I was reading this morning about Jesus’ confrontation with satan in the desert (Matthew 4:1-11) … and it reminded me of my own temptations.
Scene 1 – the desert. Where we face the strongest temptations in life. Place where we are the weakest and our enemy is the strongest. Dry. Rough. Barren. Hills. Rocks. Scraggly plant life. Heat. Heat. Heat. The only relief is the night.
Night falls. Jesus searches for a place to sleep. Remembering the recent words of john: ‘Look. The lamb of God . . . who takes away the sin of the world.’ Jesus knew what those words meant. He grew up in the temple, around the altar. He remembers the priest. He remembers the smoke and the incense. And the blood.
For 40 days and nights he remembers. That last morning in the desert, he awakens from the cave. His body is thin, frail, fragile. His lips are cracked, his throat parched. After 40 days he is famished.
Satan thinks, ‘a perfect time to strike.’ And as he steps tentatively from the shadows, it begins.
v.3-‘if you are the son of God, tell those stones to become bread.’ The temptation is not for Jesus to doubt himself, but to depend on himself. For 40 days, God hasn’t done anything to help him. Why not take matters into his own hands?
v.4- But jesus doesn’t take the bait. Instead he answers, ‘Man doesn’t live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”
Regardless of how consuming his hunger may be, jesus would rather be fed with the smallest crumb of his father’s word than with an entire landscape of bread anywhere else.
So satan steps back, changes his plan, and changes the scenery.
Scene 2–The Temple. Satan then takes jesus to the highest point of the temple. “if you are the son of God, throw yourself down.” In the first temptaion, jesus responded by saying that God would take care of him, sustain him, etc. So in the second one, satan pushes that to the limit. “OK, Mr. Messiah, if you really believe it, then prove it once and for all. . . everyone will see and believe. Let’s see you put your money where your mouth is…”
The temple was the center of activity. The jump would be seen by all the people and key leaders . God’s rescue would convince every skeptic that jesus was the son of God. A pretty tempting offer.
But Jesus sees through it, realizing that it’s not really a test confirming God’s care, but a test questioning God’s care.
v.7- jesus answers – ‘it is also written, ‘do not put the lord your God to a test.” This kind of test says, ‘if you really care about me, prove it.’ It doesn’t demonstrate faith in God, but doubt in God that’s looking for proof to believe. Faith that requires proof is not faith; it is science.
Scene 3–The Mountain. In verse 8, satan, going for broke, then takes jesus to an even higher place, for an even greater temptation. As god and ruler of this world, satan has the earthly kingdoms in his pocket. So he digs into that pocket and counts the change. He makes a final offer. “all this i will give you if you bow down and worship me.”
These are the same kingdoms that God the Father has promised jesus he would someday possess. That day could be today. And all of tomorrow’s suffering could be avoided. All he would have to do is turn his back for a moment, and bend his knee in satan’s direction. That’s all. Just a split second.
But it is WHO he would have to turn his back on that keeps his knees locked. His own father. The father that loves him. Delights in him. How could he betray that kind of relationship, even for a moment?
v.10– Jesus takes that ‘loose change’ and throws it back in satan’s face and says, “away from me, satan! It is written, “worship the lord your God, and serve him only!”
The words snap like a whip! Satan leaves (Luke tells us) until a more opportune time, when jesus would be weaker and more vulnerable. So satan leaves.
Here’s the kicker: Just prior to the desert experience, jesus had been baptized in the jordan river. He was anointed by the Holy Spirit and approved by God the Father. In the desert, it appeared that he was abandoned by both. No affirming voice. No sign of approval or encouragement. Only vultures. And heat.
Still he trusted.
Still he obeyed.
Only then did the angels come.
Let’s talk about MY desert experience.
- it WILL come. Jesus was led BY THE SPIRIT into the desert.
- Jesus knew the scripture (duh), but more than that. He knew that the father’s word is not only more nourishing than food, but more necessary. Sometimes God’s will for you is bread. Sometimes it is to be hungry. It all depends on which situation is more nourishing to your soul at the time. It depends on which causes you to rely on him. Why? Because one word from God can change your whole life.
- Wanna ‘know God’? wanna ‘Get close to God’ ? Get ready for the desert. It is in the desert that we rely on god the most. We’ve been talking about temptation, and how real it is. Right now, right here, we have a whole room of people to encourage us, to help us, etc. but jesus was ALONE in the desert. He was alone.
You and I have some great spiritual support around us–church, friends, youth group. We also have the Holy Spirit who lives inside of us. But even with all of this some of us can’t withstand the temptation for ONE night. Bad news, buddy: When the desert comes, you’re gonna die. Why? Because you haven’t figured out that one crumb of God’s word is more satisfying than anything on the planet. More nourishing. More fulfilling. You haven’t yet developed a hunger for God that will sustain you in the desert.
Mighty God, give us a hunger for Your word, and help us to never doubt your love and faithfulness..me included.