Study Guide: The Temptation and Testing Trilogy

Tuesday February 25, 2014 | Vanessa Williams

Focus Scripture:

Brief Summary:

In order to understand Jesus’ temptation in Matthew 4, we have to look back to the stories of temptation and testing that preceded it. In this sermon, Vanessa Williams shares with us how we can stand strong during these times.

Extended Summary:

The temptation of Jesus in Matthew 4 can really only be understood when we know why it was included in the book of Matthew. The author was continuing the story of temptation and testing that had been prevalent throughout the Old Testament. In fact, Jesus is the continuation of a trilogy of testing and temptation throughout the OT.

The first story begins in the Garden of Eden, where Adam and Eve were created and everything was good. God told Adam and Eve to not eat of the tree of knowledge of Good and Evil or they would die. Satan comes along and tempts them to eat from the tree, and Satan calls into question God’s character. Adam and Eve fell to that temptation by deciding that they knew better than God.

The second story in this trilogy is the people of Israel. God decides that he won’t throw away his creation, and he instead chooses a single family to become the beginning of his people in this world. These people eventually fell into slavery in Egypt, and this begins the time of testing for them.

God eventually sends Moses to free the Israelites. In the desert for 40 days, the Israelites’ hearts are tested. Instead of choosing to trust the God who freed them, they turned to idols and the things they thought were best. Because of this, they were unable to enter the Promised Land and instead spent 40 years in the desert.

Jesus becomes the continuation of this story of temptation and testing. He is tested in the same things that Adam and Eve and the Israelites were tested. Just like Israel, he was led into the desert for 40 days. And, just like Adam and Eve, he was tempted with food. Satan even used scripture to try and change Jesus, but Jesus refuted Satan’s exegesis. Instead of bowing down and succumbing to temptation, Jesus withstood the test and chose God’s promises.

This story of temptation and testing continues today. We face these things whether we like it or not. However, we can prepare for temptation and testing by being faithful to God. There are many ways to do this, but two come to mind.

First, we must remember God’s past work with us. It’s difficult to make good choices in the present without knowing about the past in the situation. And this is true for any decision. To know God’s past work, we must read the Bible. But the Bible can be boring. “How to read the Bible book by book” is a good choice for reading the Bible and not becoming bored. It can help shed light on the context of the story.

Second, we need to be obedient in the present. We need to frame it by God’s character, and that we are obedient to the One who created us and wants the best for us. We are called to love God with all our heart, mind, strength and soul. Handing something over to God is handing something to the God who loves us and not a tyrant. Asking for God’s perspective is important when we do this. If we simply lean on our own understanding, we will fall to the trappings of Satan.

We are like athletes when we build up our faith muscles. When we do this, we can say to Satan, like Jesus, it’s time you go. It’s important that we work on being faithful because temptations and tests will come when we least expect them. It’s important to always be ready and be faithful to God.

Reflection Questions:

  1. What additional questions and comments did you have about the sermon and supporting texts?
  2. How have you understood Jesus’ temptation before this sermon? Did it change your understanding at all?
  3. What temptations and tests do you have in your life?
  4. In what ways have you dealt with those?
  5. How might remembering the past and being obedient in the present help you in dealing with these? How would you start living differently in order to be faithful?