There is one movie out there–I won’t say the name of it because it has some blasphemy in it, but it was a movie that got me thinking. The premise of the movie is that this guy was in a horrible place in life and he blamed God. The first words he says in the movie is, “God, why do you hate me?” He loses his job and he blamed God for it very blatantly. He screamed to the heavens to tell God, “You’re the one that should be fired!” In the movie, God talks to the guy (God is played by Morgan Freeman) and basically says, “If you think it’s so easy, you do it.” The guy is given the powers of God, to do basically anything except violate someone’s free will. At first, he loves it.
What does he use his power for? He uses his powers for personal gain. He causes his coworker-rival to embarrass himself. He gives himself a nice car. He gets revenge on some people who beat him up. He clears the traffic in the morning. He pulls the moon super close to have a romantic night with his wife. He uses his powers to get his job back and to excel in his profession. He is a TV reporter and causes a meteorite to fall so he can cover the event and other things like finding the body of Jimmy Hoffa. He becomes a celebrity news reporter by the name of “Mr. Exclusive.”
Of course, it all comes to a crash when the responsibilities of playing God catch up to him. The moon being so close causes tidal waves. He hears voices in his head, which are prayers. And he tries to say yes to all of them, which results in riots. His wife leaves him but he can’t alter her free will.
He learns to stop taking the shortcut and help people. He has this moment with God and realizes the one thing he wants is for her wife to be happy. He returns to life without powers, learns to let God be God, and take pleasure in a simple life.
Any movie who has God played by someone, especially a movie where God lets someone else be God, has some inappropriate things in it, in the sense that it could be blasphemous. But the movie has an interesting premise and it makes you think, what would you do if you had God’s power? What would you do if you had the power to do everything?
I would like to say I would not do things I should not. But I got to say, that would be one crazy temptation, would it not?
- You have God’s power, what do you do?
The movie leaves you to wonder, what would you do if you had the power to perform miracles? Would you use them to serve yourself? or would you use them to serve God?
Jesus had come to a new point in his life where he now has the power to perform these great signs and wonders. It is my opinion that Jesus gains the power when the Spirit descends upon him at baptism. With this power comes temptation to misuse it. God had given Jesus this power to perform signs and the signs were meant to demonstrate he was a prophet of God and preached a message of God. But could you imagine what you could do with that power?
Think of all the potential! If Jesus could multiply five loaves and two fish to feed five thousand, then couldn’t he multiply swords and shields to create an army? Couldn’t he call down an army of angels to destroy the evil Roman Empire? Couldn’t he multiply a single coin into an endless supply of wealth? Think of all the potential!
Jesus had the ability to do anything and everything. We read of Jesus healing, feeding people, casting out demons. But he could have done so much more. Do you ever think he struggled with abusing his power? How often do you think those thoughts came to his mind? If Jesus were a lesser person, he would have caved into these desires, but he wasn’t and he didn’t.
Jesus was tempted and he did not sin. He was made exactly like us and faced what we face. He overcame the temptations we fail to overcome so often. We strive to be like Jesus and not sin. he showed us we can.
How do we fight temptation? How do we not sin? How do we look Satan in the eyes and say no? How do we not do what we might want to do? Jesus shows us the way. We need to look at his temptations and see what he did and learn what we should do.
- Jesus’ temptations
The temptations of Jesus are written in Matthew 4 and Luke 4, where Satan personally comes to Jesus and gives him three temptations. Satan tempts Jesus to turn bread to stone, to fall off a cliff and test God, and to worship Satan for all kingdoms. Satan tempts Jesus with the flesh, the eyes, and pride.
This morning I want to look at the first one, Mat. 4:1-4 and Luke 4:1-4. As you read through the life of Jesus you see him starting his ministry; he has just been baptized and now he is led into the desert for a time of preparation. Satan attempts to deflect Jesus from obedience to God. If Satan can get Jesus to sin at the very beginning, he ruins all of God’s plans. On the opposite side, Jesus needs to begin his ministry with a dedication for obedience to God to be the Messiah.
As Jesus’ ministry began, he departed for the desert for an extended period of solitude and fasting. Fasting, when you avoid food (or something else) for spiritual purposes. It is a time where you focus on the Lord, spend time in prayer and bible study, and redirect your life away from what you are fasting from. People have fasted from social media like Facebook, tv, soda, but mostly when we talk about fasting it is referring to food.
Fasting is particularly done in God’s word in hand with coming to God. Prophets like Isaiah and Joel commanded the Israelites to fast out of repentance to God and sorrow for their sins. There are times where fasting is done for a special prayer to God like in Ezra or Esther. There are times where fasting is associated with a new ministry or event like with appointing elders in Acts or Jesus beginning his ministry.
Fasting is tough and difficult, especially the first time or for the first couple days. But it is a time to focus on the spiritual over the physical, where you train your will to focus on God, where you put away the things of the world for the things of God. You could call it a hunger strike against sin.
And we as Christians are expected to fast. Jesus said in Matthew 6:16, “When you fast…” Not “if you fast…”
We come to Jesus’ fast and see he has gone 40 days without eating. Now 40 days is as long as you can go without adverse health consequences. A healthy human can go up to 40 days without food if they have plenty of water and reduce their activity. This is not supernatural.
But this is Jesus going to the greatest extreme a human body can go. I feel like I can safely say, he has gone longer without food than any other person here. I know people who get grouchy if they go two hours without eating, but Jesus has gone 40 days.
His body is weak. His mind is groggy. His will is fragile. He is probably at his weakest point he has ever been in his life. And it is in this state that he is tempted by Satan.
[Mat 4:1-3 ESV] 1 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”
James defines temptation as a luring and enticing of your desire. Temptation always includes three things: 1) your choice, 2) your desire and 3) the thing you desire. There is no temptation if you do not desire the thing Satan is dangling in front of you. By that measure we have Jesus, who is in the midst of a temptation, is desiring to do what Satan is telling him to.
Jesus has come to the desert to be tempted by Satan. This is the ultimate showdown, you have Jesus at his weakest and Satan at his strongest. They have entered the colosseum. They have thrown down the gauntlet. They are in the octagon.
You have Jesus who has to decide, will he pick his hunger or his faith? Jesus has put himself in the toughest position imaginable when it comes to temptation. This had to be a stronger temptation than any of us has ever faced. Jesus has gone to the lengths of human ability, put himself right at the edge of the cliff without falling off.
Jesus must decide, what or whom will you trust to meet your most basic needs? Will you trust the God who made human bodies, or will you seek your own way?
Why did Jesus do this? Because this is Jesus associating himself with humanity by experiencing human struggles. He. 2:17-18, he is made like us so he can save us.
[Heb 2:18 ESV] For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.
How many of you have ever been tempted to sin? How many of you have given in to those temptations?
When we come to Jesus he is able to understand our suffering and temptation because he himself has been tempted. When I come to Jesus in prayer asking for him to forgive my sins and help me in the midst of temptation, I have full confidence that Jesus is listening as someone who understands. Jesus fully understands what it is like to want to do what is wrong, to be tempted by Satan, to have the thing you should not do but every ounce of your being wants to do it–Jesus understands that feeling because he went through it.
Heb. 4:15 tells us that Jesus is our high priest who is not “unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” Jesus is someone who can sympathize perfectly with our temptation because he was tempted.
“It was not unworthy of our Redeemer to wish to be tempted, who came also to be slain; in order that by His temptations He might conquer our temptations, just as by His death He overcame our death.”
Again, I saw this with almost full confidence, he was tempted harsher than we were. But he remained without sin which means we can too. We look at this passage to see what he went through and to see how we can do what he did. He allowed himself to be tempted “that He might be our Mediator in overcoming temptations, not only by helping us, but also by giving us an example” (Augustine De Trin iv).
- Enter Satan
After Jesus had spent forty days with only water to drink, Satan confronted Him with a proposition: “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” (Matt. 4:3).
On the surface, it was a reasonable suggestion. Jesus had gone forty days without food and now his fast was over. The time had come for Jesus to break his fast. He was hungry, and the power of the Almighty was, after all, his to use. So why not use that power to meet a legitimate need? Jesus would later feed 4,000 then 5,000 people with this power he has.
Satan came to Jesus saying, “If you are the Son of God…” This is not really establishing doubt in Jesus’ mind. Jesus saw the Spirit descend upon himself and God called him his Son from heaven at his baptism, Jesus understood he was the Son of God even when he was twelve.
The word “if” isn’t always conditional, especially in the Greek which can be translated, “Since you are the Son of God…” Satan is hinting at the power and authority Jesus has as the Son of God. “Since you are God’s Son, can’t you do whatever you want?” “Since you are God’s Son, don’t you have the power?”
Jesus had the power to do this, the authority to do this, and the desire to do this. It was fully in his power. It was fully in his authority. And it was fully in his desire.
Imagine going 40 day without food, how hungry would you be? I do not even know the sounds your stomach would make at that point. I do not even know how clear you would be able to think at that point. But Satan comes along and tells you, “you know, you could make some nice bread out of those stones.” How much strength would it take to say no?
If Jesus was human, then he would have had the desire to do this. If Jesus was truly tempted, the desire to do this was there. You don’t think he wanted to? You don’t think his stomach growled at the thought of it? You don’t think his mouth watered at the thought of food? After 40 days?
How easy would it have been for Jesus to think this would not have been a big deal? Is it really a sin to feed himself? Would that have been a sin?
It must come down to this: his God-given power was to be used 1) how God said to use it and 2) for the benefit of others, to meet their spiritual needs and bring about the kingdom of God. Jesus’ powers must not have been for Jesus’s own convenience. Jesus must have known this and Satan must have known this.
Think if you got these powers from God, how would you use them? Wouldn’t we all use them immediately for our own personal gain, pleasure, or convenience?
But Jesus came to earth to be the man all other men failed to be and to become the king the world had always needed, a king who would depend upon God completely and serve Him consistently. Jesus is being tempted to use his power as Son of God for his own ends instead of being obedient to the Father.
In this statement, Satan is trying to create a rift between God and Jesus. This simple statement, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” In that simple statement, Satan is working his hardest to get Jesus to act independently from God. If Jesus made the stones into bread, he would be using the power God gave him for himself and not how God wanted him to us it.
This temptation is testing Jesus’ dedication to the Father, which is actually what every temptation does. Satan is saying, do this, when God says, do that, and we are caught between the two. Something as simple as Jesus using his power to feed himself is actually a choice of obeying God or not.
Jesus could have thought to himself, “Feeding myself is not that big of a deal.” “I have to feed myself in order to live so I can die for the sins of the world.” “Making bread would actually serve God’s purpose.” If there was a story in God’s Word about Jesus making a stone into bread to feed himself, how many of us would have thought that was a sin? Not me.
But at the end of the day, Jesus had to decide whether to let God provide or provide for himself. If Jesus had taken control into his own hands he would not have been trusting God and that would have been sin. Jesus would have been using his power for his own convenience and that would have been sin.
- Jesus’ Response
And so, Jesus responds beautifully. Satan’s statement is trying to emphasize the power and authority of Jesus’ position. He is the Son of God, right? So shouldn’t the Son of God be able to do this small thing? Shouldn’t the Son of God be able to make this kind of decision?
Satan is like a magician who uses flamboyant gestures with one hand to hide what he is doing with the other. He is emphasizing the power and authority of the Son of God to distract from the obedience of the Son of God.
Being the Son of God comes with power and authority, of course, but it also comes with obedience. To be God’s Son, Jesus must obey the Father like a son. Satan is distracting from and trying to destroy the relationship between the Father and Son.
Jesus replied essentially saying, “If I am the Son of God, then shouldn’t I obey God?” “If I am the Son of God, then shouldn’t I trust my Father to provide?” “If I am the Son of God, then aren’t I accountable to God?” That is essentially what Jesus says in his reply, in v4,
[Mat 4:4 ESV] 4 But he answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'”
If you read Luke’s account the last part of his reply is not there, but it is surely implied.
This reply is perfect for the situation. Jesus replied with a relevant scripture that perfectly explained his responsibility. Satan is trying to get him to focus on hunger, but Jesus replies saying, the focus should be on God. Satan is trying to get him to focus on food, but Jesus replies saying, the focus should be on his God’s word. Satan is trying to get him to focus on his physical life, but Jesus replies saying, the focus should be on his spiritual life.
He quotes Deuteronomy 8:3, which refers back to an event in Exodus 16. In Exodus 16, you have the Israelites in the wilderness after they were rescued from Egypt. And all the people got hungry, so they did what they always did, complained. Like a bunch of whining babies they said to Moses,
[Exo 16:3 NIV] ““If only we had died by the LORD’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.”…
Very overdramatic. They just witnessed God perfrom plagues and destroy an entire army for them to rescue them from slavery. They get hungry and wish they were back as slaves. But God is patient with them. He tells Moses that he will make bread rain from heaven, which was Manna. God would provide for them so they could have food.
But along with the food came some responsibility. Anytime God gives a blessing he gives a responsibility. God told the Israelites to collect only enough bread for the day. If they stockpiled it up it would rot and smell bad. But on the sixth day, they were to collect enough for two days to cover for the Sabbath. It would not rot overnight, but on the other nights it would rot.
The Israelites did what they always did and disobeyed. They stockpiled food and it rot. They were supposed to trust God to provide each day and not to take matters into their own hands. This was not just about God giving them food, he was giving them a test to trust him.
In Deuteronomy 8, Moses refers to this and reminds them the lesson here,
[Deu 8:2-3 ESV] 2 And you shall remember the whole way that the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. 3 And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.
This is what Jesus is referring to when he answered the devil. He is in the same situation as the Israelites, and he had the chance to make the right choice when his ancestors made the wrong choice.
Jesus knew the Scriptures and knew this exact situation applied to his situation and he learned from it. He was in the wilderness like they were. He was hungry like they were. He was presented with a choice like they were. Would he obey God? Would he trust God?
This moment in his life, Jesus knew, was a test. When we are tempted, we are being tested. Jesus knew this was a critical moment where he had to decide to obey God or not. He needed to decide, was he going to live by bread? or live by the word of God?
Jesus looked at Satan and quoted this passage as his reply,
[Mat 4:4 ESV] … “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'”
Jesus is saying, I will not take matters into my own hands. I will trust God. I will not do whatever I want. I will obey God. Jesus’ temptation leaves us with insights on how to overcome temptation in our lives.
Overcoming Temptation: Learn from God
Every time Jesus replied to Satan what did he say? Every time his answer started with the words, “It is written…” Every reply Jesus gave was a quote from Scripture. Christ answered and baffled all the temptations of Satan with, “It is written.”
Why do we study Scripture? Why do we memorize verses? Why should we study our Bibles? Because you will need it in life! In the war against Satan, our shield is our faith and our sword is our Bible!
You will come across situations in your life and you need to know that every situation you stumble into, someone has been in that situation before! There is nothing that will ever happen to you that has not happened to someone before you. If that is the case, then shouldn’t you try to learn from how they handled the situation? See what they tried; if it failed, then try something else; if it succeeded, then do what they did. [Pro 1:5 ESV] Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance…
You have an entire Bible filled with situations where some people failed and some people succeeded. You have an entire Bible filled with advice on how to handle situations. Your Bible tells you how to handle temptations! It tells you what to do in those situations!
Jesus learned his Bible, he learned what God said and taught. When Jesus said, “It is written…” he was saying, “But God says…” In the face of Satan we need to look him in the eyes and say, “But God says…”
We need to have those Bible verses and Bible stories in our heads and in our hearts so we can pull them out when we need them. We need to have our shield on our backs and our sword in its sheath, so we are never caught off guard without them.
If we are to overcome temptation, we must learn from God.
Overcoming Temptation: Choose God
With every temptation there is a test. Moses said that God tested the Israelites in the wilderness. God put them in situations to see if they would choose God or not.
[Deu 8:2-6 ESV] 2 And you shall remember the whole way that the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. 3 And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. 4 Your clothing did not wear out on you and your foot did not swell these forty years. 5 Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the LORD your God disciplines you. 6 So you shall keep the commandments of the LORD your God by walking in his ways and by fearing him.
God humbled the Israelites by getting them to the point where they had nowhere else to turn but to God. Jesus was in that situation where he was about to starve and had to turn to God or provide for himself. These were tests.
God’s test are very simple tests, Moses says God’s test are simply “to know what [is] in your heart, whether you [will] keep his commandments or not.” In this way, you have both God testing you and Satan tempting you, where God wants you to succeed and Satan wants you to fail. And the deciding factor will always be, your heart. Whether we obey God or not, that will be decided by our heart.
Every temptation is very simple. (Not easy, but simple). You have two choices, Satan or God, good or evil, obey or disobey.
When you are in the throes of temptation, do what Jesus did. Jesus chose to obey God and nothing else. We need to make up our mind now and cling to our decision every time temptation comes up. When you are tempted, will you choose your desires? Jesus’ desire was something as simple as hunger. Will you choose your desires or God’s commands? Will you choose yourself or God?
If we are to overcome temptation, we must choose God.
Overcoming Temptation: Depend on God
When the Israelites got hungry, they complained. When they were given food, they tried to store food for the following days. God told them to gather only for that day, but they were to afraid to do that because they did not trust God, they were scared to fully depend upon God.
Jesus, when he on a forty day fast, he was hungry. He had a decision to make, to make himself some food or to trust in God. He chose to trust in God and fully depend upon him for his food.
Temptations will come along our way where we are afraid to say no. There will be times when Satan’s offer seems like a necessity. Satan is very clever this way. He will put you in between a rock and a hard place. When he tempted Jesus with bread, he wasn’t tempting him with an obvious sin, was he? He wasn’t tempting Jesus with something that seemed superfluous? Satan tempted Jesus will something that seemed necessary and vital. He is going to do the same thing to you.
Satan presents his temptations in the best way. He makes you think that you have to say yes. When the truth is, you must go without. To say no to Satan requires you to sacrifice. To obey God requires you to sacrifice.
We must depend on God in the face of temptation because of the simple fact that Satan is stronger than you. Satan is smarter than you. God is an absolute necessity if you want to avoid sinning. When it comes to pure human power, you will fail. Paul expresses the powerlessness of humanity,
[Rom 7:18-19 ESV] 18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.
In the face of temptation, without God, even the strong-willed Paul is helpless to defeat Satan. Truly, truly, there is no overcoming temptation without God’s power. When Christ was in the throes of temptation, he relied upon God, not himself. James writes,
[Jas 4:7-8 ESV] 7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you….
Two statements about God and one statement about Satan between them. They tie in together. We can resist the devil, when we submit ourselves to God and when we draw near to God. If we do not submit ourselves to God or draw near to God, there is no hope of resisting the devil. The way to resist Satan is not by our own power and smarts. Will we depend on our own power and smarts, or will we choose to depend on God?
If we are to overcome temptation, depend on God.
Jesus was in a horrible state when this temptation happened. Imagine a person who has not eaten for forty days and then imagine that person being tempted. I have read of hunger strikes in history,
Cesar Chaves went 36 days without food. Chavez was appalled at the treatment he and his fellow migrant workers received in the U.S, being treated more like slave labour than a valued workforce. In 1962 Chavez decided to try and change things, he founded the national farm workers association and began to hold rallies and protests. But, change still didn’t come, so he decided to take things to a new level. Chavez staged several hunger strikes to draw attention to his plight, the longest of which lasted 36 days and resulted in him losing 30 pounds.
Solange Fernex – 40 days without food. Solange Fernex became one of the most influential politicians the country has ever seen. Her main policy was to increase awareness of the impact that nuclear power was having on the environment, as well as the potential devastation that reactor disasters could wreak. To raise awareness of her campaign Solange took part in a 40-day hunger fast with the hope that the public would vote in favour of nuclear disbarment.
Bobby Sands – 66 Days without food. Born in Ireland in 1954, Bobby Sands is one of the most infamous figures in Irish history. Sands was in prison as a disruptive prisoner. In 1981 Sands orchestrated a hunger strike, along with nine other prisoners to protest about the removal of Special Category Status, an agreement that gave prisoners convicted of troubles related offences special privileges. Despite the strike gaining worldwide attention, it cost him and the nine others their lives. After 66 days without accepting food, Sands died of starvation.
Jesus – 40 days without food. But it was Jesus who at 40 days without food faced Satan himself. Our Lord is no weakling. He was half-dead from hunger and he still was able to resist Satan. He sets this example of what a human is fully capable of when we grow closer to the Lord.
You have probably eaten in the past month, but that doesn’t mean you won’t have trouble the next time Satan tempts you. We need to learn from Jesus’ example and when we are tempted we must, 1. Learn from God, 2. Choose God, 3. Depend on God. Jesus showed us how and he will help us along the way. If you fail, he will forgive. If you are struggling, he will help.