4 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. 3 The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4 But he answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” 5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6 saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” 7 Jesus said to him, “Again it is 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 and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10 Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” 11 Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.
Let’s explore God’s words.
Many years ago, I read a book called “The 7 Habits of the Highly Effective People”. Its author is Stephen R. Covey, who was very famous in US. On the cover of this book’s Chinese version, it is written: In the US, this book’s influence is second only to the Bible. Actually you can see similar words on many American books published in China. So in China, even though the Bible is not allowed to be publically published, the Bible does not need any advertisement, for all other books are helping to advertise the Bible.
Anyway, this is really a good book, which talks about the seven habits that all successful people must have. The first habit is to Be Proactive.
Here the author provides a very interesting notion. He says, between the stimulus and the reaction, we have room for free choice.
What does this mean? There is a well-known experiment made by Pavlov, a famous Russian psychologist. In his experiment, Pavlov used a bell as his neutral stimulus. Whenever he gave food to his dogs, he also rang a bell. After a number of repetitions of this procedure, he tried ringing the bell on its own. As you might expect, the sound of the bell by itself now caused an increase in salivation in the dogs. Therefore, there is a phrase for a “Pavlov’s Dog”, which is used to describe those who work tirelessly without thinking.
Living among people, it is unavoidable to be stimulated. Some people around you may say something that is irritating you, or do something that hurts you. For example, your spouse might say, “I should not have married you!” Or your best friend cheats you out of your money. So then we will feel the hurt, pain, anger or depression.
But the author of this book says, wait a moment, these stimuli are not necessarily the cause of a hurt towards you. It depends on whether or not you allow yourself to be hurt.
He explains that man is different from animals. When the animals get stimulated, they will naturally react, but man is able to something in between the stimulus and the reaction, specifically there is free choice. We can choose not to react to the stimulus.
So he says we need learn to be positively proactive, and not to be negatively reactive, to not allow the outside circumstances and/or people to defeat us. We must build in us a buffer zone between the external stimulus and our reaction. What is this buffer zone? His answer is that we use our reason, willpower, and responsibility.
This sounds great, but according to the scripture we have read today, I want to say, his answer is only a way of self-redemption, in the long run it is not only useless, but in the end it can bring a heavier burden upon us.
But for us Christians, a buffer zone also exists. However, it is impossible to come from our inner power. This buffer zone, the ability to not react against the stimulus, only comes from Jesus. Between the stimulus and our reaction, between the temptation from the Devil and our failure, Jesus provides the only way, the best way. This is the basic difference between Christian faith and all other religions or philosophies.
So today’s scripture is about the temptation Jesus was facing, and about how Jesus reacted to the stimulus from Satan. Please ask yourself three questions when we study this scripture:
1) Why does Satan tempt us?
2) Why can Jesus overcome the temptation?
3) Why do we always fail to conquer the temptation?
Matthew 4 1 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished.
These two verses tell us very definitively that other than Jesus the tempted and Satan the tempter, there is another key role: the Holy Spirit.
That’s right! The Holy Spirit played a very important role when Jesus was tempted by Satan. Without the Holy Spirit, Satan would not tempt Jesus so easily.
What did the Holy Spirit do? He brought Jesus to the wilderness, where there is no food, no other people, no shelter, only loneliness, hunger and danger.
Satan can tempt Jesus anytime and anywhere, so why did the Holy Spirit take Jesus to such a severe environment to be tempted by Satan where his body became so tired and hungry? Why did Jesus insist on being tempted in a place and physical condition which is the hardest to resist temptation?
This is against our common sense. We all try to keep ourselves in a good physical condition, so that we can resist any temptation easily. Jesus also teaches us to pray like in the Lord’s Prayer, “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from all evil.”
In order to explain this, we must illustrate with another classic example in the Bible, which is very similar to the temptation of Jesus. It is the story of Job, which can help us to understand the story behind the temptation of Jesus. Not only Job’s temptation, or Jesus’ temptation, but behind all our temptations, a similar story happens. This story explains why we were and we are tempted by Satan, why we have suffered or are suffering.
We all know Job’s story. He lost all his belongings and children in one single day. Nothing left! But before this day occurs, the first chapter of Job records a meeting in heaven. Job himself doesn’t know this meeting, and through to the end he still didn’t know all his sufferings had been prearranged in this meeting.
As the outside observers we know of this meeting, but when we are experiencing a test like Job, we all forget there was also a meeting in heaven held for us.
Job 1 6 One day the angels came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came with them. 7 The Lord said to Satan, “Where have you come from?” Satan answered the Lord, “From roaming throughout the earth, going back and forth on it.” 8 Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.” 9 “Does Job fear God for nothing?” Satan replied. 10 “Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. 11 But now stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.” 12 The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, then, everything he has is in your power, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.”
It seems that God and Satan made a bet. God believes Job sincerely fears God, but Satan argued that Job fears God just because he received a lot of blessings from God. If all these blessings were taken away, Job will immediately betray God. But in order to prove His servant is loyal, God allowed Satan to test and stimulate Job.
Therefore, in only one day Satan robbed Job of everything, in order to stimulate him to sin. Job was very painful, but the Bible says, “In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.”
Then God allowed Satan to take away Job’s health. Even Job’s wife started to curse God, but Job still didn’t abandon God.
Job’s story tells us a truth about temptation: not just anyone could be tempted. The one who encounters temptation must be a chosen one!
So who are the chosen ones? We are! Even though we won’t experience such terrible temptation as Job had, all of us may experience some temptations that we can hardly resist. That’s because God is arguing for us with Satan. Satan is accusing us that what we really love is the blessings God gives us, not God Himself, our faith is just a transaction.
That’s why we encounter temptations, we were stimulated and hurt and then lose peace and joy.
Apparently, it is other that person who hurt us, but the spiritual fact is, when we encounter temptation, both Holy Spirit and Satan are present, arguing for us. If we cannot see this scene, we could fight back with that person, and suffer pain or depression. If we react to the stimuli then Satan will be happy and Holy Spirit will be sad.
What we need to do is that when the temptation comes, when the stimulation and hurt happens to us, let’s wait a moment, leave the Holy Spirit some time to lead us. He can help us to realize that the one who tries to irritate us is not the one who is before us. No ordinary man is the enemy of Christians. Behind this person, there are another two: Satan and the Holy Spirit. One is accusing us; while the other is trying to prove through us that our love and obedience to God is unconditional.
Every one of God’s children will be tempted. That’s because God’s children have three characters: 1) we know God, so we know how we should live; 2) we seek God, so we hope to live a holy life, to bear the fruit of Holy Spirit. If you have never experienced test and temptation, then that does not mean you are good enough, rather it means you don’t have the above characters, so even Satan does not want to waste time to tempt you. 3) Like all unbelievers, we are just sinners, in other words, we are unable to live a holy life.
If we are unable to live a holy life, then how can we make it? We are all the offspring of Adam, he had failed, so how can we win?
This is the reason why Jesus must experience this temptation. He did it for us. In Paul’s words, he is the second Adam. He must defeat the temptation, so all his followers can follow his example to resist the temptation in the same way. All of us encounter temptation in a passive way, only Jesus proactively took the challenge.
So next, let’s see the temptations Jesus was facing.
Many people say, Jesus’ life in this world is not a complete one. A lot of temptations we have experienced, he didn’t have, such as marriage. Jesus never got married, but marriage or marital relationship in our lives occupies a large proportion. Jesus also never got old, he died at 33 years old, but all of us have to fight against aging for a pretty long time.
However the essence or nature of the temptations of Jesus can cover all temptations in our lives. Next let’s cover them one by one.
3 The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4 But he answered, “It is written,
‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
Now we can understand why the Holy Spirit took Jesus into the wilderness and 40 days fasted, for only when Jesus’ energy was reduced to the lowest point, he totally cannot rely on his own strength from the flesh to resist the temptation.
We as average people have this kind of experience: when we are hungry or tired, it’s harder to control our temper, for our body becomes weaker, our willpower or emotional strength becomes weaker. That’s because the power we rely on is mainly from our body and mentality. Can we resist some temptations by the strength of our body and mentality? Yes, we can. That’s why some people, compared to the others, can more easily resist temptation, such as sex and drugs. But you must know, Satan definitely will use some temptations that are beyond our own ability to attack us, that’s why he is called the Devil.
Jesus also shared with us the same body with flesh and blood. 40 days of hunger can take all of his flesh strength away. At this moment he was just a hungry man, who needed food to survive!
And then the Devil appeared, he said to Jesus: “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”
This creates two questions:
1) What kind of temptation is Jesus facing here?
2) Does this have anything to do with us?
We will never ever and forever will not encounter this kind of temptation!
Is Jesus the Son of God? Yes!
Can he change these stones to bread? Yes, he can!
So what is this? Satan is just telling the fact!
Let’s answer the first question: What kind of temptation is Jesus facing here?
We all know that Jesus is both man and God. He was born of Mary through the Holy Spirit. He has God’s power, but also has man’s weakness. So the challenge Jesus was facing is this: whether or not he accepted his identity as a mere mortal. In this temptation, Jesus is totally a man, using man’s flesh and blood to resist the temptation from Satan. Satan’s unspoken words are: You are Son of God, why not use God’s power? Why not?
Jesus knows very clearly that he must hold the bottom line. He is Son of God, but he must humble himself to be a man. For only when he became man’s form, and defeated the temptation, and endured man’s sufferings and was finally killed on the cross, then he can be the example to all human beings, and he can then be qualified to save us.
So the temptation Jesus was facing is different from ours. Satan tried to tempt him use his God’s power. If Jesus was not humble enough, he would fail. On the cross, the Jews also stimulate him: if you were Christ, save yourself!
Could Jesus walk down from that cross and then judge these people? Of course he could. If he did so, then he cannot save us.
So then the second question: Did it have anything to do with us?
Apparently, we won’t be tempted to change stone to bread, but in fact, Jesus’ temptation is no different from ours.
Remember, all temptations, are not beyond our ability and freedom. Satan won’t tempt us to do something we are not able to do. Temptation is to tempt us do something we can do but shouldn’t do. God is totally different. He will always challenge us do something that we should do but we don’t think we are able to do. So everything has two sides, one side from Satan, one from God.
Satan’s trick is to stimulate us to do something we have freedom to do but we shouldn’t do. But Jesus’ answer is: I have this freedom, but I abandon it, for this freedom does not glorify my heavenly Father. That’s why in the case of five loaves and two fishes, Jesus used a miracle to feed five thousand people, for this miracle can glorify God, and not only satisfy his own needs. You know all Jesus’ miracles that Jesus performed is to serve others. He never used any miracle for himself. Through this, Jesus became a humble example for us. Paul says in Philippians 2,
“Jesus Christ, Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!”
Actually the significance of Jesus’ temptation is that he must complete what Adam and Eve didn’t complete. He must represent humankind in defeat of Satan with a body which was much weaker than Adam’s. And he gives the victory to us. Through his real action, he announces great good news to all of us: “If after 40 days of fast, I can still defeat the temptation through the help from God my Father, all of you can defeat all temptation in your lives with my help.”
In the beginning, Adam and Eve failed in this same temptation. They were given the freedom to eat the forbidden fruit, but not all freedom can be used. However, Eve saw that “the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, she took some and ate it.”
But Jesus’ answer to Satan is ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’
What does Jesus mean? Man does not live only to satisfy his own need, man does not live only to execute his freedom; rather man lives to obey and glorify God, and man lives to serve others’ needs.
So when the temptation comes, when stimulation and hurt comes, wait a moment, let the Holy Spirit tells us that even though we have the freedom to fight back, this freedom is to be abandoned. If I use this freedom to fight back or respond negatively, can I glorify God?
In the end, let me share a testimony which expresses my points very much. It’s from our dear Mr. Russ.
Russ once told us a story about when he was young, his first wife did something wrong, something that could totally destroy their marriage.
Russ said he didn’t come to confront her, and even didn’t blame her. Instead he prayed with her together, asking for God’s forgiveness, and helped her to find out the cause. That incident was from a vulnerability in her personality caused by her childhood experiences.
This was unbelievable to me. I believe most husbands cannot really forgive the infidelity of their wives. If they can, then they probably need many years to reach that point.
I asked him, “How did you manage it? Didn’t you get hurt and angry? How did you make yourself be calm?” He said, “I was really hurt and angry, she betrayed me, but a second thought came to me, wait a moment, I could be hurt and angry with her, but can I glorify my God, can I witness about my God whom I believe? Can it be helpful to her? I should do the right thing!”
Wow, to me, this is a miracle! I don’t think this can be done by any person by himself. Only if God is in this person every day, then he can make himself wait a moment following this sudden stimulation, and he can give the Holy Spirit a second to protect himself from the quick negative reaction.
I believe before that, there was also a meeting in heaven. Satan was accusing Russ before God, saying, “I don’t believe Russ truly believes in you, but only because you gave him so much.” God said, “You can take away some blessings from him. I believe he will remain faithful!”
Brothers and sisters, do you know that when Russ defeated this temptation, and didn’t treat anyone as enemy, and when he kept loving through the help from God, how happy was our heavenly Father!
This testimony can also happen for each of us, as long as we are willing to walk with Jesus every single day, so that we can stand firm when the storm suddenly comes.
But how can we walk with Jesus every day? Jesus told us very clearly in his answer to Satan: “It is written.”
This is the secret Jesus tried to teach us: the words of God, the scripture, the Bible. So simple!
That’s why Paul said to Timothy: “the Holy Scriptures are the wisdom for salvation.”
What is the wisdom for salvation? That is when the temptation comes, we can wait a moment before we become impulsive, allow the words of God come in, so then we can conquer the temptation. But if there is no God’s word within us, it’s in vain to wait.
Many Christians naively suppose, baptism can bring salvation. Let me ask you, can a wonderful wedding guarantee a lifelong marriage? Likewise, after baptism, we must live out the faith. One of the most important things is to build relationship with Jesus through reading the Bible. This is the most important lesson we can learn from Jesus’ temptation, very simple, but very important, but it’s also the thing we often tend to forget.
Actually I should share with you the next two temptations of Jesus in this scripture, but there are just so many lessons we can learn from it, so instead I separate this sermon into two parts. Next part will be on March 19th, two weeks later. May God bless you!