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Life of Christ (1996-1998)

The Temptation in the Wilderness

Matthew 4:11, Mark 1:12-13, Luke 4:1-12

Much of Christ’s life was exemplary, in the old sense of that word. That is to say, it forms an example for us. More than that, it is also symbolic of our experiences. A very good example of that principle is found in today’s Scripture, the Temptation in the Wilderness.

(Mat 4:1-11 NIV) Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. {2} After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. {3} The tempter came to him and said, "If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread." {4} Jesus answered, "It is written: 'Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'" {5} Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. {6} "If you are the Son of God," he said, "throw yourself down. For it is written: "'He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.'" {7} Jesus answered him, "It is also written: 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'" {8} Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. {9} "All this I will give you," he said, "if you will bow down and worship me." {10} Jesus said to him, "Away from me, Satan! For it is written: 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.'" {11} Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.


(Mark 1:12-13 NIV) At once the Spirit sent him out into the desert, {13} and he was in the desert forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.


(Luke 4:1-12 NIV) Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the desert, {2} where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry. {3} The devil said to him, "If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread." {4} Jesus answered, "It is written: 'Man does not live on bread alone.'" {5} The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. {6} And he said to him, "I will give you all their authority and splendor, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. {7} So if you worship me, it will all be yours." {8} Jesus answered, "It is written: 'Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.'" {9} The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. "If you are the Son of God," he said, "throw yourself down from here. {10} For it is written: "'He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; {11} they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.'" {12} Jesus answered, "It says: 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'"


(Note some common characteristics of the Gospels:

·         John’s account, written some years later, omits this incident. This is probably because he knew that the others included it.

·         Mark’s account begins with “at once” --- Mark was always in a hurry, and it is the most abbreviated of the three.

·         Matthew and Luke disagree as to the order of temptations. Remember that the quotation mark is a recent invention.)


Three types of temptation

Since the early days of the church this passage has been used to classify the basic types of temptation. These temptations are the flesh, the world and the spirit (or the devil). The key idea in this is that such temptations are progressive. Satan will start with the flesh, work through the world and end with the spirit -- whatever it takes to snare you. It is also quite certain that this is the same order in which repentance is easiest. Great things have been accomplished by those redeemed from alcohol, drugs and prostitution. It is harder to deal with those beset by the world. Those afflicted with pride are almost -- but not quite -- untreatable.

The Flesh

The “flesh” -- generally taken to mean sins of the body -- includes such items as drug addiction, sexual sin and (interestingly enough in our society of plenty and want) gluttony. {Discussion point} It is the first of the temptations for a number of reasons:

·         In matters sexual, it most affects the young (hormones, naturally). It comes first chronologically to the adult.

·         The “damage spiral” from this is the quickest and deepest, and it produces a lasting despair that is very throbbing -- am I ever going to be sober again? Will I ever find the right man/woman? {Discussion point: does Prince Charming ever go into the Silver Bullet Saloon, Sunny?}

·         It’s also the easiest and cheapest; it produces no virtue along the way. No one ever developed the habits of patience and hard work picking up one night stands.


The World

The “world” covers a little more territory. It’s not just the temptation to keep up with the Joneses in material things, though that is the basic temptation. That limits its usefulness to Satan, for some of us are just not capable of “making it” in a materialistic society. (Though, if you notice it, we cluster in social layers to make keeping up a little easier. Who would like to try to keep up with J. Paul Getty?) It also includes the matter of power and influence. We have noted lately that the President (Mr. Clinton) is accused of having sexual affairs. A common thread in this is that the woman wants to be next to the man of power, to be “influential.” How good it feels to be able to say to your friend, “I’ll just call the mayor and tell him.....”

It’s also a longer lasting temptation. The hairline may recede while the waist expands, thus ending lust and gluttony at the same time -- but the lure of the BMW continues forever.

Envy (the sin of the have-nots against the haves) and greed (the sin of the haves against the have-nots) are its two basic forms. {Discussion point: when does “capitalist enterprise” become greed? When does “government compassion” become envy?}


The Spirit

Pride -- the sin of the spirit -- is the least tractable of all sins. It is, as one author (C. S. Lewis) put it, “the complete anti-God state of mind.” The essential point of the matter is that “I’m better than you are -- and I’m going to stick it in your ear, too.” Note that “I’m taller” or “I’m fatter” are neither pride nor (necessarily) falsehood, but “I’m better” is pride. Its essence is competitiveness, that god of modern America.

For indeed, America today counts pride -- in the Biblical, sinful sense -- as a virtue. It is the sticking point in the conflict between humanism and Christianity. In humanism, man makes the moral rules of the universe. He therefore is the highest creature in it -- and we worship the highest. That is pride.


The defense of the Christian

In this passage Christ shows us the basic methods of defeating temptation and sin. The first and most key point is: Scripture. None of us can be so wise in and of ourselves as to see all ends and know all answers. Turning to God for guidance is not only humility, it is wisdom.

Regrettably, some Christians don’t see it. They say, “I’ll be all right when the time comes.” {You wouldn’t think this way in any other of life’s endeavors; why the most important one?} Think of it this way: every time a policeman pulls someone over for a routine traffic stop, he takes his life into his hands. The man could be an escaped and dangerous felon. It doesn’t happen very often -- but the policeman trains constantly for such a situation. His precautions seem excessive when pulling over the solid citizen; There is, however, a reason. Reading and memorizing the Scripture are to the Christian in mortal combat with Satan what practice on the gun range is to the police officer.

There is an interesting symbolism to the Scriptures which Christ quotes. All three of them come from the experience of Israel in the wilderness. All three of them are symbolic of Israel’s failures there. We often think, “if only I could see a miracle, my faith would be so strong.” The evidence is to the contrary. Israel saw them by the car load, and its faith was pathetically weak. All three of these Scriptures are reminders of failure. It is highly important to note that Christ takes these failures and turns them into success. Let’s see how:


The Flesh

The first thing is this: what is the flesh anyway? Is it really all that important? It seems so at the time of temptation, but a longer view tells us that “man does not live by bread alone.” Christ puts the flesh in its place: subject to God.

There is a second point. Christ does not turn stone into bread for a very good reason. It is written: the Son does only what the Father shows Him to do. There is a divine style. Water becomes wine, stones do not become bread. Sin is, in the artistic sense, poor style. It is the misuse of what God has given you. When in doubt, one of the great questions to ask is, “God has given me this; what is its proper use?”


The World

Christ takes Satan’s words as the key point, and the key word is this: “worship.” The sins of the world constitute the worship of the world, for we worship what we hold higher than ourselves. Materialism, worldliness -- these are essentially blasphemy, for they take worship from God and give it to Satan. Worship is essentially personal.

You think this is not worship? I’m just saving up for the down payment on the Mercedes? Consider our public worship, and let me translate it into materialistic terms:

We sing the praises of God.

“Boy, let me tell how great that new Mercedes of mine is! ...”

We expound on the characteristics of God (preaching).

“The five point wishbone suspension is a definite improvement over....”

We give sacrificially of our time and especially money

“It took me seventy hours a week and dozens of sales calls, but I finally...”

We worship in symbolic ways (Communion).

What did you think the Christmas rush is about anyway?


The Spirit

This passage seems at first confusing. The flesh and the world having been conquered, what kind of temptation is this? The point is this: with the flesh and the world, you at least worship something outside yourself. The wrong something, but at least outside. With pride, you worship yourself.

The solution, for any human being (and Christ is human, do recall), is to worship God alone. But Christ’s answer shows how this worship is to be done: it is a personal love of God.

Think about it. Do you love your wife? Then would you insult her by experimenting with her faithfulness to you? Do you love God? Then why would you ever experiment with His faithfulness to you?

To do so carries disastrous implications. It means that you don’t trust the one you love (which is a twisted love indeed). It also means that you have failed to truly recognize the character of your beloved.


Finally, on this, there is one last point. Satan himself has testified to the character of Jesus. Satan does not waste such temptations on me; a much smaller temptation will do nicely for my troubles. Such temptations as this are fit only for the Son of God. And only the Son of God can resist them. But by God’s grace, Satan is never allowed to tempt us beyond our means. (Miss America does not take fat, bald married charity cases.)



There are three points to make “after the battle.”

·         Satan, when resisted, flees.

·         After the temptation comes the ministry. Righteousness is encouraged; God draws near again. It just may not seem like it at the time. {Discussion point}

·         Satan does not leave forever, just a “more opportune time.”

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