Reading: Matthew 4:1-11 (cf. Luke 4)
God’s intent for us is not to be self-centered, self-sufficient or self-reliant but to depend on him throughout life. Life is about developing our relationship with him and not about fame, power, fortune or anything else that takes our focus away from God. Remember all Satan’s temptations are to take you away from God. He does so because he hates God and his kingdom. The story of the temptations of Jesus begins immediately after his baptism and at the start of his ministry- at a very important time in his life. So little said after Christ’s birth up to this point; only a handful of verses. There were actually four temptations Jesus had to face but first let's consider a few things:
1. Recognise that you have an enemy
Satan (whose name means adversary) is God’s enemy; is the enemy of Jesus; and his purpose is to thwart or destroy God plans, purposes and creation (incl. all mankind). As Christians, belonging to the kingdom of God, Satan especially hates you for God’s sake. He will use any and all means in an attempt to destroy your life: "The thief comes only to kill, steal and destroy" (John 10 v10). "He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of all lies" (John 8 v 44.) Read also Ephesians 6 v10 - 18 – we have weapons for our spiritual warfare with Satan, the world and the flesh nature.
2. Christ’s temptations are a blueprint for all Christians in their victory over Satan
Satan wants to trip you up from the word ‘go’; he is pre-emptive in his attack. Here are some examples in the Bible are:
Satan also wants to trip you up after great spiritual blessing. In this case after his Father’s affirmation of him at his baptism. Note how soon after Satan attacks that affirmation from God & how. He's says to Jesus; “if you are the Son of God.” Satan will attack you before or immediately after great blessings from God in your life as this story illustrates clearly. Another example of this in found in the story of Elijah. Elijah’s great spiritual victory on Mt Carmel was followed swiftly by Jezebel’s fiery darts out the blue which effected Elijah.
Satan will also attack you where & when you are most vulnerable (v2). In this case Jesus was weak, hungry and in need of sustenance. Satan knows your weaknesses and will exploit them so don’t give him a foothold in your life. He will attack you when you least expect it, at an inconvenient time or when you are either physically, mentally, emotionally or spiritually at your weakest. The temptations that Satan offered to Jesus are the same strategies he uses the world over today and to devastating effect. So let’s learn from them to avoid the enemy’s pitfalls.
The necessity of temptation/suffering
The Bible links temptation with suffering as these following verses from Hebrews 2:17-18 demonstrate; "Therefore, in all things He (Jesus) had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted"
In verse one of Matthews account of Jesus' temptations it says he was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted (by Satan to sin) against the Father. In our eyes, that seems a strange thing for the Spirit of God to do but the Father had a purpose in mind.
Note what Hebrews 5:7-9 says about the purpose of temptation/sufferings of Christ – he learnt obedience – ‘who, in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death, and was heard because of His godly fear, though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered. And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him’. The perfection of Jesus’ character, learning obedience. It’s easy to obey a command of God that poses no difficulty to us, but how easy is it to obey a command we are tempted to break? That’s when obedience is truly tested and learnt. If it was necessary for Jesus to be temptedin this way suely it is necessary for his followers also so we become like him in obedience.
Dependence and trust upon God
Another purpose for temptation/suffering is for us to learn how to depend on the goodness/faithfulness of God. we will see this in the life of Jesus as he prevailed over his trials.
Reflecting the nature & glory of God
Furthermore, temptations/sufferings give us the opportunity to somehow reflect the nature of God. Scriptures that would indicate this are 1 Peter 2: 18 – 24 and 1 Peter 4: 12 -16, James 1, Matthew 5: 43 - 48.
Perfection and molding of character
A further purpose for temptations/suffering is to perfect/mould our character (James 1 and Romans 5: 3 – 5) – ‘perseverance, patience, character and hope.’ Think of Abraham, Joseph, Moses, David, Job, the apostles and Paul. Didn't their trials polish the rough edges of their characters & help accomplish God's purpose for & through them?
It's also important to note that there is a reward for those who resist temptation (Matthew 5: 11 – 12, Job 42, Genesis 50: 19 - 21). Resisting it & remaining faithful to God is worth it.
By Mark Horgan. Mark works for the Mayo County Council in their Westport office & is also an Elder in Amazing Grace.