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2006-02-05_Battle In The Wilderness_Matthew 4.1-11

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Battle In The Wilderness

Matthew 4.1-11   |   Shaun LePage   February 5, 2006

I. Introduction

A.   The New York Times reported a few years ago that the Barna Group had done a telephone survey and discovered that two-thirds of Americans do not believe in the devil as a living entity. “If less than one in three Americans seems willing to give the devil his due,” reported the Times, “then that is a result of fundamental, long-term shifts in the nation’s religious culture.”

B.    In our culture the scientific community excludes the possibility of anything beyond what we can detect with our senses, so devils or demons or angels—or even God, for that matter—seem to be no more real than unicorns and fairy dust. Our world now defines science, no longer as “the pursuit of knowledge,” but as the pursuit of an explanation that fits into the materialistic belief system—“the theory that physical matter is the only reality and that everything, including thought, feeling, mind, and will, can be explained in terms of matter and physical phenomena” (American Heritage Dictionary). So the idea of a personal devil—Satan—doesn’t fit.

C.   The fact is, this is exactly what Satan and his demons want us to think—that they don’t exist at all. They are most effective when people don’t even believe they exist. Don’t even factor in their influence.

D.   C.S. Lewis wrote in his extremely popular book The Screwtape Letters: “There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors, and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight” (p.3).

E.    The testimony of the Bible is that Satan is very real. He rebelled against God sometime in the past—wanting to take the throne of God and arrogant enough to believe he actually could. God quashed that rebellion and Satan was cast out of his position in heaven to roam the earth until the day when he will be thrown into the lake of fire in the final judgment.

F.    Matthew 4 gives us remarkable insight into what he’s up to right now. Let’s take a look.

II.   Body

A.   Read Matthew 4:1-11

B.    Explain Matthew 4:1-11

1.    1 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.

a)    The connection between this passage and the one that came before it—the baptism of Jesus—is unavoidable. In that passage, Jesus was baptized and when we came up out of the water, the “heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and lighting on Him…” (Matthew 3:16). So, now we’re told the Spirit led Jesus “into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” This brings up a couple important questions:

(i)   Why was it necessary for Jesus to go into the wilderness and be tempted? God was leading here. The devil was not in charge. The Spirit led Jesus into this situation. Obviously, God was making a point—this “Son” in whom He is “well-pleased” is now going to demonstrate why God is “well-pleased” with Him. He will face temptation and demonstrate His sinlessness.

(a)  1 Corinthians 15:45 and Romans 5:14 identify Jesus as the “Last Adam” or the “Second Adam”. So Jesus was led by God to reenact—if you will—the tragic confrontation in the Garden of Eden that plunged mankind into sin when the first Adam was tempted and sinned.

(b) Warren Wiersbe writes: “Just as the first Adam met Satan, so the Last Adam met the enemy (1 Cor. 15:45). Adam met Satan in a beautiful Garden, but Jesus met him in a terrible wilderness. Adam had everything he needed, but Jesus was hungry after forty days of fasting. Adam lost the battle and plunged humanity into sin and death. But Jesus won the battle and went on to defeat Satan in more battles, culminating in His final victory on the cross (John 12:31; Col. 2:15).

(c)   Another reason this temptation was necessary was to show that Jesus is our High Priest.

1.     Read Hebrews 2:17,18 and 4:15,16.

2.     Jesus demonstrated—by standing up to this temptation and winning—that He is our sinless and sympathetic High Priest.

(ii)  Was He really temptable? Was this just a show or was it truly possible for Jesus to be tempted?

(a)  First of all, the text clearly says He was tempted. Other passages support this:

1.     Hebrews 2:18 says He was tempted and that is the basis upon which He is able to come to our aid.

2.     Hebrews 4:15 says He was tempted and that is the basis upon which He is able to sympathize with our weaknesses.

(b) Clearly, Jesus really was tempted. The theological debate is whether or not Jesus could have sinned—called the “impeccability” of Christ. Some believe He could have sinned (Christ was “peccable”), but did not. Some believe He could not possibly have sinned (Christ was “impeccable”). This is not a test of orthodoxy. In other words, there are very good Christians who believe Christ could have sinned. And there are very good Christians who believe Christ could not have sinned.

1.     My personal view is that Christ was impeccable—He could not have sinned.

2.     Theologian William Shedd put it well: “It is objected to the doctrine of Christ’s impeccability that it is inconsistent with His temptability. A person who cannot sin, it is said, cannot be tempted to sin. This is not correct; any more than it would be correct to say that because an army cannot be conquered it cannot be attacked” (quoted in Basic Theology, Charles Ryrie, p. 264.).

3.     Jesus’ miraculous conception—the Virgin Birth—as well as passages like 2 Corinthians 5:21 that tell us that Jesus “knew no sin” tell us that Christ did not have a sin nature, so the God-Man—though He was tempted—could not and did not sin.

(c)  Another thing that seems very clear to me: The “devil” is presented here as a very real person. Whenever the Bible speaks of him, he is described as having the qualities of a person—speaking, lying, hating, etc.

2.    2 And after He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He then became hungry.

a)    We’ll talk about fasting more when we get to the Sermon on the Mount—Matthew 6—but notice that Jesus fasted. This was no casual fast either. “Forty days and nights.” Fasting was a very common practice before major events or when important decisions were being made. Jesus’ model here should at least cause us to consider the need and importance of fasting.

b)    This verse is almost comical though I doubt Matthew intended it to be. “He became hungry!” After a 40-day fast—that makes sense. Seems a little obvious, Matthew! Actually, I’m glad Matthew said it because it shows that Jesus was actually human. He was the God-Man—not just a spirit being. He was human so He got hungry.

c)    It also sets up the next verse.

3.    3 And the tempter came and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.”

a)    The “tempter” is the devil. It’s not his name, it’s his job. It’s what he does. Again, God allowed him to tempt Jesus. James tells us that God does not tempt anyone—God tests people, but He does not tempt. Here’s the difference: The devil “tempts” people to do evil. God tests people for good—to give someone an opportunity to prove or grow in faith.

b)    But what was the devil trying to accomplish here? What was so wrong with this suggestion? Would it have been wrong for Jesus to make bread? After all, later on He will make bread and feed thousands of people! Why was this a “temptation”?

(i)   First of all, isn’t it interesting that the first temptation for Jesus was the same temptation for Eve—and therefore, Adam, who was standing right there with her: food! Eve was tempted with something as simple as a piece of fruit. Jesus with some bread. I believe the devil usually starts with a physical attack. Eat that! Touch that! Look at that!

(ii) But the real issue here was the will of God. Jesus had been led by the Spirit into the wilderness. That leading included the fasting. Jesus was demonstrating complete submission to the will of God and to provide for His own needs now would demonstrate a lack of trust in the Father’s perfect will for Him. Is there anything sinful about bread? No. Was Jesus unable to make bread from stones? No. But doing so at that time would have been to choose the physical over the spiritual and the will of the devil over the will of God.

4.    4 But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.’ ”

a)    Jesus quoted Deuteronomy 8:3. His answer here communicates not only that the first step in fighting spiritual warfare is to get Scripture into your brain.

b)    He also communicates that He was not about to let the physical override the spiritual. Learn from this answer: There is a priority communicated here. This is a spiritual perspective.

c)    Remember what Jesus said just a couple chapters later in Matthew 6:31-33? “Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ “For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

d)    God knows we have physical needs. He’ll take care of those when we get our priorities straight. In other words, trust God’s Word over your body’s demands.

5.    5 Then the devil took Him into the holy city and had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple,

a)    The devil was able to take Jesus physically to Jerusalem to the pinnacle of the temple only because God allowed it. God allowed each of these temptations and that included giving the devil this ability.

b)    The pinnacle of the temple was probably about 500 feet above the Kidron Valley at this time.

6.    6 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, So that You will not strike Your foot against a stone.’ ”

a)    The devil reveals here one of his most effective techniques in his work as the tempter: He manipulates and misquotes and misuses Scripture.

b)    In this case, Satan misused Psalm 91:11–12 where God promised to care for His own as they trust Him in life. It is not a blanket promise that God will protect those who pull stupid stunts and expect a miracle. It was as if the devil was saying, “Okay, Jesus, if you won’t use your miraculous powers to demonstrate who You are, let’s force the Father to act. Satan tempted both Eve and Jesus to question God’s Word. He was trying to get Jesus to manipulate God’s Word by putting Himself in danger and forcing the Father to do a miracle to keep His promise rather than simply trusting God.

c)    This kind of trickery is sensationalism. It’s masked unbelief, not faith. The devil wants us to test God. To say, “God, I’ll believe in You if you (fill in the blank).” That’s not what God wants of us. He asks us to trust Him completely—to come to Him on His terms and believe that He will always work for our good whether that’s with a miracle or not. Whether we understand what He’s doing or not.

d)    The devil was trying to get Jesus to manipulate God—to force His hand. But God will not and cannot be manipulated.

7.    7 Jesus said to him, “On the other hand, it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

a)    Jesus quoted Deuteronomy again—6:16. Did you ever realize how useful Deuteronomy is? Second Timothy 3:16 tells us “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable…”—even Deuteronomy. Leviticus.

b)    Basically, this is the deal: To test God is to doubt Him. It’s saying we need a sign before we can really believe whether God can be trusted. Jesus said a “wicked and adulterous generation seeks after a sign”. Why? Because it is wicked and adulterous to disbelieve. Disbelief is a sin.

c)    The devil was tempting Jesus to disbelieve the Father—a spiritual attack. Jesus’ answer was one of faith. “I don’t need to test the Father. I know He will take care of Me.”

d)    The fact that the devil quoted and misused Scripture is very revealing. Often his temptations will come in the form of spiritual sounding words. A little Scripture mixed in with lies. Jesus taught us to know the Bible and learn to identify its misuse.

8.    8 Again, the devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory;

9.    9 and he said to Him, “All these things I will give You, if You fall down and worship me.”

a)    Could the devil really give “all these things”? Temporarily. But Jesus is the King of kings. Beyond the Cross, Jesus will reign and rule over all the earth in the Father’s timing. Satan attempts here to get Jesus to skip the Cross! He tempts Him to ignore God’s timing. He tempts Him to put Himself first rather than others.

b)    Listen to Philippians 2:5-11.

c)    The Father’s timing was to exalt Jesus after the Cross. Jesus had humbled Himself for the purpose of others. To serve us. If He had given into this temptation, it would have completely contradicted His mission and left us without a Savior. To tempt Jesus to choose the quick and easy way was to tempt Jesus to act selfishly.

d)    Isaiah 14 tells us the devil’s goal all along has been to get “worship”—to be God. Here, he’s saying, “Jesus, the Father’s going to make You endure the Cross to get all this. I’ll be a better Father for You—I’ll just make You do one simple little thing to get all this: worship me.”

e)    He tempted Eve with self-worship telling her and Adam that if they ate of the fruit of the tree their eyes would be opened and they would be “like gods!” He tempted Jesus with Satan-worship, but Jesus made it clear that any kind of false worship was wrong.

10. 10 Then Jesus said to him, “Go, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.’”

a)    Jesus’ authority over Satan was clearly demonstrated here.

b)    By the way, Jesus has that kind of authority but we do not. Jude 9 tells of an incident when Michael the archangel disputed with the devil and not even Michael had the authority to rebuke Satan. He said, “The Lord rebuke you.”

c)    But Jesus had heard enough. This final temptation was the most ridiculous of all. Jesus quoted Deuteronomy a third time—6:13 and 10:20—making it abundantly clear that worship is very serious business and false worship will not be tolerated.

d)    The initial attack here, was an appeal to selfish ambition or greed. The devil offers cheap substitutes or temporary thrills if we will bow at his feet and do things his way. Unless we follow Jesus’ example and reserve our worship for God alone, we will cheat ourselves out of the eternal rewards God offers those who worship only Him and walk in His ways.

11.11 Then the devil left Him; and behold, angels came and began to minister to Him.

a)    There is a great contrast here. The devil tempts, but the angels came to minister to Him. Jesus had not given into the temptation to try to meet His needs independent of God’s will and the Father came through—He always does. He sent His angels to minister to Jesus. What did that “ministry” include? We’re not told, but obviously, they brought Him food and water and care—the opposite of the devil’s attacks.

b)    John MacArthur writes: “Satan tempts us in the same basic ways he tempted Jesus in the wilderness. First, he will try to get us to distrust God’s providential care and to try to solve our problems, win our struggles, and meet our needs by our own plans and in our own power. Second, he will try to get us to presume on God’s care and forgiveness by willingly putting ourselves in the way of danger—whether physical, economic, moral, spiritual, or any other. Third, he will appeal to selfish ambitions and try to get us to use our own schemes to fulfill the promises God has made to us—which amounts to trying to fulfill God’s plan in Satan’s way.” (p.98)

III. Closing

A.   Let me leave you with a simple Biblical formula for spiritual warfare: Turn to James 4:7. “Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” Notice a two-fold plan and then a promise:

1.    The Plan: Submit to God and resist the devil.

a)    Submit to God. How do we submit to God? Total obedience. Understand His will and follow it. This is what Jesus did. He understood God’s will and followed it despite the temptation to do otherwise.

b)    Resist the devil. How do we resist the devil?

c)    First of all, we’ve got to strike that balance C.S. Lewis spoke of: Believe he exists, but don’t give him too much attention.

d)    Secondly, we resist the devil by rejecting his lies in favor of the truth of God. Nowhere are we told to bind Satan or speak to Satan or yell at him. Martin Luther supposedly once threw a jar of ink at Satan, but that’s not how we’re told to do it. Jesus told Satan to leave, but He’s the Son of God. We’re not told to do that.

e)    We’re not told to bind him either. In fact, Peter tells us Satan is on the loose. Listen to 1 Peter 5:8,9: “Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 9 But resist him, firm in your faith...” There it is again: “Resist him.”

2.    The Promise: He will flee from you.

a)    “He will flee from you.” Isn’t that a great promise—an encouraging promise.

b)    First Corinthians 10:13 tells us, “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.”

c)    A man went to the doctor and said he had broken his arm in two places. The doctor said, “Well then, stay out of those places.”

d)    Whatever you’re going through, God is aware and He’ll protect you from being tempted beyond what you’re able to handle. You can submit to God. You can resist the devil. And he will flee. There is a way of escape. You’re never trapped by your temptations. It’s a battle, but you can win.

e)    In Greek mythology, the siren was a creature half bird and half woman who lured sailors to destruction by the sweetness of her song. According to Homer, the sirens on an island in the Agean sea were particularly dangerous. Their won was so irresistible to sailors that every passing ship was lured toward the rocks and wrecked. The Greek hero Odysseus escaped this danger by stopping the ears of his crew with wax so that they were deaf to the sirens. He himself, wanting to hear the music, had himself tied to the mast so that he could not steer the ship out of course.

3.     Submit to God—like Jesus did. Resist the devil—like Jesus did. The very definition of maturity is to be like Christ. To think like Him. To act like Him. To be like Him. We will face temptation—just as He did. Because He has been victorious over the devil, we can be as well.

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