A Case Study in Temptation

The Lord's prayer teaches us that we should pray that we be not led into temptation but in the Case of Jesus Christ he was. Matthew tells us that Jesus was "led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil." Why would a merciful Heavenly Father allow His only Son to be faced with such a direct assault by the ancient adversary? The reasons I am sure are many and mostly beyond our understanding, but it is linked to the beginning of His public ministry (see Matt. 3:13-17) as marked by His baptism by John and the marvelous display of the triune God, as God the Son is raised from the waters of the Jordan, the Spirit descends upon Him and the Father speaks from heaven. His temptation also assures us that Jesus knows of our struggle against sin since He was "in all points tempted like as we are yet without sin" Heb. 4:15. However, for our study we are going to learn from our Master as to the tactics and defense of temptation. He provides for us a unique and perfect case study of temptation. Let us consider the spiritual struggle that unfolds before us.

The Obvious Observations

There are many obvious lessons to be learned from this story of temptation, so we will first examine briefly some of these and then zero in on one particular lesson that strikes to the heart of our rapidly eroding world.

Note first of all the time of the temptation. It came when Jesus was both alone and weakened of body after His prolonged fast. Our enemy does not fight fair. He seeks for opportunity when we are the most vulnerable. Let us be aware when we are weak and be on guard for attacks at such times. Also, even though Jesus was alone in the will of God, we more often than not can benefit from the mutual strength and encouragement of those in the body of believers. The local church and our participation in it is vital to our spiritual well being.

Note as well the similar approach here as in the serpent's temptation of Eve and Adam in the Garden in Genesis 3:1-7. Satan is wise enough to know that if something works, keep on doing it. Both in the Garden and in the wilderness he makes a three fold appeal. As I John 2:16 puts it he appeals the "lust of the flesh" (stones into bread), "the lust of the eyes" (kingdoms of world) and "the pride of life" (cast thyself down). See if you can find these same three appeals in Genesis 3. More importantly see if you can find these same three appeals in our past experiences or present state. Be warned the devil daily uses these same three with great effectiveness. Note as well that these three are aspects of fallen humanity and as such are operational even without an active agent of temptation such as a demon or the devil himself. I call you to a keen state of awareness of the inward capacity for all of us to succumb to the temptations that swirl around us and within us.

A Deeper Issue

There is another subtle element to this event and in many ways it is the most helpful for us who need to be strengthen in these dark days at the twilight of the twentieth century. As Jesus embarked upon His public ministry what promises were made to Him and what promise was He trusting in. More than 1000 years before this meeting in the mountains of Judea king David was promised that his kingdom would not end ( II Sam. 7: 16-17). Jesus was also aware of the messianic prophecy, some 700 years before, of Isaiah 9:6-7 that a son would be given and "the government will be upon his shoulders: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David and upon his kingdom to order it and to establish it with judgement and with justice for henceforth for ever. The zeal of the Lord will perform this." Lest there be any doubt as to Jesus being the one to fulfill this kingly role the angel in announcing the birth of Christ to Mary directly stated this truth. "and behold thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son and shalt call his name JESUS. He shall be great, and shall be called the son of the Highest : and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: and he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end" Luke 1:31-33 I would also call to your attention that there was one other person who knew of these promises and this is borne out in the way the tri-fold temptation was framed.

1. The Appeal for Christ to Exercise His Kingly Rights

Satan challenged Christ to prove that He was the Son of God by exercising His kingly ability. There is an appeal here for Jesus to simply make his own situation better by using the power he possessed and exercising the rights the scripture promised that he would have. The appeal is really one in which the end justifies the means. If you can do it and will have the rights to do it; just do it. Jesus quickly countered with scripture as he did at every turn. In quoting Deut. 8:3 He is placing the focus on the supremacy of the Will of God. At this time it was not the Will of the Father that Jesus use His omnipotence to make His earthly sojourn easier. And will not be until after the cross, the grave and resurrection and ultimately until His return to earth as King to exercise such power. Be warned, in God's sight the end does not justify the means.

2. The Appeal for Christ to Prove His Kingly Rights.

The next temptation proves that the Devil knows the scriptures. He quotes from Psalm 91:11-12 as justification for Jesus to take a plunge off a pinnacle of the temple in Jerusalem. The appeal here is to prove His kingly rights by the spectacular sight of the angels bearing up the Son of God in full view of worshippers in the temple. If you are the Son of God why not just prove it and get it over with. It will be proven in the end so take the quick and easy way out. The end justifies the means. Jesus again answers Satan with the Word of God in Deut. 6:16. We are not to put God to the test. We are to trust and obey His will. Be warned, in God's sight the end does not justify the means.

3. The Appeal to the King to Possess His Kingdom

It must have been a spectacular production to show Jesus all the kingdoms of the World and the Glory of them. Remember that all of this was already promised to Jesus. Satan was offering Him what God promised He would have. The only thing that changed was the means to acquire this kingdom. Rather than waiting, rather than the humiliation, the pain, the suffering, the crucifixion you can have it all now. This was a legitimate offer for as the god of this world it was his to offer, all Jesus had to do was worship Satan. It is important to note how much Satan was willing to give up in order to "be like the most High". He is still driven by pride to prove his theory of equality with God. Jesus again unsheathes the Sword of the Spirit and quotes again from Deut. 6. "Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve." Jesus did not bow to taking the easy way out for He clung to the fact that God is God and He alone is worthy of worship. Be warned, in God's sight the end does not justify the means.

Lessons for Us

1. What are some of the areas in which we are tempted to give in to the philosophy that the end justifies the means?

2. In what ways are we tempted to take the easy way out?

3. How can we recognize the appeal to the lust of the Flesh?

4. How can we recognize the appeal to the lust of the Eyes?

5. How can we recognize the appeal to the pride of life?

6. How can we have scripture ready for use when temptation comes?

7. What are some particular situations and some particular scriptures that you have used in your spirtual self-defense?

8. Is it proper for us to say as Jesus did "get thee behind me Satan?"

Jesse Waggoner
Pastor, Calvary Baptist Church

©1997 Calvary Baptist Church