Dr. Charles Franklin DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
February 9, 2014
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God. ’” Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said 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, lest you strike your foot against a stone. ’” Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written,“‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve. ’” Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him.
— Matthew 4:1-11, ESV
The Lord Jesus Christ conducted a public ministry of approximately three years. It began with His baptism and led Him to Calvary and beyond. Along the way, there were places to go, people to see, temptations to face, and treasure to keep. Actually, all of these things come into view as soon as Jesus took his first steps out of the Jordan River.
Places to Go
After being baptized by the Baptist, the direction Jesus drove was dictated by God. The Father, by the Spirit, led the Son “into the wilderness” for forty days of preparation for His public ministry (perhaps a parallel to the forty years it took the Israelites to exodus from Egypt to Israel). All of us, all the time, should allow all of our steps to be directed by God. And all of us should be aware that God sometimes sends us places where we are called upon to deal with hard times and difficult people. In this unique passage, God placed His unique Son into what seemed like an eternity of “fasting” followed by a fight with “the devil.” I can think of any number of places I’d rather be, can’t you?
The sending of the Son into these circumstances inspires confidence. Jesus obviously had confidence that God the Holy Spirit would only lead Him, God the Son, some place where He would have an opportunity to glorify God the Father. God the Father had confidence that God the Son would accomplish just that, so God the Spirit sent Him forward.
God had great confidence in the Old Testament patriarch Job. Job’s life became a veritable hell on earth because of it. God had great confidence in sending His Son to earth. Of course, we killed Him because of it. God had great confidence in sending the first Apostles to the world with the gospel. They all died doing it.
Do not let the idiot televangelists ever trick you into thinking that health and wealth are signs of success with God. Sometimes the very people God loves and trusts the most are the very people doing the hard work in hard places, away from the spotlights and the cameras, in the wilderness of this present world. Maybe the Lord will send you into such a place, and think about the people you will meet!
People to Meet
The one person Jesus met in this wilderness journey has three names: “the devil,” “the tempter,” and “Satan.” He has other names in Scripture as well, not the least of which are slanderer, liar, and murderer. Obviously, this meeting is not something most of us would have on our bucket list.
I do not know if it was the famous French poet Baudelaire, or the English apologist C.S. Lewis, or Keyser Söze of The Usual Suspects who said, “The greatest stunt the devil ever pulled was convincing people that he doesn’t exist.” But the person that Jesus met in the wilderness is a person taken so lightly in our day and age that most people believe he is not real. Schools make mascots out of him that render him a harmless caricature. Writers tell Faustian tales about him buying a soul from some unsuspecting chump. Even singers croon in comical tones, like Charlie Daniels’ The Devil Went Down to Georgia. I grew up in Georgia and I suspect he has been down there a time or two. And the damage he does is neither comical nor imaginary.
The devil is not fiction and he is not funny. He is a real, angelic, created being who rebelled against God and wreaks havoc among God’s people. He influences other demonic beings who influence many human beings to do things that are contrary to God’s will and detrimental to God’s kingdom. Combined with the every day temptations of this present world, and the depraved weakness of our own flesh, the devil completes an unholy trinity of tempters who seek to take us away from God. He even had the audacity to throw three common temptations at the very Son of God Himself.
Temptations to Face
Satan through his three best pitches at Jesus. The Lord hammered each one out of the park. It would be easy to just stand up and cheer. However, we had analyze Jesus’ smooth swing, for sooner than later it will be our time to step up to the plate and face these same temptations.
Satan tempted Jesus with pleasure. Turning stones into bread would have been something Jesus could have easily done, and certainly in and of itself it would be no sin. But Jesus was bent on doing what God directed Him to do, not Satan, and would not even eat food without a word or direction from God. For Jesus, hearing and heeding the word of God was more precious than the pleasure of food or any other human respite. Most people I know, even a great number of professing Christians, put personal pleasure at the top of their priority list. After all, God just wants us to be happy, doesn’t He?
Satan tempted Jesus with popularity. The second temptation invited Jesus to become a spiritual stunt man and thrill a crowd with acrobatic and angelic activity. If Jesus had succumbed to this temptation and performed this feat at the pinnacle of the Jewish Temple, a standing ovation would have been the least of His earthly rewards. Today’s televangelists gain fame and fortune for offering fake miracles and false promises, so just think what Jesus could have gained by flashing some real miracle like this in front of a crowd. But Jesus came to serve the Father in an important spiritual matter, not call on the Father to serve Him in some silly side show. He would not sell His soul for popularity, unlike so many people in our day.
Satan tempted Jesus with power. I don’t think the devil had PowerPoint and a projector, but I do think He showed Jesus a vision of the power and wealth of all the worldly kingdoms of the day. The GNP would have been in the trillions and Satan offered Jesus a position more powerful than any head of state, corporation, or bank. Jesus passed. Though sovereign and in control of all things, the Lord Jesus Christ became totally submissive to worship the Father and accomplish the Father’s will, which was not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.
If you are a Christian and you have not been tempted to sell your soul or compromise your faith in exchange for pleasure, popularity, or power, you are either not really a Christian or you are not really living and breathing. It happens, every day. And the way to overcome any temptation, in the same way as the Lord Jesus Christ, is to use a treasure, a treasure you have already been given.
Treasure to Keep
Everyone notices that every answer Jesus gave to the questioning tempter is found in the sacred Scriptures we call the word of God, or the Bible. His particular quotes in this passage come from the book of Deuteronomy, on Old Testament text seldom studied in depth by New Testament Christians. Jesus had an advantage, to be sure, in memorizing, quoting, and applying God’s word to His life. But all followers of Jesus have the same opportunity to treasure God’s word above any words that arise from this present world, our own flesh, or even the devil himself.
The one who treasures God’s word treasures God, and whoever treasures God will never fall to the temptations of the world, the flesh, or the devil.
Do you have this treasure?
If you have the treasure of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, then you have the treasure of the Holy Spirit living within you, and you have the added treasure of access to the written, inspired, infallible, inerrant word of God, the Bible. You have the word of God spoken to you, albeit somewhat subjectively, by the still small voice of the Spirit which speaks in mysterious ways. You have the word of God written to you, through the same Spirit and the aid of some forty human authors, objective texts to be read and studied in context, so that by obeying the word of God you may accomplish the will of God. You have treasure that is worth infinitely more than all the pleasure, popularity, and power this world has to offer. So treasure your treasure, and you will be able to face any temptation in this life with confidence and victory.
Most of what Jesus did you and I will never do. We were not virgin born, we are not sinlessly perfect, and we cannot shed our own blood for the remission of someone else’s sin. But we can treasure God. We can treasure the worship of God, the word of God, and the will of God. Satan is no match for Jesus, nor for any person so consumed with these treasures. Treasure trumps temptation!