170305 Matthew 4:1-11

Last Updated on Sunday, 05 March 2017 Written by Pastor Pagels

Text: Matthew 4:1-11
Theme: Trust Triumphs Over Temptation

If someone asked you what was at the center of the Bible, how would you respond? Maybe your initial thought, and it would be a correct one, is Jesus. From Genesis to Revelation, the Scriptures are about Jesus. Old Testament believers looked forward to his coming. New Testament believers anticipate the day when he will come again. For these reasons, the Bible is sometimes called a Christo-centric (Christ-centered) book.

But what if the question was literal? What if the question was: "What is the exact center of the Bible?" Finding the answer to this question might take some work. If a person started at the first verse of Genesis and the last verse of Revelation and gradually worked to the center verse by verse, the middle would be (at least according to the work done by some) Psalm 118:8,9: "It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in man. It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in princes."

We shouldn't read too much into this because the Bible isn't a book of secret messages. There is no code that needs to be cracked to understand what it says. The verse divisions we use today were added centuries after the Bible was written. Still, it is interesting that these two verses are in perfect harmony with the main message of the Bible: trust, trust in the Lord above all things.

Trust also lies at the heart of today's text. Jesus had just been baptized by John in the Jordan River. The Holy Spirit came down on him in the form of a dove. And the Father voiced his approval from heaven: "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased" (Matthew 3:17). But hardly before his baptismal water had a chance to dry, Jesus was put to the ultimate test.

The devil was very much aware of what was going on. He knew why Jesus had come to earth. He knew that the Son of God had appeared to destroy his work. And he wanted to stop God's plan of salvation in its tracks. He wanted to stop Jesus before he got started. And a single victory over Jesus would mean death and defeat for the entire world.

Satan tempted Jesus on many different occasions, but three specific temptations are recorded in the Bible to give us a glimpse of what that spiritual struggle was really like. We see the craftiness and cunning of the devil. We see the strength and resolve of Jesus. But what is most important and what gives us reason to rejoice is the final outcome, where God allows us to see how...

Trust Triumphs Over Temptation

1. When Jesus was tempted to distrust God
2. When Jesus was tempted to put false trust in God
3. When Jesus was tempted to trust in a false god

If Jesus' baptism marked the beginning of his public ministry, his first month in office was in a strange location. Instead of taking him to Jerusalem, instead of taking him to his Father's house (the temple), the Spirit led Jesus out into the desert. After forty days and forty nights of fasting, Jesus was hungry. He was fasting in obedience to God's will. He was obedient because he trusted in his Father to sustain him. He was hungry because he was fully human.

Even if you know how irritable a person can get after a couple days of dieting, it's difficult to imagine how Jesus was feeling after almost six weeks without food. He was weak. He was vulnerable. He was weary. You and I would want to help someone in this condition, but Satan saw it as his opportunity to attack. He came to Jesus and said: "If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread" (3). "Jesus, you can't deny that you have a need. You also have the ability to meet that need. So why don't you use your power? You don't have to go hungry, do you?"

This was not the only time Jesus was tempted like this. When he was on the cross his enemies made a similar challenge: "He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, the Chosen One" (Luke 23:35). And they dared him to come down from the cross.

Was Jesus able to stop his own crucifixion? Yes. Was Jesus able to turn stones into bread? Sure. So why didn't he? Because he had humbled himself to his Father's will. Because he trusted that God would provide for him, and he knew that any action apart from his Father's will would destroy that trust.

Even in his weakened state, even after forty days in the desert, Jesus was able to defend himself. His weapon was a sword, but this sword wasn't made out of forged steel. He wielded the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God: "Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God" (4). Physical needs are important, but they are not all important. Bread sustains physical life. God's Word gives eternal life.

The devil's attempt to make Jesus distrust God failed, but he refused to give up. With his second temptation, the devil came at Jesus from the opposite direction. He attempted to use Jesus' strength against him by enticing him to put false trust in God.

This time the devil led Jesus to Jerusalem, to the highest point of the temple. There he laid down a challenge: "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down" (6). If we stop reading right here, this temptation might sound ridiculous. Couldn't Satan come up with anything better? What could a stunt like that possibly prove? According to the devil, it was an opportunity for Jesus to prove how much he trusted in God. And the devil even produced a Bible passage to back it up: "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" (Psalm 91:11,12).

Follow Satan's logic. "Jesus, you say that you trust in God. Here are words from the Bible, the same book you just quoted, that guarantee your safety. If you jump right now, you can prove two things. You can prove your trust and God's protection at the same time." But Jesus replied: "It is also written: 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test'" (7). Trust doesn't tell God what to do. Trust never demands that God rescue us no matter what we do. Trust acknowledges that God knows what is best for us. Trust lets God be God and submits to his will.

Satan wasn't able to make Jesus distrust God, and he failed to make Jesus place false confidence in God. And so his third and final temptation took a radically different approach. His goal was to lead Jesus to trust in a false god. The devil took Jesus to a very high mountain. In a way that we can't understand or explain, he was able to show Jesus "all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor" (8). And then he made one final offer: "All this I will give you if you will bow down and worship me" (9).

Jesus had come to earth to suffer and die. And Jesus knew that the road to Calvary was not going to be an easy one. But if Satan's offer was real, he could take a shortcut. He could achieve the desired result, but there would be no pain and suffering, no cross to carry, no "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?," no death. And what a small price to pay!

This is one temptation where the devil lived up to his name. "Devil" means liar, and he was lying again, the same way he lied to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, the same way he dangles the short term pleasure of sin before our eyes and fails to say anything about the eternal consequences. Satan may be called the prince of this world, but the world is not his to give.

Jesus saw through all the lies. Jesus was always in control. And he proved it when he said: "Away from me, Satan. For it is written: 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only'" (10). The Lord is the only true God. The Lord's way is the only right way. All other paths lead only to destruction.

In Luke's account we are told that the devil left Jesus "until an opportune time" (4:13). He lost this battle, but he was not ready to surrender. For the next three years Satan attacked Jesus at every opportunity. So out of all the times Jesus was tempted, why are these three preserved for us? And what does God want us to learn from them?

First, the temptations of Jesus show us that he is one of us. He is able to sympathize with us in our weakness. And he is able to help us fight temptation because he "has been tempted in every way, just as we are..." (Hebrews 4:15).

Satan's attacks remind us that the nature of temptation has not changed. It doesn't matter if it is Jesus hungering in the wilderness or a woman who has just been diagnosed with cancer or a father of four who has just lost his job. Satan wants us to distrust God's power and doubt God's love.

Whether the devil is daring Jesus to jump off a cliff or encouraging us to tell God how he ought to answer our prayers, the temptation is the same. And the prince of this world still tempts us to worship him. Maybe not as boldly, maybe not directly, but the idols of his kingdom are scattered everywhere: money, power, notoriety, security. Anything we place ahead of God is a false god.

These temptations allow us to see the devil for who he really is. He is not a cute, red figure with a pitchfork and an impish grin. He is a roaring lion looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). He will say and do anything if it serves his purposes. And he only has one purpose: to lead people away from God to share in his eternal fate.

When we see how ruthless the devil can be, we might be intimidated. We might be discouraged. We might be tempted to throw in the towel. Satan is stronger than us. Satan is smarter than us. We don't stand a chance against him...until we take a closer look at the temptation of Jesus.

Three times Satan attacked. Three times Jesus counterattacked, not with miracles or earthquakes or lightning bolts. Jesus pulled out his double-edged sword, the Word of God, and drove the devil away. And the same powerful weapon is in your possession. God promises that when his Word is in your heart and on your lips, one little word can fell him.

The way Jesus defeated temptation serves as an example and encouragement for us, but we would be missing something very important if this account did not also remind us of what Jesus has done for us. I don't know about you, but I am tempted every day. And if you are like me, there are many times when we lose the battle. We listen to the devil's lies. We give in to temptation. And we deserve to go to the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.

And yet we can say with confidence that we are going to heaven because the battle has been won. Because Jesus obeyed his Father perfectly. Because Jesus trusted in his Father perfectly. On Mount Calvary, Jesus defeated the devil and all of his temptations...for you...for your sins...and for the sins of the whole world.

The temptation of Jesus is much more than a story about the cosmic struggle between good and evil. Jesus' battle is our battle. And our Savior has given us everything we need to fight the good fight of faith, to remember that Jesus' victory is our victory, to rejoice because trust has triumphed over temptation. Amen.

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Compelled by the love of Christ, St. Matthew’s Evangelical Lutheran Church and School seek to reach out to our families, community and world, using Law and Gospel to make disciples, growing and nurturing them in their Christian faith and life.


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