Temptation is part of the human experience in a fallen and sinful world. Many times we skirt temptation without giving it much thought, but other times we surrender before we even realize what hit us. I've never stopped to make a log of temptations, abut I suspect that we are all tempted numerous times every day of our existence. Sometimes the temptations are subtle, sometimes bold. There are periods of our lives when temptations appear stronger, and others when they are easily overcome.
If we were to rely on our own strength to face temptation without falling into sin, we would certainly fail! Martin Luther writes in his great hymn, A Mighty Fortress is Our God, "Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing." So how can we face temptation, without failing? Luther continues: "Were not the right man on our side, the man of God's own choosing." We must confide in Christ.
Friends, the only one who consistently and perfectly overcame temptation was the Lord Jesus Christ. The Scriptures attest to this, "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin." (Hebrews 4:15) In Matthew 4 we read that Jesus, at the very beginning of his public ministry, was tempted. What were these temptations?
1. The devil's first temptation targeted Jesus' physical weakness: he had not eaten for forty days, and he was hungry (Matthew 4:2). Satan came to him in the wilderness and slyly challenged his authority. "If you are who you say you are, if you are the Son of God, then do something about it. Turn these stones into bread." Notice that Jesus responded with the Word of God, "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God." Matthew Henry rightly identifies this as a "temptation to despair of His Father's goodness." Jesus was being invited to take matters into His own hands and to despair of the provisions of His Father in heaven. Have you ever been tempted in such a way? I suspect it occurs far too frequently. We are tempted to the sin of ingratitude for the Father's provisions. It is far too easy to compare our own situation with that of others and find many reasons to complain. Jesus countered with the Word of God, indicating that God has sufficiently supplied His needs in His most excellent Word.
2. Next, the devil tempted Jesus to presume upon God's power. Notice the enemy's desire, once again, to strike at the identity of Christ. "If you are who you say you are, then throw yourself down." Trying to use the Scriptures to his advantage, he assures Jesus that if He should jump that God would give His angels charge over him. Satan knows God's Word, and seeks to misapply it. This promise of angelic protection was not intended as a means to test either God's power or His willingness to use it. That is why Jesus, answering again with Scripture, says, "You shall not put the Lord your God to a test."
3. Finally, Satan attempted to entice Jesus into committing the most horrible idolatry. In exchange for bowing down and worshiping the devil, Jesus was promised the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. Again Jesus was successful by meeting the temptation with the Word of God. "You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve."
What is the nature of the temptation you face? Don't these temptations of Christ resonate with all believers? We are tempted by our physical hunger, by our distrust of God's protection, and by our desires or lusts of the flesh for the things of this world. These weaknesses tempt us to distrust God, to distort His Word and to worship the idols of this world.
What is striking in Matthew 4 is not only Jesus' quick and clear response, but also that His success in the wilderness marked the path that He would take in conquering sin, death, and the grave. The temptations would not stop throughout his life; indeed, they would only become more intense as He would later be tempted to seek His own will in not dying for poor sinners. But Jesus continued on the path of obedience to the Father, even in the face of death. And why did He do it? It was not simply so that we could have comfort in our hour of temptation, but also so that he could overcome the tempter himself. He won the victory over sin, death, and hell for those who look to Him in Faith.
If we confide in our own strength, we are sure to fail. But when we look to Christ, and counter our everyday temptations with His Word, we will be sure to understand what Peter speaks of when he says, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, according to His great mercy He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you REJOICE, though now for a little while, if necessary you have been grieved by various trials..." (I Peter 1: 3-6) How do we overcome temptation? By the Word. How do we live by the Word? By faith in the Son of God who overcame all temptation, and Who as the pure spotless Lamb died that we might live. He has delivered us from the evil one, and by His sacrifice, we can be certain of an everlasting hope.
Yield not to temptation,
- Horatius R. Palmer