My wife and I, and many others, were recently disappointed to hear that a very good friend of ours is suffering. He served as a pastor for many years, led associations of churches as their director of missions, and held an executive administrative post at the state convention level. He was also a successful local politician who was well known for the openness of his faith as he stood strong on moral issues. His energy and outgoing personality brought him respect from people from every area of society, both within the body of faith and without. Yet, today he and his family are suffering. He has resigned from his sacred responsibilities and is being called upon to also step down from his elected office. His friends are disappointed and confused. Recently he was discovered to have been actively engaged in an immoral activity that he publicly opposes. He acted out a secret sin with an assumption that his secret would never be exposed.
What our friend did would not be considered as significant if he were not a respected leader in the Christian church. However, as a Christian, he is held to a higher standard. The writer of the gospel of James (3:1) reminds us that those who lift their faith before others are held to a high level of judgment, and we can see that this also includes the scrutiny of the world. Christians are to be different.
What is it that makes a Christian different from others in this world? We might first clarify what is meant by the title, "Christian." Not everyone who says "Lord, Lord" will enter the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 7:21) since making a claim to be a Christian or simply acting like one thinks a Christian acts does not have the power to save one from their sins (Eph. 2:9). A Christian is an individual who has recognized their sinful state and their need for salvation, repented of their desire for sin, and turned to Jesus Christ as their Savior and their Lord. This is Godís plan for the salvation of mankind. God reached down to save mankind when He, the Messiah, Creator and LORD, came to visit us in Jesus Christ, the One who paid the price for the sins of those who would turn to Him in faith. If one claims the faith, but has not made the choice to make Jesus Christ the LORD of their life, no choice for salvation has taken place.
The dilemma faced by a Christian is that of living under the Lordship of Christ, but while living a life that is fully immersed in the sinful culture of this world. The result is an unending spiritual battle, one that Paul provides some resource for when he speaks of the armor of Ephesians, chapter six. We battle every day with the issue of Lordship. Often the object of our base desires is in conflict with the objectives of our faith. If we give in to our desire to sin, we compromise our testimony and find ourselves in need of Godís forgiveness. The experience of our friend is simply a reminder that no person is immune from sin and its dramatic consequences, no matter how spiritual or mature in the faith that they think they are.
What is this sin that so vexes man? Sin is simply any attitude or action that is contrary to Godís purpose for our lives. Obedience to God is characterized by a sincere effort to live a life that is free from sin. Yet, try as we might, sin often seems to have an attraction to our base desires that is very difficult to resist. Rather than listen to the Holy Spirit and yield to His guidance, we often choose to ignore Him, compromise His Lordship, and do what we choose while we are fully aware of the sinful nature of our choices. We point fingers when the sin of someone else is exposed, but we all know too well those areas of our own lives that fall short of Godís purpose.
It may be encouraging to note that, as Jesus is the incarnation of the eternal Messiah and fully the Son of God, He is also fully human, and He experienced all of the emotions and temptations that all people face. Observation of how Jesus faced the temptation to sin can be instructive to all of us as we remember why ďall things work for good for those who love the LORD.Ē This is so that we may be more like Christ as we grow in Christian maturity.
And Jesus being full of the Holy Ghost returned from Jordan, and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness,
This passage records the events that took place at the beginning of Jesus' ministry. At this point Jesus was returning from the Jordan River where He was baptized by John, and God bore testimony to Jesus' purpose. This event marked a change in the direction of Jesus' ministry. Little or nothing is recorded of Jesus' life up to this point, and we are left only to speculate. Certainly, He grew up with a complete understanding of His uniqueness and His purpose. Jesus' nature did not change at the event of the baptism, but rather his public ministry simply began at that point. This was the point in time when, at about 30 years of age, the time was right for that public ministry to start. Prior to that point He ministered to His family and those around Him. He taught in the synagogues, and the nature of his teaching was consistent with His eternal message. However, Jesus did not start his three-year ministry that would culminate in his crucifixion until his baptism by John.
Rather than step into the crowds of people, following the baptism, Jesus spent 40 days in the solitude of the wilderness. Jesus was "led" of the Spirit to do this. The Greek word for "led" uses a verb tense that does not exist in the English language. This verb tense refers to a continuing action rather than one that can be placed in past, present, or future. One could understand this as "continually led by the Spirit, Jesus went to the wilderness." Jesus' life was characterized by his oneness with God, by his full communion with the Holy Spirit. This is the same Holy Spirit that indwells the heart of all Christians. The same Spirit and power that led Jesus is available to all Christians as they deal with the issues of life in a sinful culture, the same sinful culture that Jesus both lived in, and came to save people from.
The Spirit led Jesus, not into the crowds, but into the wilderness. Why? We will see that this was a time of additional preparation when Jesus would be able to fully address the conflict between His deity and His humanity. It is an intensely personal time when, away from the people, and accountable only to Himself and to God, He would address some issues that would define His ministry and His mission.
In a similar fashion, when a Christian is called to serve in some notable ministry, it may be appropriate to listen to the Spirit and see if a time of similar preparation is needed.
Being forty days tempted of the devil. And in those days he did eat nothing: and when they were ended, he afterward hungered.
Jesus spent forty days in this time of quiet preparation, a time of fasting and prayer. The continuing Greek verb tense is used again for the word, "tempted." That is, the temptation to turn from His ministry was continual during this period. Jesus knew that his ministry included a tortuous death that would come only a few short years ahead. Jesus fully knew the gravity of the task, and also knew that He had the power to make the choices that would lead Him to that point. For Jesus, making the right choices would be easy for the Jesus the Christ, but very difficult for Jesus the Man.
Likewise, Christians are called to make the right choices in difficult situations. Just as satan, the unholy spirit, would test Jesus continually, Satan tests Christians continually in an attempt to turn them from their holy mission and return to his realm: the godless worldwide culture of sin.
How did Jesus conduct this time of preparation? This passage shows that Jesus, even as the eternal Messiah, still because of His humanity, required a time of fasting and prayer. The purpose for fasting involved two significant issues. Ancient cultures spent much of their time preparing food for consumption, and fasting would relieve them of this time-consuming effort. This provides more physical time for focusing upon God in prayer. Furthermore, fasting is an act of self-denial. It is easy to break the fast simply by eating, and the temptation to do this becomes great when one is hungry. Consequently, the maintenance of the fast provides spiritual time for prayer. The act of self denial helps one focus on the purpose of that denial: prayer and fellowship with God as one seeks God's will and purpose in their lives.
We find little recorded concerning Jesus' forty days of fasting and prayer, save a few specific temptations that seem to have come at the period when Jesus was about to end the fast.
And the devil said unto him, If thou be the Son of God, command this stone that it be made bread.
Jesus, the man, had a specific need: He was hungry. God has a purpose for our times of need. James teaches that tribulation should complete its work (Jas. 1:3-10) so that we would be fully prepared. It is a great temptation to jump out of a tribulation prematurely on our own. If our temptation to do so is great, note how much greater Jesus' temptation could be. In this example, Jesus is at the point of desperate hunger. If we were in the wilderness with nothing to eat, there would be little temptation to end the fast on our own power: there is no food. However, Jesus the man is also Jesus the Messiah, and as such is the agent of the creation of the universe (John 1:1-4, 14). Just as Jesus changed the water to wine at the wedding of Cana (John 2), He had the power to simply command a stone to become bread, and he could eat.
What was the nature of this temptation? Satan was tempting Jesus to misuse his powers as the Son of God, to satisfy his own personal desire. If Jesus were to give into such a temptation, He would have been turning away from His own nature, and to do so is to sin. If Jesus were to commit any sin, He would be unable to fulfill his mission, to take upon Himself on the cross the sin of the people He came to save. Jesus' ministry, and the entire event of His coming, would have been in vain. Jesus the Messiah would have succumbed to the physical desires of Jesus the man. Satan would have won the victory at the cross simply over an issue of bread.
Likewise, Christians face temptations that would draw them into sin when they are drawn to attitudes and actions that are not consistent with their calling and purpose as a Christian. Jesus had no desire to sin, though the temptation was clearly there. Christians also, as they grow in their faith, can develop a desire to avoid sinful attitude and actions, but even as Jesus was tempted, it is normal that Christians are also tempted. It is the response to the temptation that defines the nature of the Christian, not the presence of the temptation itself.
And Jesus answered him, saying, It is written, That man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God.
How did Jesus respond to the temptation? Even as the Messiah, Jesus did not reach down within Himself and overpower Satan with His own strength, as we sometimes try to do. Jesus simply exposed the truth by quoting from scripture. He quoted from Deuteronomy 2:8, affirming that there is more to God's purpose than to satiate our physical needs. God has promised to take care of our physical needs without our own miraculous intervention (Matt 6:2-34).
Jesus illustrates the difference between meeting spiritual needs and meeting physical needs. Assured of physical needs, Christians are freed to place their energy into maintaining their focus on God as their spiritual growth is attained. Satan has additional ammunition in this battle with Christians who do not separate physical needs and physical wants. One only needs to look at the financial spending patterns of Christians to see where their priorities are. Many state that they do not have enough money at the end of the bill-paying to give what they want to God's work, but those bills simply contain many things that they desire more than they do their obedience to God. By allowing our physical desires to overpower our spiritual responsibility we are committing a sin similar to that which Jesus would have committed by changing the stones to bread. Jesus reminds us to retain the appropriate priorities between that which we need and want physically and that which we need and want spiritually.
And the devil, taking him up into an high mountain, showed unto him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time.
Jesus the Messiah, as the agent of creation, was quite aware of the extent of the world and its kingdoms. Satan brought them to the mind of Jesus in an attempt to get Him to look at the creation from a different perspective than that which God intended. God created the universe, and mankind, to have a relationship with Him, a relationship that is founded upon His love and His act of grace that would be culminated in Jesus' ministry and passion. Intrinsically, the world is like an incubator in which those who would attain a relationship with God can be birthed and grown. Just as God called the Israelites out of the incubator that was Egypt, God calls His people out of this world to have an eternal relationship with Him. However, God ordained satan to be the prince of this world (2 Cor. 4:4; John 12:31, 14:30, 16:11), and like the Pharaoh who served to separate the children of Israel from their pagan neighbors, satan serves to separate those who will serve God from those who will not. In this manner, satan has authority over this pagan world, losing only those who will choose to follow God. Satan has something to offer Jesus.
And the devil said unto him, All this power will I give thee, and the glory of them: for that is delivered unto me; and to whomsoever I will I give it. 7If thou therefore wilt worship me, all shall be thine.
Satan does have a form of dominion over this world. In his domain are all of those who have rejected God, the preponderant majority of this world's populace. In his arrogance, Satan speaks as though this authority is his to give. He also uses language that turns the heads of people as he refers to the glory or splendor of his own authority.
I am reminded of a television commercial aired recently that illustrates the splendor and wonderful time people are having among the lights and sounds of an area casino. Drawn by this orgy of glitz, hype, and promises of rich rewards, people leave the casinos exhausted and relieved of their cash by a casino that has no interest in their personal welfare, but rather in how much of their wallet can be left behind. People tend to be drawn to that which is flashy. A Christian comedian (Jeff Foxworthy) has pointed out that bass boats are manufactured with glitter to make them shiny and attractive to people with base and simple tastes. He argues that simple people are hopelessly attracted to things that are shiny. This impotent but attractive glitz is what Satan refers to as glory and splendor.
What are some of the characteristics of this type of glory and splendor? Without exception, the attractions of this world are temporal, or serve to edify only for a short period of time. The pleasures of this world come at a great cost, for what would it be to gain the whole world, but to lose one's soul (Matt. 16:26)? Satan was offering Jesus the world of his dominion. Such an offer fit the first-century Jewish expectation for a military and worldly Messiah who would be their leader. With the power that Jesus had to perform miracles, he could easily have misused them to become the next world leader. Even with this temporal and political scenario, Jesusí reign would be short-lived, as in the perspective of eternity, all of created time is simply a moment. Fully, this is not God's plan, nor is it the plan for any person that they succumb to the temptations of the sensual glitz of this world; choose it instead of the eternal blessings of God, losing their eternal relationship with him.
Satan also describes the surrender to the sin of this world culture as worshiping him. To worship is to give authority to the object of worship. When we give authority to any entity other than God, that entity is an idol that is rejected by God. We give authority to things when we allow them to take control over us. For example, a house can become an idol when the time it takes from us, or the mortgage requirements it exacts exceed that which we essentially need. The same can be true of physical objects like cars, boats, and entertainment centers. The worship of objects of this world is not limited to things we own, but can also include things we desire. Idols may include giving in to immoral attitudes, actions, and relationships that turn us from obedience to God's purpose for us. All of these things are just glitz. They are only temporal and are only profitable to Satan's desire by turning us from God's plan for us. As a human, Jesus is subject to the same temptation.
And Jesus answered and said unto him, Get thee behind me, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the LORD thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.
Upon facing this temptation, the first thing Jesus did was to take his rightful authority over Satan and command him to remain in subjection. To "get thee behind me" fully refers to Jesus' place in the front of the pecking order. Likewise, the presence of the Holy Spirit in the heart and life of the believer creates a tremendous change in the person's life that one might not realize. Without the Holy Spirit, a person under the authority of Satan all of his/her days. Such a person is doomed to an eternity without the benefits of the presence of God.
However, with the Holy Spirit residing in the heart, Satan has no power over the believer. The power, the dunamis, resides with the believer. Just as Jesus has command over Satan to depart, the Christian has the same power to reject the cowardly and impotent beckonings of the evil one. When faced with Satan's attack, one can stand firm against him (Ephesians 6:12 ff) and charge him to retreat when that command is made with dependence upon the Holy Spirit. One cannot stand against Satan alone, but Satan is powerless against the Christian when the Holy Spirit is the one in authority.
After the command for Satan to go back to his rightful place in the pecking order, Jesus again quotes from scripture, this time from Deuteronomy 6:13. Jesus reminds us that only God is worthy of the worship of man. Only God is to be given authority over man. This is not the doctrine of Satan, nor is it the doctrine of this world that attributes power to the temporal glitz of fame and possessions.
It was the historian, Lord Acton (1834-1902) who stated that "power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely." Power and possession of the things of this world only serve to turn us away from God. This is why Jesus states that it is easier for a rich man to pass through the eye of a needle than to enter the kingdom of God (Matt. 19:24). Those who are rich tend to be given over to the authority of that which made them wealthy. Their self-dependency and self-importance will usually cause them to be satisfied with the things of this temporal world, and they will never seriously consider the eternal consequences of their short-lived comfort. When one looks at the richest men in the world, one sees a fraternity of pagans, people who give no consideration of their need for salvation. By so doing, they fail to worship God, and are fully engaged in the worship of the objects of their own world. The only beneficiaries of their greed will be those who inherit their riches when satan comes and drags them home with him.
It is appropriate that Christians ask the question, "whom do I serve?" Joshua declared his position when he stated to his pagan critics,
Choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD (Josh. 24:15).
For one to serve God, that service is without compromise. The things of this world are available to us to meet our needs, and God provides blessings to us that extend far beyond our needs. However, when we turn our eyes off of God and turn our hope and dreams on the things of this world, we sin, and fall into the trap that Satan set for Jesus Himself.
And he brought him to Jerusalem, and set him on a pinnacle of the temple, and said unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down from hence: 10For it is written, He shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee: 11And in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone.
Note that the temptations are written in this gospel were continual during the 40-day period, and in no way are limited solely to these few that are described. In this final recorded temptation satan suggests that Jesus commit an act that will make His identity known to all. Again, little is written about the years prior to the baptism of Jesus, but the human spirit in Jesus must have frequently screamed out, "don't you know who I am?" This offer by Satan is no isolated thought, but serves to play a large part in the definition of who the Messiah is, and what Jesus' purpose is. Satan was trying to force God to act in a manner contrary to His eternal plan. As Satan often does, he defended his offer using nice sounding words, and in this case, drew them directly from scripture.
Many of the sins of this world have been justified through euphemism. Genocide has become "ethnic cleansing." The killing of millions of unborn babies is a "choice." By taking the edge off of sin, satan can convince people that their action is not sin at all. The murder of unborn babies has become legal under civil law, a godless law that serves to keep millions of people from salvation. Satan twists the truth to the point of re-interpretation, and by so doing accomplishes tremendous damage to those who listen to the lies.
The purpose of God's Word is for mankind to come to know the nature and purposes of God. It is meant to encourage Christians as they face the conflict with this pagan and evil world in which we live. In this case, Satan is misusing God's Word in an attempt to cause Jesus to sin. Psalm 91:11-12 are words of encouragement that promise that God will simply protect those who are His. It is not intended to inspire people to test that promise by placing themselves in danger. If one were to place his body on the path of a railroad train in an attempt to prove the promise of Psalm 91, he would more than likely find that God's immediate purpose for him would be interrupted by his quick journey to eternity!
And Jesus answering said unto him, It is said, Thou shalt not tempt the LORD thy God.
Again, Jesus responded to the temptation by turning to words of scripture, quoting from Deuteronomy 6:16. God's promises are to be received with assurance and faith, and not to be put to the test. Testing God's promises is in direct opposition to the nature of faith. We see many circumstances in Old and New Testament history of people who put God's promises to the test, and many times, God met them at the point of their need and answered the challenge. However, the result was always less than what it would have been if the skeptic simply acted in faith. Also, those who we might criticize for their lack of faith did not have the resources of scripture and history that are available to the Christian today.
And when the devil had ended all the temptation, he departed from him for a season.
Satan was not done with Jesus yet. Neither is he done with a Christian who is trying to life a life of faith. Actually, the need for resistance of satan is considerably heightened upon the act of salvation. Satan has no conflict with those who are securely in his realm. It is through the powerful tool of temptation that satan offers his most successful attack against those who have turned away from him and turned toward God. We must recognize that satan is a capable and active enemy.
Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. (Jas. 4:7-8).
Satan is powerless when confronted with the Holy Spirit, and it is the Holy Spirit that is the light and power that indwells the Christian. Consequently, the Christian has all of the resource necessary to stop Satan in his tracks. If a Christian puts up even the slightest resistance to Satan, the power of the Holy Spirit will chase his influence away as light chases away darkness.
How, then, does one succeed in resisting temptation? The scripture is filled with examples and instruction on this. Jesus, by example, resisted temptation by drawing from God's Word the truth that can be applied in any situation. Paul describes the armor that protects a Christian against Satan's attacks, and by so doing reveals where chinks in that armor can exist (Eph. 6:12 ff.)
1. Take responsibility for the sin. This euphemistic world will tell you that the sin that tempts you is acceptable. God's Word, spoken through many sources such as scripture, prayer, the Holy Spirit, the counsel of other Christians, etc, will reveal the truth. If what you are thinking or doing that which is not a godly behavior or action, repentance is in order. To fail to do so is to give in to the temptation to sin.
2. Resist the Devil. When faced with a temptation, Jesus turned to scripture. When faced with temptation, the Christian can do the same. It is difficult to engage in most sinful behaviors and be in prayer at the same time. So, stopping to pray and seek God's purpose and His will can be a powerful tool to stop satan's attack. Lifestyle sins are more difficult to resist. One can remember that they are taking the Holy Spirit with them wherever they go, and to enter into an immoral or sinful lifestyle setting is to invite Jesus into it also.
3. Submit to God. Sin is committed by choice. We choose to allow those attitudes and actions into our lives that are contrary to God's will and purpose. If one turns completely to God in sincere prayer and a sincere desire to repent, God is faithful to enable one to overcome the temptation. However, if you find yourself at the point of making such choices, you are already engaged in a powerful spiritual battle that requires vigilance. The armor of Ephesians 6:12-20 must be held with discipline.
Satan was not done with Jesus after the encounter in the wilderness, and he is not done with any Christian short of their passing into eternity. Resisting satan is not a complex task, but can be one that requires vigilance and discipline. As a Christian grows in the faith and learns more of God's Word and His will, the armor that God provides against Satan will become more and more secure, and the battles with Satan will become less and less dramatic. However, Satan never quits, so the guard against temptation can never be let down.