Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The First, Second, and Third Temptations of Christ

In continuing our series for this week, today I want to take us through the temptations of Jesus Christ.  I think we can learn much from not only how temptation will hit us, but also the right response to those temptations when they come. 
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. Matthew 4:1 NKJV
This is interesting right from the start.  Jesus was led by the Spirit to the wilderness for the purpose of being tempted.  This is not to say that Jesus was picking a fight with Satan (not that it would be a fight in any sense of the word as with a word, Jesus could have destroyed Satan), but Jesus was going to be tested.  Even our Lord was tested.  Some like to say that Jesus cheated a little in His perfect life being God and all, but the Bible is clear that Jesus was tested just as the rest of us are.  In fact, as we will see today, Jesus was tempted beyond what we can imagine because of the very fact that He is God.  Think about it, how tempting would it be to have infinite power at your fingertips when the opportunity was there to use it. 

Here is what the Word says regarding Jesus and temptation.
For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Hebrews 4:15 NKJV
Jesus understands our temptations and gives us the strength to overcome them and the grace to forgive us when we fall into them.  My goal here is not to say that we are capable of perfection, but that our desire should be to abide in Christ and in His strength rise above temptations that come our way.  We should, however, strive for perfection, desire perfection, and desire to be sinless.  We should hate the sin in our lives.  With that in mind, let us look at the temptations of our Lord, Jesus Christ. 
And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterward He was hungry. Now when the tempter came to Him, he said, "If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread." But He answered and said, "It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.'"  Matthew 4:2-4 NKJV
Who would not be hungry after fasting for forty days and forty nights.  Hungry was an understatement, but just as he loves to do, Satan is there to turn the spiritual blessings of his fast into an opportunity for materialism.  The whole idea of fasting is to deny the flesh, and it is something really lost in the church today. I am guilty of this myself, but I can tell you then when I have fasted, the spiritual benefit is beyond measure.  Fasting is a very real way of denying the flesh and goes a long way to showing our victory over our flesh.  So Jesus with an empty stomach yet full of Spirit was approached by Satan and it seems as though Satan makes a reasonable proposition.  I mean, Jesus was hungry and he very well could have made those stones become bread. He could have made those stones fillet Mignon if He wanted to.  He could have even turned Satan into a hamburger.  He really did not even need a stone or anything else because he could have created a feast from nothing if He so chose.  He fasted for forty days, why not just make stones into bread and break the fast. 

I love Jesus' reply.  "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every world that proceeds from the mouth of God."  Jesus is saying that while his flesh is suffering, His Spirit is alive and well and living off the Word of God.  One teacher, Joseph Prince, takes this to mean that the Word of God has some physical benefit for us as though Jesus were getting literal nutrition from the Word.  He even recommends reading the word to get rid of a cold.  I bring this up to show that Satan's deception continues to this day in that we confuse the spiritual for the carnal benefits.  That is one of the most serious errors of that kind of teacher, but that is the subject for another day.  Jesus was not attributing literal bodily nutrition to the Word of God, but was saying that the Spiritual benefit of God's word is far superior to the physical benefit of the bread made from stones.  Jesus is putting things in their proper prospective.  We must remember to do the same.  When we are filled with the Spirit of God, Satan will do all he can to take our attention away from God and put it on our circumstances.  This is reminiscent of Peter walking on water.  His eyes were on Jesus and he was walking on water and probably feeling pretty good about that.  His eyes were taken off the Lord by his circumstances (the fact that he was walking on the water and surrounded by waves and rough seas) and he lost that focus and his buoyancy.  Jesus had take him back to the boat.  This is very much the same.  Jesus was filled with the Spirit of God, maintaining a fast for forty days, and Satan comes along and tries to put his focus on his circumstances.  He is saying to forget about how filled with the Spirit you are, instead look at yourself as you are hungry and in the middle of a desert.  Jesus'  reply was like saying "So what I am hungry or in the desert, I am filled with the Spirit of God."  When you are grounded in His Word and filled with His Spirit those circumstances around you do not even matter.  True joy in the Lord is a joy that remains no matter what your circumstances in life are. 
Then the devil took Him up into the holy city, set Him 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 shall give His angels charge over you,' and, 'In their hands they shall bear you up, Lest you dash your foot against a stone.'" Jesus said to him, "It is written again, 'You shall not tempt the LORD your God.'"  Matthew 4:5-7 NKJV
Jesus proclaims that it is the Word of God that is more important to him than bodily food so Satan changes his tactic.  Satan now tries to twist the word to his own end and get Jesus to stumble.  He is asking Jesus to tempt or test God.  He is reminding Jesus of a promise that angels have charge over the protection of Jesus even going to far as to prevent him from getting injured.  This also reminds me of some teachers that I hear even today.  They twist the Word to their own end.  You have those extreme "churches" where they handle snakes on the premise that God will heal us from snake bites taking a verse way out of context.  There are others who teach grace as a comfort to sin in that we can just sin as much as we want because God has given us grace.  I do believe that the doctrine of salvation with no repentance is of the same spirit as this temptation.  To answer why this is so is to answer the question as to whether or not Jesus would have been hurt if he threw himself off the pinnacle Satan brought Him to.  God did make the promise to protect Him, so I do believe that Jesus would not have been injured, but what Jesus would have done would have been sinful.  The sin is in making a mockery of the promises of God and testing God forcing Him to prove Himself.  In a sense, Jesus would have been usurping the authority of God in purposely acting in such a way to illicit what He wanted from God (that is keeping him from getting hurt).  It is the same as if there is someone we continually ask favors from not because we really appreciate them but because we know they will say "Yes."  Will God forgive our sins after we are saved?  Yes, those sins are forgiven, but the doctrine of grace without repentance is the doctrine of making yourself lord over God.  You are telling God, rather defiantly, that you are going to do whatever you want because He has to forgive you. 

Again, I love the reply of Jesus "You shall not tempt the Lord your God."  That really says it all.  Seriously, though, do we live in such a delusion that we can outsmart God and find some loophole where we can live how we want and still have His grace?  Are we smarter than God?  Can we get one over on Him?  Do not tempt the Lord you God as you are way out of your league.  The Bible says that all who call upon the name of the Lord will be saved, but calling upon the name of the Lord implies that you acknowledge Jesus as Lord.  If Jesus is not Lord of your life, He is not your savior.  He can not be one without the other.  Keep that in mind if your motivation is to live how you want and rely on God's grace.  Furthermore, we must never have the audacity to think that God needs to prove Himself to us.  By the very fact that you live and breathe, God has shown not only His reality but also His mercy.
Again, the devil took Him up on an exceedingly 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 will fall down and worship me." Then Jesus said to him, "Away with you, Satan! For it is written, 'You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only you shall serve.'"  Matthew 4:8-10 NKJV
Frustrated and feeling defeated, Satan's true desire rises to the surface.  Satan's goal was never to feed Jesus or watch angels catch Him when He fell, but it was to have Jesus worship him.  That is Satan's goal in all our lives.  Remember the sin of Satan was the desire to be worshiped as God. Let us look at the progression of Satan's temptations.  First he tried to take Jesus' focus off of God in trying to get him to focus on his physical condition rather than his spiritual one.  Then he tried to get Jesus to wrest authority over the Father by acting in a way to forcing the Father to prove Himself.  And now he is trying to replace the Father.  Jesus is the heir of creation.  He will return and claim this world again to Himself.  Satan is offering him an "easier" way to do it.  God's way involved the Cross and Satan's way involved just to worship him instead of the Father.  Satan's way involved no cross, no pain, and no rejection.  Satan's way seems easier, it always does.  Jesus, though, would have given up everything to gain nothing.  Think about it, even if Jesus bowed to Satan and received the world, Jesus would still be under the authority of Satan.  Can a king be king if that king is under the authority of another?  No, that king is a puppet to his ruler and Jesus would have become a puppet to Satan.  Jesus is the King and Kings and Lord of Lords and if He fell under Satan's temptation he would have been puppet under king and lord Satan.  Our Ruler would be a slave.  Just like with Jesus, Satan's way always seems easier but in the end you will lose much and gain nothing. 

Again, our Lord's reply is key. "You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve."  May that be stamped indelibly on our hearts.  Every time we serve our own desires over the will of God, we are bowing ourselves to Satan.  Think about it, God is not the author of temptation, Satan is.  So when we bow to our temptations we are bowing to Satan, we are taking the authority of God that tells us to resist that temptation and giving it to Satan who is telling us to give in.  What we think we gain in that sin is an illusion.  We are subjecting ourselves to the authority of the one who wants nothing more than to devour us.  We reach for the little peace of cheese on the trap thinking of how fulfilling it will be only to have that trap clamp down on us.  Sin, as tempting and pleasurable as it may seen, leads to sickness, pain, and death.  Sin is like a drug in that its effects are pleasurable, but it turns to make us dependent on it while it slowly kills us.  We become slaves to that which we thought was pleasurable and stand helpless as we watch it kill us spiritually and even sometimes physically.  When those temptations come, remember just what (or who) you are bowing to when you give in to it.

Just as Satan tempted Jesus, he will tempt us.  He will try to take our minds off of God.  He will try to get us to test God, which is an act of rebellion in telling God to prove Himself to us.  He will try to get us to obey and worship him.  He will make us many promises, from pleasures to treasures, but in the end we will lose much and gain nothing.  Our focus must always remain on God and not on our circumstances as God is larger than any circumstance we can face.  We must always keep our faith in God and never feel the need to test His promises.  We must serve and worship God alone.  Satan is real and will do all he is allowed to do to try and shake us in those areas with the primary goal of worshiping him and the secondary goal of us at least not worshiping and serving God.  Tomorrow I will address how the Bible says we should respond to Satan's fiery darts, but for today keep that focus and faith in our Lord alone.  If we keep Jesus first in our lives, we will not fall to temptations. 
No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.  1 Corinthians 10:13 NKJV

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