombarded by temptation, we neglect to think of that simple truth. We so often like to think that our sin affects nobody but ourselves, but in truth, our sin has consequences that go on for years! So one more tool that God gives us in our fight against temptation is the knowledge that the price of sin is simply too great. You might enjoy your sin for a little while, but the consequences are simply too high. Let’s move on.
Fact #6: To Defeat Temptation We Must Arm Ourselves with God’s Word
The idea of this simple principle is found implicitly throughout these verses. Every time that Jesus is tempted, notice carefully what He does to defeat the temptation. Each of the three times, He quotes Scripture! This is a powerful tool that, like fasting, so often we neglect in the twenty-first century. But Scripture memorization is the way that God’s followers have learned about Him for almost 3,500 years! And I know that some people have a really hard time even memorizing their phone number, let alone entire verses of the Bible, but I believe that it is 100% worth the investment of your time. If you will work on memorizing a verse for three or four days, and then you repeat the verse from memory every day for a month, I guarantee that you will be able to recall that verse on the day you die. And not only will the verse be up in your head, but the verse will also be in your heart, and you will be able to recall God’s promises whenever the devil is breathing down your throat. And if you are looking for some good verses to memorize, I would challenge you to write down the three verses that Jesus quoted to the devil. And if you want to write those down, the verses that Jesus used were Deuteronomy 8:13, Deuteronomy 6:16, and Deuteronomy 6:13. Memorizing those three verses will give you a way to combat Satan when you need it most. And just when you thought this sermon would never end…
Fact #7: To the Victor Goes the Spoils
Look at verse eleven one last time. “Then the devil leaveth Him, and, behold, angels came and ministered unto Him.” As soon as Jesus defeated Satan, angels came and took care of Him. You remember how Satan tempted Jesus to turn rocks into bread? What do you bet those angels brought something a lot tastier than bread for Jesus to eat? And remember how Satan tempted Jesus to call the angels to save Him from falling? After Jesus won the battle, He got to do a lot more than just be saved by the angels! And after Jesus repelled Satan’s offer of the nations, Jesus went on to become the Savior of mankind, and the Bible says that one day every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. That’s a million times better than what Satan offered!
And church, I hope you know that the reward waiting for you on the other side of temptation is so much greater than the price for giving into it. Not only do you reap the physical benefits of being faithful, but you also glorify our Father in Heaven, and glorifying God is our number one priority as Christians. And as the pianist and song leader come forward, I want to challenge each one of you to keep fighting the fight against Satan. Prepare yourselves for temptation with prayer and fasting. Defeat the temptation of materialism by being thankful to God for what you have. Defeat temptation by avoiding the places where temptation is the strongest. Defeat temptation by analyzing the steep price of the sin Satan is tempting you with. Defeat temptation by committing yourself to memorizing what God’s word says about being faithful to God. And finally, after you have defeated temptation, bask in the knowledge that you have made your heavenly Father very proud.
And if you are here this morning, and you have never become a Christian, then you do not have what it takes to defeat temptation. In fact, you have already failed and your sin has separated you from the God that created you. But the only difference between a sinner and a Christian is the forgiveness that has been given by Jesus Christ. You see, someone had to pay the price of your sin. Romans 6:23 says that the wages of sin is death. But Jesus never sinned, and He agreed to pay the price for you. Now, because of Christ, you can have a joyous life on earth and an eternal home in Heaven. All you have to do is submit to Jesus Christ as the Lord of your life, and commit yourself to following His ways. The Christian life is not always easy, but it is always worth it. The altar is open if you want to commit your life to Christ for the first time, or if you want to commit yourself to defeating temptation.
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