TEMPTATION

The Narrative Lectionary points us to Matthew 4 this week. The temptation of Jesus is fascinating on so many levels. Not the least, that Jesus could be tempted. That the Divine Son of Man is subject to temptation as a human can catch us by surprise. Temptation, after all, is not sin.

If the first surprise of this text is that Jesus can be tempted, the second one is that “was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted” (MT 4:1). Jesus did not stumble into temptation but was rather led into it (We are taught to pray that we will not be led into temptation). This comes on the heels of his amazing baptism revealing the Trinity and the submission of Jesus to the Father’s will. No doubt it is the same for us. The trek from baptism to temptation is a short one.

The text reveals that the Tempter is the Devil. I have no doubt that the Enemy put all of his greatest tempting power into this moment. After all, if he could accomplish the marring of Jesus’ perfect record, there could be no sinless sacrifice. He comes at a moment of weakness. Jesus had fasted for 40 days and nights and the text reveals that “he was hungry” (MT 4:2).

Would we be reading too much into this episode to suggest that Satan’s temptation strategy is revealed as he works hard to trip the Son of God? If we thought of it that way, we might notice…

*Satan came when Jesus was physically weakened, perhaps his resistance would be down?

*Satan appeals to doubt. He begins with the word “If“. The greatest element of faith is to accept Jesus Christ as the Son of God. What if that were not true? What if Jesus wondered about his own identity?

*Satan appeals to physical needs. For Jesus at this moment there was probably no stronger physical need than to find bread to eat. Of course he could create it and do so with no sin involved. It’s the challenge that makes this a sin, the appeal to pride, to prove who he was by virtue of answering a dare.

*Satan appeals to pride. If you are the Son of God and you really trust your Father, just jump off the temple. The Scriptures say that you won’t be hurt. Implied here, as I read it, is the challenge akin to “you’re not afraid are you?”.

*Satan appeals to greed. I’ll give you everything, and to get it you only have to worship me. Greed has motivated many a fall into temptation. Otherwise good people have found themselves in trouble when greed found it’s way into their hearts.

We know that Jesus is the sinless Savior. If Satan is demonstrating his greatest efforts at temptation, Jesus is demonstrating how he can be resisted. Each temptation is met with Scripture (from Deuteronomy). I doubt this is simple memorization, but Scripture that expresses a united heart with the intentions of the Father. How important is Scripture when fighting the Enemy? If this encounter tells us anything, it is crucial. What suggestions can be made for the use of Scripture in resisting temptation?

*Memorization of key Scriptures. Not just any Scriptures but those that directly address your area of greatest temptation.

*Cards in your pocket with pertinent Scriptures printed on them for reference throughout the day.

*Songs that are based on Scripture that can be sung when we are tempted.

*Accountability partners in faith who will help us to be reminded of our commitment to Christ, and supply us with Scriptures to bolster our faith.

*Willingness to resist, fed by study of the Scriptures, learning from both the successes and failures of the heroes of faith.

I think one problem with temptation we all have is that the very thing we are tempted to do is pleasurable to us on some level. In other words, we want to do it. We may hate it. We may hate what it does to us or to our loved ones. But we may still fall into it. It’s a great struggle. Paul remarked, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do” (Romans 7:15). We do not see Jesus struggling (whether he did internally or not is not revealed). We do see him responding, however, and this is something we can do if we are willing.

Then the devil left him…

Matthew 4:11

James reminds us that we are to “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7) The devil was certainly not through with Jesus. This first skirmish was just the beginning. We are reminded that Jesus will ultimately pray in a Garden while the Enemy hovers near. Does anyone doubt that it is the same for us?

So much has been written on this text that it would be hard to believe that anything new or different would emerge. The struggle against temptation is as ancient as the Garden of Eden and as contemporary as the garden of thoughts we cultivate in our own minds. The struggle against sin remains a challenge for all of us. Our only hope is that we have a Savior who has shed his blood on the cross and cleansed all believers of every sin. We truly are “more than conquerors” (Romans 8:37) over sin, but not on our own power. It is Jesus who has given us the victory. So, we struggle against sin because we want to honor Him with our lives.

Overall the key question is this: Do we really want to resist temptation? If so, we can follow in the Master’s footsteps. If not, then we will certainly fall into the traps of the devil.

Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.

Ephesians 6:11

This passage ends with a beautiful thought. “Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him” (Matthew 4:11). The study of angels is fascinating, but for all we know there is so much we do not. I am comforted by the idea that when we resist temptation that there is some attending by angels going on in our hearts. Again, the idea is that on our own we don’t have much hope of resisting temptation. When we follow God’s path, He is near.

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