What tempts you? Maybe for some it’s a piece of delicious cake? For others, it might be a nice looking person or a bunch of money that you could have. For others the desire for power or control in the workplace is very tempting for them. I think if we were to take an anonymous poll this morning, we would likely find a whole range of things that tempt us. What tempts me may not tempt you at all. In fact, you may look at what tempts me and not be able to understand why that could possibly tempt anyone! But I may think the same thing about whatever it is that tempts you. So how do we deal with the things that tempt us? We are following the life of Jesus and this morning we look more closely at the temptations that he endured in the desert by Satan. In those temptations we find the encouragement and strength to handle the things that tempt us; but even more we find the final solution to those temptations. Let’s read Luke 4:1-13.
I. In verses 1-2 we see that the setting for the temptations is once again in the desert.
Verse 1 says, “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the desert.” We have seen that Jesus went to the desert to take the place of the people and identify with them in order to take the sins of the world on him. But first he must be thoroughly tested by temptation and for this Jesus goes even further into the desert. And so it is in this realm of evil, the place where Satan lives and works, where Jesus comes face to face with what he will be dealing with his entire ministry. He is full of the Holy Spirit in order to be prepared and tested for his ministry.
The test lasts for forty days, which is similar to Israel’s 40 year testing in the desert. Israel’s desert wandering was a test and a punishment from God for their rebellion and disobedience. But during this time of testing, God provided manna for them. And so Jesus’ test is simple: will Jesus follow the leading of the Spirit and show unwavering trust in God to supply his needs or will he relieve his hunger by exercising his power apart from God? But again, Jesus here is assuming a representative role for the people of Israel. God led the people in the desert; the Spirit leads Jesus out into the desert. The people were tested for 40 years; Jesus is tested for 40 days in the desert. Jesus followed the Spirit’s guidance even though tempted but Israel rebelled. The temptations are a time for Jesus to test to see if he is prepared to face the ongoing challenges and attacks of evil as he continues on his mission.
In 1996, a 22 year-old Chinese man was convinced he had mastered the powers of his mind. Through his superior control of his thoughts, he believed he could cause things to happen - or not to happen. The key was putting his theory to a test. So he stood on a railroad track near Shanghai and applied his thoughts to a speeding train coming right at him. If his theory was correct, he could force the train to stop. His theory was incorrect. Jesus was the promised Messiah who would defeat sin and Satan and the testing in the desert proved that he would be able to defeat sin and Satan definitively.
Verse 3 says, “The devil said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.’” In these temptations, the devil seeks to exploit the status of Jesus’ sonship by urging Jesus to use his power in his own way to serve his own ends. In fact, the devil tries to get Jesus to use his status as “Son of God” and so reject faithful obedience and just be God on his own. Satan suggests that Jesus simply make his own food for his own needs instead of relying on God’s provision for him. Satan is tempting Jesus to do something for himself, just a little thing like eating, but to do something miraculous for himself instead of trusting God to provide.
Jesus responds by quoting Scripture from Deuteronomy 8:3: “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” There Moses reminded the people of God’s care during the 40 year wandering. God had fed them with manna, completely unknown to them before. Moses’ point was they must live by trusting in the Lord, not on their own doing. Jesus’ response shows that he believes that even if there is no bread, God will take care of his children. It is the power of the Father that keeps a person alive. Certainly the One who provided manna for His people during the Exodus will provide for His beloved Son! The first temptation for Jesus is to use His power and position to care for his own needs.
Now the devil moves from the mundane of bread to a vision where Jesus is allowed a glimpse of all the kingdoms of the world “in an instant” from an undisclosed vantage point. In this temptation, the devil proposes to replace God with himself as Jesus’ provider. The devil will give him what Jesus is due, but the price is Jesus’ allegiance. This, in effect, is an invitation for Jesus to deny his identity as God’s Son, and in its place become one who serves the devil. Within the devil’s own words, however, is a recognition that this offer is not really possible at all since the devil is not co-equal with God. He can only attempt to delegate to Jesus what has been delegated to him by God. What Jesus is offered is something that Jesus already had as the Son of God.
Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’” This is from Deuteronomy 6:13: “Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.” Jesus certainly did want to save the world from the sin that was destroying it. But the way to do that was not through yielding to Satan but by dying on a cross. Helmut Thielicke writes, “Jesus rose up from the place where the kingdoms of the world shimmered before him, where crowns flashed and banners rustled, and hosts of enthusiastic people were ready to acclaim him, and quietly walked the way of poverty and suffering to the cross.” Jesus reaffirms God alone will be his God and he will follow God’s mission.
The last test is in Jerusalem, the place of the final test Jesus faced in his passion. It is clear that Jesus is using God’s words in Scripture to refute the devil’s temptations and so the devil adopts a different strategy. He here pretends to speak with God’s own voice using the words of Psalm 91. However, since the devil is an unreliable character, even his use of the Old Testament is deceitful. Fundamentally, the issue here is the same as the first temptation. Jesus is radically committed to one aim: God’s mission to save his people. The devil is testing Jesus by asking him to test the divine promises of Psalm 91. However, the devil fails to recognize an ever deeper mystery. Ultimately God’s rescue comes through suffering and death, and not by avoiding them. There are no shortcuts on the road to redemption; it comes only through the suffering and death of Jesus.
Jesus answered, “It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” Jesus again relies on Scripture to refute Satan by citing Deuteronomy 6:16. In Deuteronomy, the incident refers to what happened at Massah where the Israelites were short of water and had been asking, “Is the Lord among us or not?” These people were arrogantly demanding miraculous signs to prove to them that God was caring for them. What Satan is proposing is for Jesus to challenge God’s care, not rely on it. To jump from such a height and then look to God to save Jesus would come is a similar offense as the people in the desert. In fact, it would be worse than the people demanding water for Jesus would be creating a hazard where there had not been one before. This is a form of testing God, which Jesus refuses to do. And so, looking at the entire temptation story, we see that all of Jesus’ choices enable him to remain close to God and his divine plan of salvation.
So what are the lessons for us? Let’s realize that we do face temptations and very real ones at that. You know the things in your life as I know the temptations in my own. Things that sound so good, so appealing, but deep inside we know that they are not good for us nor good for the kingdom of God. We are tempted because we like doing them and that makes things tempting. C.S. Lewis said, “Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is!” And we face the kind of temptations that Jesus faced as well. We face the temptation to assume that because we are followers of Jesus, our position entitles us to have whatever we need or want. And we face the temptation that it doesn’t really matter what we do as long as we end up thinking we are promoting the kingdom somehow. We face the temptation that God will protect us no matter how reckless we are and so we end up testing the Lord for our benefit instead of simply relying on Him.
So how do we handle temptations? Know the Scriptures! God has given us his Word so we know what is expected of us. Our good and gracious God has revealed his will and his instructions to us. And this Word will help us in our lives as we struggle with the temptations and sins in our lives.