Matthew 4:1-11: Temptation
January 7, 2021
TODAY'S BIBLE READING:
Jesus’ temptation functions at two levels for us. First, it tells us that Jesus was tempted in every way as we are—yet without sin—and so encourages us that he is able to empathize with our weakness (Hebrews 4:15); that no temptation has seized us except that which is common to man, and God will provide a way out so that we can stand up under it (1 Cor. 10:13); and that if we (in Christ’s power) resist the devil he will flee from us (James 4:7). It also tells us that Jesus, unlike Israel, was faithful in the wilderness, did not give in to temptation, and so Jesus is able to be our perfect righteousness and “fulfill all righteousness” (as Jesus had said in Matthew 3:15). In this devotional I am going to focus on the first of the two themes, and at the more practical level.
Note then, from Jesus’ example, the following principles about temptation and resisting temptation. Oscar Wilde once joked “I can resist everything except temptation,” but the Christian can resist temptation by following Jesus’ example.
First, note the strategy the devil employs:
1) He quotes Scripture! The devil is well aware that the battleground for our minds and hearts is often in the right or wrong approach to Scripture, to undermining its authority or twisting its interpretation. It is important then that we watch our life and doctrine carefully so that we can save ourselves and our hearers.
2) He attacks the core identity of Christ. Are you really the Son of God? To us, he might instead question our identity as children of God, our status and standing with God. This twofold pattern is a version of his strategy in Genesis chapter 3: he questions what God has said (in the Garden of Eden in what had been directly communicated to Adam and Eve, and now in the Bible); he questions whether who we are is really who we are, and whether that is genuinely good or not (in the Garden of Eden with the goodness of God’s commands and therefore their status as valued and loved by God, and here with Jesus’ identity as Son of God, and often with our identity as children of God or loved by God).
3) He pretends to offer us what we really want, or what we really are made to have, but in a perverted form. Here he offers Jesus the kingdom, the kingdom that is his anyway and will be won by him through his death and resurrection. Often he offers us a perverted form of the good inheritance that God would give us, in the right time and in the right place. Shortcuts of this sort normally involve moral compromise and are the high road to the lower regions of hell.
Second, note how Jesus responds.
1) He does not debate with the devil. What a mistake Eve made in that regard in the Garden of Eden. But Jesus does get into conversation with the devil.
2) He quotes directly from the Bible in reply. Of course that means knowing the Bible. Which means reading the Bible. The sword of the Spirit, the Word of God, must be in our minds in order to be ready in our hands to speak when we most need it.
3) He resists the devil. “Be gone!” (4:10). We too can resist the devil and he will flee from us because of Christ and who we are in Christ.
In summary, then, when tempted (as we all are), follow Christ’s example.
#1 Don’t discuss the matter with the devil.
#2 Quote directly from the Bible.
#3 Tell the devil to get lost.
Perhaps a final word from Martin Luther. He would say if the devil will not respond to the Bible, try humor. The devil cannot stand being laughed at. He is defeated. And when you resist him, he will flee from you—and then return again to tempt you. So watch and pray (Matthew 26:41).
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Josh Moody (Ph.D., University of Cambridge) is the senior pastor of College Church in Wheaton, IL., president and founder of God Centered Life Ministries, and author of several books including How the Bible Can Change Your Life and John 1-12 For You.
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