By Pastor David M. Choi
Read Matthew 4
Jesus was tempted by the Devil with three different offers. But the main offer, underlying all the other offers, was the offer to live independently from God. Satan was tempting Jesus to live only for Himself as he tried to isolate Jesus from the Father’s will and plan. With great cunning and seduction, the Devil whispered in His ears: “Jesus, I know how hungry you are. Feed yourself. No one knows you’ve been fasting anyways.” “Jesus, you are exhausted and undoubtedly lonely. Call your angels, and take up security and comfort instead.” “Jesus, what’re you doing? You’re the Son of God! Give in. Serve yourself. Claim the glory and power that is rightfully yours.” You see? The main temptation was getting Jesus to provide for Himself, so He could build up His own kingdom instead of building up God’s kingdom. Sound familiar? It should, since this is what we’re constantly tempted by on a daily basis.
To be clear, it’s not that Jesus’ desires were illegitimate, or that what was being offered to Him inherently evil. Such desires are legitimate (like the one for food), and surely all glory is rightfully His. The problem was that Satan wanted Him to seek these things outside of what God had prescribed. So, too, Satan tempts us (especially in our moments of weakness) by masterfully exploiting what are legitimate human needs and desires. That is, the Devil moves us to pursue such things according to our baser instincts, rather than the instincts given to us by the Holy Spirit. Justin Bailey helps us see how this gets worked out in our lives: “Temptation almost always involves legitimate desires – tangible things like a grade or a girlfriend or a boyfriend, as well as intangible things like belonging, acceptance and love. Satan holds out these good things and tempts us to take them in a way or at a time that you yourself choose rather than waiting in faith for God to give you what you are longing for in His own time and in His own way.”
So, how do we counteract the work of Satan in our lives? How do we fight temptation? “Well, we just have to do what Jesus did! We have to follow His example, memorize God’s word, and quote it to the Devil!” This sort of answer is typical. However, such an answer misses the point. Now don’t get me wrong. Yes, we should learn from Jesus’s example, and yes we should seek to know God’s word and to know it intimately in the way that He did. However, the gospel writer is not setting Jesus up as our moral exemplar; rather, Matthew is showing us how Jesus is our Savior. Last Sunday during Sunday school, some of my high school students and I discussed a common error people make when reading the gospels, which is to separate Christ’s work from His person. And we see this error being committed when we champion Jesus as our moral exemplar instead of recognizing Him as our Savior.
Thus, the point is not that Jesus quoted scripture to Satan. The point is that in denying Himself Jesus accepted the cross, and in accepting the cross Jesus saved us. Indeed, having Jesus as a moral exemplar doesn’t really mean much, since there is absolutely no way we can live up to Him. Matthew is actually pointing this out to his Jewish audience by drawing their attention to Israel. Jesus was in the wilderness for forty days, and Israel wandered in the wilderness for forty years. When faced with temptation, Israel failed again and again. But when Jesus was faced with temptation, He did not fail. Jesus never lost sight of the goal set before Him. He overcame. He passed the test.
Because of Jesus’ perfect record, we are made right with God, despite our past, present, and future failings. And praise God for that. That our righteousness before Him, and our acceptance into His kingdom, is not based on whether we pass or fail. For in Christ, we are already accepted, and in Christ we are made whole and brought into God’s kingdom. Because of that, we now have, by virtue of the Spirit who now lives within us, the power to fight sin. Because of that, we now have the power to resist and overcome any and every temptation set against us by the wily Devil and his demonic angels. Because of that, sin has lost its grip on you and me.
Reflection/Response Question: What can you learn from the way Jesus handles temptation in the wilderness, and how can you live it out this week?