This is another entry in an ongoing series walking through Matthew 1-4. If you’d like to read the previous post, click here.
Previously in Matthew 3, we were introduced to John the Baptist and his wild message of a coming kingdom and Savior. When Jesus stepped on the scene and was baptized, it looked like things were about to pick up in the narrative of His journeys. However, there is one more stop to make in Matthew 4:1-11 before Jesus’ ministry can begin.
The story of the temptation of Christ is one of the most popular narratives in the whole Bible and especially in Jesus’ life. The seclusion of the desert, the one-on-one duel between the devil and the Christ, the tension, the victory, it all impresses itself onto one’s memory. It is an important moment for multiple reasons: it proves Jesus’ power over the devil, it shows His perfection, and it gives us a prime example of Christ being tempted, just to name a few. Many a preacher and theologian have spent time dissecting the passage, so I won’t bother doing the same. Instead, I’m going to distill this story down to six observations and six applications that come out of this text and will hopefully give you a better appreciation of who Jesus is.
- Jesus allowed Himself to be led by the Spirit (v.1)–He did not act on His own will, but followed the leading of the Spirit. He didn’t question this decision, He didn’t fight it, He obeyed and went.
- The devil was given permission to tempt Him (v.1)–The purpose of Jesus being led to the wilderness is clearly stated: He’s to be tempted by the devil. The fact that the Spirit of God is initiating this scenario shows that the devil isn’t barging his way into Jesus’ life, he’s being allowed to do so. In some ways, it’s almost startling that the Spirit is purposely leading the Son of God into a place where the devil can tempt Him. As noted in the previous chapter, God was “well pleased” with His Son and was not afraid to throw His champion into battle at a handicap (being weak from fasting).
- Jesus suffered during this time (v.2; Hebrews 2:18)–Just because He was the Son of God didn’t mean His time in the wilderness was a lengthy vacation. Going 40 days and nights fasting? Being tempted personally by the devil? That’s enough to wear down and break any person. Jesus wasn’t breezing through this test, He was suffering to get through.
- Though tempted and tried, Jesus clung to the Word of God (v. 4, 7, & 10)–He didn’t fight the devil’s cunning attacks with logic or sermon illustrations, He fought back with Scripture. Even when Satan tried twisting some Scripture himself, Jesus stood firm on a proper understanding of God’s Word.
- He won and did not surrender! (v. 11, Heb. 4:15)–Many have been the times when all of us succumbed to temptation either after a lengthy battle or a short skirmish. But Jesus held firm to the end. He did not take short cuts to personal relief and glory, He stuck to God’s plan and timing.
- He was given supernatural nourishment (v.11)–After the duel was over, Jesus was attended to by angels to help Him recuperate. One might cynically wonder where the angels were during the big fight, but their intervention wouldn’t have allowed Jesus to shine like He did. Nevertheless, they did show up and lend Him aid.
- Surrender to the Spirit’s leading in all matters–It’s easy to pick and choose when we want to follow God’s will. Jonah tried it to ill effect and you would think we’d get the picture. But trusting in God isn’t just about all the positive benefits, it’s also about trusting that He’s leading you into any situation for a reason. Was it cruel for God to allow His Son to be tempted so? Wasn’t He already well pleased? Why test Jesus further? The temptation of Christ shows us why God was so well pleased. There was a reason for this episode in Jesus’ life, as difficult as it was for Him to face. There’s also a reason when we find God has plopped us into a trying time.
- Know that temptations will come–This should go without saying, right? Still, we seem to act surprised when they do arrive. It’s much easier to view those thorny times as annoying or with dread. Perhaps, instead, we should see them as opportunities to show our devotion to God above the devil. Sure, we shouldn’t be seeking them out, but when they do show up we can face them boldly with confidence.
- Knowing that Jesus suffered, too, should encourage us–If we find temptations to be a source of pain in our lives, we should remember that it was also this way for Jesus. If we who call ourselves by His Name can realize that He knows our pain and understands in a very intimate way, then we should be encouraged during our own moments of trial.
- Cling to God’s Word no matter how pressed you are–Logical arguments, sermon illustrations, and helpful distractions can be used in our fight with temptations, but nothing can compare to the firepower of God’s Word. If it was good enough (and highly effective) for Jesus, why should it be any different for His followers?
- If Jesus can win, so can we!–The devil puffs himself up like a great monster, but Jesus pulls away the curtain to reveal how weak he actually is. We can overcome the schemes of Satan! What about the times when we fail, though? We find that Jesus is merciful and faithful to us (see Heb. 2:14-18). “Because He Himself has suffered when tempted, He is able to help those who are being tempted.” What a glorious revelation! When I am tempted, Jesus understands. Put all the modern trappings on it you want, Jesus still gets it. He suffered under the same temptation in a different guise in His day. His experience is still relevant to helping you through yours.
- Call on Jesus for help in times of trial (see Heb. 4:14-16)–Jesus had to face the devil alone. He had something to prove. We do not have to shoulder that burden. We don’t have to wait for the end before finding relief, Jesus can help us even in the midst of temptation.
I hope these observations and lessons are helpful for you and open up the passage in a fresh way. Jesus really is like us and can sympathize with us in our weaknesses, temptations, and needs. He knows what it’s like and has mercy and compassion for us when we stumble. As much as the Christ is divine, He is also human. I can’t explain that mystery, but I can grasp some of the implications of that truth. This passage in Matthew shows us some key connections between us and Jesus and how that should encourage as we live our lives and try to live for Him.