17 December 2018

Matthew 4
Psalm 136

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”  But he answered, “It is written,

“‘Man shall not live by bread alone,
    but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple 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,’


“‘On their hands they will bear you up,
    lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”  Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory.  And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written,

“‘You shall worship the Lord your God
    and him only shall you serve.’”

Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him.

The story of the temptation of Jesus is well known. Following His baptism in the river Jordan, where the Spirit of God affirms His pleasure with His son, Jesus goes into the desert to fast and pray. At a point of weakness, having not eaten for forty days and nights, our Lord would have been particularly vulnerable. It was then that He was tempted by the devil. Jesus had to decide what kind of Messiah He was going to be. Would He choose to be a worldly type or would He choose obedience to the Father and take the way of the cross?

There is striking similarity with each temptation and Jesus’s response. Note that each temptation is conditional. Twice He was taunted by Satan, (verse 2) ‘if you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread’ and (verse 6) if you are the Son of God throw yourself down’, and once (verse 9) if you will bow down and worship me, I will give you all the kingdoms of the world’. Jesus was faced with a choice each time, and each time His reference point and choice was the same. His ammunition against temptation was the Scriptures and so He chose God’s way. He quoted against each temptation as it was brought to Him, using the written word to emphasize God’s commandments. In each instance Satan’s ploys were deflected and then he left Jesus alone (at least on this occasion). Indeed, it is just after this time that Jesus begins His preaching ministry.

Jesus was and is unique in who He was and in His ministry and yet He calls us to follow Him and take up our cross. In the next chapter He details how He wants us to live. But here in His own time of tempting, He sets an example that we would do well to remember. It is striking that there wasn’t any lengthy argument or debate following the use of scripture to deflect each temptation. The word of God was sufficient. It immediately crystalizes who it is we follow. If it was powerful then it remains powerful today.  Of course, if we do not know something it is rather difficult to use it! Jesus knew His scriptures very well and, again, His example demonstrates the importance to us of learning and knowing what the Bible teaches.

Ephesians 6:10-11 exhorts us in the same way. ‘Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his might power. Put on the full armour of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.’