Summary: When we go through temptation we do not need to go through in our own strength rather we can rely on our Saviour who has been tempted in every way, yet who did not give in.
The Temptations of Christ
Matthew 4:1-11 (text)
Beloved in the Lord Jesus Christ
It doesn’t take us long in life to learn that valleys follow mountains, lows follow highs, and solutions quickly dissolve into more problems.
You finish university studies and graduate as a teacher – you have arrived at your long-sought goal. But soon enough you find yourself feeling like a slave labourer teaching seven classes and barely preparing enough to keep one step ahead of your students – while at the same time endlessly marking the same answers.
You hear that glorious full-throated birth-cry of your first-born child. Tears of wonder and joy spill down your cheeks. A few weeks later, you’re walking around the living room at three o’clock in the morning, trying to calm a screaming infant; tears of frustration spilling down your cheeks.
Valleys follow mountains. Lows follow highs. Solutions quickly dissolve into more problems. None of us is immune – not even Jesus. First heaven opened up and God smiled, then hell opened up and Satan laughed. No sooner has Jesus got his spiritual Ph.D. than He’s stumbling around in the wilderness, alone with the devil as His wily companion. It’s strangely fascinating, and very comforting, to see that this happens to the Son of God. He truly is divinity in the flesh – but He wasn’t isolated and immunised from the real world. Which means that the ministry of Jesus is one that can give us real hope and strength – for His is a ministry of human realities.
In this case the issue is temptation. And there is nothing accidental about the encounter in the desert. The Spirit of God led the Son of God into the desert. This was an event which had to happen. As it unfolds we need to understand two things. Firstly the desert was a place away from people. The Son of God was alone in His temptations. He had no help, no support, and no encouragement from family or friends. Satan had Him one on one. Secondly recognise the terrible hunger which resulted from a forty-day fast – a hunger which left the Son of God at His weakest point. He was at His most vulnerable. It was a deliberate act. The test of Jesus’ will had to take place at His weakest moment. Famished and alone, the Son of God faced His greatest trial. If He withstood this test, He would be able to withstand all later tests. It had to be this way and God could not protect His Son from these trials.
As we see Jesus being tempted in this way it says volumes about the brazenness of the devil. If Satan is even brazen enough to deliberately tempt the Son of God then you can be sure that He will have no hesitation in coming to tempt us. Every follower of Christ will face temptation – and Satan will be more than happy to make sure that the temptation arises when you are at you greatest vulnerability.
I heard the story of a young man who became a Christian on Sunday and lost his job the following week. This resulted in the statement that he was not coming back to church because God had let him down. That’s an example of Satan catching him when he was vulnerable.
In the life of the church there are times when the church does let people down – the church isn’t perfect. How often it is that, at those times, Satan comes along and pushes people to drop out of the church because of the hurt they have experienced. It’s another example of Satan coming when we are vulnerable.
If you think that Satan is going to be merciful to you, you are mistaken. He knows no mercy. He will catch you when you are alone and vulnerable and will put you to the test. Which means we have to be on our guard. There is a book called “The Screwtape Letters” by C.S.Lewis. The whole book is a series of letters from Screwtape (who is a senior devil) to his nephew Wormwood (who is an apprentice devil). Screwtape is teaching Wormwood how to trap people and make them sin. Let me read a section of it to you:
“The most alarming thing in your last account of the patient is that he is making none of those confident resolutions which marked his original conversion … I see only one thing to do at the moment. Your patient has become humble; have you drawn his attention to this fact? … Catch him at the moment when he is really poor in spirit and smuggle into his mind the gratifying reflection, “By Jove! I’m being humble”, and almost immediately pride—pride at his own humility—will appear. If he awakes to the danger and tries to smother this new form of pride, make him proud of his attempt—and so on, through as many stages as you please. But don’t try this for too long, for fear you awake his sense of humour and proportion, in which case he will merely laugh at you and go to bed”.