Summary: Did Jesus make a mistake during His three temptations? This message examines these three temptations.
ARE YOU CONFUSED?
INTRO: Did Jesus make a mistake during His three temptations? The Grand Inquisitor in Dostoevski’s novel “The Brothers Karamazov”, tells Jesus that he made a serious mistake in that encounter with Satan. Jesus came to set people free, but the Inquisitor insists that people need or want mystery, miracle, and authority, not freedom. The Inquisitor even hints that Jesus was confused or misunderstood the issues presented by Satan.
Of course, Jesus was not confused, but He recognized that the three temptations were attempts to confuse Him about His mission. The Cotton Patch version of this story appropriately identifies Satan as the “Confuser.” Temptation then and now often involves the attempt to twist something good into something bad or to substitute the good for the best. Let’s look at the three temptations as potential confusions for Jesus and us.
I. JESUS WAS TEMPTED TO CONFUSE PHYSICAL NEEDS FOR SPIRITUAL NEEDS (vv. 2-4).
Jesus was genuinely concerned about His own hunger and the hunger of the needy masses. After forty days of fasting, He was hungry, yet He recognized the temptation of Satan as an invitation to make meeting physical needs the primary focus of His ministry. Jesus did feed the hungry (5,000 in one miracle and 4,000 in another) and encouraged His followers to help the hungry (Matt 25:35).
Jesus realized, however, that our deepest needs are not physical. In addition to physical bread, He offers Himself, the bread of life (John 6:35). Many people were willing to follow Him only because He met their superficial physical needs (John 6:26-27).
Jesus wanted people to follow Him because they hungered and thirsted for righteousness, not mere food (Matt 5:6). We can exist on mere physical nourishment, but true life or abundant life requires the spiritual nourishment Jesus supplies.
Jesus would not confuse physical and spiritual needs yet He also did not separate them into neat compartments. He came to minister to the whole person. Unfortunately some Christians still divide ministry into the “hot” gospel (revivals, evangelism) and the “social” gospel (social concern, social action). Jesus came to preach a “whole” gospel for the whole person. Jesus did not neglect human physical need in His effort to bring people into the kingdom.
What are you and I doing in light of this first temptation? Are we concerned only about physical needs and desires? Are we confused about our church’s priorities?
II. JESUS WAS TEMPTED TO CONFUSE CURIOSITY WITH COMMITMENT (vv. 5-7).
Satan acted like he wanted to help Jesus attract followers. Jumping off the pinnacle of the Temple would certainly attract attention! If offering bread helped the Romans control the masses, why couldn’t Jesus use bread and circuses as well?
Jesus did many miracles, but He realized that miracles did not always produce genuine faith. Some attributed His supernatural powers to Satan rather than God. Others were attracted by the lure of the spectacular, but their interest never moved beyond the level of curiosity.
Later Christians saw the same problem when Simon wanted to buy the apostles’ power (Acts 8:18-24). Jesus’ miracles were not magical stunts designed to amaze the naive. His miracles were signs designed to point people to God and to evoke true faith. Jesus wants committed followers, not curiosity seekers.
Curiosity or wonder may be a valid early stage in being drawn to Jesus, but real commitment goes beyond curiosity. Zaccheus climbed out on a tree limb to see Jesus pass by, but his transformation came later.
Paul realized that the Jews sought signs and the Greeks wanted wisdom, but the gospel of the crucified Christ conflicted with these desires (1 Cor 1:22-25). Jesus encouraged us to have a childlike faith, which includes the openness and wonder of children. Discipleship, however, also involves a long-term commitment of life. Jesus clearly spelled out the cost of discipleship to those drawn to Him by the reports of miracles.
Are we confused about what it means to be committed to Jesus? Do we assume that dramatic experiences or spectacular results always guarantee real commitment? Are we fans or followers of Jesus?
III. JESUS WAS TEMPTED TO CONFUSE MEANS AND ENDS (vv. 8-11).
Again, Satan offered Jesus a shortcut to establishing His kingdom. The end justifies the means. Or does it? Certainly Jesus wanted to minister to many people, but His goal was not to establish a political kingdom nor to win a popularity contest.
To worship Satan may smack of the occult to us, but we often face the temptation to worship something or someone instead of the God revealed in Jesus. We may elevate home, career, school, church, country, or success above our loyalty to Jesus.
Our pragmatic, success-oriented culture makes the temptation especially inviting to us, particularly when we are working for a “good” end. A student cheats on an exam in order to graduate and become a full-time minister, yet the cheating begins to corrode his character. Soon his ministry is built on bad shortcuts to good goals.