Sunday August 4, 2019 | Dan Kent
Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand 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.’” Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’” Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.
In this week’s message, Dan continues our look at the biblical narrative themes of covenant and kingdom in the story of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. After his baptism and before the start of his ministry, Jesus was tempted in three very important ways by Satan. In this message we learn how Jesus inserts himself in to the biblical narrative and seeks to fulfill the promises and potential of old testament characters like Israel, Adam & Eve, and King David.
Matthew 4 focuses on the temptation of Jesus by Satan in the wilderness. It’s important to take scripture seriously when discussing the character of Satan and not fall in to the popular culture’s caricature version of him that has been created. Satan seeks to steal, kill, and destroy. Lying and deceiving is his native tongue. The temptation story follows directly after Jesus’ baptism where God has confirmed Jesus’ identity and worth. Jesus goes through three different temptations that are important representations of threes ways in which God’s people failed to keep covenant in the Old Testament.
The first lens to see the temptation story through is Jesus as the new Israel. We learn in the Old Testament that although God saw Israel as his child and desired a faithful relationship with her, Israel was unfaithful. Just as with Israel, Jesus was called out of Egypt (family’s exile vs. slavery), passed through water (baptism vs. Red Sea crossing), and was tested in the wilderness (40 days vs. 40 years). But unlike Israel, Jesus proves faithful. When tempted he even quotes from the very passage in Deuteronomy related to Israel’s failing. Satan always tempts us with good ideas, but Jesus sees through his deceit and cuts to the heart of the issue not allowing his cravings to sabotage his calling. Pleasure is not the enemy, but it is also not the hero. What God desires from us is the establishing and building up of self-control in our character, so we can withstand the temptations of the enemy.
Jesus is taking on a second roll in this story as he becomes the new Adam and Eve. In Genesis they rejected covenant with God by choosing disobedience and selfishness. Based on the world God has created, there are many reasons why suffering exists, but the point of Jesus is to reveal God’s desire to reverse the suffering through his obedience. In the same way we still experience the curse of Adam and Eve’s disobedience, scripture tells us we will experience the blessing of Jesus’ obedience. It goes so far as to say that the present sufferings will not even compare to the coming blessings and glory as God makes things right through Jesus’ faithfulness.
Satan questions Jesus’ identity that God has just established at his baptism. He tempts Jesus to put God to the test so he can be certain. This false idol of certainty has tripped up many believers. By making certainty an obstacle God has to climb over to prove himself to us, we end up becoming very good skeptics to avoid transformation and change. But God has already called us and made himself known. Certainty does not compel obedience. Assuredness of our relationship with God and his goodness grows out of obedience.
The third and final lens to see the temptation story through is Jesus as the new King David. One of the primary roles of a king in a kingdom is to identify the enemy. Jesus does this by identifying Satan as antithetical to the Kingdom of God. In fact, in 1 John 3:8 Paul says the whole reason Jesus came was to destroy the devil and his works. Paul goes on elsewhere to remind us that our battle is not against flesh and blood. If it’s got flesh and blood, it’s not our enemy but rather someone worth fighting for. Jesus says you can tell who is in his kingdom by how they love one another, even their enemies. We don’t represent the people we have power over, but rather the people we serve. Jesus set that example as a good King who represents who he serves. He turns down the offer to have all the kingdoms of the world because for him the means of how he gets there is just as important as the ends to where he’s going and what he’s establishing.