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A Journey Through Matthew (Pt. 3)

Updated: Mar 31


Homer’s Odyssey is a poem believed to have been written near the end of the 8th Century B.C.  The Odyssey is the sequel to Homer’s poem The Iliad, which chronicled a few weeks of the Trojan War.  The Odyssey centers on the Greek hero Odysseus and his journey home after the fall of Troy. His journey takes ten years to reach Ithaca (his home) after the ten-year Trojan War.  Throughout the story, the hero encounters many dangers, pitfalls, and mythological creatures.  One story that stands out to me is Odysseus’s encounter with the Sirens.  

 

On his journey, Odysseus is warned by Circe (a minor goddess of magic) about encountering the Sirens, these are mythological creatures that are half female and half bird who are “enchanters of all mankind and whoever comes their way; and that man who unsuspecting approaches them, and listens to the Sirens singing, has no prospect of coming home and delighting his wife and little children as they stand about him in greeting, but the Sirens by the melody of their singing enchant him.”  They are known for their enticing song that lures men on ships passing by as they are engrossed with these creatures.  In their enchanted state, men either plunge to their death trying to reach them or their song so tempts them they forget about everything such as eating, drinking, and manning the ship.  Ultimately, in Greek mythology, if one faces the Sirens, one is almost certain of death.

 

Circe instructs him to get beeswax for all the shipmates and plug their ears so they cannot hear the luring voices.  She then tells Odysseus to have the men bind his hands and feet so as the ship approaches, he cannot be physically tempted away.  As the ship draws near, the bound Odysseus screams to his men to set him free so he can go to these beautiful creatures, but they only reinforce his ropes the more he screams, thus overcoming the tempting song of the Sirens and continuing his journey home.

 

The story of temptation is age-old and one that, I believe, resonates with us all.  We see this in today’s passage that even the Messiah, Jesus Christ, faced temptation and he was victorious, thus giving us a great model for us today in facing temptation.

 

In the Desert

After the Jesus’ baptism, we read that the Spirit of God led Jesus into the desert to be tempted by the devil. It is in the desert where Jesus begins his earthly ministry and is the place of the first showdown between competing rulers of two very different kingdoms, but both are vying for the hearts and souls of humanity.  This was not a meeting of happenstance but one orchestrated by God. The Spirit leads Jesus to the wilderness, and we will see throughout his public ministry Jesus will get away from the masses to be alone with God and prepare for a momentous event. It was here that Jesus fasted for forty days and forty nights, and naturally, Jesus was hungry. Fasting was a routine to focus on prayer and discipline by uniting the body and soul.  It was a time of connecting with God and preparing for something significant. In this instance, Jesus is readying himself for his public ministry. However, Matthew informs us that Jesus is not only going to the desert to fast and prepare for his ministry but also to engage the enemy.

 

Now, in this account, Matthew gives us some insights as to what is going on in the first two verses.

  1. Jesus is Spirit-led.  The Spirit came upon him at his baptism, and now the Spirit leads him to the desert.

  2. The devil is the real adversary. In this encounter, even though God is leading Jesus to the wilderness through the Holy Spirit to be tempted, it is the devil, not God, who is doing the tempting. The real enemy is the devil. The enemy is slick and crafty and he will try to sidetrack Jesus through a variety of temptations. This is usually how temptation works.  

 

It is important, now, for us to distinguish between a test and a temptation. A temptation is an enticement to get someone to go against God’s will, and this is what the devil tries to do.  On the other hand, a “test” is a means to get a person to prove one’s faithfulness to God and his will. It is very important for us to understand that God does not tempt anyone to sin. James writes in his epistle that when one is confronted with temptation, one must understand that God is not the source of temptation. He writes in 1:13, “God is never tempted to do wrong, and he never tempts anyone else.”  He does allow tests and trials that could lead to someone being tempted to sin, but he is never the source of temptation to sin.  According to Bible scholar and commentator Douglas Moo, “For every trial brings temptation.  Financial difficulty can tempt us to question God’s providence in our lives.  The death of a loved one can tempt us to question God’s love for us.  The suffering of the righteous poor and the ease of the wicked rich can tempt us to question God’s justice or even his existence.  Thus, testing always includes temptation, and temptation itself is a test… But while God may test or prove his servants in order to strengthen their faith, he never seeks to induce sin and destroy their faith.”[1] Tempting and testing are flip sides of the same coin.  In this instance, the devil is tempting Jesus to go against the Father’s will, but in the same regard, the Father uses or allows Satan’s temptation for a good thing in strengthening Jesus for his messianic role. So, at the end of the day, Satan does not act independently of God. God is in control of both the tempter (the devil) and the circumstances (temptations). Thus, the temptation is intended by the devil to cause Jesus to go against the Father, but instead, God uses the temptation to establish Jesus in the Father’s will. 

 

This temptation encounter establishes two accomplishments of Jesus over the devil.

  1. This encounter sees Jesus fulfilling what Adam failed to do.  Adam succumbed to temptation, and this led to death. Jesus’ overcoming temptation led to him being enabled to make an atonement for his people and give life.

  2. This encounter confirms Jesus’ identity and mission as the Son of God.  Satan tries to interfere and ruin God’s plan of redemption by disqualifying Jesus as the sinless and victorious Savior but fails to accomplish this plan.

The Temptation of Jesus

The devil approaches Jesus three times, and all three times he thwarts those temptations. We should note when and how the devil tempts Jesus.  We see the devil approaching Jesus after forty days. 


Jesus was tired, hungry, and vulnerable, but the Spirit was upon him. This is how the devil works.  The devil utilizes situations where individuals are at their lowest point. Giving in to temptation often happens when one is either tired, vulnerable, hungry, or feeling worthless or useless. He capitalizes on these situations. Think about this in your life. When are you most susceptible to sin? Yet, the key to all of this is the Holy Spirit empowered Jesus. This is important for us as well.  We need to be Spirit-led and Spirit-empowered people in order to resist temptation.

 

Temptation 1

 “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become loaves of bread.” 

At Jesus’ baptism God spoke and confirmed the identity of Jesus Christ as “My son…”. The devil does not doubt Jesus’ identity, nor is he necessarily trying to get Jesus to doubt it, instead he is tempting Jesus to misuse his privilege as God’s Son.  Jesus has the power to perform this miracle, because he does such a miracle in multiplying the fishes and the loaves, but it’s not God’s will that he should perform this miracle.  The temptation is to try to get Jesus to go contrary to God’s will.   Jesus responds by quoting Deuteronomy 8:3 where Moses reminds the people of Israel that God had led them to the desert to humble and test them.  One test was through hunger.  The people complained of hunger and God provided manna.  The point of the test was to teach them the importance of God’s promises and provision. In this temptation of the devil Jesus speaks that he will trust what the Father has willed for him. He maintains the essence of life is God’s Word (promises).

 

Temptation 2

“If you are the Son of God, jump off! For the Scriptures say, ‘He will order his angels to protect you. And they will hold you up with their hands so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.’ ”

Again, Jesus can do as the devil says, because later in Matthew Jesus informs his accusers that he can call on the Father to rescue him by sending angels (Matthew 26:53).  Yet, the O.T. (and the N.T. for that matter) does not imply that God will send protecting care during harmful situations. Here the Devil is trying to get Jesus to test his Father by putting himself in harm’s way. Ultimately, the Devil is tempting Jesus to prove that the Father really does love Him. As stated already, the Father has declared His love for the Son so no further confirmation is needed. Once again, Jesus refutes the temptation by quoting from Deuteronomy (6:16) “You must not test the LORD your God.”

 

Temptation 3

“I will give it all to you,” he said, “if you will kneel down and worship me.”  

The kingdoms that the devil speaks about to Jesus are the very ones he laid aside his glory and came to gather the nations into the Kingdom of God. However, before he can be enthroned as king, He must face Calvary and here the devil is offering Jesus an easier solution.  This would require Jesus giving up the will of God and worshiping the devil. The will of God is the cross of Calvary and the devil tries to distract him from this mission. Jesus vigorously proclaims, “Get out of here, Satan,” “For the Scriptures say, ‘You must worship the LORD your God and serve only him.’” (Deut. 6:13).

This is the key point of Jesus; God alone is worthy of worship.

 

The Outcome 

  1. Immediately the devil went away.  This was the first of many attacks and it establishes the standard for his and all spiritual warfare.

  2. The angels came and took care of Jesus. The angels came and attended to Jesus’ physical needs after his fasting.

 

Conclusion

The temptation of Jesus shows that Jesus succeeded where Adam and Eve failed, and his example can show us how we can succeed in our temptations.

  1. Resist the devil.  When faced with temptation the victory starts with saying, “No!”

  2. In the power of the Holy Spirit.  We cannot resist the devil in our own strength, our power must come from the Holy Spirit.

  3. Through the Word of God. The Bible shows us the truth in life in contrast to the lies of the world, flesh, and the devil.

  4. Knowing the will of God. When we know God’s Word then we will be able to discern his will for our lives and not be tempted to deviate from his will.


So, when faced with temptation it would serve us well to start with these questions, “Is this what God wants for me? Can I do this and truly love God and delight in him?” If the answer is “no” then it is imperative to resist the temptation to go against God’s will and plan for you.  The honest truth is, that not all temptations are inherently evil but rather something that is good but used for the wrong reasons. The nature of temptation is that it can be subtly a good thing but perverting it for bad use. Thus, the final consideration for us all is determining what God wants for you in the situation you are in? Remember when facing temptation to use 1 Corinthians 10:13 as a guideline, “The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.” In this we can draw on all of God’s resources to gain victory over temptation in our lives. Being tempted is not a sin. Yielding to the temptation is when it becomes a sin. Consider this for your life today, temptation in the hands of Satan can become a test in the hands of God.  He can and will use temptation as a test and strength to our character and relationship to him. 

 

 


[1] Moo, Douglas: The Letter of James. Grand Rapids, MI/Cambridge UK:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2000, p. 72, 73

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