Reading Time: 8 Minutes
Matthew 3 ends on a very high note with a voice from heaven saying, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3.17).
Jesus traveled from this high moment to one of extreme testing. “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil” (Matthew 4.1).
The Spirit, who came upon Jesus at his baptism to signify the beginning of his ministry (Matthew 3.16), also led Jesus to be temped by the devil. Why did God allow this to happen?
Three passages from the book of Hebrews come to mind, as I seek to understand why the Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness.
(1) Hebrews 5.8 – Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered.
This statement is full of mystery. What did the smartest person to walk the face of the earth need to learn? In what way did a person who was totally obedient to the Father need to learn more obedience?
Why did the Holy Spirit lead Jesus to a place of testing by the most unholy being of all?
No doubt, it is easier to ask questions than it is to give answers to them. Possibly, the next verse from Hebrews may help our understanding of these questions.
(2) Hebrews 2.8 – Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.
There was nothing more for Jesus to learn and there was no greater amount of obedience to add to his absolute obedience to the Father. However, Jesus personally experienced the testing, tempting and suffering more severely than any other person.
Why did Jesus go through temptation, suffering and testing? Because he learned through experience what people like us go through, he is able to help us gain victory over the temptations and difficulties that come our way.
(3) Hebrews 4.15 – For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin.
The high priest stands between God and humankind.
With one hand he reaches out to God on behalf of humanity. Jesus “always lives to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7.25) means that he is always praying for us. So is the Holy Spirit (Romans 8.26-27). Words often fail us when we talk about God. This is an instance where we simply must stand in awe, wonder and faith about what happens within the Trinity, God-the-Son and God-the-Spirit appeal to God-the-Father for us.
As high priest, Jesus reaches out a hand to us. “In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them. . . For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5.19, 21).
Darren Jackson celebrated five years of sobriety, yesterday (June 13). He gave all praise to God and the program of Alcoholics Anonymous. When Darren was in active addiction, Jesus and the Spirit interceded for him. God reached out to him through AA, bringing him sobriety and back to faith. This is the daily work of our Lord, who went out to face the evil one at the beginning of his ministry.
Three Temptations That We All Face
As the One who suffered and was tempted just as we are, Jesus faced the most unholy being of all in the wilderness to be tested and then proven absolutely genuine.
Temptation #1 and Response
Matthew 4.2-4 – He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. 3 The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4 But he answered, “It is written,
‘One does not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
The reasoning of the tempter was something like this, “You’re the Son of God. You have more rights and privileges than any elite person. You don’t need to be hungry. Take care of your needs. As the Son of God, you’ve surely got that coming to you.”
Jesus responded by quoting from Deuteronomy 8.3. The message in Deuteronomy and Jesus’ statement to the devil was that there are more important things than self-satisfaction, self-pleasure, and meeting self-needs.
As our high priest, Jesus knows the obsessive desire we have to please ourselves. He also knows how destructive selfishness is for our inside condition, our relationship with others and God.
In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus has an answer for the first temptation. After speaking about the material things people worry about, he instructs us, “But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6.33).
Temptation #2 and Response
Matthew 4.5-7 – Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6 saying 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,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”
7 Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
I wonder if the tempter reasoned that if Jesus wouldn’t listen to his logic, possibly he would fall for a temptation based in a Bible passage. He quoted to Jesus from Psalm 91 and sought to change Jesus’ relationship with his Father.
If Jesus had taken the temptation, his role with the Father would have been reversed. Jesus would have become the “lord,” commanding the Father to respond to his faith and to act at his command.
Jesus refused to call into question God’s priorities. He was determined to not do anything other than God’s plan. He would definitely not put God to the test in this manner.
Since the corona virus outbreak, I have seen a number of Facebook posts quoting Psalm 91. Verses 3 and 6 speak about a deadly pestilence. Please take a look at these verses and then consider them in the light of the tempter’s actions with Jesus.
Psalm 91.3 – For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler
and from the deadly pestilence.
Psalm 91.5-6 – You will not fear the terror of the night,
or the arrow that flies by day,
6 or the pestilence that stalks in darkness,
or the destruction that wastes at noonday.
First of all, if the Holy Spirit has given these verses to you during this corona virus pandemic, by all means follow the Spirit’s direction.
If you just thought these verses from Psalm 91 were “good thoughts” and decided to re-post them, please look very long and hard at how Jesus responded to the tempter. Jesus refused to become the “lord” in this situation and use his faith to command God to do his bidding.
The safest way to live in a pandemic or at any time in life is to live completely obedient to the Father’s direction and plans for our lives.
Temptation #3 and Response
Matthew 4.8-11 – Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; 9 and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10 Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written,
‘Worship the Lord your God,
and serve only him.’”
11 Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.
The devil’s temptation was for Jesus to live in the splendor of the kingdom of the world.
Jesus’ mission was to be a servant to the world. He said, “I am among you as one who serves” (Luke 22.27).
Jesus, our high priest, knew the seductive nature of the temptation for people to live in splendor. He knew that people would live in an obsessive desire for self-pleasure, self-seeking, self-promotion, and more.
He knew that the root of oppression and injustice lies in humankind’s making a value out of living in the splendor of what this world offers.
People don’t have to make a “deal with the devil” to worship him. All we have to do is to live according to his plans and purposes for our life.
Jesus is our example. We can live as servants of God, just as did Jesus. The Sermon on the Mount will give us clear instructions on how to resist the devil’s influence and to live as God’s servant.
Since the song, “Zion & Babylon” Josh Garrels came out in 2010, I have turned to it to be reminded of God’s way of viewing our unceasing, obsession to live a self-pleasing, self-centered life.
I think Garrels summarizes this third temptation quite well. If the first part of the song is a harsh critique, listen to the end to hear the good news of God.
I have included a YouTube link to the song, “Zion & Babylon.” Please take another four minutes to listen to it. Get ready to be challenged!
Dear Jesus, if we ever wondered how much you love us, the account of your temptation in the wilderness is an awesome picture. You have all privilege, glory and splendor. Yet, you came to be a servant, so we could find life. We praise you and desire to live as you did.