Jesus’ Temptations in the Wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11)


Sermon by Daniel L. Sonnenberg | March 9, 2014


Text:

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.

3 And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4 But he answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone,   but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” 5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple  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,    lest you strike your foot against a stone.’” 7 Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory.  9 And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10 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.’” 11 Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him. (Matthew 4:1-11)

Notes:

As the Union Pacific Railroad was being constructed, an elaborate trestle bridge was built across a large canyon in the West. After it was completed, the builder loaded a train with enough extra cars and equipment to double its normal payload. The train was then driven to the middle of the bridge, where it stayed an entire day. One worker asked, “Are you trying to break this bridge?” “No,” the builder replied, “I’m trying to prove that the bridge won’t break.” (Today in the Word, March 14, 1991.)

In the same way, the temptations Jesus faced weren’t designed to see if He would sin, but to prove that He couldn’t; unlike Israel, who, when their hearts were tested, failed the test. Lent is the season in which we recall anew the understanding that we are sinners in need of a Savior and that Jesus is the Savior we need. In Jesus’ baptism by John in the Jordan River, we learned two things: the purpose of Jesus’ baptism was his identification with sinners, “to fulfill all righteousness;” and, the result of Jesus’ baptism was his authentication as the only savior of sinners. God responded to Jesus’ obedient identification with sinners by authenticating him visibly and audibly as the only Savior, the promised Messianic King, the Son of God and Suffering Servant of the Lord.

In contrast to Jesus’ sinlessness, we should recognize our sinfulness in Israel’s experience in the wilderness.

Grumbling about God’s provision

In v. 3 Jesus was tempted to abuse his status by misuse of his divine power for his own ends.  And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”  Israel abused their status as God’s chosen to grumble about the food he had provided, even after being delivered from slavery in Egypt. Likewise, we abuse our status as adopted children in God’s family to grumble against Him when we don’t get our way.

Mistrusting God’s presence

Jesus was tempted to advance the work of God by spectacular means (v. 5-6). 5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple 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, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’” Israel tested God by demanding water in the wilderness. In Exodus 17, “All the congregation of the people of Israel moved on from the wilderness of Sin, and camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. Therefore the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.” And Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the LORD?” But the people thirsted there for water, and the people grumbled against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” And the LORD said to Moses, “Behold, I will stand before you, and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, and the people will drink.” And he called the name of the place Massah and Meribah, because they tested the LORD by saying, “Is the LORD among us or not?”

Aligning with God’s enemies

Jesus was tempted to gain his inheritance (of the nations, Ps. 2:7-8) by making an alliance with the devil (v. 8-9). 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.”  Israel served other gods even though God had bless them with the land. With what gods have you aligned yourself to gain worldly recognition and success.

Because Jesus is sinless, we should demonstrate our gratitude for his willing sacrifice on our behalf.

By obeying his word (v. 4)  (live by every word) – antithesis of grumbling

4 But he answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Jesus said, My food is to do the will of him who sent me, and to accomplish his work (Jn 4.34)

By respecting his authority (v. 7) 

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

(Lk. 22:42-43) “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.”  

Respecting – antithesis of testing

By serving him alone (v. 10)

10 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.’”

-antithesis of unfaithful; betraying; faithful, chesed)

When asked, *(Matt. 22:36-38)  36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”  37 Jesus said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  38 This is the great and first commandment. (Matt. 22:36-38)

The story ends on a positive note. In the final scene, when Jesus rejects the invitation to serve two masters by citing Deut. 6:13, he says, “Away with you, Satan!” And the text reads, “Then the devil left him.” In the end it is not Satan who has power over Jesus, but Jesus who issues commands that Satan obeys. To be sure, Satan will return, but the secret in keeping the tempter at bay is out: it is in be- ing faithful to one’s vocation to be God’s child, clinging tenaciously to the divine calling.

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