Deut 26:4-10; Rom 10:8-13; Luke 4:1-13
Today is the first Sunday in Lent. Like the gospel text of every First Sunday of Lent, today’s text coming from Matthew, deals with the Temptations of Jesus. Facing temptations is an unavoidable reality in the life of every Christian. The Christian life is a constant struggle or spiritual warfare. Today, we are reminded of what the Apostle Paul said: “we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Ephesians 6:12). At the start of our reflection, let us establish a foundation. There are six truths about the evil one that we must keep in mind.
- There is a spiritual world. The Bible talks about angels, demons, and a heavenly host. It says God is Spirit. There are vast numbers of beings we do not see that are present.
- We are involved in a spiritual war. Satan and His armies are fighting against the Lord and His angelic host.
- Our enemy is formidable. However, Satan cannot be everywhere and does not have all power.
- The stakes in the spiritual war are eternal. It is the difference between heaven and hell. Satan will do any and everything to take a Christian away from eternal life, to eternal damnation.
- The scope of spiritual war is universal. Everyone is involved in the war and everything is impacted by it.
- Our involvement in this war is personal. It has a personal impact and it comes at us in personal ways. This is not a fairy tale. It is real and it is dangerous.
As we shall see in the temptations of Jesus, Satan is like a good marketer. He comes to us when it is least convenient. He comes back again and again. He keeps pushing even after you say “No”. He makes what it is selling sound great. We must, therefore be on the constant alert to the prying presence of the tempter. Let’s look at the account itself in gospel of Luke, Chapter 4.
- THE SPIRIT LEADS JESUS TO THE DESERT TO BE TESTED
There is fact worth noting here: immediately after the baptism of Jesus we are told the Holy Spirit led (or compelled) Him to go into the desert to be tested by the Devil. He went from hearing the Father say, “This is my dearly loved Son” to Satan taunting Him with the words like, “If you really are the Son of God . . .” It is the spirit who thrust Jesus into the desert for the testing. The very spirit who came upon him at the baptism now drives him out for his test. This may be mistaken that God tempts human beings, incites them to do evil. The apostle, James categorically states: “Let no one say when he/she is tempted, ‘I am tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone.” (James 1:13) In life there are temptations that are not incitements to do evil: they are just situations that everyone, even the just person, has to face. Faced with such, one is invited to take a stand and so strengthen one’s faith. Any person who wants to grow, improve, purity him/herself and strengthen his/her relationship with God cannot avoid tests. Such persons even welcome trials of this nature. Indeed, temptations are not meant to make us fall. They strengthen the nerve and the vigour of our minds and hearts and souls. They are not meant for our ruin, but for our good. They are meant to be tests from which we emerge better servants of God.
- THE THREE TEMPTATIONS:
- a) It is interesting that the devil stepped in when Jesus was in need of food because he was hungry. We need to pay attention to this because it applies to us more than Jesus. The object of temptation is not what we do not need but what we need most. Satan began by taunting Jesus, “IF YOU ARE THE SON OF GOD, then prove it by turning these stones into bread.” If Jesus had done this, he would have submitted to the authority of the devil. In this way, the sovereignty of God would have been surrendered to the dominion of Satan. There is nothing sinful about eating bread. However, there is sin in letting our appetites rule our life instead of the Lord. It is the temptation to fulfill God-created desires in a way that excludes Him. This is a common tactic of Satan. If you are hungry, he will tempt you to overeat. If you are thirsty, he will tempt you to drink until you have had too much to drink. If you are tired, he will tempt you to laziness and apathy and sometimes even a foul temper. When you find yourself with sexual desires, he will tempt you toward infidelity, lust, pornography, and other sexual sins. It is no secret that the times of greatest temptation are when we are alone. Satan loves to whisper in our ear, “No one will know.” He pushes us to act in an area where the desires are very real. Note how Jesus responded: Jesus reminds himself and declares to Satan that there are things that are much more important than satisfying our physical desires: “one does not live by bread alone.” In this first round, the devil has lost but refused to give up.
- b) Next, Satan devises other schemes to try to win the contest. Now, Satan “led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world.” He has moved beyond the narrow confines of food and eating to a broader range of worldly things. The devil makes his move in these words: “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” Like the first temptation which was about submitting to the devil, the second one has the same objective, but using a different method.
Satan was offering Jesus a shortcut to the goal of ruling the earth. It is as if Satan was saying, “Look Jesus, you don’t have to go through the pain and agony of the cross. You don’t have to face the wrath of God to save mankind. All you have to do is give me your worship.” Satan will often lead us to take a shortcut to a good end. He will lead us to want to grab a blessing instead of waiting for it; to compromise the truth of the gospel in order to draw a crowd; to build a Kingdom to ourselves rather than to build His Kingdom. Any attempt to take a shortcut is to worship the blessing rather than the One who gives the blessing. Any attempt to take a shortcut is to fall into the trap of a scam. Satan always dangles things that are desirable and tells us there is an “easy way” to get these things. It was a scam then, and it is a scam now. It is a temptation to put your trust in something, or someone, other than the Lord. Many popular “men of God” use this same scam. Any shortcut is really just a decorated road to Hell.
- c) Finally, in the last temptation, Satan now uses a religious theme to try to knock Jesus off one more time. Accordingly, he “took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, ‘IF YOU ARE THE SON OF GOD, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, “He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you”, and “On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.” Here, the devil quotes Psalm 91:11 with accuracy. But he is also cleverly misusing scripture to achieve a diabolical aim. What Satan does is turn a promise of God into something He never promised. We call this “reading into the Scriptures” something that is not there. God never speaks a lie, and His Word is coherent and unified. God never contradicts Himself. Therefore, what God says in the one book of the bible can never contradict what He says in another. If we set one part of Scripture against another part of Scripture, we violate the most fundamental principle of biblical interpretation, and that is exactly what Satan was doing. Jesus tells Satan that if He were to jump off the temple to prove that the Scripture is true, He would be violating the very Scripture that forbids Him from doing it.
- THE Three Temptations in THE DAILY LIFE OF A CHRISTIAN
The three temptations of Jesus focus on three different aspects of life: food; wealth and power; and protection.
- a) The first temptation deals with changing stones into bread because Jesus was hungry. The devil does his background work well. He mounts a type of surveillance to find out what the Christian needs badly. In this case, it is food. We are tempted with what we desperately need:
- Some men/women in need of a job are forced into “prostitution” in order to be able to put food on the table. In the same way, people are forced compromise their Christian principles in order to gain promotion in the workplace.
- Because of food, people, cheat, embezzle, and engage in all sorts of fraudulent activities.
- Some-times, in order to put food on the table, some are tempted to look for something to steal.
- b) The second temptation is about inordinate wealth, and the ambition to be powerful. Because of the craze for wealth, fraternities, “brotherhoods,” and “sisterhoods” are now becoming the order of the day in many places. Membership of a cult is becoming attractive for some people. In this light, if anyone wants to get rich and become powerful he/she is tempted to join a cult and start counting in meaningless millions.
- c) The third temptation is about demonic protection. As we can see, the devil wanted to guarantee that Jesus would not break his legs should he fall down from the pinnacle of the temple. He assured Jesus that he would be protected from harm.
- This is where the marabout’s business is now booming in many countries.
- Spiritualists and charm-makers are now considered to have superior powers that can offer protection.
- In some places, the rich and the powerful are seen rushing to the devil’s agents to get this “power” and “protection.” They need this “power” because they want to use it to fight and control their opponents.
- Sometimes, they look for protective charms in order to evade the evil machinations of their enemies.
- But they forget that as the Preacher once said, “vanity of vanities; all is vanity” (Ecclesiastes 1:2).
- THE TEMPTER IS AMONG US!
The tempter never too far away from us. He is among us.
- The tempter is even your best friend. It could be anybody, even the preacher carrying the bible, shouting “Halleluia.” In this age when we have inflation of pastors and preachers and new churches, not everyone carrying the bible is, ipso facto, ‘an angel of the Lord.’
- It could be the father or the mother of a family misleading the child, always reminding the son/daughter how his/her peers have built up-stairs, with fleets of cars, without asking the question: how did they make their money? They keep pushing their children until they become mobsters.
- Imagine a husband who sets up the wife for prostitution so that they can get money from the rich?
- Think of that beautiful lady who always dresses in exposed and seductive dresses, moving around, or that lady who is an office secretary who dresses in this way to attend to the boss just to get his attention?
- What of the so-called “glamour girls,” whose moral principle now is: if it brings money, it is good. All that matters for them is the rich boyfriend, or that rich guy.
- WITHSTANDING TEMPTATION
The temptation of the Lord reminds us that spiritual warfare is a reality. “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your enemy, the devil is prowling round like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith.” (1Pet 5:8). There is no immunity for any Christian. No one is above temptation. The battle is on, and this is how to go about the fight:
- a) We must be prepared. Jesus used the time of fasting to draw close to the Lord. It is a good idea to find quality quiet time to spend with the Lord. Perhaps you would benefit from a time of prayer and fasting. The only way to stand against the assault of the Devil and his army is to be fully clothed in the armour of God. An untrained soldier is a danger to his/her unit. An unprepared Christian is a danger to himself, his family, and his church.
- b) Know your points of weakness. If you know something is a temptation to you run away. Do not play with temptation. Let us illustrate:
- If you have trouble with spending, do not wander through shopping centres and market places.
- If you have a problem with lust do not watch programs that incite lust. Do not watch videos that promote immorality. Do not flirt with others! Put your energy into loving your spouse or being faithful before the Lord.
- If you know you cannot resist listening to juicy gossip, then stay away from those places where gossip is common. Avoid those conversations and the people who promote them.
- If your anger leads you to compromise the message of the gospel – remove yourself from things that will provoke angry outbursts (discussions of politics, sports, debate about various social issues). Remind yourself that no issue is worth compromising your faith.
- c) Third, put your trust in the One who has been tempted in every way, yet did not give in to sin. The book of Hebrews reminds us that because Jesus was tempted in every way, He is able to help those who are being tempted. (Heb 2:18) In order to stand with Christ in the time of temptation, we must train ourselves to follow Him in the little things so we will more naturally trust Him in the big things.
We must make the decision today that we will trust the Lord and His Word over EVERYTHING ELSE. We dare not trust our feelings, our friends, or even our desires. We cannot even trust the fact that “we have peace;” sometimes peace comes from a deadened conscience rather than from the Lord. We must trust His Word and hold on to it with all the strength we have. This much is sure: Satan is going to hit us with everything He has and he is going to do it again and again. Our defense in not found in great resolve, it is found in a deeper walk with Christ.