In the Wilderness | Matthew 4:1-11
January 26, 2014 Series: The King Has Come | Matthew
Topic: New Testament Passage: Matthew 4:1–4:11
The INTRODUCTION | Temptation
Please turn in your Bibles to Matthew 4.1-11. Our text deals with something familiar to everyone, young, old, educated, uneducated, short, tall, rich, poor, ugly or good looking. You either have, are, or will experience what the Bible calls temptation. When we hear the word “temptation”, we naturally think of being enticed to make wrong decisions, engage in bad behaviors, or break good rules. Without question, there are real temptations to really sin in ways that really grieve God our Father. But the temptation of Jesus Christ takes us beyond decisions, behaviors, and rules to see how we are really being enticed by our enemy to sin. As the great reformer Martin Luther wrote, “The sin underneath all our sins is to trust the lie of the serpent that we cannot trust the love and grace of Christ and must take matters into our own hands”.”
***Read Matthew 4.1-11 & Pray***
The genealogy and the virgin birth proved that Jesus had the required ancestry to be King. His baptism proved He had the required approval and empowerment for his mission as King. Now, His temptation will prove He has the required character of the King. This entire scene is a veritable replay of the original temptation of our first parents in the Garden of Eden. But where Adam failed, Jesus, the second Adam, succeeds. Instead of silently listening to Satan’s lies and disobeying God’s Word, Jesus proves He is our blameless, sinless, and sold out to God representative that Adam wasn’t. Jesus is our sinless substitute; Jesus is the one who lives the obedient life I should have; Jesus is the one who dies the death I deserved for my disobedience. Jesus proves to be the only one who never fell short of God’s glory, the only one who lived in perfect submission, the only one who can represent me, rescue me, and restore me.
The WILDERNESS| Where/when we are attacked
The Bible says that immediately after His public anointing of the Spirit for mission, Jesus is led by the same Holy Spirit into wilderness to be tempted alone. The greatest moments of temptation often follow the greatest moments of exaltation. The blessing of new marriage, a promotion, a new church, even a new child can create environments ripe for temptation. We see that it is not by accident that Jesus finds himself in the wilderness—it is by design. God does not lead Him into temptation, but He does lead him into a place to be exposed to temptation. We appreciate that God often leads us into good things; but we need to learn to appreciate the times when He leads us into confrontation with bad things.
What is wilderness? At some point in our faith, all of us will be led into a wilderness. Some of us have been there, some are there right now, and others aren’t sure how you even know. No one knows for sure exactly where the “wilderness” is that Jesus was led into. We do know that between Jerusalem and the Dead Sea there is a large wilderness area called JESHIMON which means “The devastation.” For some, wilderness is that place or time where you are literally devastated physically, emotionally, or materially. For others, wilderness is that place where you just feel lost, uncertain, or confused about decisions/purpose. For others, wilderness is that place where you feel empty, hungry, and dissatisfied with life. I believe wilderness is that place where God takes you to be alone with Him. It is the place where there is no one or nothing that can help you fix that problem you have. And because of that, wilderness becomes the place where you are tempted to compromise, to disbelieve, to sin in order to resolve your problem apart from God. Wilderness is that hellish place where you are desperate for a savior to rescue you. The temptation is to find something or someone other than Jesus to save you.
Why does God lead us into wilderness? No one wants to be in a wilderness experience—but everyone needs one. God chooses to take us to where the only thing we have is Him. He leads us there so that we will get close to Him. The English word of tempt always means to entice a man to do wrong or invite him to sin. The word is better understood as testing. We are tested in the wilderness. When we hear “test” it sounds as if God is on some kind of exploratory pass or fail exam to see whether or not we have faith. In his letter, the apostle James writes: “Consider it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1.4). Though Satan tries to break us through temptations, God uses them to build us. Satan intends for to make us weaker and more brittle. Like the tempering of metals, testing is one of God’s methods for reinforcing our faith. God turns up the heat, not to burn us, but to make our trust in Him stronger.
The DEVIL | who attacks us (and how to prepare)
Wilderness is not the enemy. All too often we are so distracted by the difficulties OF wilderness that we ignore the real danger IN the wilderness. We have a real enemy who, like a hungry lion, wants to kill you in the wilderness. He wants more than just your death, he wants your worship. He has over 40 names in Scripture, including Satan, Lucifer, the Prince of Darkness, the evil one, etc. Matthew uses the devil. There are no physical descriptions of the devil, though our culture has come up with some creative ones. What we do know is that the devil is a creation of God, an extremely beautiful and wise high-ranking angel, who rebelled against God because he wanted to be God. God cast him out of heaven along with a third of the angels in heaven. In Luke 10, Jesus said he “saw Satan fall like lighting”. From the beginning, the devil’s agenda has been to rob God of glory by destroying God’s people, destroying the savior, or, as we read today, diverting Him from His mission. The devil is a creation, meaning, he is not all knowing, not everywhere present, and not all-powerful (he can only do what God allows him). He is defeated but he is defiant. His power is great, his influence is global, but his attacks are relatively predictable—He doesn’t have a big playbook. Since the garden, the enemy has appealed to the same three things: desire to FEEL good, the desire to BE independent, and the desire to HAVE more.
The PREPARATION | who attacks us (and how to prepare)
The great philosopher Russell Wilson has said: the separation is in the preparation. So the first thing Jesus does IN THE WILDERNESS is prepare for battle by fasting for 40 days (symbolism). It might seem counter-intuitive to deprive yourself when you are about to go into a great battle. But by fasting, Jesus actively declares, “I want you God…I hunger for you God…I need you more than anything else the world has to offer.” Above all, Jesus knows that THIS is what is tested in the wilderness. About fasting, John Piper writes that, “Christian fasting, at its root, is the hunger of a homesickness for God…"If we don't feel strong desires for the manifestation of the glory of God, it is not because you have drunk deeply and are satisfied. It is because we have nibbled so long at the table of the world. Our soul is stuffed with small things, and there is no room for the great… As we find ourselves in wilderness, we need to remove whatever worldly distractions are hindering our communion with God. A wilderness can easily lead to escapism where we look to substances, work, or technology to dull our senses. We need to make ourselves hungry so that we are desperately dependent on the Lord.
Jesus also prepares himself with the Word. More than likely, Jesus spent 40 days meditating on the book of Deuteronomy. This was the last book that Moses wrote in the wilderness, before the Israelites walked into the Promised Land to battle the enemies of God. It is called “The Second Law” because it is a review of God’s law. Moses believed their best defense was remembering what God had already said. This is where all of Jesus;’ responses to the devil’s temptations come from. Christ did not trust in his ability to memorize a bunch of Scriptures about behavior. Christ sought to remember and respond to the devil with Scriptures about God Himself. Temptation is not simply the enemies’ effort to disobey what God says. Temptation is the devil’s effort to break your trust in who God is. In his defense, therefore, does not appeal to God to say something new; He presses into who God has already said.
As I prepared this sermon, I asked myself what my most recent wilderness experience had been. I believe it began about 6 months ago and didn’t end until Dec 21st when we made our most recent decision for the church. For many months, I felt in a complete fog about the direction our church should go. I knew God had led us to this point, but I felt empty and God felt silent. I’m not sure I depended on the Lord as I ought during this time. Without doubt, I was tempted and I may have even believed some of Satan’s lies. For the first time, I was very fearful and uncertain. It wasn’t until I fasted and prayed our path became clear and the fears were shown for what they were – temptations. This clarity didn’t make the wilderness any easier, but it did make it more peaceful.
The First Temptation |make your own way
The first temptation came at Jesus where he is weakest. After forty days, Jesus stomach is empty and he is hungry. The temptation is for Jesus to find his own satisfaction versus waiting and trusting that God will relieve his suffering. Satan will always attack us where we are most EMPTY. Be careful when you feel hunger pains for success, a deficiency of respect, love, or affirmation from others; it will lead you to sin. Convinced that you should not FEEL EMPTY, you will try to fill up that God-shaped emptiness with something that will never satisfy. Our flesh wants to feel good and the enemy tries to convince us that suffering or deficiency is bad. It is not sinful for Jesus to make bread out of rocks. What is sinful is depending on something or someone other than God for life and satisfaction. When we begin to fear that there is something, other than God, that we can’t live without—we’ll try to control everything.
Any effort to control, especially out of fear of loss, is a refusal to trust God is in control. More than that, it is a refusal to trust what God has said. What Satan is really attacking is Jesus’ identity. Having been declared ‘SON by God at his baptism, the Devil says “If you are God’s SON” then prove it—DO SOMETHING. One theologian has said that “doubt is the lever of temptation.” The enemy tries to create doubt in who God has said Jesus is. When you begin to doubt who God says you are, you feel empty, and you begin to believe you need something more than the WORD of God to confirm prove you are someone. I am someone because I am smart. I am someone because I am rich. I am someone because I am liked. I am someone because I am moral. I’m someone because I’m in charge. It should always be, I am someone because God says I AM someone; that’s enough. We live by the living words pouring out of our living God. To avoid emptiness of an identity crisis, we must continually feast on God’s living word.
The Second Temptation | twist God’s way
The second temptation comes at Jesus from a different angle. If Satan can’t make you fall where you are weak or empty, he will attack you where you are strong. Instead of being tempted to make his own way, Satan tries to twist God’s way. He takes Jesus to Jerusalem, sets him on the top of the temple, and challenges him to throw himself down in order to PROVE He is the Son of God—BE who you say you are! Using a move from Jesus’ playbook, he quotes Scripture to tempt him to jump. In essence, it is a royal triple-dog dare for Jesus the perfect Awana student. Satan is saying, “You believe the WORD don’t you? Then live by faith! Show us that you really trust God’s Word, that you really live on God’s Word like you say? But Satan is manipulating Jesus by twisting God’s Word. Historically, the Jews believed that the coming Messiah who mark his arrival by standing atop the roof of the sanctuary. In essence, Satan tempts Jesus to ascend to his rightful position through “spiritual sounding” but unbiblical shortcuts.
As I consider my most recent wilderness, I have found it is a very real temptation to pervert God’s Word to your own end. People do it all the time. Pastors do it all the time. Pastors set biblical sounding goals like making disciples and planting churches only to justify their vision by taking a verse out of context, or corrupting an entire sermon series. They do this because God’s way doesn’t always agree with ours or work in the way we want. Mary, Joseph, Jesus, his disciples all know God has said He will be King. Jesus is tempted to doubt God’s ways which might be slower, uncomfortable, irrational, inconvenient, or less spectacular. Jesus is tempted to do something seemingly biblical to prove He is King. Jesus is tempted to do something shocking in order to draw a lot of attention to Himself –even if it is supposed to go to God. But Satan’s use of Scripture doesn’t stop Jesus from rebuking him with the right use of Scripture to defend God’s honor. Do not try to force God’s hand and manipulate him into fulfilling His promise. Say this to yourself over and over again…I am God’s servants, he is not mine, and I will have what He wants me to have, the way he wants me to have it, when he wants me to have it.
The Third Temptation | go the way of the world
The final attack reveals Satan’s goal at the heart of all temptation. He doesn’t tempt Jesus to make His own way, or to twist God’s way, but to deny God all together and go the way of the world. Jesus is taken from wilderness, to the top of the temple, and finally to a very high mountain to see all the kingdoms of the world. What a sight that must have been. He not only sees every nation but he sees all of their glory—all of their power, technology, wealth, pleasure, art, beauty, everything you could ever covet in any culture. In a moment, Jesus is offered everything there is to offer in the entire world. How would you do? And this is the world that he loves, the world that he came to save. This is a very real temptation for Jesus. It is not simply an offer of power; it is an offer for the King to rule the Kingdom he came for—he just has to bow to Satan.
This is the temptation to idolatry; to worship someone or something other than God in order to have a kingdom here on earth. The devil will give you whatever you want, good or bad, if it will rob God of worship and deny Him supremacy in your life. But Jesus’ desires are not so weak and pathetic; He desires to have infinitely more than all of the best the world has to offer combined. That’s the problem, we settle for so little. As C.S. Lewis wrote: “It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” Jesus doesn’t simply want to have a Kingdom; He wants the Kingdom of God—because he knows nothing can compare with its glory.
Jesus response is a bold declaration of the 1st Commandment—you shall worship the Lord you God only and serve Him only. Worship and service go together. Defeating this temptation is more than a disposition, it is an action. Choosing to worship God means choosing to serve God; and choosing to serve God meant choosing the cross. Christ conquers Satan, and wins our salvation through giving up control, achieves power through sacrifice, and rises to wealth by giving it all away. Those who receive his salvation are not the strong and accomplished, but those who take up His cross and follow Him in all humility.
Jesus did not go into the wilderness for himself; He went in for us. He suffered through temptation so he might be able to help those who are tempted in their own wilderness. God says in the book of Hebrews: 14 Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 4.14-16. Jesus understands any and every temptation you’re experiencing. Don’t believe the ONE lie of the enemy Luther spoke of: that we cannot trust the love and grace of Christ and must take matters into our own hands. We do not go into wilderness by accident, unarmed, or alone. The King is on the throne of grace to give mercy when we fall in the wilderness and grace to get out of it. We can be encouraged that there is no temptation than can conquer us because we know the one who has conquered. God wants you in the wilderness because he wants you to trust Him. Your wilderness is not a curse; it is a gift from the Lord to know him more, depend on him more, and serve Him more through the power of Jesus.
More in The King Has Come | Matthew
May 11, 2014Jesus the Rock | Matthew 7:24-29 (Mville)
May 11, 2014Jesus is (Scary) Gracious | Matthew 7.15-23 (Snoh)
May 4, 2014Kingdom Admission | Matthew 7:13-23 (Mville)