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It Is Written, Matthew 4:1-11

It Is Written
Matthew 4:1-11

Anybody here like to fish? Good fishermen and women are master tempters. The whole premise is to make the hook that will trap and either traumatize or doom the fish look like food. I say traumatize because I’m not sure which is better – to pull the fish out of the water, put it out of its misery, and eat it, or to pull it out of the water after a long fight, jam your fingers or a pair of pliers down it’s throat, bend, pull, and rip the hook out of wherever its lodged inside the fish, and then toss the fish back in the water like nothing happened.

I’m by no means a master angler, but growing up and into young adulthood I fished a lot. My grandpa and uncle were both good bass fishermen. They even fished in some bass tournaments together, and they tried to teach me what they knew. This is true of most animals, and it’s certainly true of fish – to a fish life is about the maximum gratification of appetite at the minimum expenditure of energy. To a fish, life is “see a worm, want a worm, eat a worm.” A largemouth bass never really reflects on where his life is headed. A girl carp rarely says to a boy carp, I don’t feel you’re as committed to our relationship as I am. I wonder, do you love me for me or just for my body? The fish are just a collection of appetites. A fish is a stomach, a mouth, and a pair of eyes.

As an aquarium hobbyist and someone who used to fish a lot, I can tell you that while they’re often beautiful and taste really good, fish are really dumb. It’s like, “Hey, swallow this. It’s not the real thing; it’s just a lure. You’ll think it will feed you, but it won’t. It’ll trap you. If you were to look closely, fish, you would see the hook. You’d know once you were hooked that it’s just a matter of time before the enemy who is about to eat you reels you in.”

You’d think fish would wise up and notice the hook or see the line. You’d think fish would look around at all their fish friends who go for a lure and fly off into space and never return. But they don’t. It is ironic. We say fish swim together in a school, but they never learn.

Aren’t you glad we’re smarter? Or are we? A worm or a minnow on a hook, or an artificial lure that looks like a worm or a minnow, are really tempting to fish. What are the things that are tempting to you?

The big temptations we think about are things like sex with someone other than your spouse and pornography, or the temptation to lie or cheat to get ahead or appear to be performing better, or the temptation to buy things you don’t need. But there are many more subtle temptations we all face.

One study that tracked the top temptations we as Americans face found that 60% of us are tempted to worry or be excessively anxious. That may be because 60% of us are also tempted to procrastinate or put things off. Here are some of the other temptations the study identified:

55% of us are tempted to eat too much. 44% of us are tempted to spend too much time on our phones, computers, and in front of the TV. 44% of us are be lazy on a given day. The other 66% struggle with it too, but it was too much work to mark “yes” to that question. 35% of us are tempted to spend more than we can afford, living above our means. 26% of us struggle with the temptation to gossip. 24% of us are tempted by jealousy and envy. 18% of us struggle with looking at pornography or other sexually explicit material. 11% of us are tempted to abuse alcohol or drugs.

Funny, isn’t it, that two of the top temptations we think we face as human beings – drugs and alcohol and pornography, much less common (although they’re certainly common enough), that the temptation to excessive worry, or procrastination, or overeating, or overusing media, or being lazy, or overspending, or gossiping, or giving in to jealousy and envy. I think those who identify as addicts in the typical sense, those working 12-step programs to overcome an addiction to drugs or alcohol or gambling or sex or overeating are really blessed. They’re blessed because they know they’re broken. They know the ways in which sin tries to get its hooks into them. I know this from experience, because I work a 12 step program.

The rest of us, whose sin and addiction and temptation doesn’t have a 12-step program attached to it, think we’re doing just fine, all the while allowing something other than God to rule our hearts and minds and lives. And we think we’re living lives transformed by the grace of God. At best, we’re fooling those around us. At worst, we’re fooling ourselves. None of us is fooling God. So how do we – broken, sinful human beings who all struggle with temptation, and who have also found forgiveness in Christ and really seek to follow him – how do we as followers of Jesus deal with temptation when it tries to get its hooks into us? Turn with me to Matthew 4:1-11.

The word we translate as “tempted” can actually mean “tempted” (as in tempted by Satan) or it can mean “tested,” (as in tested by God. You see, as God’s Messiah, Jesus was sent into the world to die on the cross in our place so that we can receive forgiveness for our sin. And Jesus was, at the same time, fully God and fully human. He was 100% both. Only one who is fully God could die on behalf of all of humanity before a holy and righteous God. And only who is also fully human could die on behalf of a sinful humanity. And that is who Jesus was and is, fully God and fully human. Today, because our culture believes in Jesus the man but says that he wasn’t divine, we focus a lot on Jesus’ divinity.

But in the early church, the church founded by the Holy Spirit through Peter and James and John and Paul and Apollos and others, they had no problem saying Jesus was fully divine. Where they struggled was in saying that Jesus was also fully human, because of the heavy influence of Greek philosophy, the philosophy of Aristotle and Plato, which said that spirit or soul was good and flesh and body were bad, and so early Christians struggled to face the truth that, as John’s Gospel says, “the Word (that’s Jesus) became flesh and dwelt among us.”

You see, his death in our place, identifying with us as human beings, would only matter if Jesus was really a sinless human being. He had to completely identify with us, to become one with us, and so he had to endure temptation as a human being. So although he was both fully God and fully human, he operated in this world as a fully human, Holy Spirit filled child of God. I mean, do you realize that Jesus didn’t perform one miracle that hadn’t also been performed by an Old Testament prophet? People had been miraculously healed before. Demons had been cast out before. Food had been multiplied before. People had even been raised from the dead before. Not on the scale Jesus was doing it, but it had all happened before, and would happen again, after Jesus ascended into heaven. The only possible exception is Jesus’ own resurrection. No one had ever resurrected themselves, although true to form, that is something God did for Jesus. But unlike the other miracles, no one outside of the trinity was involved.

And Paul tells us in Philippians 2 that Jesus was “in the form of God (fully God), did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but EMPTIED HIMSELF, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Phil. 2:5-7). Emptied himself of what? What does Paul mean by that. It certainly means he emptied himself of his divine glory. He humbled himself by setting aside his divine glory and becoming fully human while still maintaining his divine nature. But it also points toward him operating out of his human nature, rather than his divine nature. He wasn’t a superhuman. A demi-god of some kind. He was, while remaining fully God, fully human, and he operated out of his human nature.

Hebrews 4:15, talking about Jesus, says, “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.” If he were superhuman, how would he be able to sympathize with us? He wouldn’t. Unless, in being tempted in every respect, as we are, he faced that temptation in his human nature, and was without sin. His divine nature would have consumed sin, not been tempted by it. Jesus was tempted, just as you are. Just as I am. But in his case, was “without sin.” And that is what made him the perfect one to die in our place. Fully God, he serves as the intermediary between God and humanity. Fully human, and yet sinless, he died in the place of a sinful humanity. In your place. In my place. Isn’t that awesome?

Now, notice that Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit out into the wilderness specifically to be tempted. Satan thinks he’s the one driving things here, but God is in control the entire time. Satan thinks he’s tempting Jesus, but in reality, God is using him as a tool to test Jesus. Jesus had to face real temptation. And he does so at his weakest point. Before Satan shows up, Jesus has been fasting in the wilderness, and it is a harsh environment. This is actually the point at which Jesus takes upon himself the role of Israel, the people of God in the world. His 40 days in the wilderness points back to their 40 years of wandering in the wilderness before entering the promised land. And every word Jesus speaks here, until the very end when he addresses Satan directly, is taken from Deuteronomy 6-8, Moses’ last address to the people of Israel before he died and they entered the land under Joshua’s leadership. Jesus is here BECOMING our perfect substitute, the one who did for us what we could not do for ourselves. Living a sinless life so that he could die in our place, for us, before a holy and righteous and also loving God. God doing for us what we could not do for ourselves, in our place. As us.

Now, let’s look at the temptations themselves. Look at Vv. 2-4. Jesus has gone 40 days and 40 nights without food. And he’s beyond hungry. His body was weak. Frail. His bones protruding as his body spent the past 40 days metabolizing whatever fat stores he had. 40 days is well beyond what even the most spiritual among us tend to attempt in a fast. It is considered a supernatural fast, something that HAS been done by people other than Jesus, but it is extremely rare. I’ve gone 40 hours before, back in my youth ministry days, leading teens through the 40 hour famine fundraiser for World Vision. And that was plenty long enough! Jesus went without food for 40 days and nights. And THAT is when Satan came to him. When he was at his weakest, not just physically, but also in his resolve. And Satan’s temptation was subtle. “Dude, if you’re the Son of God, why go hungry? Yeah, there’s not much out here to eat. So if you’re really divine, shouldn’t you be able to turn these rocks into bread? Go ahead and do it. Why put yourself through this? Do you really think God wants you to go without? To experience lack?

Truth is, Jesus was fully capable of doing exactly what Satan was suggesting he do. And later on, he WOULD do something similar when he fed thousands with a few fish and a little bit of bread. The act, in and of itself, wasn’t sinful. This is the temptation to self-gratification. Being quick to step out of God’s will to get what you want or need. Meet your own needs first. Jesus need for food was real, but he saw through the ruse. Satan was saying, “Don’t worry about all that spiritual stuff. Just focus on what is right in front of you. Just focus on the physical. And if you have a need, even a real one, do whatever it takes to meet that need. Gratify your desires. If ever there was a cheap shot, this was it. Satan is dangling all the food Jesus could want right in front of him when he was the hungriest he would ever be. Jesus’ focus in on God’s will, rather than his own immediate needs. Are you going to follow God’s will, or your own appetites?

Food is generally a good thing. In the Lord’s Prayer, we’re even taught to pray for “our daily bread.” But Jesus knows that God’s will for him here is to deny himself and obey God’s will. His response is startling. Look at V. 4. He quotes Deuteronomy 8:3. Moses’ words to Israel. Look at the whole verse, because Jesus quotes just part of it. “And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” Israel, hungry in the wilderness, no provision in sight, learning to trust God for his provision, in his time, knowing that God loved them and would meet their needs.

Are you willing to trust God and his will for your life, even if he asks you to go without for a while? Or are you going to place your needs, for food, for money, for power, for sex and intimacy, for comfort and safety, at the forefront and do whatever it takes to get them, even if you have to step outside of God’s will to get it. Is your will submitted to God’s will?

And notice what Jesus does here? And throughout the rest of the passage. He quotes Scripture. He makes use of the very word of God that we as human beings are to feed on. We need bread, but not bread alone. We are sustained by the word of God at work in our lives.

Food and the meeting of our other needs is critical to living a healthy and fulfilling life, and is a generally good thing, when pursued in a healthy way. But God’s Word is even more critical to a healthy and fulfilling life. And it is our primary tool against temptation.

Now, look at Vv. 5-7. Satan starts pulling out all the stops. Do you see what he does? He quotes Scripture. And he doesn’t twist the words. He quotes them accurately. It’s the meaning that he twists. SATAN KNOWS SCRIPTURE! And he uses it AGAINST Jesus. He tempts Jesus using the Bible. Hey, throw yourself off this high ledge. You know God isn’t going to let you, his messiah, die. This is the old, “God is your personal genie, who exists only to make your life a bed of roses” temptation. He wants Jesus to think he can control God. God is there to do your bidding. Pray the prayer in the right way. Quote the right set of scriptures, and they’re like magic words to get God to do what you want. And he tries to get Jesus to misapply the Bible to do it.

But Jesus isn’t biting. And he’s hungry, and likely hangry, so he probably wants to. But he doesn’t. Again, he quotes Deuteronomy, and applies it accurately. This time, it’s Deuteronomy 6:16. “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah.” What is Moses referring to here? At Massah, it was water the Israelites were lacking, not food. And they grumbled and complained and decided they wanted to go back into captivity in Egypt. This whole following God thing was too hard. They were thirsty. Okay, they did more than complain. Moses was afraid the people were going to stone him. So God told Moses to strike a huge stone with his staff, and water sprang out of it, and the people drank. No matter how God provided for his people, the refused to trust him. They just wouldn’t learn. And Moses named the place Massah, which, in Hebrew, means “testing.”

Because the people pushed back against God there. They arrogantly dared to test God. And God, in his grace, provided for them anyway. What is Jesus’ answer to Satan’s quoting of Scripture? “I refuse to test God. I don’t need to test God in order to trust him. I know that his ultimate will for me is good (even if it involves hunger, thirst, deep suffering, and a cross), and I am going to rest in that. Jesus refused to misapply Scripture and he recognized the attempt when it came at him, and he refused to place his will and desire for peace and comfort above God’s will. He knew he served God. God didn’t serve him. He wasn’t going to try to control God to accomplish his own ends. He was going to submit to God’s will, regardless of the cost.

Ah, but Satan isn’t done. Not yet. Look at Vv. 8-10. This, in many ways, is the ultimate temptation. I will give you all of this. Everything. All you have to do is worship me. It is the temptation to power and control, stealing from God what is rightly his. In America today, pleasure and power are the two things we worship. And we do worship them. We spend more money than we earn, we manipulate people and treat them like objects, tools to do our bidding. We dehumanize others for our gain, our pleasure, our power, our profit. This time Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 6:13. “It is the Lord your God you shall fear. Him you shall serve and by his name you shall swear.” No Satan, I’m not going to worship you. I’m not going to worship the golden calf like Israel did. My allegiance is with the Father.

Jesus knew God’s will for his life. He knew that he would suffer. He may not have fully grasped it yet, but by now he at least knew the general trajectory. Where was Jesus’ allegiance going to go? Satan offered him the kingdom without the cross. Talk about a tempting offer. But Jesus knew that before he sat on the royal throne, he must hang on a rugged cross. And he refused to be deterred. Would he submit his will to the Father’s, or make the Father’s will secondary to his own? Where did his allegiance lie?

How do you answer those questions? Because every temptation is one form or another of these temptations. Every temptation involves these two questions at some level. Whose will is primary in your life – God’s or yours? And where does your allegiance lie? And there are only two possible answers to that question. With God, worshipping him, or with Satan, worshipping him. There is no middle ground.

In every arena that Israel failed, Jesus passed the test. In every arena in which you and I fail, Jesus passed the test. And he died in our place, offering us both forgiveness AND the means and method of fighting temptation in our own lives. And we all face it.

Later in Matthew, Jesus would say to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (16:24). Jesus only asked that of them, and asks it of us, because he did it himself, there in the wilderness, after a 40 day fast, hungry and tired. And every day after that. Luke, in sharing the same narrative, adds something that Matthew didn’t – that when Satan left Jesus, he left him “until an opportune time.” That opportune time was the in the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus, in emotional and spiritual agony, faced the cross in all of its ugliness and horror. He wasn’t physically hungry then. He had just enjoyed one final meal with his disciples. But fully human, he trembled as he faced the horror of the cross. In fact, he trembled so much that he actually asked God for a way out. But when God said, “No. This is the only way.” Jesus again submitted, denied himself and the gratification of his flesh, submitted his will to the Father, and literally took up his cross, just as he did 3 years before, hungry and tired, in the wilderness.

And then what happened? After Satan left, the angels Satan had referred to came and ministered to him, strengthening him, feeding him, caring for him. The ordeal was over. No temptation lasts forever. In 1 Corinthians 10:13, Paul says, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” We’re all tempted, and Jesus was tempted in every way that we are tempted. But where we fail, he succeeded, offering forgiveness. He also offers us a way to stand against temptation.

James 4:7 says, “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” This is God’s way out. Submit your will to God’s will. His will becomes primary. Yours secondary. Then actively resist the devil. We do that by ingesting Scripture, the Word of God, by studying it, learning it, and meditating on it, allowing it to sink deeply into us, nourishing us just as deeply as bread and steak nourish us. And the Apprentice Series of small group Bible studies is a great place to learn how to do that. In fact, this spring, I’m going to be offering the first part of the Apprentice series, and then following that in the fall with the second, and so on through all four books, on-line, via Zoom, for those who can’t make it in to one of our in-person studies. As the Word of God works its way deeply inside of us, we begin to recognize Satan’s attempts to twist its words to suit our own agendas and his, rather than Gods. And when we have this promise: when we resist, actively resist Satan, he will flee. He has to. Let us pray.