Jesus now, fulfilling the calling of being the perfect Son, the son that Israel failed to be, goes into the desert, as Israel did for forty years, and fasts as Moses did for forty days, and yet was entirely and completely without sin—so that in his life, as in his death, he might be the perfect righteousness for us who believe in him.
Jesus was “full of the Holy Spirit” (4:1). We also need to be filled with the Holy Spirit. As Spurgeon once remarked when asked why we need to ask for God’s filling of the Holy Spirit more than once: because I leak. Keep on asking God to fill you with his Spirit that you might be more and more like him and, as Jesus did here, have the power to withstand temptation.
Jesus fasted, and it is appropriate that sometimes his followers would fast—though not for these supernatural lengths of time that Jesus fasted. If you do fast make sure you take medical advice beforehand, and ensure that you return to eating afterwards carefully. Fasting from water is almost never advisable. More practical teaching can be found about fasting by talking with your pastor or elder or Bible study group leader.
Jesus replies to each of the temptations with a similar formula: “It is written.” There is power in God’s Word. When you are tempted, the solution is not simply (as I have heard people say) to look to God, important as that is, or simply to say, “Jesus will get that for me,” as good an idea as it is, of course, to pray for God’s help when you are tempted. The greatest help in temptation is the ability to find, from your memory or if necessary by opening the Bible near at hand, a ready Bible verse that answers the accusation.
Note this is why, among many other reasons, it is important that we study the Bible. The one who gives in to serious temptation is often the person who has given up serious daily study of the Bible. How can you withstand the battle of temptation if you do not know how to employ the sword of the Spirit? Learn how to say “it is written,” and after the formula withdraw from your memory an appropriate quotation.
The temptations themselves are important. First, Jesus is tempted to think that physical sustenance is the meaning of life. How often are we tempted in this regard. When we lose a job or when we become successful in our career, we are tempted to think that life is about money or food. But man does not live by bread alone (4:4) but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. There is living manna in God’s Word.
Then Jesus is tempted by ambition. How often do we face this temptation. If we are not tempted to define our lives by monetary success and material gain, then we are tempted to define our lives by power and achievement, fame and celebrity, and become ambitious to achieve that distinction—sometimes at any cost, as the fable of Faust proves, and as the lives of many of the great and famous with their destroyed families and personal lives suggest. But the price of fame, if it means losing your soul, is not worth it. Jesus gets to the heart of the matter: the only one to be worshipped is God himself and God alone. You shall worship the Lord your God and serve him only (4:8).
Then Jesus is tempted by showy super spirituality. If we are not tempted by money and not tempted by ambition, we can be tempted by a sort of religious fireworks experience or impressiveness towards others that puts us at the center of the stage, and makes God little more than a genie that comes and does what we command. But while there are great promises for the man of faith, and God’s Word is a greatly powerful sword, these gifts are to be used to serve God, and we cannot command God or attempt to twist his arm behind his back by impressive sounding prayers or preaching. All that is to put the Lord God to the test. Serve and let the fruit be what God generates by his own power and according to his own timing.
Would you resist the devil today? If you will, utilizing Scripture, citing “it is written,” employing the sword of the Spirit, the devil will flee from you.
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