Jesus Resists Temptation as Redeemer and Example
Rev. Charles Westby, Pastor
Matthew 4:1-11
March 01, 2020

We see Jesus today is engaged in a cosmic, spiritual battle (Mat. 4:1-11). He is battling with the deceiver of the whole word, the devil and Satan, the ancient serpent that tempted Adam and Eve, as the Apostle John says in Revelation. (Rev. 12:9 ESV). The devil is “the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience,” as the Apostle Paul says (Eph. 2:2 ESV). The Holy Spirit also tells us through Paul that “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the . . . cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12 ESV). 

Elsewhere, Jesus describes the devil as a murderer from the beginning and a liar and the father of lies; when he lies he speaks out of his own character (John 8:44).

We could summarize the teaching of Scripture regarding the character of the devil and all fallen spirits that followed him in his fall like this. He hates God. He is supremely arrogant. His is a liar. He is a murderer. He hates God’s creation, particularly us human beings. He wants to turn God against us and us against God. He delights in seeing God’s wrath imposed on us. He also delights in seeing human beings inflict violence and cruelty on each other. He takes great pleasure when the stronger inflict violence on the weaker, and on the defenseless and on children.

And if the devil can get human beings to do such things in the name of God, or in the name of justice and right, all the better, because then he can get human beings to do awful things in the name of the highest good and under the color of law.

But maybe this talk about the devil is a non-starter for an enlightened and rational society. The devil and evil spirits? That is just superstition. We left all that superstition behind us in the darkness of the middle ages. So goes our modern narrative.

But then look at what human beings have done to each other in the modern age. Where did we learn to do such things? How do we explain the most horrific things humans have done to humans, where we are otherwise in utter shock and dismay about it—where such action betrays what it means to be human even on rational terms? Again we can ask: how did human beings learn to do such things?

C.S. Lewis wrote an interesting little book in the 1940s. He called it “The Screwtape Letters.” The subtitle is “How a Senior Devil Instructs a Junior Devil in the Art of Temptation.” In his preface to this book, Lewis writes: “There are two equal and opposite errors into which [human beings] can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. [The devils] themselves are equally pleased by both errors, and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight” (p. 3). We are concerned realistically, not excessively, about what the Scripture teaches about the devil and temptation. 

In any event, Jesus engages the devil in battle. He does so as our Redeemer and our example. He does so as our redeemer because we need Jesus to defeat the devil for us. He does so as our example because we need Jesus to show us the way of defeating the devil, since we too as Christians are engaged in this battle and called to the fight.

Jesus as redeemer means this. He takes on the devil and remains faithful and wins where Adam and Eve, and all of us humans as their children, have failed. Jesus, the Second Adam, engages the devil and wins. Jesus the Second Adam did not fail. This is His active righteousness in our place. God gives His victory to us. As we take refuge in Him, we also have His victory. This is all by grace as gift. It is the gift we so sorely need and which God is delighted to give.

As Jesus defeats the devil for our sake, He is also example for us. We are also called to the fight. In fact, the devil will bring the fight to us.

Jesus was baptized. In His baptism, He received the Holy Spirit and was called Son of God. Immediately, the Spirit led Him to the fight with the devil. So we too are given the Holy Spirit in baptism and called child of God. So too we are now engaged in this spiritual battle. Jesus shows us how to fight.

Let us look at the temptations. Jesus has fasted for 40 days and 40 nights. He is hungry. The devil comes to Him. “If you are the Son of God,” he says, “tell these stones to become bread” (Mat. 4:3)

What is the point of this temptation? I think it is this. The devil is tempting Jesus to satisfy His basic biological need of food at any cost. He wants Jesus to be driven by biological need, not what is true and right.

Now the devil started this temptation like this: “If you are the Son of God.” This means at least two things for Jesus. First, it refers to His power. As the Son of God, He certainly has the power to turn stones into bread. Second, it is the implication that as Son of God, God wouldn’t want Him to be hungry. So go ahead, Jesus. Use your power to turn the stones to bread. God actually wants you to do so, precisely because you are His Son.

We remember, though, that the devil is a liar. He cannot be trusted, even if he makes reference to something that is otherwise true. It is true that Jesus is Son of God. But it is not true that Jesus should use His power to turn stones into bread to satisfy His physical hunger.

You dear Christian are son or daughter of God. But what the devil means by that and tries to get you to believe by that and then do, is not trustworthy and true. The devil is a liar. Here, the devil wants Jesus to use His divine power for Himself. It would be selfish for Jesus to do this. God did not arrange for the Son to be incarnate in human flesh to empower Jesus to do this kind of thing for Himself.

In terms of ethics and right conduct for us, it goes like this. Jesus had the ability to do what the devil wanted him to do to satisfy his biological need. But having the ability to do it, does not make it right to do so, especially not when doing so would be at the expense of others. 

How does Jesus respond to this temptation? It has been written: “Human beings do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes forth through the mouth of God” (Mat. 4:4)

God’s truth is that human beings do not live first on the principle of satisfying biological need at any cost, even at the cost and expense of others. Rather, human beings live first by God’s word, and this word has been written for us. Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 8:3. We are to be guided by what God teaches is true and right.

Next, the devil uses an even more difficult tactic. He himself cites God’s written word, and a wonderful Gospel promise at that.

He takes Jesus up to the highest point of the temple in Jerusalem. He tells Jesus to jump off. God will cause His angels to catch you, the devil says. He has promised it in Psalm 91 verses 11-12.

What is the nature of this temptation? Do something foolish to force God to miraculous action, and do this on purpose.

But would God want you to jump off a cliff to test His promise and His faithfulness to you? Obviously not. So don’t do it.

But the devil wants to get you to do such a thing. Go ahead. God won’t mind. He’ll be there for you with His grace. You won’t come to any harm. It is written right here in His word.

Jesus sees right through this because Jesus knows God’s written word: “Do no not put the Lord to the test” (Mat. 4:7). He is once again relying upon what God caused to be written by Moses in Deuteronomy.

Finally, the devil shows Jesus all of the kingdoms of the world and their glory. It is important to see that the devil shows Jesus all of the kingdoms and their glory.  There wouldn’t be any power in the temptation if the devil just simply showed Jesus all the kingdoms. The point is getting Jesus to see their glory. He wants Jesus to lust after the power, the might, the wealth, and pleasures that are involved in all the kingdoms of the world. He wants to maneuver Jesus’s heart and mind into giving in when he puts the bargain to Jesus. The devil is doing this with Jesus because it has worked so many times with human beings.

Here is the bargain. It is the proverbial making a deal with the devil. Do you see all of this gory, the devil says?  I will give it to you, if you will worship and serve me. Worshipping and serving the devil will involve disobeying God’s will.

The lust for the power, the pleasure, and the wealth is the hook. The power and the pleasure and the wealth are the bate. The deal is worship the devil in exchange for all of this.

Once again, Jesus shows us the way to defeat this temptation. It has been written: “You shall worship the Lord your God and serve Him only” (Mat 4:10). In other words, devil, God commands and teaches human beings to worship Him and serve Him only. To worship you would be idolatry and contrary to God’s command and teaching. Abiding by God’s command and teaching is life, whereas to worship you in disregarding His command is death. He leads me in the way of life. I abide by His command and teaching.

Where we have fallen to any of these temptations, let us turn back to God in honesty and humility, seeking His forgiveness and His help. He is there for us and receives us, without question. Jesus has remained faithful for us to break the power of the devil. He has atoned for our failure in His death and has won the complete victory in His resurrection.

Let us also be in God’s word and let it dwell in us richly; God’s word of both Law and Gospel. Because God’s word is our strength and power in the fight. It strengthens you. The devil cannot move you when you are anchored in God’s word. Anchored in God’s word in the grace and mercy of Christ, you can say with Jesus, go away devil and leave me alone. Amen.


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