Resisting Temptation

Matthew 4:1-11

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
March 2021

Today, we are going to talk about temptation.  All of our life we face temptation.  It is a fact of life.  No one is exempt.  Baby Christians aren’t exempt.  Mature Christians aren’t exempt.  Pastors aren’t exempt.  Missionaries aren’t exempt.  Even Jesus was tempted, which shows you that it is not a sin to be tempted, because He was tempted.

The Bible says that he was in all points tempted like as we are (Hebrews 4:15 NIV).  He was tempted more than these three times.  If you just read Matthew, you might get the idea that Jesus was only tempted after his forty day fast.  Mark and Luke tell us that he was tempted the entire forty days.

Mark 1:13 says, “and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan” (NIV).  That is not a contradiction.  Both can be true.  He was tempted after this as well.  He was tempted not to go to the cross and after He was on the cross, He was tempted to come down from the cross.  Jesus was tempted repeatedly by Satan.

Three Basic Truths

Before we start, I want to look at three basic truths.  Our passage assumes these three basic truths.

Truth One – Sin is Real

Sin is real.  It is universal.  It is found in every single person on the planet.  We sin every day.  People in every country sin. If you watch the news for one day, you will see the devastating effects of sin in our world.  We can all agree on this first point.  No one is perfect.

Truth Two – The Devil is Real

In some circles, the Devil is a mythical creature.  The Bible teaches the existence of a real being called Satan.  Jesus believed in Satan.  He called him the ruler of this world.  He not only believed in a literal Satan, He talked to Satan.  He carried on a conversation with him.  When people do that today, some think they are crazy, but Jesus did here.

Truth Three – Temptation is Real

Temptation does not always come from Satan.  Most of the time we are tempted, we are not tempted by Satan.  We are tempted by our sin nature.  Our sin nature tempts us most of the time.

Satan does not need to prance around to tempt people.  For a lot of men, all they need is a bottle of beer and a half naked woman.  We are “dragged away” by our own “evil desire and enticed” (James 1:14 NIV)

Jesus did not have a sin nature.  He could only be tempted by Satan.  What is a temptation for you may not be a temptation for me.  What is a temptation for me may not be a temptation for you.  All of our temptations are different.

I have never been tempted to turn stones into bread.  I have never been tempted to do that. I have never been tempted to jump off of a tall building.  I avoid them.  I am afraid of heights.

I have never been tempted to fall down and worship the Devil.  Devil worship is not something that I struggle with. It is not something that I have ever struggled with, although I have been tempted to put other things before God in my life.

Today, we are going to look at Jesus’ three desert temptations. What were Jesus’ three temptations?  I would outline the three temptations as follows: the first temptation had to do with a DRIVE.  The second temptation had to do with a DARE. The third temptation had to do with DOMINION.

The first one had to do with a natural drive, the drive for hunger.  The first temptation had to do with food.  Satan tempted Adam and Eve with food, and he tempted Jesus with food (turning stones into bread).

The second temptation had to do with a dare. It was the Devil’s dare. It involved some risky behavior (jump off of a tall building).  The third temptation had to do, not with a dare or with a desire but with dominion.  It was a temptation for world domination (all of the kingdoms of the world).

Vance Havner gave a different outline.  He said that the first temptation was PHYSICAL (stones into bread).  The second temptation was SPECTACULAR (jump off of a building).  That would have turned the Messiah into a superhero, like Superman who can leap tall buildings.  The third one was POLITICAL.

Havner said that the first temptation put Jesus in the bread business.  The second one put him in show business and the third one put Him into politics. [1]  Let’s look at all three a little closer.

The First Temptation

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.” (Matthew 4:2-3 NIV)

The first two temptations begin with the words, “IF you are the Son of God” (Matthew 4:3, 6).  Is Satan questioning if Jesus is the Son of God?  It looks like that from English but not from Greek.

This is a first-class condition in Greek which is a condition of assumed reality (e.g., Matthew 12:27; Colossians 3:1).  It is assumed to be true, as distinguished Greek scholar A.T. Robertson points out.[2]

Satan does not have any doubts that Jesus is the Son of God.  He knew Jesus before he was born.  The demons know he is the Son of God.  They know His true identity.

And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit. And he cried out, 24 “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.” (Mark 1:23-24 ESV)

Moreover, demons came out of many people, shouting, “You are the Son of God!” But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew he was the Messiah.  (Luke 4:41 NIV)

Satan is saying, “Since you are the Son of God, turn these stones into bread.”  The first temptation is to turn stones into bread.  How was the first one even a temptation?

This was something that Jesus needed.  It was a need, not a want.  If you don’t eat, you die.  Jesus has gone over a month without eating.  Jesus was not exempt from real physical needs.  He got hungry.  He got thirsty.

He had the power to do this.  If Jesus could turn water into wine, He could turn stones into bread.

There was no command against it.  There is nothing wrong with eating bread.  It is not forbidden. There is no explicit command in the Bible about turning stones to bread.

Furthermore, it was not flashy or showy.  No one would have seen it.  Jesus was alone in the wilderness.

What is the harm of making some bread in a moment of hunger?  What is wrong with turning stones to bread?  There are many things wrong here.

Jesus is in the middle of a fast.  Satan is asking Jesus to break his fast. Jesus was hungry because he was fasting.  It was all voluntary.

This was a temptation for Jesus to misuse His powers.  Satan is asking Jesus to do a miracle outside of the will of God.  None of Jesus’ miracles were for himself.  All of his miracles were for others.

Jesus provided food for other people who were hungry but never when he was hungry. Jesus is getting ready to start his ministry.  He has not performed a miracle yet.  Satan is asking Jesus to perform his very first miracle for himself.

Jesus NEVER did any miracles for his own personal needs, even if the needs were legitimate.  That was never God’s will.  This was a temptation to fulfill a legitimate need in an illegitimate way. There is a right and a wrong way to meet any need.

It was also a temptation to doubt God’s provision and love.  It was a temptation not to trust God’s providential care.  Satan is asking Jesus not to trust God to provide for himself but to take matters into his own hands.

Satan is tempting Jesus to allow His physical cravings to rule Him.  We are tempted to allow physical cravings to rule us and to not trust God to provide for our needs.

Jesus responded with Scripture.  Satan asked him about bread, so Jesus quotes a Scripture from Deuteronomy about bread.  It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God. (Matthew 4:4 NIV).

The problem today is that many in our society do live on bread alone.  The whole focus is on physical and material needs and not spiritual needs.  We do not just have a physical body.  We also have a soul.  We need more than physical food.

The Second Temptation

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.’ (Matthew 4:5-6 NIV)

What is this temptation?  It is a temptation for Jesus to put himself in danger.  If you are the Son of God, jump off of a tall building. If you have faith, you can do anything.  You can jump off of a tall building and God will protect you.  You won’t get hurt.  It sounds like some faith preachers today.

Satan uses Scripture with this temptation.  Since Jesus quoted Scripture, Satan quotes his own Scripture. The Devil knows the Bible.  He is an expert at quoting it out of context to confuse people. His ministers also quote it frequently. Cultists are really good at twisting Scripture.  They are really good at taking verses out of context to support unbiblical doctrines.

That is why we need to know the Word well.   There is very little Bible teaching these days done on Sunday morning and most Christians do not know the Word very well.  Some of them have been in church for twenty or thirty years and they still do not know it.

Satan quotes Psalm 91.  It says that if you trust in God, he will protect you from all kinds of bad things that are happening. He protects God’s people from disease and pestilences.  He protects God’s people from wild animals (lions and snakes).

This passage is not saying that God will protect you if you deliberately put your life in danger as an act of faith.  It is not saying that God will protect you if you choose to drink poison or shoot yourself in the head.

It is not saying that He will protect you if you jump out of a plane without a parachute or drive recklessly down the highway.  It is not a promise of invincibility if you deliberately put yourself in danger or act stupid.

What Satan suggests is just plain stupid.  It is an attempt to manipulate God.  It tries to force God to act in a certain way.  It is testing God.

The first temptation is not trusting God enough.  Don’t trust Him.  Take care of your own physical needs in the desert.  The second temptation involved too much faith.  Trust him so much that you will jump off a cliff as an act of faith.  That is sheer stupidity.

Jesus does not argue with Satan.  He does not tell him that he is quoting verses out of context.  He just quotes another verse, also from Deuteronomy.  Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” (Matthew 4:7 NIV).

The Third Temptation

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.” (Matthew 4:8-9 NIV)

The third temptation also takes Jesus to a high mountain and he looks down, but he does not ask him to jump.  He tries to make a bargain with him.  This is the only temptation where Satan tries to give Jesus something.

Satan offers Jesus something.  He offers him fame.  He has offered many other people the same thing and they have sold their soul to the Devil.  What kind of temptation was this?

It was a temptation to wealth.  It was a temptation for power, fame and prestige, having all the kingdoms of the world (world dominion).  It was an appeal to the pride of life.

It was also a temptation to idolatry.  It was a temptation to worship Satan, which involved idolatry.

This was a temptation to compromise.  It was a temptation to take a shortcut.  Jesus could have the crown without the cross.  That would be appealing.  He could get what he wanted without having to suffer, without having to be tortured on a cross and without having to die in shame as a criminal.

Once again, Jesus responds by quoting Scripture, another passage from Deuteronomy, which must have been His favorite book.  Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’ (Matthew 4:10-11 NIV).

Basic Principles of Spiritual Warfare

1) After a period of great blessing may come temptation

This is interesting.  When was Jesus tempted?  He was tempted immediately AFTER his baptism.  Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist.  He gets out of the water, looks up and the heavens open up. The Holy Spirit descends on him like a dove and God the Father says in a loud audible voice from heaven, “This is My Beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.”

That was an incredible experience.  God was speaking audibly from heaven and publicly endorses his ministry.  People could visibly see this dove and the dove lands on Jesus.  The entire Trinity was there.

This phenomenal experience was followed with great temptation.  Greg Laurie said, “after that the dove came the devil.” [3]  Temptation can come after blessing.  There are many examples of this in the Bible.  Immediately after Elijah’s great victory over the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal is his great trial.  He was so depressed that he wanted to take his own life.

2) Satan tempts us when we are at our weakest point

Satan does not tempt us in our strengths.  He tempts us in our weaknesses.  Jesus was perfect.  He did not have any weak points, but He was physically weak from fasting for forty days and that is when He received these three temptations.

Asking Jesus to turn stones into bread is a temptation for a hungry man.  I used to wonder why none of the three temptations of Jesus were sexual.  Why didn’t the Devil send a prostitute out in the desert?  Bread would have been a far greater temptation for a man who had not eaten anything in forty days.

3) Every temptation, no matter how strong, can be resisted

This temptation shows that Satan can be resisted.   When Satan tempted Adam and Eve, they gave in quickly.  It was easy for Satan to get them to sin.  We give into all kinds of temptations.  We are just like Adam and Eve.

Satan tempted Jesus three times and Jesus was physically weak, almost at the point of death.  He had gone forty days without eating anything and he still did not give into any of Satan’s temptations.

Temptations can be resisted.  James 4:7 says, “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (NIV).

Satan is stronger than us, but he CAN be resisted.  He cannot do anything to us against our will. We don’t have to give in to him. The Devil only has as much power over us as we give him.

Satan can’t force Jesus to do anything.  All he can do is to tempt him.  He could not force Jesus to do anything.  Even when he took him to the highest part of the temple.  He could not push him off.  All he could do was to ask him to jump off.

The Bible teaches that Satan can be resisted and there is power in resisting.  James says the Devil flees when we resist Him.

4) We can’t defeat Satan in our own strength

Where is Jesus when He was tempted?  He is alone with God in the desert.  He is away from all people.  He is away from all food for forty days.  He spends time alone with God.  He relies completely on God.  He meditates on Scripture.  He prays.  He was filled with the Spirit (Luke 4:1).  He was led by the Spirit (Matthew 4:1; Luke 4:1).

That is how he was able to deal with Satan.  Jesus was alone in the desert with Satan for forty days.  Mark says that Jesus was with all of the wild animals (Mark 1:13).  That is not mentioned in Matthew or Luke.

It was rather terrifying, but Jesus did not battle Satan in His own strength.   He relied completely on God.  We should not try to do spiritual warfare on our own, rather than in the power of His strength (Ephesians 6:10).

5) God’s Word has power over temptation

This is very interesting.  Jesus receives three temptations in Matthew 4.  When one temptation does not work, he tries a second one.  When the second one does not work, he tries a third one.  Each time Jesus responds the same way.  He says, “It is written. It is written. It is written” (Matthew 4:4, 7, 10).

God’s word is our final authority.  It is the final authority for living.  It is the final authority for doctrine.  It is the final authority for spiritual warfare.  For spiritual warfare, it is a weapon.  It is a weapon that can be used to overcome temptation.

Paul called it “a sword of the Spirit” (Ephesians 6:17). The NT describes the Bible as a sword and not just a dull sword, a sharp sword (Hebrews 4:12). Hebrews does NOT say that the Bible is a two-edged sword. It says it is sharper than a two-edged sword. A sharp sword only cuts on the outside. God’s Word cuts on the inside.  It penetrates hearts.

Jesus is a model to us today.  How He responded to Satan is the same way we should respond to Satan today.  Jesus didn’t try to reason or argue with the Devil. He did not try to debate him.  Instead, He did three things.  He knew the Word, even passages in Deuteronomy.  He meditated on it.  He applies the Word.

He applies it to His own situation.  He took passages dealing with Israel being hungry in the wilderness for forty years and applied it to His situation.  He was in the desert and was hungry for forty days.  Jesus not only knew the Word, mediated on the Word and applied the Word; He also quoted the Word.

God’s Word keeps us from sinning.  Psalm 119:11 says, “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” If there is an area of our life in which we are weak, we might want to memorize some Scripture on that subject.

Most Christians do not know the Word very well.  They do not know the Book of Deuteronomy.  They do not read it too much.  They could not quote any verses out of it.  The OT is too scary for most Christians.

It’s not enough to have the Bible. You may have a whole stack of Bibles at home and never read it or know what is in it. That’s like having a nice sword on your wall at home for decoration.  It is like having some weapons that you own but you don’t know how to use them.  That makes the weapons completely useless.

If we are going to be like Jesus, we need to KNOW the Word from Genesis to Revelation.  We need to MEDITATE on the Word.  We need to MEMORIZE the Word.  We need to APPLY the Word to our own life situation.  We also need to QUOTE the Word, especially when we are under attack from the enemy.

That is what Jesus does.  Jesus was perfect.  He was sinless.  If He needed to do that, how much more do we?

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VpvR2gg1c9s

[2]https://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/robertsons-word-pictures/matthew/matthew-4-3.html

[3] https://harvest.org/resources/devotion/when-does-temptation-come/

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