Revive Our Hearts Podcast

The Temptation of Christ

Leslie Basham: Here’s Nancy Leigh DeMoss.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: I think most of us are familiar with C. S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia. I especially love the story, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. You may have read the book; you may have seen the movie.

You remember that scene where Edmund stumbles into Narnia through the wardrobe, and he ends up lost and alone in a cold, snowy forest? Then all of a sudden he hears the sound of bells in the distance, and soon, around the corner, comes a sleigh. Sitting on top of that sleigh is—who? The White Witch. The White Witch pulls over, she stops to talk to Edmund, and as she does, she remembers this ancient prophecy that her reign and her life will be over when two Sons of Adam and two Daughters of Eve sit enthroned at Cair Paravel.

So, pretending to be friendly, she invites Edmund to join her in her sleigh, and she asks him if he would like something to eat. Edmund requests Turkish Delight, which she magically produces. What Edmund doesn’t know is that the Turkish Delight is enchanted, and whoever tastes it is going to want more and more. They won’t be satisfied with just a little bit.

So the Witch promises to give him more candy if he’ll bring his sisters and brother to her house. She also offers to make Edmund a prince and tells him that someday, when she is gone, he will be the king. Well, Edmund’s desires for power and for pleasure lead him to yield to the witch’s temptation, and ultimately, to betray his sisters and brother.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Monday, March 2, 2015.

We’ve been in a rich study called "The Incomparable Christ," based on a book by Oswald Sanders. We’ll send you a copy when you donate any amount to the ministry of Revive Our Hearts. Just visit ReviveOurHearts.com for the details.

The theme Nancy mentioned from The Chronicles of Narnia leads us to an important discussion.

Nancy: As I think about that story, it brings to mind an important scene in the life of the Lord Jesus. We’re talking in this series about the incomparable Christ, and if you’re following along in the book called The Incomparable Christ by Oswald Sanders, we’re looking today at chapter 8 on “The Temptation of Christ.”

The temptation of Christ has some parallels to the witch’s temptation of Edmund, but thankfully, the temptation of Christ had a very different outcome. So I want to ask you, if you’re following along in your Bible, to turn to the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 4.

Now the temptation of Christ is told in all three of what we call the synoptic gospels—Matthew, Mark, and Luke—and we’ll be bouncing back and forth between those a little bit in this session, but mostly we’re going to follow along in Matthew’s account in Matthew chapter 4. We begin reading in verse 1:

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” (vv. 1–3).

Let me just stop there and make a few comments. “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness”—then. If you read Mark’s account, it says “immediately”—then. What is this following? Immediately after what? Then—after what?

Well, we know, and we saw this in the last session, that we’re following Jesus’ baptism. He had been to the Jordan River to be baptized by John. He had this amazing experience where John had pointed Him out as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). Then Jesus had been baptized by John, and there was this voice from heaven that said, “This is my beloved son with whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17).

It had been an awesome experience, a mountaintop experience. Then, immediately, right after that experience, on the heels of His baptism, comes this wilderness temptation experience.

I read long ago a writer who said a phrase I’ve not forgotten: “after benediction comes battle.” After the blessing of that experience comes the battle. Isn’t that often the way it is in your spiritual experience?

You have this great mountaintop experience with God; you have this great spiritual victory; you have this real intimate experience with Christ; this real high in your spiritual walk with Christ; and then, like the next day, or the next hour or minutes later, or the next season of your life, you find yourself in the wilderness being tempted, being assaulted by Satan, struggling from high to low. It can happen so quickly.

Let me just say, it shouldn’t surprise us. These experiences happen, and we need to be prepared for them. It’s not surprising that the devil should be involved in this temptation.

“Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” In Mark’s account of the temptation, he tells us that the devil is named “Satan,” the personal enemy of Christ, the relentless enemy of God and of every follower of Christ.

You see, ever since the Garden of Eden, when Satan had succeeded in getting Adam and Eve to rebel against God’s authority, Satan had been allowed to exercise a measure of control over this earth. He was no doubt aware, though he is not omniscient—he doesn’t know everything—but he was no doubt aware that the Son of God had come to the earth thirty years earlier in human flesh, to redeem fallen men and reconcile them to God.

I think it’s likely that he had heard the angels sing in the midnight sky to the shepherds in the field that night when Jesus was born in Bethlehem—“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace, good will toward men” (Luke 2:14). I bet Satan had heard that. I suspect he’d heard at Jesus’ baptism when the Father affirmed the Son and said, “This is my beloved son.” He knew what was going on.

And he knew that his hold on the hearts of men and the kingdoms of this earth was about to be challenged. You see, if Jesus succeeded in His mission, Satan knew he would be overthrown. And Satan remembered the curse in the Garden thousands of years earlier where God had said, “The seed of the woman will bruise or crush your head” (see Gen. 3:15). He knew he was doomed.

He was threatened, and he couldn’t just stand by and let Jesus start out on His ministry and storm Satan’s stronghold without trying to challenge it. So it’s not surprising that there would have come this attack. And let me say it’s not surprising when attacks come into our lives.

Satan knows, if you’re a follower of Christ, that he’s losing you and that you’re going to influence others to follow Christ. So, after you have these great realizations of how wonderful Christ is—maybe after a recording day like this—it’s not surprising that there would be tests and temptations. Remember who’s behind those. Remember that he’s your enemy, and you don’t have to give in to him. We’re going to see how Jesus dealt with the tempter.

Now, it says that He was “tempted by Satan—by the devil,” but it also says in verse 1 that He was “led by the Spirit” into the wilderness. Here’s Jesus who’s the beloved Son of God, led into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil, and who’s leading Him there? The Holy Spirit. The fact that He was the Son of God, that He was totally obedient to God, that He had never sinned, He had done nothing wrong, it did not exempt Him from being tested. It did not exempt Him from experiencing very, very difficult temptation.

Let me say that this temptation was part of God’s plan. Satan put the temptation there. He was tempted by the devil. God doesn’t tempt any man, but God put Him into a place where He would be tempted by the devil. It was necessary for Jesus to face this temptation, to go through it, to endure it, and to overcome it in order to be able to represent us as our Savior.

So remember that. When you’re being tempted, it may be the devil involved, but remember that you can be led into that place by the Holy Spirit, and the one who leads you there will keep you and protect you in that situation.

Now, think about the setting of this temptation. Jesus is in a dry, barren wilderness. He’s had no food for forty days. Mark’s account tells us that He is surrounded by wild beasts. It’s interesting, there’s just that little line there—“and wild beasts were with him” (1:13). I don’t like wild beasts—I don’t even like tame beasts pretty much!

This is a dangerous place. It’s a barren place. It’s a long, prolonged, protracted temptation. It’s desolate; it’s isolated. There’s no human companionship, no fellowship, no human encouragement. And all through these forty days He’s being bombarded by temptation, bombarded by the devil.

Now, compare that setting to the one thousands of years earlier in the Garden of Eden, where Adam and Eve were tempted by the devil. What kind of environment did they have? A perfect environment, an ideal environment, a lush garden, an abundance of food, the companionship of a mate. Jesus didn't have that, and yet in His place of temptation, He succeeded in saying "no" to the enemy and "yes" to God.

Now it’s important that we keep in mind the cosmic context and backdrop for Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. Satan has always wanted to sit on God’s throne. So there’s been this power struggle going on from the time that Satan first attempted that and was thrown out of heaven.

Satan tries in this setting in the wilderness to usurp Christ’s authority by deceiving Him into submitting to his—Satan’s—will. However, Jesus will not submit to any authority but that of the Father, and Jesus wins over Satan by invoking another authority over Satan and that is the authority of the Word of God. We’ll see that as we look at the first temptation in verse 3:

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” (vv. 3–4).

What is the temptation here? The temptation to Jesus is to meet His temporal, physical, immediate needs independently of God. It’s the temptation to elevate the physical, material needs and desires over the spiritual, to live for the temporal, the here and now rather than the eternal.

It’s a temptation that we face to meet our needs in our way rather than God’s. It was a temptation to meet Jesus’ needs in His own way rather than God’s. There are sexual desires; there's the need for companionship, material needs. We have lots of human creature needs, and those needs aren’t wrong. It’s not bad to fulfill them. The temptation is to fulfill them our way rather than God’s way, to take matters into our own hands, to solve our problems in our own way and in our own timing, rather than waiting on God to meet our needs.

Then there comes that second temptation in verse 5:

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, and on their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone’” (vv. 5–6).

Satan is saying in essence: “Are you sure that God can be trusted?” It’s a temptation to demand that God prove that His promises are true. Satan even uses the Word of God in this temptation. The two things he says there—“He will command his angels concerning you, and on their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone”—that’s Scripture. He actually is quoting from Psalm 91:11–12.

Can you imagine Satan using Scripture to tempt us to sin? It’s interesting that in his quoting of Psalm 91, not only does he misquote it—he doesn’t quite quote it accurately—but he also leaves out the next verse, verse 13 of Psalm 91 that says: “You will tread on the lion and the adder; the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot.” That passage, Psalm 91, actually foretold Satan’s doom—the crushing of the serpent. Satan didn’t quote that part. He quoted selectively.

Well Jesus knows how to use Scripture to win over Satan, and He says in verse 7:

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” (vv. 7–9).

So what is this third temptation? Satan attempts to receive worship for himself that belongs to God. So he shows Jesus the temporal kingdoms and the power centers of this world. He offers Jesus power, control, glory, and doesn’t he offer those things to us in our homes and in our work places? “I want power. I want control. I don’t need all of the power over the whole world—just power over my situation right now.”

He offers glory. “I want to be seen, recognized, known.” He offers those things in exchange for—what’s the price tag?—in exchange for worship, for submission, for service.

Now, Satan is offering Christ what Satan knew ultimately belonged to Christ, authority over all the kingdoms of this world. Who is the ultimate King and Ruler over the whole world? Christ is. But Satan offered Jesus a short-cut that would eliminate the cross. “You can have these things without suffering. You can have these things without dying.” It’s a temptation to acquire what God wanted Him to have, by some means other than God’s plan.

Well, Jesus says to him in verse 10:

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 (vv. 10–11).

Now, when we look at Luke’s account, we’re reminded it wasn’t the last time that Satan would tempt Jesus. Let me just read to you what Luke says: “And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time” (4:13). He would be back, and he will be back in your life until that day when he is vanquished, when he is banished, when his power is totally ended.

Then going back to Matthew 4, verse 11, it says . . . I love this phrase here: “and behold, angels came and were ministering to him.” At the right time, God sent supernatural provision for His Son, and I want to remind you that He will send provision for you—just what He knows you need and when He knows you need it.

In fact, Hebrews 1 tells us that God sends angels to minister to believers. I’ve never seen one. I can’t tell you exactly when they have been there, but I know that God’s Word says His angels are ministering servants sent to help us.

Let me just point out a couple points of practical application here for us.

Jesus faced Satan and was tempted as a man. He didn’t use His divine powers as God to overcome the temptation. If he had, we would say, “Well, sure He can overcome temptation—He’s God, but I’m not God.” Jesus overcame the enemy as a man, as a human. He used the same resources that are available to you and to me today. What were those resources?

  • The Holy Spirit, who led Him there.
  • Prayer—remember at His baptism we saw that He was praying when He was baptized—prayer to His Father.
  • The grace of God that’s available to those who humble themselves and cry out and say that they need God.
  • The Word of God—that’s the Sword of the Spirit, the weapon against the enemy. These were verses that He had learned as a child and growing up as a man. He had meditated on them, and then He applied them to the very moment He needed to use them—the same way we do when we battle temptation.

He battled temptation as a man using the same resources that are available to us.

Then, secondly, this point: Because Jesus passed this test in the wilderness, He is able to help us when we are tempted. When we are tested, when we are assaulted by the evil one, He is able to come to our aid.

Let me read to you a few verses out of the book of Hebrews. I’m reading several from both Hebrews chapter 2 and Hebrews chapter 4, but let me put them together. These are so rich, so precious. What wonderful promises these are.

Hebrews tells us,

Because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted (2:18).

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 (4:15).

He is the incomparable Christ. He was tempted but without sin

So, verse 16 of Hebrews 4:

Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (4:16).

You see that word help twice in those verses. “He’s able to help those who are being tempted.” “He will give grace to help us in our time of need.”

I looked up that word in the original Greek language. It’s a word that’s used to describe a rope or a chain that is used to hold together a boat, a vessel that is falling apart. It’s called “frapping a vessel.” It’s wrapped around this vessel, and it’s used to hold it together.

It’s the same word that’s used in Acts chapter 27 when the apostle Paul was in this boat going to Rome and a great storm came up, and the boat was going to be shipwrecked. It says, “They used supports to undergird the ship” (v. 17). That word supports is the same word help. “He is able to help those who are being tempted.

I’ve come to love this picture because when our little “ship” is being storm-tossed, and we feel like we’re in danger of falling apart from being assaulted by the evil one, from being tempted and tried, Jesus is the one who holds us together, who undergirds us, who supports us. He can do this, He can help us, He can hold us together, because He knows what it is to be tempted and tried Himself without ever having given in to temptation.

John Milton, as you know, was a seventeenth century English poet who was best known for his epic poem Paradise Lost. That tells the story of the fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. There’s a lesser known work by John Milton, a sequel, that’s called Paradise Regained. This is the story of the wilderness temptation of Jesus. It shows how Jesus undid the work of Satan by passing the test that they failed

Paradise was lost because Adam and Eve yielded to the tempter. They rebelled against God, and so man fell and sin came into the world and so did eternal death and separation from God. That’s paradise lost.

But paradise has been regained because Christ resisted and overcame the tempter. He refused to give up a millimeter of ground to Satan. He submitted to God, and as a result He has raised up fallen mankind and given to us eternal life and reconciliation with God.

In the movie The Passion of the Christ, the film opens with an intense scene in the Garden of Gethsemane. Now that scene takes quite a bit of license with the biblical account, but it gives what I think is an accurate picture of the cosmic drama that was playing out both in the wilderness temptation three years earlier, and now as Jesus was about to give up His life for the sin of the world in the Garden of Gethsemane.

In that scene, in The Passion of the Christ, as Jesus pours out His soul in prayer to His Father in the Garden, He is tempted and tried by a personification of Satan. Satan tempts Him to doubt God, to hold on to His life, and as the tension mounts, a serpent slithers toward Jesus who is lying prostrate on the ground crying out to God. At the end of the anguishing scene, Jesus rises to His feet, determined to do the will of the Father, and then He crushes the serpent underfoot—a reference, of course, to the prophecy in Genesis chapter 3 about the promised Messiah, where it was said that “the serpent would bruise His heel, but the Seed of the woman would crush the serpent’s head” (see v. 15).

When Jesus refused to yield to Satan’s temptation in the wilderness, and again in the Garden of Gethsemane, He served notice to all the powers in Heaven and Hell that He was the Sovereign Lord, and He would not bow to Satan.

There in the wilderness and again in the Garden of Gethsemane, Christ dealt Satan one blow after another—each time foreshadowing that final, fatal blow at the cross and Satan's ultimate banishment at the end of the age.

As Milton says, "By vanquishing temptation, Jesus has regained lost Paradise." Aren't you glad? Because He overcame temptation, we too can overcome temptation. Because of His victory over the tempter, one day we will be free from the tempter and all temptation.

As Paul says in Romans 16, verse 20: “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.”

Amen? (Audience responds: Amen!) Amen.

Leslie: When Jesus faced temptation in the wilderness, so much was at stake. Nancy Leigh DeMoss has painted a picture of our Savior’s battle with evil while fasting forty days. That message is part of a series called "The Incomparable Christ."

Nancy developed these messages after reading The Incomparable Christ by J. Oswald Sanders. It’s a classic book of daily readings that will help you recognize aspects of the life of Jesus you may have never considered before. When you read this book in the weeks leading up to Easter, you’ll celebrate with a fresh appreciation for who Christ is.

We’d like to send you the Revive Our Hearts special edition of this book. And you’ll also receive the companion journal. The questions in this journal will help you apply what you’re learning through the series in practical ways.

Just ask for The Incomparable Christ and the journal when you donate any amount at 1–800–569–5959, or make your donation of any size at ReviveOurHearts.com. We’ll send one book and journal set per household for your donation.

Was Jesus truly God? Does it really matter? Nancy Leigh DeMoss says, “If Jesus were not fully God, our faith would be in vain.” Find out why tomorrow on Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture was taken from the English Standard Version.

 


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