17/2/02 Year A - Lent 1 : Matthew 4:1-11

Jesus had just been baptized by John and anointed with the Holy Spirit. This was the start of Jesus' public ministry and the confirmation that he is God's Son and the Messiah. We now come to the account on what is known as the temptation of Jesus.

1 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.

Why did God the Holy Spirit lead Jesus into the desert to be tempted by the devil ?

There are two factors to be born in mind here.

Firstly, you remember that last week I mentioned 'typology'. That Jesus was a 'type' of Moses but better. Here we see typology again.

The people of Israel were supposed to be holy and to demonstrate the love of God to the world. They failed. One of the places that they failed was in the desert after they had been led out of Egypt by Moses. They were tested there for forty years and only two Israelites passed that test and entered the Promised Land.

So Jesus was led into the desert because it was a place of testing, and to show how it should be done in comparison to the Israelites.

Secondly, God does not send temptation or testing times but he does use them to build up our trust in him, and/or to see where our allegiance truly is. Job is an Old Testament example of this. Here the hostility of the devil to Jesus' ministry is used by God to show not only who Jesus is, but also the kind of ministry that he had come to fulfil.

2 After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.

The people of Israel were in the desert for 40 years. Jesus was there for 40 days. We are now into Lent, a forty day period of reflection and self-denial in preparation for Easter. Jesus gave up food for 40 days before we have this climax of the testing by the devil recorded in verses 3 to 10. Jesus would have been tested by the devil for all of the 40 days, it's just that we only have the record of the last 3 tests that he put to Jesus. Jesus would have been physically very weak after 40 days without food, and was probably spiritually battered after the devils attacks. When we think of this we realize that the deprivations that we may take up for Lent, such as giving up chocolate or alcohol, are small in comparison.

Did anyone here made a new year's resolution ? Have you managed to keep it ?

I'd like you to imagine that someone made a resolution to stop reading trashy novels. For the first few weeks in January they read Shakespeare, but then see a novel that they have not read. They say to themselves that the only way of finding out if it is trashy is to start reading it. So they start reading it, find out it is trashy but, as they have started it, continue reading until the end. The next time they see a novel it is easier to give in and, by the end of February they are back on a diet of trash and Shakespeare has been forgotten.

Jesus temptations were greater than ours. We give in too easily. Once you have given in it is easier to give in on subsequent occasions.

3 The tempter came to him and said, "If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread." The devil precedes each of his temptations with the words 'If you are the Son of God...' He is not really questioning whether Jesus is really God's Son but trying to goad Jesus to act independently of God the Father.

Here he goads Jesus to satisfy his own immediate, physical needs with a miracle rather than trusting in God's provision. Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy 8:3 to illustrate this. 4 Jesus answered, "It is written: `Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.' "

Jesus quotes from the Old Testament to show that there is more to life than physical needs. Obedience to God has to be the priority. This is why it is so important for us to know our Bible because it is through knowing the Bible that we know God's ways and we can resist the attacks of the devil.

Here, concern for Jesus' own material comfort could jeopardize his unquestioning obedience to God's plan. Jesus had both the power and the right to satisfy his own needs yet this is inconsistent with his mission. Jesus life and mission involved him giving up the glory of heaven and living a life that involved humiliation and self-sacrifice. Rather than looking to his own personal needs and rights Jesus was more concerned with loving God and loving other people. This was all part of God's plan for the salvation of the world.

The people of Israel sinned by grumbling against God when they were hungry in the desert. Jesus patiently waited for God to provide for his own needs.

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.'"

The first test was about the provision of physical need. The second is about the provision of physical safety.

Seeing that Jesus used Scripture to answer the first test the devil quotes, or rather misquotes Scripture. This shows that we should not automatically believe someone who quotes the Bible but test what they say. Test it by comparing it with other Scriptures. Test it using our common sense.

Whilst the Bible does say that God will provide for us and protect us, it does not mean that we force God's hand by creating an artificial crisis, such as throwing ourselves off a tall building.

Illustrate man marooned on sand island by the incoming tide. Refused offer of a passing boat and helicopter by saying that he knew God would save him. He drowned. Went to heaven asked God why he didn't save him. God said I sent you a boat and a helicopter, what more did you want ?

Or, to use our church situation... We can pray for God to provide us with enough money to meet our needs, and to provide people to serve him on the P.C.C., Deanery Synod, as Churchwardens etc. But if we are not prepared to give our own time, effort and money why should we test God in this way ?

In Exodus 17 the Israelites put God to the test by demanding water rather than relying on his provision in His time.

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.'"

The devil dominates the world, although it is not rightfully his. Jesus questionss that domination. The devil offers to Jesus what appears to be an easy option, yet the consequences would be disastrous. Disastrous for Jesus' relationship with God the father. Disastrous for the salvation of the world whom Jesus had come to save. For if Jesus had accepted the offer of Satan, the word used here by Jesus for the first time means 'enemy', this would have been a sin. Therefore. Jesus would have been unable to offer himself as a sinless substitute for us on the cross.

In contrast to Jesus the Israelites consistently followed other foreign gods. This brought judgment and shame on them.

As Christian today we need to beware that we do not look to other gods to provide for our physical needs and safety at the expense of our worship and service of the one and only God.

We need to remind ourselves that through his selfless life, death, and resurrection Jesus has shown that he is the true King. One day he will return to claim everything and to banish Satan for ever. We see a pointer to his authority over Satan when he tells him 'Away from me, Satan'. As followers of Jesus we can, in the name of Jesus dismiss Satan and his followers if they are tempting us or bothering other people.

11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.

The word 'attended' implies the provision of food. The food that Jesus refuses to conjure in verse 4, and angelic help that Jesus refuses to summon in verse 7 now appears in accordance with the will of God. Not at the instigation of Satan.

Jesus establishes a pattern of obedience at the start of his public ministry that he is to continue to the cross. Even on the cross he was tested to misuse his power for his own comfort. 24:39f 'Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads 40 and saying, "You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!" '

Already we see a picture of Jesus the Messiah and King. One who will follow God's way. A way that will involve him in rejection suffering and self-sacrifice.

His obedience led to our salvation.

The fact that Jesus went through temptation means that he can sympathise with us as we are tempted. Hebrews 4:15, 'For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are - yet was without sin.'

The way that Jesus met temptation with Scripture shows how we should fight temptation.

The way that God met Jesus' needs shows that we can trust God. 1 Cor. 10:13 : 'No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it. '

"There is no corruption, no evil propensity, no temptation to sin, which the Christian cannot overcome."- Charles Haddon Spurgeon

Let us, therefore, thank God for Jesus and his obedience that led to our salvation, something that we focus on in our Holy Communion Service tonight.

Let us thank God that Jesus can sympathise with our temptations, and that God will help us when we are tempted so that we need not be defeated by it. Indeed, it could lead to us growing in our trust in him who alone is to be trusted and served.


May the strength of God guide us,

May the wisdom of God instruct us,

May the hand of God protect us,

May the word of God direct us. - St. Patrick

Suggested songs : All my hope on God is founded; For this purpose Christ was revealed; Forty days and forty nights; God holds the key; Guide me O Thou great Jehovah; I need Thee every hour; Lead us heavenly Father; May the mind of Christ my saviour; O soul are you weary; Safe in the shadow of the Lord; Seek ye first the kingdom of God; Stand up stand up for Jesus; Teach me thy way; Through all the changing scenes of life;