It’s been some time since Pastor Whitenack covered the baptism of Jesus and, before him, Sam taught on John’s baptism. I might normally try to bring you up to date right away but I’ll be getting back to both later on this evening in order to place Christ’s temptation into a proper context for us to understand it.
This passage is pretty well known by many Christians. I suppose it sticks in most minds the same way the Prodigal Son passage does as it is regularly read and taught in Christian pulpits. Yet, I believe, that today, most people don’t really appreciate what it is that is significant about Christ’s temptation. There are many details in Christ’s life, including miracles, that are not recorded. There are even some details only recorded in a single Gospel. Why is the temptation of Christ recorded in three Gospels? What is it that the reader is supposed to take away that makes him wise toward salvation? How you answer that question, I believe, will reveal whether or not you understand the Gospels.
In Luke 3:22, after Christ is baptized, He is filled with the Holy Spirit and the Father announces: “You are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased.”
Here in Chapter 4, we see the Devil is now going to tempt Jesus with this very declaration. Not only once but twice Satan introduces his temptations by saying: “If you are the Son of God.” All Satan knows how to do is ape Truth and mock it in the process.
Man fell into sin and death when the first Adam, as mankind’s representative, yielded to the temptation of the devil. Even so, as Jesus was about to begin His public ministry it is fitting that the last Adam, the representative of all who trust in Him, should resist the devil’s temptation and render perfect obedience to God.
I think it’s really important to point out that, though Christ was without sin, He was truly tempted. One of the earliest heresies of the Church that has plagued her history throughout is the error that Christ is either not human at all and just appears to be or that His divinity mixes with His humanity to make Him sort of a hybrid. I think some of us might not be so sophisticated to be rank heretics but we’re prone to thinking of Jesus as perhaps floating through life as if nothing could really hurt Him or tempt Him. We confess with the Scriptures, though, that Christ is fully human even as He is fully divine. He was tempted in every way but did not sin.
Now Paul, in his Epistle to the Corinthians, promises us that we are not tempted beyond what we can bear under. That is to say, that God in His rich mercy is able to restrain the Evil One in how we are tempted in this life so that we are able to escape temptation. Even with the Lord’s restraint, because we are so weak, our temptation often seems unbearable, don’t they? The training wheels are on but we still fall.
If temptation is according to the strength of the person being tempted then who could possibly be tempted any more powerfully than Christ Himself? Do you doubt that Christ understood temptation? Beloved, it’s you that doesn’t know what the full weight of temptation is! It is we who have never felt the weight of temptation without restraint. We have a strong Savior who was able to bear under this temptation in a way that you and I will never appreciate. Indeed, we do have a merciful High Priest who is able to patiently bear with us weak sinners because He knows what it is to be tempted and He knows our frame!
Now, as we continue, it is the height of understatement that Christ was hungry at the end of 40 days of fasting and prayer in the wilderness. This is when the temptation begins.
The Devil approached Him with utter derision as he challenged Christ, if He’s the Son of God, to turn stones into bread.
You’re hungry, Jesus! Why not use some of that majestic power of yours? Dazzle me! You’ve got Holy Spirit power! God wants us to have our best life now! Turn stones into bread and amaze us all with your authority over the created order. After all, you were there at the beginning, were you not, and all things are created through you? Prove it!
Compare this temptation to the temptation of Adam. Adam had not gone without food for any length of time. Even if Adam had been hungry at the time of temptation he could simply walk to any other tree and eat as much as he needed. Finally, Adam was living in paradise when he was tempted while Christ was in the middle of a desert.
Jesus responds by quoting Deuteronomy 8:3. Moses told this to the Israelites who, for forty years, had seen the power of God in the wilderness. Even when no bread was to be found, God had provided manna from heaven to care for His saints. Yet, with all that, the Israelites had complained and rebelled against God any time they were deprived of food and water for a short time. They lived by their bellies and distrusted God at the drop of a hat.
Christ responds to Satan by stating, in effect, “Tempter, you are wrong about man. In order to satisfy hunger and stay alive you think that bread is absolutely necessary. You are wrong you liar! I declare to you that it isn’t bread but the creative, lifegiving, and sustaining power of God that is the indispensable source of life and well-being!”
Failing in this temptation, Satan tempts Christ with the dominion of the world and its governments if He will do but one small thing: bow before him. Christ must worship the devil and he will give Him all that he has been given. Now, was Satan really the possessor of all of these? I don’t believe he was. Satan is the father of lies and it’s clear he’s either lying to Christ here or is lying to himself about his own dominion. After all, even during Christ’s humiliation on this earth, Satan was able to do nothing more than Christ allowed him to do. Demon expulsions and other events of the NT see Christ’s power breaks through and He is, indeed, able to overcome the strong man when and where He pleases.
How is this a temptation to Christ then? It is a temptation to obtain the crown without enduring the cross! This was able to form a great struggle within Him for we know that the Cross was the path for Christ to redeem His people. It would be the path of shame that would lead to glory for Christ and His own. It would be His obedience to death and then His raising from the dead that would perfect His work. He knew the agony He would have to suffer when the wrath of God would be poured out on Him and this is a foretaste of the struggle in Gethsemane.
Satan offered Christ the default religion of man: the way of glory. We would build ourselves up, convincing ourselves that our righteousness would please the Father apart from the Cross; for, to admit that Christ had to die on a Cross, is to admit our utter shame and disgusting sin that we bear. We are repulsed by the Cross because we are repulsed by the idea that our sin is so graphic, so hideous, so monstrous, that the Son of God would have to be smitten for us. But Christ endured the shame so that He might redeem those who look to the Cross as their only hope and He overcame this temptation for our sake.
Finally, Satan took Jesus to the pinnacle of the Temple and, again mocking His status as the Son of God, challenged Jesus to throw Himself down to the ground. After all, Satan noted that the Scriptures promise in Psalm 91 that God will protect the righteous man in all his righteous ways.
“See what the Scriptures say,” reasoned Satan, “God promises that His angels will not only break your fall, they will do more. Very tenderly they will bear you up lest you, wearing only sandals, should hurt yourself by striking your foot against one of the sharp stones.”
Have you noticed Satan is actually providing a bit of truth here. He’s correctly quoted the Scriptures and is “proof-texting” the Scriptures.
But Satan can only ape Truth. He has no wisdom. He’s a fool. He has no spiritual discernment and so he mishandles Scripture like a clumsy, foolish teenager who just read some Richard Dawkins book. How often, beloved, have you seen Atheists collect verses in a haphazard manner in a facile attempt to demonstrate that God contradicts Himself? I believe this is a grave sin of infantile exegesis. It is not the path of wisdom. It is the way of heretics and unstable men. Every heretic in Church history has claimed that they’re simply teaching what the Scriptures teach and I would caution you to closely examine a man and not simply follow him because he can vainly quote a few Scriptures.
If you look at this temptation, basically what Satan is telling Christ to do is to experiment with God’s promises. He had to distrust God in order to do an experiment and, then, if it works out, God’s promise is true.
Christ responds by quoting Deuteronomy 6:16, which calls to mind the rebellion of the Israelites in Exodus 17:1-7 at a place called Massah and Meribah where they put God on trial and rebelled against Moses because they were thirsty. They accused God before Moses of cruelly bringing out their families and livestock only to die in the desert and provocatively challenged God by saying: “Is Jehovah among us or not?!” The Israelites in the desert are pictured as unbelieving and rebellious throughout the Old Testament and, especially in Book of Hebrews, we are warned not to be distrustful and faithless as they.
Christ knows that Satan’s proposal has nothing to do with humbly trusting in the protecting care promised in Psalm 91 and so He answers that God is not to be tempted.
Life gives us plenty of examples of the kind of false confidence that is similar to what Satan urged on Jesus. People will pray to God for the blessings of health and then be gluttons with food or drink. A man will pray to God to save his soul but will neglect the very means of grace that God has given him: study of the Scripture, church attendance, the Sacraments, and living to the glory of God. Someone will plead with the Lord for the spiritual well-being of his children but will never take the time to pray with them, to catechize them, to discipline them, or to display a repentant spirit before them. A man was once admonished for going into a peep show and defended himself by saying: “I do not deny that I went in there but, all the while, I was constantly praying: “Turn away my eyes from beholding vanity!”
You shall not put the Lord thy God to the test!
And so, having passed these tests, Satan left Christ. Christ resisted the devil. Christ overcame the Strong man and the Strong man was overcome. Jesus used the Word as His weapon in all cases for in the Word is the truth. The Word is truth and the Word became flesh to overcome the darkness that hated the light.
Now, the thing that really concerns me about such a passage is what I said before: how you view this passage determines whether you understand the Gospel. Is Christ merely the ultimate example for Godly living for you? Did you strap on your What Would Jesus Do? bracelet as you were listening to this and vow that you would be “on fire” for God and overcome evil by trusting in God’s Word?
I remember listening to a Sermon on the Gospel once in horror as the Preacher proclaimed that he was going to get back to the basics of the Gospel and this was the Gospel he proclaimed: Jesus came to be an example to us about how to live for God.
Beloved, if you believe that Christ is merely your example for holiness, then I fear you do not know the Gospel at all. If Christ is just someone you aspire to be like then I fear you may be dead in your sins and trespasses. The real question for you in this passage is not “What would Jesus do?” but “What has Jesus done?!”
We need to back up for a moment into Luke Chapter 3 and hear the Prophet John, a prophet of the Old Covenant, as he sees the people coming out to the banks of the Jordan to be baptized.
Listen to him as he prophecies about you: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits in keeping with repentance!”
Oh how the righteous man will simply turn away and say: “I’m not a viper! I’m a good person. I devote myself to God! I’m sold out for God!”
But the man who knows the Law and its perfect demand hears these words and they lay bear his sin. The Law of God reveals God’s perfect requirements and awakens to sin and the curse of the Law for it. Such a man heard these words of John and beat his chest and said: “You’re right! I am a viper! I have no right to come to these waters on my own merit. I have no right to ask God yet again to forgive my sins. I am hopeless and I don’t know what else to do so I repent of my sin and plead the mercy of God. Cleanse my conscience from sin!”
I imagine the people were so overcome with grief that they didn’t even notice a man from Nazareth walk up. There was nothing in His appearance that would cause them to turn their heads. He was from a poor family in a despised region of Galilee. Pay attention to what this Man is doing because none of the others noticed that their salvation was coming in a Man of no reputation.
He walked up to John and John knew better. Jesus didn’t need to repent but He had to be baptized. Beloved, in His baptism, Christ identified Himself with all those men and women desperate for the burden of their sin to be taken away. He was of them in His baptism. He came to represent all those who came with nothing in their hands as they cried out to the Lord for salvation from their sin.
Water can represent cleansing but it also represents judgement. The New Testament says that Noah’s family was baptized in the ark and that Moses and the Israelites were baptized as they passed through the Red Sea on dry ground. The wrath of God poured out in a flood on God’s enemies but the baptized received a sprinkling and were cleansed.
These people didn’t realize it at the time but they were getting a little wet while the Savior was baptized to identify with them and take on their judgment. Even as God’s wrath was piled up in a heap as the sins of the people collected and offended a Holy God, Christ was baptized to say: “I will take this wrath! I will be the satisfaction. I will be the sacrifice.” Christ began His ministry with a baptism because He would be baptized with the full wrath of God on the Cross for His people. He was clean while His own wer sinful. His people became clean while He received the wrath for Sin that they deserved.
But, beloved, it doesn’t stop with His baptism. You should have been leaning forward in anticipation as you read of His lonely walk into the desert. We are at the waters edge. Are they waters of judgment or of cleansing? We look knowingly as Jesus walks alone into the desert and know we cannot follow Him into that temptation. Will my Savior withstand temptation for me? Will my Savior succeed?! O God He must, I have no other hope for righteousness!
He did obey! He is the righteous one!
Luke tells Theophilus that the purpose of this story was to provide certainty concerning the truths of the Gospel. Do you desire the certainty that God intends good for you in the Gospel? Are you weary and heavy laden by your sin? How can God love someone who has sinned like me?! You have no idea how wicked I am! Nobody can sin like me and be a Christian! Though I desire the good, I sin. Though I tell myself “That’s the last time I sin like that!”, I fail yet again. Who will deliver me from this body of death?!
A Savior, strong to save, walked alone into the desert because He knew we couldn’t follow. He walked into that desert alone and bore the weight of temptation because of a consuming love for His own. Beloved, believe the Gospel not because you have enough love for God to save yourself but because the Son of God had enough love for you to save you to the uttermost!