The Gospel of Jesus: Swordfight in the Desert
By Jerry Shirley
A three-year-old entered the kitchen when his mother was busy elsewhere in the house. She had told him not to get into the cookies. But in her absence he pulled a kitchen chair over to the counter and climbed up on it. Then he took the lid off the cookie jar and had just gotten a cookie into his mouth when his mother entered the room and demanded to know what he was doing. The three-year-old looked at her with big, innocent eyes and said, “I just climbed up here to smell the cookies, and my tooth got caught on one of them.”
Today we look at the temptation of Christ in the wilderness. Last Sunday I preached about the baptism of Jesus Christ. One prominent point of my message was the fact that at His baptism, it was shown that Jesus would save His people by suffering and dying. At one point in my message I also pointed out that for Him to die for our sins, He must be spotless and without sin. We know this from the Old Testament, where sacrifices had to be spotless in order to be acceptable by God. So at the very beginning of His ministry, Jesus is required to face the strongest temptations the devil could bring against Him. We can see this from v.1, where we see that the Holy Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness. The language of Mk. 1:12 is even stronger, “Immediately the Spirit driveth Him into the wilderness.” Why did the Holy Spirit insist that Jesus go into the wilderness? It was for the express purpose of being tested by the devil.
As the Union Pacific Railroad was being constructed, an elaborate trestle bridge was built across a large canyon in the West. Wanting to test the bridge, 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.” In the same way, the temptations Jesus faced weren’t designed by God to see if Christ would sin, but to prove that He wouldn’t.
I believe Matthew’s main purpose for this account was to affirm yet again that Jesus Christ is the sinless Son of God, the promised Messiah. But I believe this text of Scripture also has a practical application. Jesus exposed Satan and his tactics, and He defeated Satan. Because of His victory, we can have victory over the tempter.
All too often temptations come our way, and we are defeated by them. The devil gets the victory over our lives. Did you yield to temptation last night? How about this morning? Well God wants you to be able to share in the victory of Christ over temptation. So be sure to listen carefully this morning, and I will share with you some ways you can have victory over temptation.
Now beginning in v.3 Satan assails the Son of God with 3 powerful temptations. Let’s examine each of these temptations together. In vv.3-4 we see:
I. CHRIST WAS VICTORIOUS OVER PASSION.
Let me give you a little background to this temptation. Now Jesus fasted and prayed for 40 days and nights. He no doubt was preparing Himself spiritually for the ministry He was about to begin. Now with that background, I want to share with you a few principles that I gleaned from the first temptation:
The devil’s main purpose was to overthrow the Messiah at the outset. He knew that Jesus had come to bring salvation, and he knew that if he could get Jesus to sin, that would ruin the whole plan of salvation.
Satan waited until the conditions were right before he began his onslaught of temptation. Notice in v.1 it says that Jesus was “led up…into the wilderness…” The Judean wilderness stretches between Jerusalem and the Dead Sea. It is an area of yellow sand, crumbling limestone, and contorted strata. It glows and shimmers with heat like some vast furnace. The conditions of the wilderness made the deprivation of hunger even greater. Christ also faced loneliness and isolation. So after spending 40 days in such a place, it is something of an understatement when Matthew says that Jesus “hungered.” He was famished. It is said that during a prolonged fast, the feeling of hunger goes away after three or four days, only to return with renewed force. Hunger is the God-given desire to meet our natural need for food. And this sudden onslaught of recurring hunger became the opportunity for the first temptation.
And when you are hungry, the opportunity is certainly present for temptation. For example, you may be tempted to satisfy your needs in ways that God has prohibited. Yes we need food, but we do not meet the need for food by stealing. Yes we need food, but we should not abuse God’s provision with gluttony. So we need to watch out. There are certain times when we are more prone to temptation. Satan may tempt you at a time of bodily weakness. He may tempt you in a time of spiritual weakness. After you have missed church for several weeks, or after you have gone several days without praying and reading your Bible, you will be vulnerable to the temptations of Satan. By the way, another prime temptation is when you seem to be strong and self-confident
(1 Cor. 10:12).
Temptation Is Tailored to the Individual – Satan’s basis for temptation was unique to Jesus because Jesus was a unique person. Notice in v.3 that Satan said to Jesus, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.” Only recently at the baptism of Jesus, God the Father had confirmed that Jesus was the Son of God. So Satan uses that as the springboard of this temptation. “Son of God, hungry? How ridiculous! And if you are a Son, then God is supposed to be your Father. He must not care about you. You have to take matters into your own hands!” He was tempting Christ to act independently of the Holy Spirit who had led Him into the wilderness. He was seeking to destroy the Son’s confidence in his Father’s will and power to sustain him. Satan is always trying to get people to doubt the love and care of God.
So Satan tempted Him to use His power to produce instant food. That is something we are quite used to today. Put food in a microwave for a minute or two, and you have a hot meal. Or pull into the closest fast food place, and you can get a meal pretty quickly. And in the case of Jesus, He could turn desert stones into bread. After all, John had said that God could turn stones into sons of Abraham, and if Jesus is God’s Son, then surely He could turn stones into bread, a lesser miracle.
Later He would demonstrate that He could change water into wine, and multiply a few loaves and fishes and feed thousands. Oh, He had the power. And why not use it? The desire for food was innocent but strong, the need was imperative, and he had the power to secure instant relief.
So, the bait is skillfully wound over the barbed hook. How will Jesus respond? Temptation Can Be Resisted by Scripture – We are going to see that Jesus appealed to Scripture in all 3 temptations. That is the weapon Satan fears more than anything else in this world. This was a fight and Jesus pulls out the two edged Sword!
Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.  For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.  Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.  And take the…sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
And all His quotations that day were from Deuteronomy 6 and 8. Could it be that the Lord’s meditation that morning had been in this portion of God’s Word? Now the primary application is that we also should learn the Word of God, and use Scripture to resist temptation. The devil hates Scripture and attacks it. So you need to know and memorize the Word of God.
Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.
Jesus quotes from Deut. 8:3
…that he might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord.
In the context it shows how the Lord had fed the Israelites in the wilderness with manna, unknown to them, that he might teach them that not by bread alone does man live, but by everything proceeding out of the mouth of the Lord. As a Son Jesus was obeying the Father by being in the wilderness, and as a Father, God will provide the food He needed. Jesus would trust in the provision of God just the same way we have to trust in the provision of God. God had provided food for His prophet Elijah (I Kings 19:5-7). Jesus later promised in Matthew 6:33
But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.
So He will wait for the Father’s provision. Christ has won round 1. Now Satan tries his next temptation, and in vv.5-7 we see:
II. CHRIST WAS VICTORIOUS OVER PRESUMPTION
Satan took Jesus to the temple. From that high point, Satan proceeded to tempt Jesus.
v. 6 This may have been a follow-up to the response of Jesus to the first temptation. Satan was saying something like: “So, you trust your Father? Well let’s see how much you trust God. If you will not work a miracle for yourself, then let God work one for you. And since you seem to know Scripture, let me give you one,” and he proceeded to quote from Psalm 91:11-12, which he alleges will give Him promise of safety. However, Satan misquoted Scripture. Satan was urging the Lord to be presumptuous, not trusting. Furthermore, he was tempting Christ to prove the reality of God’s love and care. We are often tempted to demand a visible proof of God’s presence and care. For example, someone may say, “God, if you don’t heal me, I won’t believe in you.” [Give me a job / make that girl like me] That is not faith, but is putting God to the test.
Satan was hoping that he would leap and God would not honor Jesus’ distrust, and the Messiah would fall upon the rocks below and die. That would end God’s plan of salvation.
Jesus’ Response – The Lord knew His Bible better than to be taken in by Satan’s imitation sword.
v. 7 It would appear that such an act would be the highest act of faith. But it is not. There are 2 problems with testing God:
1. If you have to have a miracle in order to believe what God has already said, then you lack true faith. True faith does not put God to the test. Jesus quotes Deut. 6:16
Ye shall not tempt the Lord your God, as ye tempted him in Massah.
That incident is found in Ex. 17:1-7. There they complained against Moses and God because there was no water. They demanded water and said, “Is the LORD among us or not?” If He is, then prove it by giving us water.” Instead of waiting on God’s provision, they put Him to the test. Putting God to the test is when you insist that God do something to prove Himself to you. True faith does not demand signs from heaven or miracles, but simply believes the Word of God.
Now the second thing that was wrong with Satan’s temptation was the fact that it was contrary to the following principle:
2. Faith Is Based on the Word of God – Now if God had commanded Jesus to cast Himself down, to do it would have been right. As He had not, to do it was not faith, but self-will.
Suppose you drive 90 miles per hour up the Boulevard, running through every red light, and you say, “I have faith that God will protect me.” And then you crash and kill yourself and others. Someone may say you died in faith, but I would say you died putting God to the test. Such faith is not true faith because it was contrary to the Word of God, which says we are to obey the laws of the government. Do not do foolish things and demand that God deliver you from the result of foolish actions. Sometimes in His mercy & grace He will, but you can’t expect it or demand it.
After all, the Bible says, “You reap what you sow.”
Perfect trust is submissive to God’s will. We can claim God’s protection only if we are in the center of God’s will.
So round 2 is over. Jesus has won another victory over Satan & his temptation. Now the devil drops his mask and, having failed miserably in the first two attempts to conquer his enemy, stakes everything in one final, desperate attempt to achieve his purpose. And in this final temptation we will see that:
III. CHRIST WAS VICTORIOUS OVER POWER
Everyone likes to have power. Satan would also offer Him position and prestige. Once again, let’s consider:
v.8 Satan begins this temptation by showing Christ all the kingdoms of the world. For Satan to show Christ all the kingdoms of the world would have required a miracle, even from a high mountain. Furthermore, Luke adds that he did this “in a moment.”
He was saying, “All of it can be Yours-Satan boasted that he has control over the kingdoms of the world. That was partly true, but it was a great lie also. There is indication that he has temporary control now [god of this world / holds title deed for now acc’d to Revelation], but he could not grant permanent control. Remember, dear friend, that every thing the devil can offer you is only temporary. It will not bring any lasting satisfaction.
Now Satan’s offer was tempting in at least 2 respects:
1. Satan Appealed to Personal Ambition – How appealing it would be to many of us to be king of the world.
2. Satan Appealed to Instant Gratification – Satan knew that according to Psa. 2:8, the Son is promised a kingdom.
Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen [nations] for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession.
The devil knew Jesus was promised the kingdom, but he offered Jesus a shortcut to His kingdom. For Jesus that kingdom would be received only after a 3 1/2 year ministry and after suffering and dying on a cross. Satan tempts Him to accept a kingdom now. All He would have to do is bow down and worship Satan just once (aorist tense). All he wanted was just one brief bend of the knee. Then He could enjoy all the glory and power now, and without enduring any suffering.
Oh, how Satan effectively uses that kind of temptation today. Satan is always offering instant gratification. The Bible admits there is temporary pleasure in sin. Too many are like Esau, who traded the value of his birthright for the temporary pleasure of a mess of pottage. Youth seem vulnerable to this temptation. For example, Satan will say, “Why wait until marriage to experience the pleasure of sexual intimacy. I will give it to you now. And many young people fall for such temptations of Satan!
But we need to follow the example of Christ. He maintained loyalty to God, and endured the cross and suffering, for He knew that beyond the cross, was a crown of glory.
Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Satan has always had a problem of wanting to take the place of God. He wants people to worship and honor him. Here is a desperate attempt to receive such honor.
v.10 Jesus’ reply was simply, “God forbids it,” and he quoted Scripture to prove that God forbids that we worship anyone but Him. Ex. 20:3 gives one of the 10 Commandments: “You shall have no other gods before Me.”
Christ put God and obedience to God above everything. Your life will be a lot less complicated if you will just trust God enough to say that His way is best, and live in obedience to Him.
The final round of the conflict is over. Jesus was victorious over the most powerful temptations Satan could throw at Him. And because Jesus resisted all of the temptations of Satan, He could issue the command, “Be gone, Satan.” And v.11 shows the result of Christ’s supremacy over him. Matthew says, “Then the devil left Him, and behold, angels came and ministered to Him.” And the good news is that 1 John 4:4 indicates we can have that same supremacy.
1 John 4:4
Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world.
Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
If you are a Christian, Satan has no authority over you. You can’t say, “The devil made me do it.”
1 Cor. 10:13
There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.
2 Peter 2:9
The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished:
There is never a necessity for the believer to sin. When you are tempted, remember that.
And notice that after the conflict came glad refreshment. [v. 11]
When the angels came, they probably brought bodily nourishment. Perhaps they cooked Him some heavenly hash, and for dessert he had angel’s food cake!
Just say “no” to temptation, and the Lord will reward you with joy and peace, a clear conscience, your needs met, and ultimately, a heavenly reward. The Lord’s way is always the best way.
Conclusion – The battle is over. Christ won the victory. He was now ready to begin His ministry. He has proven perfect obedience. Now He has the right to call on others to obey God. Let us give Him our obedience and loyalty as Lord of our lives. And the Gospel writer has added yet more evidence that Jesus is the Son of God. And as the sinless, spotless Lamb of God, He will offer up Himself as a sacrifice for sin. If you have not yet believed in Jesus as your Savior, why not do so today? Don’t let the devil continue his victory over your life. Repent of your sins, and trust in Christ instead.
Christians: The Devil attacked Jesus the same ways he will attack you–physically, then mentally, and finally, spiritually. He uses the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. The lure of the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lies of the devil tempt us.
Against the world, the weapon is to FAITH:
1 John 5:4
For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.
The more you love Jesus, the less appeal the temptations of the world will have.
When a hawk is attacked by crows, he does not make a counterattack, but soars higher and higher in ever widening circles until his tormentors leave him alone.
Against the flesh, the weapon is FLIGHT.
2 Tim. 2:22
Flee also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart.
Against the devil, the weapon is FIGHT!
So carry your Sword, not just to church, but in your heart!