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“Tackling Temptation, Jesus-style”

Matthew 4:1-11 - May 7, 2017


Temptation is a common problem. It’s something we all struggle with. As Fulton Sheen observed, “You are not tempted because you are evil; you are tempted because you are human.”

      A shopkeeper noticed a little boy whose eyes were on a large basket of apples outside the storefront. The shopkeeper asked, “What are you doing, son? Trying to steal one of those apples?”

      “No, sir,” replied the boy; “I’m trying not to.”

      We can all relate to that little boy. For us it’s probably not apples! But we all get tempted by something. There are many things in life that catch our attention and attract us, whether or not they happen to be forbidden.

      A Bengalese proverb states: “The heron’s a saint when there are no fish in sight.” What are your ‘fish’?

      The magazine Discipleship Journal asked its readers to rank the areas of greatest spiritual challenge to them. Here are the top nine results, in order (see if some of these are ‘fish’ to you!)...





5.(tie between) anger/bitterness

6.(and) sexual lust




Any of those close to home for you?

      None of us is completely innocent. None of us is immune to temptation – it seeks us out, in many different forms. Today as we look at how Jesus confronts temptation, we will look particularly at the role IDENTITY plays, and how to be PRE-EMPTIVE in dealing with it.


This showdown happens at the very outset of Jesus’ ministry. It is part of the Father’s preparation for His Son’s earthly ministry. Immediately after Jesus is baptized by John the Baptist, we read, Matthew 4:1 - “Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.” Note that God is not the agent of temptation. God arranges testing for our growth and maturity, but God is not doing something bad by enticing Jesus directly. God is the One to Whom we can pray, “Lead us not into temptation.” The agents of temptation are the world, the flesh, and the devil (as in this case). But sometimes our fallen nature with its appetites tempts us quite naturally without specifically supernatural agency. James 1:13-15 “When tempted, no one should say, "God is tempting me." For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed.Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.”

      Note the DEADLINESS of sinful desire: what is the final destination, as James points out? Desire drags us away, entices us, gives birth to sin, which in turn gives birth to DEATH. God warned Adam back before the Fall, in the Garden of Eden, Genesis 2:17 “but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.” Sin wedges itself between us and God, harming the relationship, stepping on the oxygen hose that is our spiritual life support. Allowing ourselves to be enticed by our own evil desire is deadly.

      So Jesus identifies with us because He was subjected to the very same kind of temptations we encounter. But there’s one major difference: He did not give in to the temptations. The author of the book of Hebrews notes both Jesus’ identification with us, and His unique difference in being the only perfect person who never sinned. Hebrews 2:14 “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death— that is, the devil...” Jesus shares in our humanness, our frailty, our vulnerability, so He can relate to us and help us as One who’s “been through it”. As Hebrews 2:18 notes, “Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” When you’re tempted, don’t be discouraged – God hasn’t abandoned you! Help is available because Jesus has also encountered these issues. He knows how tough it is, it’s a struggle. But He was an overcomer. Hebrews 4:15 “For 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.” Jesus models for us the path to victory over temptation.


Taking a broad overview of the story of Jesus’ temptation, we see three main categories. V3 “tell these stones to become bread”: Jesus was hungry, so this temptation appeals to His stomach, His physical creatureliness, His appetite – what we might call the “flesh” element. V6 “throw yourself down”: this appeals to Jesus’ ego, to “show off”, win approval and applause and draw attention to oneself, to be able to boast and rejoice in being made much of. You could call this boastful pride. Then in v9 Jesus is shown “all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour.” Stuff; all that glisters; mammon, the things that can be bought with money, a materialist’s delight. Things that catch our eye.

      Listen to how John in his first letter summarizes in 3 categories things that vie for our love of God, three main factors or idols that compete for our affection toward the Lord. 1John 2:15-16 “Do not love the world or anything in the world.If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.For everything in the world [HERE COMES HIS SUMMARY] — the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does— comes not from the Father but from the world.” As NASB puts it, “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life.”

      So it’s not just material things that appeal to our physical being that can trip us up. There is a non-material aspect to temptation as well. The material ‘stuff’ or pleasure that God has forbidden tempts us to reach out for it and in so doing exalt ourselves over what God has revealed, as if to say, “I know better than God”. We de-throne God as sovereign and try to crawl onto the throne of sovereignty in place of God.

      Genesis 3 has the account of the original temptation in the Garden of Eden. Gen 3:5f “[the serpent speaking]"For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.”

      Let’s break that down. “The fruit of the tree was good for food” – that’s lust of the flesh. “...and pleasing to the eye” – that’s lust of the eyes. “Desirable for gaining wisdom” - or in the serpent’s words, “you will be like God, knowing good and evil” – that’s boastful pride of life: “I know better than God.I can run my own life.I don’t need anybody else telling me what to do.” Boastful pride.


Now, when the Son of God is challenged by the tempter to a duel of epic implications – after all, if Satan succeeds in getting Jesus to sin, then Christ would no longer be a perfect sacrifice and substitute capable of providing salvation to all who believe – in such a pivotal clash of cosmic ramifications, you might have thought the Son of God would pull out all the stops and counter Satan with some new earth-shaking creative and sparklingly original line of reasoning. But that is NOT the case! Each time Jesus responds, how does He begin? Not with some brilliant new argument, but with a simple quotation from Scripture that any Jewish schoolboy of the day probably would have known by heart. All from the 5th book of the Bible, Deuteronomy.

      Matthew 4:4, “Jesus answered, "It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’"” (a quotation from Deut.8:3) Matthew 4:7, “Jesus answered him, "It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’"” (a quotation from Deut.6:16) And Matthew 4:10, “Jesus said to him, "Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’"” (a quotation from Deut.6:13)

      Do you see the upshot of this for us today? When we’re tempted, it’s not like we have to get all creative and try to think up a brilliant witty response. Scripture is your first line of defence. Reach down into the bedrock of God’s revealed truth in the Bible, His basic principles and commands, and rely on the authority of what GOD has said whenever Satan whispers in your ear. You don’t have to re-invent the wheel or try to out-argue the tempter and impress him with your cleverness! He’s had many centuries to hone his techniques. His attacks will come at the most basic level of your connectedness to God. And God’s word, inspired by His Holy Spirit, conveyed to faithful authors of old, has all the power and potency you need to combat the enemy’s tantalizing lies.

      Psalm 119:9,11 “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.” Hide God’s commands and promises in the ‘bank vault’ of your heart so the Holy Spirit can raise up that precious word when you’re being tested. James 1:21 “Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.” So, spend time in God’s word each day, let it become “planted” in you, memorize and meditate on His promises and commands: that’s your best defence against, in James’ words, “the evil that is so prevalent”. Get familiar with HIS narrative so you don’t get sucked into the world’s narrative.


Today I’d like us to look briefly at this showdown through the lens of IDENTITY. Identity plays strongly into the issue of temptation. If Satan can succeed in getting us to question our value before God, and whether we who believe are actually dear to our Heavenly Father, he’s got us set up for stumbling into sin. Ted Roberts’ Conquer Series is designed for men battling for purity, but the principles apply to other sorts of temptation, too. Sexual temptation is not the root issue. Roberts maintains “the root of bondage” is “wounds and trauma”. He notes, “The place where you were wounded is where the enemy has inserted a lie about yourself...The majority of men trapped in sexual bondage have wounds from their past.”

      Roberts says a second component of ‘the noose of bondage’ is “the mindset of shame, which is having a shame perspective: ‘Something is wrong with me.’” According to Roberts, “the problem [of being unable to beat sexual bondage] is not in will power – they’re dealing with a wounded heart.They’re carrying shame within their soul. Shame [means]...you’re convinced there’s something wrong with you.”

      Now, let’s go back to our passage and look at it afresh through the spectacles of Identity. How does the tempter begin his statements? V3 “If you are the Son of God...[tell these stones to become bread]” V6 “If you are the Son of God...[throw yourself down]” Isn’t that remarkable? Satan hopes to dupe Jesus into performing miracles in order to PROVE His identity. But for Jesus, whether or not He’s God’s Son is not up for debate, it’s not something He needs to prove! He’s received the Holy Spirit and heard the Father’s voice from heaven when He was baptized (Mt 3:16f). He’s just spent 40 days fasting, communing with God. He has God’s promises from Scripture anchored in His soul. Satan’s not going to succeed in raising the shadow of a doubt in that department.

      Ro 6:11 “In the same way, count [‘reckon’ / visualize] yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” 2Co 1:21 “Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ.” Ga 3:26 “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus...” Eph 1:13 “And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit...” Get your IDENTITY straight before you move another muscle!

      What’s the import of Jesus’ words in v4 as it pertains to identity? “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” In other words, we are not just beasts or animals, hogs with our heads in the trough! God has made us for more than just eating bread: He has designed us to have fellowship and relationship with Himself, to be able to love Him with our heart soul mind and strength. I am MORE than my gut and my gonads!

      What’s the import of Jesus’ words in v7 as it relates to our identity? “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” God’s identity is both faithful and jealous, zealous for our affection and obedience. He will protect His children (as the passage Satan quotes from Psalm 91 says) BUT He will not be manipulated by us, tested or dared or used to perform astounding miraculous feats (like jumping from a pinnacle). God is God and I’m not! (Get used to it!) God’s identity is Sovereign, Lord of the Universe – not to be turned into a vending machine.

      What’s the import of Jesus’ words in v10 for this angle of identity? “Worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.” I am creature, He is Creator; I serve Him, I honour Him as God, I do not have the right to become my own god, usurp His throne, even if I were offered all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour – that would be to make “stuff” and “fame” gods I serve instead. God’s identity is as the only One deserving of my worship; my identity is that of His beloved child whom in Christ the Father welcomes into His presence, forgiven and freed.

      So, having these questions of IDENTITY settled in our soul – who I am in Christ, and who God is with all His care for me and claim upon me – helps greatly when the tempter comes knocking and offering us a deceptive bill of goods. Then we can say with our Saviour, V10 “Away from me, Satan!” (Adding in the back of our mind) “What could you POSSIBLY have that would ever be better than what I already am and have in Jesus my Lord and Saviour??!”


We’re heading into the home stretch. In closing, some practical application for dealing with temptation. We’ve seen how Jesus came already prepared to this contest – having communed intimately with the Father through extended fasting, having God’s word stored up in His memory. What additional things can help us today?

      First, have some awareness of settings that can be problematic. Spot the circumstances or environments that may set you up for a showdown. In that Discipleship Journal survey I mentioned at the start, respondents noted that temptations were more potent when they had neglected their time with God (81%) and when they were physically tired (57%).

      On Tuesday I attended one of the workshops at the EMCC Assembly, called “Purity in a Pornified World”. Presenter Garrett Thackery of the ministry StrengthToFight.ca said it’s important to become aware of the triggers that can prompt us to sin. Triggers can be emotional, environmental, and sexual. One acronym for triggers is BLAST: am I Bored? Lonely? Angry? Sad / sick / stressed? Tired?

      Once we become aware of what our triggers are, we can plan to take remedial action. For example, if I know I’m going to be encountering a stressful situation, I can contact my support group beforehand so they’ll support me through it and keep me accountable.

      Thackery also stressed the importance of having an accountability partner. Such a relationship needs to have goals, expectations, and consequences – for example, no smartphone for a month if your browser history shows you’ve been on porn sites. Ouch! An accountability partner will look for a text every day to find out how you’re doing; and connect once a week. Honesty is absolutely essential, else you’re ‘done’ as an accountability partner. These may seem like high standards, but Thackery has found people DO want freedom from bondage so learn to comply.

      In the Discipleship Journal survey, what did respondents find helped fight temptation? 84% said resisting temptation was accomplished by prayer; 76% - avoiding compromising situations (‘Flee!’ ‘Run, Forrest, run!’); 66% Bible study; and 52% - being accountable to someone else.

      So: how is the Spirit leading YOU to be prepared for your next encounter with the tempter? You can be sure of one thing – it IS coming! But at the same time, you can be sure of your identity in Christ – and His help to fight back. Let’s pray.