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,’
“‘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.
Today is the first Sunday of Lent. Lent is a preparation period within the church calendar where we work to prepare our hearts to reflect on the passion of Jesus on the cross and celebrate the resurrection of Jesus on Easter Sunday. This is a time of both reflection (we draw Gospel realities to mind through fasting) and renewal (we work Gospel change into our hearts to transform mindsets and habits). As we begin the Lenten journey, our first stop on this journey focused our attention on Genesis 3:19 and the curse on man that we are from dust and to dust we will return. We gathered together on Ash Wednesday to reflect on this reality and received ashes to tangibly express our frailty.
The section of Scripture that we are going to have examine us is found in the Gospel of Matthew and is his accounting of the moment at the first start of Jesus’ public phase of ministry when he is led by God into the wilderness for forty days and is tempted by the devil. This experience directly parallels the journey of God’s People, Israel, into the wilderness to be tested by God. Not only does this experience parallel Israel’s journey, but these two journeys are being compared and contrasted in this section of Scripture.
Temptation 1: God won’t provide what I really need
The first temptation that Satan puts before Jesus has to do with provision. Jesus is at the end of a forty day fast. We don’t know if his fast was total abstinence from food or eating only what the desert provided. What we do know is that he was hungry (v. 2). Jesus responds to the devil by quoting from the story of Israel, a passage speaking directly to the lesson God was teaching Israel in the desert. He says that our life is not held up by bread but by God’s every word (Deuteronomy 8:3).
Rewind for a moment to Israel’s journey out of Egypt. Even though God had miraculously saved them, they started to panic and expressed a desire to return to slavery where at least their bellies were full (Exodus 16:2-3). They were tempted to believe that God would rescue them from slavery yes, but wouldn’t care for their real needs.
Temptation 2: God needs to prove himself to me
The second temptation comes to Jesus as he is looking out over the city of Jerusalem–likely in a vision with his mind. The devil tempts him to throw himself down from the highest point of the temple saying that he will be miraculously saved because he is the Son of God. Jesus quotes again from Israel’s story, now an earlier passage saying that it is wrong to require God to prove in a way to your liking that he is present (Deuteronomy 6:16).
This is exactly what the Israelites did in a place later called Massah. They journeyed to a place with no water, began to fight with their leader and wanted God to prove himself to them by giving them water to drink in a dry land (Exodus 17:1-7). As they did this they said, “Is the Lord among us or not?”
Temptation 3: Shortcuts are better than God’s path
Satan goes straight to for the jugular and tells Jesus that he can be a king without going through the pain of the cross. Jesus’ words in the garden should be called to mind here, when Jesus says, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39). The cross was not to be desired, but joyful obedience to the Father was a reward beyond comparison. Jesus strongly commands Satan to “be gone!”.
Later in Jesus’ ministry, this command would need to be stated again to Satan. At a certain point, Jesus shares with his disciples the difficult path ahead to the cross and one of his disciples, Peter, pulls him aside and begins to rebuke him. Jesus looks at Peter and says, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” (Mark 8:33). Unfortunately, many of us know the story of Israel. They failed to follow God’s path faithfully. They wandered in their hearts from their Creator and served and worshipped other gods. They saw conquest as something to be gained by human strength and cunning. In the long run, they sought to shorten their path to victory by operating outside of God’s good bounds and they show us that the shortest path is not always the greatest. They show us that obedience sometimes involves painful routes around and not through.
In this season, as we reflect on their journey, we do well to remind ourselves that their journey is our journey. Their failure is our failure. We are not the innocent ones, but we have the blood of the innocent One on our hands. It is our sin that Jesus dealt with on the cross. It is our rebellion, our waywardness. As we continue to prepare ourselves for Easter Sunday, let’s remember the temptation that is before us and how Jesus is the only one who has come out victorious. That we have one who “in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). This is where our hope lies during Lent, not in our ability, but in the ability (and work) of Jesus alone.
This week, as you reflect on the message, utilize this section to help you apply what has been taught to your life. Think of friends, co-workers, neighbors, family etc., that you could meet with to have a time of mutual sharing to discuss the implications of the message.
This simple acronym (BLESS, B - Bless, L - Listen, E - Eat, S - Speak, S - Sabbath) should help you to frame your life according to the great commandment “love God” (Matthew 22:37) and the expression of that commandment in loving your neighbor (John 13:34). Each time you meet, start by discussing the rhythms of your life according to B.L.E.S.S.
Intentionally bless: Christ-followers, non-believers and those different than you.
Listen to what God is saying to you, through His Word and others.
Share a meal with a Christ-follower and also a non-believer.
Talk to God through prayer and to others about Jesus through witness.
Be intentional about taking time to both rest and recreate.
An Examined Life
As we continue to reflect on the sermon, allow these questions to guide your discussion with others concerning the conviction points and what you sensed God’s Spirit was doing in you through the preached Word. Jot notes to help you remember.
What was God doing in you through the message on Sunday?
Describe how you’ve grown in your understanding of the Gospel (good news of Jesus)?
How are you going to respond to God’s Word in your life?