28th May 2023

The Temptation of Christ

Passage: Matthew 4:1-11
Service Type:

Automatically Generated Transcript

We are in the part of Matthew's Gospel which leads us to learn about Jesus' temptation in the wilderness. I don't know whether you're used to listening to church services which make us say the Lord's Prayer. One of the little statements in the Lord's Prayer, known as the Lord's Prayer, maybe it should be called the model prayer, but it was the prayer that Jesus gave to his disciples, and the part of what it includes is the statement, "Lead us not into temptation."

Sometimes we have, because of the wording of that prayer, the idea that temptation is always a bad thing and it comes from our sinfulness, it comes from the devil, it comes from not God. And indeed, there are passages in the Bible up near the Book of James where it says that God doesn't tempt anybody and he himself can't be tempted. So there's a bit of a misunderstanding that we can grow that temptation is always a bad thing and if you can dodge it forever in your life, you'll do better.

Now the truth of the matter is there's an influence of languages that's coming in here because in the ancient language from which the Bible's being translated, the Greek, the word for that is used for tempting is also the same word that can be used for testing. And although there are other words as well that are brought to bear and useful in this topic, nonetheless, because of there being this idea of testing and tempting and it's just the same word and it depends on the translators how they're going to bring it to us, but I want you to notice in this very classic passage where Jesus is tempted that it starts by saying then Jesus was led by the Spirit.

This is immediately after his baptism when the Holy Spirit came from the Father on him. Jesus also later backing up the understanding of it in the synagogue by saying the Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he's anointed me and a number of things to happen. But the whole nature of how Jesus lived his life, though he was and always will be the Son of God, when he came to earth and took on humanity, he was born of the Spirit as he came from his mother's womb. Jesus, well, he was born of the Spirit right from the start. I couldn't tell you the exact moment. I better be careful what I say. But Jesus, he was a person who was human as well as divine. That is the most central truth of the gospel. The God-man, I call him. He's a person who is both God and man and the role that he came to live out as he came to earth was a role that he would be in obedience to the Father, communicated from the Father by the Holy Spirit.

And that Holy Spirit role of leading him, he was called the Christ, which means the anointed one of the Spirit. The kingdom of God that is on earth, by the way, is a kingdom that is on earth because God has resourced it from heaven by his Holy Spirit upon his Messiah, upon his Christ. And this kingdom that is here is sometimes called the kingdom of heaven, but it doesn't mean about you going to heaven. It means about you getting into what God is doing here on earth. But it is a kingdom resourced from heaven, communicated by the Holy Spirit. It began at Jesus' baptism, which we've just learned a few weeks back, happened when Jesus came up out of the water and the Holy Spirit came on him to stay.

Well, here this verse is, Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And in the original language, there's a little word which we get to be out of a little word that is the idea of purpose, is led up by the Spirit to be tempted of the devil. And this little word is there twice, actually, in the delivery of the idea that the explanation for Jesus going out in the desert is because God, through the Spirit, led him. And then he was led for the purpose of the devil coming and tempting him. That is actually how the Bible teaches about temptation. So the reason why in the Lord's Prayer it says "lead us not into temptation" is because sometimes God does lead us into temptation, and you're not stupid to pray that he won't, but he won't always answer that prayer because sometimes the temptation is how we are strengthened, and certainly in the purpose of it being to test us.

When you're young and you're playing some sport and they have so many nights a week of making you train, sometimes if you've had an injury from the previous week, then at the time of the running out for the practice, the coach is watching to test you because he's not going to put you on deck to play on next Saturday or whenever it is. If you have a weakness that's going to give in halfway through the match, he only has enough subs on the side, and if you go in as a person who's got a weakness that's going to give way in the first part of the match, then he's lost a player, at least someone off the bench that can come running on and help. And so the purpose of the vigor of the practice is actually to test whether you'll be able to stand up with that injury and not break down.

And God knows in spiritual terms, we also are people who need to be strengthened and then also need to go through times of testing. And it was not God's purpose for Jesus to fail, but it was God's purpose for him to be tested as later in the scriptures it says, in all points just like us. It didn't mean that he had every single temptation that we might have had, but in every area of his humanity, he got tested. And it's the same word sometimes used, there's another word that's used also that is the idea of testing, but the particular one used here is a word that was used in ancient classical Greek for when someone got captured by the enemy and they used piercing stuffs to stick in their bodies.

And there are ways that people treat enemies that have happened all the way down through the centuries. In some of the Eastern countries, they would actually have some terrible things that they punish people with and tested them by having all sorts of sticks and prongs that they keep on putting in their bodies until they lose enough blood to die. And there are terrible things that happen, but the very word to stick something in your body is the word at the heart of the word test, to be prodded or to be pushed into, tempted. Now it wasn't a literal testing, the devil didn't have sticks to prick into Jesus, but it was to see what he was made of and the devil's hope that he'd fail. God's hope that he'd be tested.

Now there's a lot of half-understanding Christians have in churches. I really sorrow over the fact that we have so little time to teach people the fullness of the counsel of God and that there are many people who would say they go to church, but they got such a Mickey Mouse version of it that it hardly helps them to discover the true Christianity. And in the case of Jesus and his being tested, there is because he was coming to be the savior and this morning my purpose is to lead you to be able to understand how Jesus being tested is how he was set up in order that he might be the savior.

And the reason why I'm doing this is because there's a very big misunderstanding abroad that comes out of our fallen human nature that the way that you get to be a Christian is to gradually transform yourself into a better person. And that if you can climb out of the slough of despond or if you can climb out of the temptations in your earlier days failed, you will become a nice Christian. And what is a part of that very understanding is that the responsibility of saving you is resting on you. And it's really just another form of being your own savior.

I'm not against there being things in society that help people to self-improve. I used to like watching that Chinese show where some young man would be trying to get a girlfriend or a wife and they'd be there and there'd be various options and he would give his resume and talk about how he had tried to improve himself. And it's a part of, I think, Asian culture of the self-improvement, that that's not a bad thing. I think that we've got a lot of the reverse going on in Australia where people go down, down, down, down and don't care. There's nothing wrong with having a standard and seeking to improve yourself.

But when it comes to the religious question of getting back right with God, when it comes to the matter of getting, securing an entrance into heaven, where it comes to learning where the power is to be found to be a Christian, it's actually not found from within us and our sinful human nature that we have received as all persons have and have the Bible's declaration that we're all sinners. The Bible speaks very clearly about the facts that what we are and our humanity that we've gotten from history, from Adam and Eve, never gets any better. And it's not a case of self-improvement gradually advancing you so that you get to qualify to be a good Christian. It's actually a truth that you never can do that.

And nobody ever will get into glory with the Lord because of how they've managed to improve along the way and so could say in heaven that I'm my own savior. Not that many people think it with those words, but that's actually the underlying thought of it. And sometimes when you go to speak to people about Christ, if you're involved in outreach and sometimes we have methods of visiting people in their homes, when it suddenly dawns on them that you're telling them that they're a sinner, you can get a very big reaction. People do not like the idea of us having to admit the definition, the very way the Bible says for all have sinned and all have fallen short of the glory of God, every one of us.

We need a savior and it's not going to come out of ourselves, it actually is what Jesus came to be, to be the savior. And the part of why he's so needed was because there's history now. I've been trying to wrangle the topics of these sermons morning and evening to fit in with what's going to happen tonight, because tonight in the combined service when I first came this morning, there were so few of you here in the regular time, 9.30 is when we start, that I thought, goodness me, there's hardly anybody here, well more of us have come in since.

But I know why the numbers are small, one reason is it's cold. But another one is that there's going to be a crowd tonight and some people with many things to do have given their time of opportunity to the evening. So if you're planning to come tonight, you better come early if you want to get a seat with this combined service. And I've been trying to plan the messages to fit in so that what we're on about this morning will build the platform for tonight, but looking at the small numbers this morning, I thought I might have made a bit of a mistake because when I get to tonight, most of them might have heard my buildup now. Oh well, it's too late. Let me continue.

Do you realize that Jesus, to be the savior, he had to do what previous persons all failed to do? And there's many people in Christianity think that the failure that's the big failure that is most a part of what the New Testament is showing Jesus doing better or doing perfectly is the failure of the Jewish religion because God designed that Jewish religion and it itself speaks of how it brings to the surface the fact of our sinnerhood. And the purpose of the Old Testament law of the old covenant was to show us what we cannot do. And all the 10 commandments are not just the way that you climb up to God. They would work if you could actually do them. But the 10 commandments are such that we would get the message that we are sinners.

And like the apostle Paul, who was previously known as Saul, when he did his best as a Jewish person to be at the cream of the crop of youngsters who were trained up to become the leaders of the nation in the Jewish religion, he thought he was doing pretty good. But he eventually had to confess, the book of Romans has this in its middle chapters, if you want to read for yourself, of the fact that he's discovered that even though he probably kept a lot of the commandments well, there's one that got him. I'm just curious to know how many of you know which of the commandments got Paul and showed him he really was a sinner. Put your hand up just if you know which of the commandments it was. I want to know how many people know. That's interesting. Well, either you don't want me to pick on you, that's why you're not putting your hand up. Well, it's "Thou shall not covet." The idea of coveting, the jealousy of the heart. Jealousy and coveting somehow go together. The one causes the other, I haven't worked out yet, which is first. But it's within our natures, even in Christian circles, that we see somebody else succeeding and we're not. And so we're jealous. And jealousy can come to coveting when you see somebody else's beautiful new Kia car, which they're making nice cars. And you think, can I buy one too? It's not quite bad. I mean, not the car. I mean, it's not quite bad to want something good. But when you dislike the other person having it and you wishing you did instead, you're coveting. And coveting can be something that happens to people who are rich, who find someone else who's doing better, or can happen to someone who doesn't have much money at all and they read all the magazines about the rich people, but in the depth of the rationale is the sin of covetousness. You can be a poor person and have that resentment of what you don't have. But the Apostle Paul was covetous. I don't know what area of life made him covetous, but that he found himself out to be a sinner. And that's how the Bible speaks about all of humanity. We are all fallen and we all have failed the test.

Now tonight, I'm not going to say too much now, but just to tell you the teaching, the preaching tonight is on something that is got the beginning of the Bible and the end of the Bible. And I'm giving you a little bit in the middle. But the beginning and the end of the Bible mentions something that you seldom ever hear preached on. It is, what is this business of the tree of life? And if you want to learn about the tree of life, it's in the book of Genesis, but also turns up in the book of Revelation right at the end. The one difference is that the beginning of the Bible has two trees, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and the tree of life. But in the part of the end of the book of Revelation, there's only one tree. And it's the tree of life. And the sermon tonight will explain about those trees. So do come, because it's a period of understanding that we Christians seldom really know much about.

Anyway, here the rationale for Jesus being tempted is that it was under God's purpose to be led by the Spirit into the wilderness so the devil would do the tempting. God himself doesn't tempt people with wrongful things, but he can lead you like Jesus to be tempted. And the reason why in the book of Genesis there are two trees is that one is a test, because that time of our forefathers, forefather, forefather, and foremother, being in the garden of Eden, I believe in them being real persons. So they were there to be tested because it was a probation period in order that they might eventually, when having passed the test, be able and be appropriate to receive the gift of God. The gift of God would be eternal life. And they'd be sustained to live forever because of the tree of life. And so the tree that gave the temptation was there to make the scene of them being able to pass the test, but they failed it. And so the storyline in the book of Genesis is that eventually God kicks them out of the garden, lest they should go and take of the tree of life and live forever, but in a sinful, terrible state.

But through the journey of all the events that the whole Bible is talking about, God answers that by bringing salvation, but not by the people saving themselves, but by their being a savior. And that savior, in order to qualify to be the one who should so save us, he had to pass the test, and you're reading it this morning, of how God arranged for him to be led of the spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. This is where Jesus, his temptation wasn't only of this occasion, but all through his life he was pressed and he was pushed and he was tempted because he came to prove himself sinless, to show himself, to pass the test. He might then not so much have to receive eternal life because he already had it, but he might qualify to take that sinless personage to the cross and there to have the punishment for all of our sins laid on him. He might die for our sins, and he couldn't have done that had he not faced the test in the first place. And so Jesus, to qualify to be the savior, allows the spirit to lead him, the father's purpose for the devil to tempt him, and that's what this scene is all about.

Well, having fasted 40 days, Jesus knew it was a very important time and he fasted 40 days and 40 nights, so long enough time for there to be no food and energy left in you, and he was hungry. It's the second hunger where a person, if you don't feed yourself, you'll die or you'll go into a downhill spiral to die. He'd walked out into the wilderness. He's now got no strength to walk out again. The tempter came and said to him, "If you are the son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread." Use your powers that you have because of who he is as a second person of the trinity. It will be to break the arrangement that he and the father and the spirit have made that he would come into the world and take on humanity and live as a human if he's to be the person that qualifies to pass the test. He can't cheat at it. "If you are the son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread." But he answered and said, "It is written, man shall not live." Notice he mentions man because he knows it's in his humanity. He has to pass the test. Yes, with the help of God the father through the Holy Spirit but he had to pass the test. Not in his independent capacity as the second person of the trinity. "Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God" and that connection that the Christian life is all about being here on earth. God the father in heaven in the original case and the spirit in between is what being a proper Christian is. But the thing that's happened in the middle is that Jesus has come and paid for our sins so that he has passed the test. And then having finished all of that, he's gone to glory, he's gone to heaven and he's now the one that commands by the spirit and sent his Holy Spirit onto his believing disciples and began the church and what we are all about is not doing our own test but we have a salvation that's come by Jesus who passed the test and now we enjoy all the outworking of that salvation. The Bible says work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. I first heard that verse in a group of people, I think they were scripture union types who wanted to prepare young people going to university where you have to do some thinking and they gathered a meeting of all the people coming from the high school to go to uni the next year. Even gave me a book to read and a paper to have to tell. But they were on about how when you come to uni you gotta really think through your faith. And this was the verse, think out, reason out your own salvation. That's how they interpreted it, they had it totally wrong. At least they didn't all think that way but the one, whoever it was, I got that out of. It's not about work out your own salvation, sit down and do the sums. Work it out is let that which has come to you from God be outworked in your behavior. That's the step of sanctification. Our salvation includes our total forgiveness in the first place called our justification. It includes our sanctification in the second place which is God working out that salvation that you have received. And let it work out into your character and into your behaviors and have you prepared for heaven so by the time you get to glory you're gonna be one of Jesus' trophies of how what he did saved you.

And the second part of that is where it's all worked out in your character so you become a gleaming model in glory as to what God has done in you. Oh, is the salvation of God a fantastic thing? And it's all done by Jesus, one in the first place by how he came and passed the test so that in the book of Revelation there doesn't need to be two trees, just one. I'm not gonna tell you what exactly that tree is now because I'm trying to leave something for tonight. But the salvation's all done by Jesus and the second part of the salvation is the outworking of it in our character. And so it's important, it's important for Jesus.

Now, do you know that there's a verse, I think it's in the book of Hebrews, where it talks about Jesus who learned, became strong through the things that he was tested in. And it was necessary for him to advance in his holiness. This always has a puzzle for me because I thought he was without sin all the time, wasn't he? And of course he was without sin all the time. But it doesn't mean there wouldn't be that advancement as he faced the temptations, the worst of which was in the Garden of Gethsemane. And interestingly, the way he got through this temptation here was by the word of God, quoting back to the devil, and secondly, by the fact that the angels came and strengthened him.

Now, if you look at it, right at the end it says, verse five, the devil took him, the final temptation, I'm not gonna go into today, the actual temptations. And one of them was to take Jesus up to a high spot in Jerusalem somewhere and tell him, "If you throw yourself down in front of the people but you're not killed, and you can stand up and give a good sermon sort of idea, then they'll believe in you. If I had some method or ability to jump up a high spot and then say, 'I'm not hurt because God helped me,' you wouldn't have any excuse to stop to not believe, eh? Well, it was that sort of temptation to Jesus."

And Jesus is, he will come up there, I've got something wrong here on the screen. "If you are the son of God, throw yourself down for it's written that he will send his angels," that's what the devil used to say, "well, the Bible says the angels will come and rescue you." And Jesus answers to that and says, again, it's written, "You shall not put the Lord your God to the test, thank you for getting it up. You shall not put the Lord your God to the test." And so the devil moved on to another one. So you're not meant to test God out, he may lead you to be tempted to test you out, but he's God.

And then the devil left him, here's the bit I was trying to get to, "behold, the angels came and were ministering to him." Now, I'm always amazed, because my mum and dad had me go through Sunday school and trainings, heaps of Bible learning, dad was the principal of a Bible college and he wanted to be sure I got the full teaching and my mother used to actually bribe me with 20 cent pieces to learn the Bible verses. But I'm amazed at those days that some of the misunderstandings that my little mind interpreted. And this verse was one that I remember, "behold, the angels came and ministered to him." And what I'd picked up in the language used in church that I'd attended thus far, was ministering was what the person up the front did. The old style churches had a lot more formal ministering things done than we do today. But the idea was that that gave me the picture of the angels, maybe with robes on, and they're there and they've all got hymn books and they sing a beautiful harmony song to Jesus. And what it means by the angels ministering to him was they had a little service around him to make him feel good.

Now I'll tell you how I got out of that understanding. It is, there's another spot where the angels had to come and minister to Jesus because he was about to die, as he probably was here, he kept running out of steam. And that was in the Garden of Gethsemane and he sweat great drops of blood that were coming out of his head. And the angels came. It's actually the explanation of the Bible why he didn't die on either occasion, because the angels helped him. The word ministering just means brought the answer, brought, you know, it's what the medics do when you're lying on the side of the road having been knocked off your motorbike. And those people come and minister to you into the ambulance and hopefully you make the distance to the hospital. And well, the angels came and ministered to him. And that's the Bible's explanation for him being able to survive the temptation.

I'm glad it's there though, because when you get in some terrible pressures and sometimes the pressures come from your own desires, the pressure to succeed, take a shortcut, the pressures that come to do something that's not legal, the pressures that come, the sinful jealousies. And sometimes the whole heap of them to go through can mount up to a sense that you don't know how you're gonna make it. But the angels came and ministered to him. They helped him have the physical strength to continue with what he was going to be. Because even though he be the son of God and had great powers at his disposal, he didn't choose to use them. He chose to follow what the father's lead was and let the father supply his needs. "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God" is a statement of the trust in God to sustain you, not to see your responsibility to wrangle your own escape.

Anyway, he was strengthened and that's how he got through the temptation. There are other passages in the Bible about temptation, which I'm not gonna take us to because they amount to too much, but both the book of James and the book of Peter have things to say about the facts that God can help you in temptation. And that if we get into some terrible spot and we call out to him, that's a prayer that is from earth to heaven because that's the nature of prayer. We pray our father who is in heaven, pray from earth to heaven. It's not that you can't talk to the Holy Spirit who's with us now in our hearts, but you can pray to the father in Jesus' name is what the Lord encouraged us to take. And if something gets too big for you, don't forget you've got the name of Jesus now to pray in. And Luke chapter 11 is all about if you've really got a need and you pray to the father, that he by his Holy Spirit will answer and bring you the answer because of that connection between you on earth and the father in heaven. And Jesus in heaven is the same. His power comes to you through the communication of the Holy Spirit and whatever be your problem or your need and the sense that you can't make it through, cry out to him. He's the one that always listens and he wants to hear our cries and he answers them.

And part of what Jesus succeeded in doing was being in the role of the one that relied upon his father. He said, "I don't do anything but what the father gives me to do. He says the words of the father's words. He lives out life as the son of man on earth and that's why he liked the title son of man just as much as the title son of God. He owned both. But as son of man, it's the role he was in to be led of the spirit and to be able to pass the temptations that he might qualify to be our savior. I hope I've said enough for you to see that the saviorhood of Jesus is tied up with him being human. And being human, he trusted in the father and passed the test that Adam and Eve failed in the Garden of Eden that he might have for us available as to have the gift of God, which is eternal life.

And I'm gonna say something more about the gift of God tonight. I've been doing some training to do with training that has to do with the professional supervision business. And one of the things they teach you during this training, I go on Saturdays sometimes to do this, is that when you have someone that you're supervising and the role of the professional supervisors to supervise people who are helping others. And when you're having to write up for how you did the supervision, one suggestion is to take something from the beginning, something from the end of the session, because you're the supervisor watching and you're supervising someone who's counseling someone else. Take something from the beginning, something from the end, and something from the middle.

And in the middle of the scriptures, and their outworking, is that visit of Jesus to Samaria to meet the woman at the well. Well, he went there because he was going up to the northern parts. And he sat down at the well and the woman came along and Jesus introduces to her that he's the Messiah. And it's in the middle, and Jesus says to her, and I'm gonna go on about this again tonight as a part of the message. He said, "If you knew who was talking to you, no, he says, and what was the gift of God, you would ask of him and he would give you living water. Because the salvation that God provides through Jesus is talked about as living water. And if you knew who is speaking to you, you'd respond to come to him and let him give you what really is eternal life, living water. It's right from the middle of the Bible. So from the beginning and from the end tonight, and also from the middle, I'm weaving together what is the gift of God. And my purpose is to tell them that Jesus is speaking to them and give a call for them to come.

And would you pray during the day for tonight? It's a bit of a going out on a limb for me to tell you this. But tonight's purpose is that there might be people who find the living water tonight. Would you pray during the day that God will bring along the people who need it? And that his spirit would be speaking because what makes it happen is not how good a sermon is mine, I want to tell you. It is that they hear Jesus speaking. "If you knew the gift of God and who is speaking to you, you would ask of him and he'd give you living water." That's my punchline for tonight. Would you pray that that's what's gonna happen in people's hearts in this evening service for this evening? Pray, please.

Let's have now our closure of our message this morning with a moment of prayer. Heavenly Father, we thank you for the temptation that Jesus went through as a part of his passing the test and qualifying to be our savior. Not only did he need to be sinless, not just a weak sinlessness of never being tempted, but a person who proved himself sinless to then qualify to take our punishment for where we failed and to pay for our sins on the cross. I thank you for the mighty act you did, Father, in raising him from the dead. If anybody ever doubted that he was successful at all that he was doing, surely how you raised him from the dead and took him to heaven is the evidence that you have accepted his sacrifice. May we understand how great a savior is ours. In Jesus' name I pray, amen.

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