Testing – Matthew 4.1-11
This week we see Jesus taking some time out to prepare for the mission that is His purpose for being on this Earth. Unsurprisingly, Jesus hits some bumps in the road in the form of temptations and attacks from the enemies of God. Jesus
never promises following him will be easy so we can expect there to be bumps in the road for us as well. As we seek God’s will
for Bedhampton no doubt we will come across our own wilderness. So what can we learn from our Lord about how we deal
with those bumps in the road moving forward? That’s this week’s agenda.
Speaking Notes – Caveat
These notes are my speaking notes and are provided as an accompaniment to the recording. Please accept that they are not intended to be a published grammatically correct essay. I do hope and pray however they help you move towards Jesus.
Now onto the content…
When we read the Bible there will be many stories that we read that would be familiar to us. Sometimes to get to a deeper understanding of those truths and to know the meaning behind the surface, do we perhaps need to put to one side our familiarity with the story? I think there are days when we do need to do that.
Today is one of those days. Today we are going to see a very human Jesus. Jesus is fully God, yes, but He was also fully human, and today we very much see the fully human Jesus reliant on his Father God in the wilderness.
But there is another issue. Jesus being tempted in the wilderness is such a familiar story that the moment we hear it, images rush through our mind. It might be images of a Jesus’ blue eyes and blonde hair blowing in the wind, hovering two inches above the sand whilst opposite him stands the satan. Satan who is, of course, a grotesque half humanoid figure red in colour and with wings, claws and horns.
The problem is that no-where in the Bible does that description of the satan appear. That image is one that derives from medieval historic art and Dante’s Inferno rather than the truth of the Bible. This issue is that an image of cartoon evil is one that produces such ridicule in today’s age that we simply dismiss it as a joke and move on. We move on and miss the very real truth that the satan, the devil if you will, is very real in our world today and evil masquerades in plain sight.
How evil impacts our world today is a topic for another time, but I would say to you if you wish to deny the existence of darkness of evil take a look around the world and at our recent history. However, the main reason I wanted to acknowledge that we misunderstand how evil looks is so we might put behind us our misconceptions as we look today at how Jesus deals with the presence of evil in this world.
So let’s begin that by noticing a few things about what Matthew includes in his version of Jesus in the wilderness.
Firstly this is one of those few moments in the Gospels that we see Jesus is on his own, there are no eyewitnesses. That fact that we specifically see this story in Matthews, Mark and Lukes Gospel and that there are allusions to it in John Gospel means Jesus must have specifically shared this wisdom with His disciples. No one else was there and yet we know of it. It is a message Jesus wanted us to take note off.
Then there is the word translated into our Bibles as ‘temptation’. In all three of the Gospels that have the story in them this word that is translated temptation is the Greek word Peirazo (pi-rad-so). This is nearly always translated in different translations of the Bible, in this story of Jesus in the wilderness as the fact he was tempted. But the same word is used elsewhere and translated as tested.
The Pharisees and Sadducees came to Jesus and tested him by asking him to show them a sign from heaven.
Matthew 16.1 (NIVUK)
In my reading and investigation, it is suggested that tested is perhaps a better word for our modern English language. In many ways, it might be a little pedantic but maybe hold that in the back of your mind that Jesus is being tested by the enemy before he launches into His ministry. You might want to particularly remember that as we notice the next two parallels of Jesus.
Here the Son of God’s is tested in the wilderness. You might be aware that part of Matthew’s desire in his gospel is to show that Jesus is the new Moses and is brought here to complete the story of Gods people Israel. There is little doubt there are parallels with Jesus forty days int he wilderness and Israel forty years in the wilderness. Parallel one.
And then there is the original Son of man, Adam. Tested by satan evil itself. Parallel two.
A Son of God, Adam tested and found wanting. He Failed to be all God would have him be.
A Son of God, Moses and God’s people tested and found wanting. They failed to be all God would have them be.
And now we have The Son of God Jesus tested and passing. Jesus the personification of all God would have us be.
So with all, that as background let us look at the testing of Jesus and in particular the three tactics that the satan uses to test Jesus.
Tactic 1 – Identity
The tempter came to him and said, ‘If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.’
Matthew 4.3 (NIVUK)
So tactic one and the satan is straight into attacking the very core of who Jesus is. Did you notice the very first words? If!
‘If you are the Son of God’.
“Are you really the Son of God Jesus? Would God leave your hungry in the wilderness if you really were the Son of God?” And yet there are only two verses separating this statement from God Himself declaring.
‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.’
Matthew 3.17b (NIVUK)
- Chapter 3.17 Jesus is the Son of God.
- Chapter 4.1 God’s Spirit leads Jesus into the wilderness.
- Chapter 4.2 Jesus fasts for forty days.
- Chapter 4.3 The satan challenges the identity of Jesus.
“This is my child.” How many times does someone like me stand up here and declare scripture over you? How many times does someone like me stand here and say, “you are the beloved daughter, you are the beloved son of your Father God who loves you beyond measure?”
The Father has only just said this is my son and within a day or two the evil within this world is implanting within the mind of Jesus doubts about that. How many times do you leave this place in the full knowledge that you are the son, the daughter of a God who loves you only to find that by Tuesday the circumstances that take place in your life have convinced you to question your identity? “You a child of God? How can that be possible?” The evil. “You with the way you just got angry at the shop attendant, with the thoughts that run through your mind how could you with your circumstances possibly be a child of God?”
The lies creep in and overwhelm the truth if we let them. That’s is what happens if we don’t embed in us the truth that we are God’s. That needs to be the core of who we are and at the heart of our being. Jesus response demonstrates one way that we might more clearly remember that.
…“Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”’
Deuteronomy 8.3 (NIVUK)
Jesus quotes scripture at the satan. Is He hungry? Of course, He is hungry, that is His current circumstance. Does He need bread? Of course, he needs bread. But Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy reading.
Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years… [he goes on] ...then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.
Deuteronomy 8.2-3 (NIVUK)
Jesus circumstances were not his identity. He is the beloved Son of God, and God loves Him so much that He would provide not only food but all He needs to be fully who he was supposed to be.
When we face the time of trial when we have our identity as children of God questioned in our minds and by the evil that walks this world that is the time that we need to know our Bible. Is the tactical response that we need to be familiar with the promises that are held in this book. That we are truly children of God and He provides all we need to be fully human, to be fully His child.
Tactic 2 – Distortion
For tactic two the satan recognises the use of scripture.
Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the highest point of the temple. ‘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.”’
Matthew 4.5-6 (NIVUK)
Tactic two is a distortion of the truth once again, but this time it relates to the very scripture that I have just suggested you become familiar with.
The satan is twisting Psalm 91. If you are the Son of God, there it is again with the whole identity thing. “If you are the son of God through yourself down. If He really loves He will catch you.” Have you ever heard those voices? “If God is real why did he allow the person you loved to die? If you are a child of God why do things go wrong for you? Come on call upon your God to save you.”
It is a twisting of Psalm 91 which is about protection in troubles, not that we seek out troubles and expect God to rescue us,
9 If you say, ‘The Lord is my refuge,’ and you make the Most High your dwelling, 10 no harm will overtake you, no disaster will come near your tent. 11 For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; 12 they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone. 13 You will tread on the lion and the cobra; you will trample the great lion and the serpent. 14 ‘Because he loves me,’ says the Lord, ‘I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name. 15 He will call on me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honour him. 16 With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation.’
Psalm 91.9-16 (NIVUK)
God is not some sort of genie in the lamp who brings those of us who call ourselves Jesus’ apprentices protection and good luck. No Psalm 91 reminds us that when we walk a life that comes under the banner of God he affords us protection. Not that things might not go wrong, but that ultimately the Battle is won already.
Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’
Psalm 91.1-2 (NIVUK)
Jesus response is swift if the satan thinks he can use our scriptures to distort the truth he is wrong. Deuteronomy 6.16.
‘It is also written. “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”’
Deuteronomy 6.16 (NIVUK)
Jesus counteracts the satan and reminds it that the Son trusts the father He doesn’t test the father.
When the worlds telling you and I that we can’t believe the promises what do we do? “Look around” the world might say, “what a mess, how can your God possibly be in control?” Do we know our Bible, do we know the promises. Can we say we trust the Father as Jesus did?
Is that our tactical response when we are put to the test?
Tactic 3 – Distraction
The satan’s last tactic is a tactic of distraction.
...the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour. ‘All this I will give you,’ he said, ‘if you will bow down and worship me.’
Matthew 4.8-9 (NIVUK)
Look, Jesus, if you worship me you can have all this. All you have to do is put me before your Father, what harm is there in that. All you have to do is worship evil. The irony of the satan offering Jesus what is already His in order that He might fall for the deceit is beyond ridiculous.
Indeed other commentators have suggested that the satan has completely overplayed its hand at this point, and this is evils one last-ditch attempt to stop the mission of Jesus. The commentators suggest that this is a crazy tactic. And it may well be with this particular situation. With Jesus in the wilderness.
But as I prepared and prayed I was drawn to the parallel of this last tactic to my previous life, which in itself is a parallel to many other lives in our modern age. The tactic of distraction by the satan is rife within our world and in some of our lives.
- Look here come and worship at the altar of the bigger house and you can have all you desire.
- Look here come and worship at the altar of a great body, wonderful sex and you can have all you desire.
- Look here come and worship at the altar of.
- Caribbean Holidays,
- and you can have all you desire.
“Look here”, says the satan “worship me and you can have all you desire”, and Jesus’ response is clear.
‘Away from me, Satan!’
And then he quotes from Deuteronomy 6.13,
“Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.”’
Jesus response is that He is a child of God and called to worship only the Father Himself.
But just before he quotes scripture one more time at the satan, we hear those simple but emotion-filled words.
‘Away from me, Satan!’
I wonder if Jesus sees the deep attraction to power and fame and wants to stop playing the words games and kill this one where it stands. Does Jesus see the evil distracting Him from His mission and feel the anger rise up in Him? Is that what brings out the emotion.
Jesus will go on to be tested by many, including the Pharisees, but he does not get emotional with those testing him very often.
But there is a least one other time.
Let us take a diversion and jump forward a couple of years.
13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say the Son of Man is?’ 14 They replied, ‘Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ 15 ‘But what about you?’ he asked. ‘Who do you say I am?’ 16 Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ 17 Jesus replied, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.
Matthew 16.13-17 (NIVUK)
“Yes, Peter, you are correct that is the will of the Father that is the mission of Jesus that He is the Messiah. The rescuer, the one for all mankind. Full marks Peter goto the top of the class.” However, we know what happens next don’t we? Just a few verses later.
21 From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. 22 Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. ‘Never, Lord!’ he said. ‘This shall never happen to you!’ 23 Jesus turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan!...’
Matthew 16.21-23a (NIVUK)
The moment Peter denies the fulfilment of the will of the Father in Jesus’ life there is a sudden flood of emotion. I wonder if the greatest evil might be the evil that distracts us from fulfilling the will of God in our lives? Whether that is mortgages or cars or social media
The Big Idea
For me, the fact that this story is given to us is because Jesus wanted us to know that it is a call to action. That is the big idea.
It is clear that we will all be tested and tempted at some point. Some people use the word HALT to remember when we are most vulnerable to temptation and testing. HALT Hungry, Angry, Lonely Tired. Like the satan came to Jesus when he was hungry and tired, we too find ourselves most vulnerable when we are Hungry, Angry, Lonely Tired.
The call to action is that we need to have prepared for those times and we are called to do so, to prepare and to respond.
We discover our first call, I believe when we see the clear use of scripture by Jesus to battle evil. It is a call for all of us to delve more deeply into this treasure trove of wisdom, guidance, promises and love. That my friends is a wake call to all of us.
Secondly, there is a call to identify. The clear understanding Jesus has of who he is. His identity as the Son of God. How truly assured are you that you are a child of God. Above all else, your identity is in your Father God. Your not a father, a mother, a banker, a mechanic. You are a child of God. How settled is that in who you are.
And I would have stopped there except when God’s Holy Spirit nudges we must respond.
And I believe that at this time there is call not to be distracted. Who amongst us not wandered away from the path God has for us and been distracted by what the world has to offer?
I truly believe that worship of the world makes our Father weep, and I know that I have been there, and in truth at times still am.
But I wonder if there are people amongst us who have been called to something and wandered away from it. Perhaps there are people amongst us who know they are called to live their life one way but are not doing that. Perhaps there are people who are ready to make a change. To:
“Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.”’
Who are ready to say.
‘Away from me, Satan!’
I wonder if that is you?