Sermon on Matthew 4:1-11
Text: Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. 2 After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”
4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. 6 “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.’”
7 Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 9 “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”
10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”
11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.
I have seen signs in some repair shops that list the prices of their services in an amusing way. They will tell you that the price is so much if they do the work. The price is always higher if you tried to fix it yourself first, and then brought it into their shop. Maybe, it is just a guy thing, but we often like to think that we can fix something ourselves and we end up making a bigger mess of things than if we would have just taken it to the repair shop in the first place. This morning, as we observe our Savior being tempted in the wilderness, we think of all of the times when we have fallen into temptation. We know how many times we have failed to do what God demands of us. We try to do things on our own, but end up making a bigger mess of things. This morning, we will see our Great Substitute, Jesus, at work for our salvation. In this battle recorded in Matthew 4 we see that JESUS OVERCAME TEMPTATION IN OUR PLACE 1. The Temptation To Stop Trusting God, 2. The Temptation To Tempt God, and 3. The Temptation To Worship A False God.
This account begins with the words, “Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.” Just prior to our text, Jesus had been baptized by John in the Jordan River. Then the Holy Spirit led Jesus into the desert to be tempted. This is important for us to note. Jesus did not foolishly enter into this confrontation. He did not go out into the desert to prove how strong he was. Rather, it was the Father’s will that he should be tempted and to overcome those temptations to save mankind. Since it was the Father’s will, Jesus willingly went out to fight the battle.
The battle begins in verses 2&3, “After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” Because Jesus was human, it only makes sense that, after fasting for forty days, he would be hungry. Satan, being the sly enemy that he is, noticed that this was going on and used it as an opportunity to attack. It has well been said that Satan will attack wherever the fence is the lowest.
He said to Jesus, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” First of all, note that Satan has not changed his tactics, going all the way back to Adam and Eve’s time. There he tried to create doubt in Eve’s mind by asking, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” Here, he tries to create doubt in Jesus’ mind. If he really was the Son of God, there was no reason for him to suffer physical hunger. There was no reason for him to wait for his Father to provide. ‘If you are whom you claim to be, all you have to do is tell these stones to become bread. Then, your hunger will be satisfied.’
What would have been wrong with Jesus telling the stones to become bread? He was the Son of God. He did have the ability to do the miracle. He was hungry. So, why not do this? If Jesus had done this, it would have shown that he did not trust that his Father would provide for him. He had to find his own solution to the problem.
Don’t we fall into this temptation of the devil all too often? First of all, when things become difficult, the devil begins by whispering in our ears, trying to create doubt in our minds: ‘I thought you were a child of God. If that’s true, why are you having to face this difficulty right now? Shouldn’t your life be easier?’ He tries to get us to doubt that the Lord will provide for us and take care of us. We think that we have to handle it all on our own. Maybe, if we worry about it long enough, we will come up with a solution, since it doesn’t appear that God is going to take care of us. The devil still comes to us with the same temptation. He tries to get us to stop trusting in the Lord to take care of us, which is calling him a liar, because God has said he will take care of us. He tries to make us self-reliant, which will only lead to despair as we feel overwhelmed by everything. So often, we give in to the devil’s temptation to stop trusting God and start to look elsewhere for places to put our trust.
We thank God that Jesus overcame this temptation for us. When the devil came with his temptation, Jesus replied, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” Jesus used the same weapon that you and I have been given. He used the Word of God to counteract the temptation. God inspired Moses to write that he caused the Israelites to go hungry and then fed them with manna to teach them that man does not live because of food, but because of the word God speaks. The thrust of Jesus’ answer was that all the bread in the world could not keep him alive if the Father did not want him to live. If his Father wanted him to live, he would live, even if it meant going hungry after not eating these forty days. By quoting this passage, Jesus demonstrated a complete trust in his Father that he would provide all that was necessary to keep his body and life. He completely trusted in his Father, because all too often we do not.
Just because the devil was defeated in this one battle, did not mean that he was going to stop, so we read in verses 5&6, “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.’” The devil took Jesus to Jerusalem and set him on the highest point of the temple, which was 450 feet above the Kidron Valley. Again, the devil begins by trying to create doubt. ‘If you are the Son of God, certainly your Father loves you and will protect you.’ He goes on to say, ‘You believe that your Father will care for you and protect you. So, throw yourself down. Prove it! Since you are in the habit of quoting Scriptures, look at Psalm 91. If you really believe that your Father will protect you, prove it!’
It should not surprise us that the devil knows the Bible. He will even use it, when it suits his purposes, by bending it and twisting it and making it say what it does not. The verses that the devil quotes are not a promise of unlimited angelic protection under all circumstances. It is an assurance of the Lord’s protection as his people go about their God-given responsibilities from day to day.
The temptation is to be reckless and trust that God will take care of us anyway. ‘When your time’s up, your time’s up. In the meantime, God will surely keep me safe.’ Martin Luther once noted, “If the devil does not succeed in robbing us of our confidence in God, he will go to the other extreme and try to make us cocksure and much too daring.” Are we always careful with the life that God has given us, or do we at times take unnecessary risks on the job or while we are driving or whatever the case may be? At times, we think that we can be careless with our lives and trust that God will keep us safe, no matter what. We give in to the temptation to test God.
Again, we note Jesus’ response. This time, quoting Deuteronomy 6:16, Jesus said, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” The people of Israel had brazenly put the Lord to the test in the wilderness. They demanded that they be given water and tempted God by saying, ‘Is the Lord with us or not?’ The Lord showed his love, in spite of their doubt, and provided water for them to drink. Jesus would not repeat the sin of the Israelites. He was not going to make God prove himself. He trusted in the Lord, but he would not put him to the test, as we sometimes do.
Finally we read, “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.’” At first, we might wonder why the devil would try this tactic and ask Jesus to bow down and worship him. Yet, this was a very real temptation for Jesus. It held out to Jesus the promise of gaining all the kingdoms of the world he had come to win, without having to go through the agony and shame of being crucified. The devil was offering Jesus a shortcut: ‘All of the glory, none of the pain.’
How often haven’t we fallen for this temptation of the devil? He puts something in front of us and shows how fun it would be or how exciting it would be. He puts us in a situation where our faith or values are attacked and encourages us to keep quiet, because otherwise people might not like what we have to say. The trouble is, he is giving us an empty promise, just like he did for Jesus. He promised to give Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and all their splendor. There was a problem with that promise. They were not his to give. Everything belongs to God. Yet, the devil promises us good times or an easy life. When we follow his path, we find only trouble and sorrow. Instead of the fun and easy life, we find that we stand before a God who has said that there is trouble and damnation for those who do not obey him fully.
Jesus again stood up to the devil’s temptation. He answered, quoting Deuteronomy 6:13, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.” Jesus knew and obeyed the First Commandment, which forbids the worship of false gods. Satan is a false god – indeed, the chief, ultimate false god. Following this path and worshiping the devil would not be in line with his Father’s will. Jesus demonstrated his faithfulness to his heavenly Father and his willingness to follow his Father’s will. He would not try and skirt his Father’s will, which he knew included suffering and death to pay for mankind’s salvation. The cross still lay three years in the future. He would walk the path his Father set before him and would not stray from it. He was not going to let anything take the first place in his life that his Father deserved. Jesus overcame the temptation that we, all too often, fall into.
We thank God for this account, because we see our Savior at work for us. He was perfect, where we have not been. This was the first part of Jesus’ work. He lived a perfect life for us, overcoming every temptation that the devil threw at him. This was not the only time that Satan tempted Jesus. He was tempted his entire life. As we are reminded in Hebrews 4:15, “[He] has been tempted in every way, just as we are — yet was without sin.” Because God demanded a perfect life, and we could not do it, Jesus came and was perfect for us. This led Jesus to the second part of his saving work, which is the focus of our Lenten season. God demanded that sin be paid for. Rather than exacting the punishment from you and me, who deserved it, Jesus stepped in our place. He faced the full force of God’s anger against our sin while on the cross. Jesus sacrificed himself on the cross to pay for our sins, for all of those times when we succumbed to the devil’s temptations. We also know that he did not stay in the grave, but rose triumphantly on Easter morning. This assures us that the Father accepted his payment. We are forgiven. Heaven is our home.
In addition to seeing Jesus defeat Satan, we take note of how he did so. He made use of the same weapon that God has given us, namely, his Word. God has given us this weapon to help us defend ourselves against the devil’s temptation. To this end, it only makes sense that we will want to become as skilled as we possibly can be with this weapon. We do so as we read and study and hear his Word. With Jesus at our side, as we wield this weapon, the devil too must go away. Yet, we also know that he will not just leave alone. Where he fails at one attack, he will come with another. May God help us to stand firm in the face of the devil’s attacks.
We know that we have often stumbled and fallen when the devil has tempted us. We thank God that Jesus stood firm. He did everything necessary for our salvation. In our place Jesus overcame every temptation. He paid for every time that we fell into the devil’s traps. He did this all so that we could be with him forever. We thank him with all that we are for all that he has done for us. Amen.
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