Beating Temptation

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Matthew 4:1-11 (Temptation of Jesus)

INTRODUCTION: Last week we looked at Jesus’ preparation for ministry through his baptism in the Jordan. But there was another preparation God had for him before he could begin his public ministry, and that was a period of testing in the wilderness. Just as Adam and Eve were tested in the Garden, and just as Israel was tested in the wilderness, so Jesus had to go through his time of testing in preparation for ministry. (Read Matthew 4:1-11 and pray.)

Today we are talking about temptation. Fighting temptation is hard. Beating temptation is even harder. Sometimes we think, if only there could be victory in this area. Well, I’ve got good news for you today. There is! There is victory over temptation. You don’t have to give in to temptation and sin. Jesus had victory over temptation, and you can have victory as well.

I want us to look at three aspects of temptation from our passage together this morning: first, the reality of temptation; second, the nature of temptation, and then finally, victory over temptation. And as we look at Jesus’ example, we will learn how to beat temptation ourselves.

I. The reality of temptation (Matthew 4:1)

So first, let’s talk about the reality of temptation. We read in Matthew 4:1: “Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.” (Matthew 4:1) This is a startling statement in the context of last week’s passage on Jesus’ baptism. Jesus’ baptism was a high point for him. When Jesus came out of the water, the heavens were opened, the Holy Spirit descended like a dove, and God the Father spoke audibly from heaven. It doesn’t get much better than that. And then immediately we are told that Jesus was led into the desert to be tempted by the devil.

As we mentioned earlier this was a necessary time of testing for Jesus. Just as Adam was tested in the Garden, so Jesus had to undergo a period of testing. But what a difference! Adam was placed in a lush garden with all kinds of trees and vegetation. Jesus was led into the desert, a barren wasteland in the rocky hill country of Judea. Adam was given everything he needed. Jesus fasted for forty days and forty nights. Adam listened to the enemy and disobeyed God. Jesus listened to God and overcame the enemy.

   A. Know your enemy

There are three things you need to know to understand the reality of temptation. And the first is, you need to know your enemy.

      1) The devil is real (1 Peter 5:8)

Matthew tells us Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. The devil is a real, personal, spiritual being. He tempted Adam and Eve in the Garden, he tempted Jesus in the wilderness, and he continues to tempt people to sin every day. 1 Peter 5:8 says, “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8)

The devil was originally one of God’s angels. He was created good, but he rebelled against God and became evil. When he fell, he took a whole lot of other angels with him. He is called by many names in the Bible, including Lucifer, Satan, the accuser, the deceiver and the father of lies. I find it interesting that more people believe in God than in the devil. If you believe in God, you already believe in the spiritual world, so it is not a big stretch to understand that there is a spiritual being who opposes God and his purposes.

      2) The battle is spiritual (Ephesians 6:12)

Which leads us to the second part of knowing your enemy – the battle is spiritual. Ephesians 6:12 says, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:12)

Satan is a powerful being, but unlike God, Satan’s power is limited. Only God is all-powerful, all-knowing and everywhere present. Satan can only be in one place at a time, and so it is very unlikely that any of us have ever been tempted directly by Satan. So when the Bible talks about resisting the devil, it is really talking about the whole system of spiritual forces described here in Ephesians. You and I are locked in a cosmic battle between God and the forces of evil. Your battle is not against flesh and blood. The devil is real, and the battle is spiritual. When it comes to understanding the reality of temptation, you need to know your enemy.

   B. Know your God

Secondly, you need to know your God. And there are two things especially applicable here. God is faithful, and God is good.

      1) God is faithful (1 Corinthians 10:13)

We read in 1 Corinthians 10:13, “God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13) Yes, temptation is real, and temptation can be incredibly strong. But the reality is that God is faithful, and he will never let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. And he always gives you an escape route.

      2) God is good (James 1:13)

Not only that, but God is good. We read in James 1:13: “When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone.” (James 1:13) God is good, which means he is not tempted by evil and he does not tempt anyone else to do evil. Now God may allow periods of testing to enter your life, just like he did with Jesus. But he will never tempt you to do wrong. The Spirit led Jesus into the desert, but it was the devil who did the tempting.

   C. Know yourself

Know your enemy, know your God, and then thirdly, know yourself. And there are two things you need to know here.

      1) Your desires are evil (James 1:14-15)

First of all, your desires are evil. James 1 says, “But each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed.” (James 1:14) Now if you are a Christian you have been given new desires in Christ, but you still have those old evil desires that battle away within you as well.

      2) Your flesh is weak (Matthew 26:41)

Your desires are evil, and your flesh is weak. That’s what Jesus told his disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane: “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.” (Matthew 26:41)

Satan knows your weaknesses, and he will strike at them every time. What is the reality of temptation? The reality is that none of us are exempt from temptation, and so not even Jesus was exempted. Know your enemy, know your God, and know yourself. That’s the reality of temptation.

II. The nature of temptation (Matthew 4:2-10)
            – see also Genesis 3:1-6

Secondly, I want to talk about the nature of temptation. In this encounter between Jesus and the devil we get an amazing case study where we can observe the enemy and his techniques up close. There are three temptations the devil brings against Jesus, and there are three things we can learn from these temptations about the nature of temptation.

   A. Satan tempts you through your physical desires (2-4)
            – Deut. 8:3

First of all, Satan tempts you through your physical desires. We see this in the first temptation in verses 2-4:

After fasting forty days and forty nights, Jesus was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” (Matthew 4:2-3)

Notice Satan begins with the words, “If you are the Son of God.” We saw last week at Jesus’ baptism that God spoke audibly from heaven, “This is my Son, whom I love, with him I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17) God affirmed that Jesus was his Son; Satan begins by casting doubt.

The forty days and forty nights remind us of Moses on Mount Sinai and Israel in the wilderness. But more than anything they serve a practical purpose. When Satan tempted Jesus, Jesus was hungry! Jesus was the Son of God, but his body was just as human as yours or mine. And his body responded to and required food just like yours and mine. So Satan hit Jesus where he was weak. Jesus was hungry, so Satan tempted him to turn stones into bread.

In the same way Satan tempts you through your physical desires. Whether it is a temptation to alcohol, gluttony, laziness or lust, so many of the sins we commit have to do with the physical desires we experience in our bodies. We saw earlier we are tempted by our own evil desires. Jesus had no evil desires, so Satan tempted him at the only physical point he could – the point of physical hunger after God had directed Jesus to fast.

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” (Matthew 4:4)

Jesus quotes Scripture from Deuteronomy 8:3 which spoke about God giving manna to Israel in the desert. But the point here is this. We are more than just physical beings, and Jesus’ response teaches us that obedience to God’s word takes precedence over every physical desire, even when you’re hungry after not eating for forty days! Satan tempts you through your physical desires.

   B. Satan tempts you by twisting God’s word (5-7)
            – Deut. 6:16; Psalm 91:11-12; Numbers 17:1-7

Secondly, Satan tempts you by twisting God’s word. We see this in the second temptation in verses 5-7.

Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written: “‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’” (Matthew 4:5-6)

Jesus had just quoted Scripture to Satan, so Satan quotes Scripture right back! He brings Jesus to the top of the temple in Jerusalem and challenges him to jump, quoting from a passage in Psalm 91 which talks about God’s protection of his people. God’s miraculous preservation of Jesus would make a great spectacle, and many people would give him great honor and glory. They might even recognize him as the Messiah! It would have been a great “Look at me!” moment – the ultimate “selfie” as Jesus leaped off the temple.

The problem is that Psalm 91 was not written to encourage you to jump off the tops of temples or in front of moving trains. It is simply an affirmation that God watches over his people and protects us from all sorts of dangers.

Satan may have known the Bible, but Jesus knew it better.

Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” (Matthew 4:7)

Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy 6:16 here which spoke about the Israelites testing the Lord in the wilderness. Here Jesus demonstrates an important principle when it comes to the Bible. You need to be careful not to take Bible verses out of context, and the best way to do that is to compare Scripture with Scripture.

Satan tempts you by twisting God’s word. He works hard to make you misunderstand, misinterpret or simply lay aside Scripture. God’s word is a light to your path, and Satan will do anything he can to dim that light. Satan tempts you by twisting God’s word.

   C. Satan tempts you with the things of this world (8-10)
            – Deut. 6:13; 1 John 2:15-17

And then thirdly, Satan tempts you with the things of this world. We see this in the third temptation in verses 8-10.

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” (Matthew 4:8-9)

It is debatable whether Satan could actually follow through on this offer. In one sense he has temporary ownership of this world, but in a greater sense God already owns it all. And God had already promised it all to Jesus when Jesus completed his work on earth. At the very least, Satan was offering Jesus a shortcut – a way to obtain all the kingdoms of the world without having to go to the cross.

Satan tempts us with the things of the world, too. 1 John 2:16 identifies the things of the world as “the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does.” (1 John 2:16) The first has to do with our desires, the second has to do with wanting more, and the third has to do with pride. It’s interesting how these three descriptions of the things of the world line up with the three temptations of Jesus in the desert. Jesus’ hunger had to do with desires. The kingdoms of the world had to do with wanting more. And jumping off the temple had to do with pride.

The goal of temptation, of course, is to get you to serve something, anything, other than God. Satan overplayed his hand with this last temptation, and Jesus said to him: “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’” (Matthew 4:10) Jesus quoted Scripture to him a third time, this time from Deuteronomy 6:13.

As we said earlier, this encounter with Jesus in the wilderness is a fascinating case study of how Satan works in temptation. It’s interesting, Satan used the exact same three techniques with Adam and Eve way back in the Garden. He tempted them through their physical desires: “The woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye.” (Genesis 3:6) He tempted them by twisting God’s word: “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” (Genesis 3:1) And he tempted them with pride and the things of this world: “God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:5)

Satan is obviously a master at temptation. So how can you possibly have victory over him?

III. Victory over temptation (Matthew 4:11)

That brings us to our third and final part of the message: victory over temptation. Look at Matthew 4:11:

“Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.” (Matthew 4:11)

Jesus had victory over Satan, and so can you. When Jesus told him, “Away from me, Satan!” the devil left. Wouldn’t it be great if you also could just tell the devil to go and he left? Well, guess what? In Christ you can! In Christ you have authority over Satan, and you do not have to yield to temptation. You have three amazing resources to help you in this battle against temptation.

   A. The power of God’s Word (Psalm 119:9,11; Eph 6:17)

First of all, you have the power of God’s word. Did you notice that all three times Satan tempted Jesus, Jesus responded with Scripture? God’s word has the power to overcome temptation and sin. Psalm 119 says, “How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word…. I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” (Psalm 119:9,11) Ephesians 6:17 calls the God’s word “the sword of the Spirit.” This is why it is so important that you read and study and memorize Scripture. The word of God and prayer are your only offensive weapons against the enemy. How do you get victory over temptation? First of all, you have the power of God’s word.

   B. The authority of Jesus (Matt 28:18; Eph 6:10; James 4:7)

Secondly, you have the authority of Jesus Christ. Jesus said in Matthew 28:18, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” (Matthew 28:18) Why did Satan go when Jesus told him to go? Because Jesus had authority over him. And if you are a Christian, then you also have been given authority in Christ.

That’s why the section of Scripture about putting on the armor of God begins with these words: “Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.” (Ephesians 6:10) You can’t fight Satan in your own power; he’s too strong for you. But when you are strong in the Lord and in his power, that’s a different story.

James 4:7 says, “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7) Notice you must submit to God first, that’s submitting to Christ’s authority. Then when you resist the devil, God says he will flee from you, just like he fled from Christ.

   C. The mercy of Jesus (Hebrews 2:18, 4:15-16)

How do you get victory over temptation? Use your resources. You have the power of God’s word. You have the authority of Jesus. And then finally, you have the mercy of Jesus. Hebrews 2:18 tells us: “Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” (Hebrews 2:18) Remember Matthew 4:1 says the Spirit led Jesus into the desert to be tempted by the devil? Now we know why. Jesus was tempted so that he could help you when you are tempted.

Hebrews 4 says, “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. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4:15-16)

How do you get victory over temptation? You have three amazing resources at your disposal – the power of God’s word, the authority of Jesus, and the mercy of Jesus. Use them!

CONCLUSION: The Christian life is often three steps forward, two steps back. We all face temptation, and we all know what it’s like to fail. But God in his grace picks you up when you fall, and the blood of Jesus his Son purifies us from every sin. (1 John 1:7) Yes, there are temptations out there. But God has given you what you need for victory. Jesus has shown us the way. It’s time to start beating temptation.

© Ray Fowler

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