There in the wilderness meditating on the Book of Deuteronomy, that period of “the testing of God’s Son” confirmed to Jesus what it meant to be Son of God. I have said before that the temptations were unique to Jesus as Son of God. They do have things to teach us, but only in a secondary way. That period of testing was a vital preparation for the three years of ministry to follow. So what did those 40 days accomplish?
The specific temptations teach us things which Jesus learned which are true for us too!
As we have seen in this short series, there was the temptation to turn stones into bread, the temptation to believe that being Son of God means never being hungry or thirsty or uncomfortable. We can face that same temptation – but we need to remember that we follow the Servant King who came not to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many. Like Jesus we need to learn that our lives do not depend on bread alone, but more importantly on God and His word.
Then there was the temptation for Jesus to claim the promises of Psalm 91 and jump from the Pinnacle of the Temple so that the angels would lift Him up – the temptation to believe that the Son of God would always be kept safe from any harm. When we face difficulty or suffering or persecution we can be tempted to demand that God rescue us – but we saw that is only putting God to the test and we are commanded not to do that.
Finally last week we considered the devil’s offer to give Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and all their splendour – if only Jesus would take the devil’s short cut and worship him. We were reminded then and also this morning that being the Son of God did not guarantee Jesus comfort or safety or an easy route to riches and glory – and the same is true for all of us who follow Jesus. We must avoid the devil’s short cuts!
Jesus’s victory in the temptations “bound the strong man”
We thought about this when we looked at the story of Jesus and the demon-possessed man who called Himself Legion in Mark 5. Nothing else could help this poor desperate man. Only the saving power of the Lord Jesus Christ. Note the power that Jesus had over the evil spirits.
Mark 5:7 He shouted at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? Swear to God that you won’t torture me!”
The demons knew who Jesus was. 10 And he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area.
Luke’s Gospel also records, And they begged him repeatedly not to order them to go into the Abyss.
The demons also knew that Jesus had absolute authority over their eternal destiny. And by a simple word of command Jesus cast the demons out of the man.
8 For Jesus had said to him, “Come out of this man, you evil spirit!”
No magical spells. No complicated rituals or sacrifices, which witchdoctors in many parts of the world will still perform today in doomed attempts to gain control of evil spirits. Simply the word of command. Demons have to obey the word of Jesus, just as even the wind and the waves had to obey when Jesus calmed the storm.
And the period of Temptations in the wilderness was vital for this authority Jesus demonstrated over the devil and all the demons. Not only did Jesus have that authority because of who He was, Son of God and Messiah. He had also been victorious over the devil in those 40 days and nights before his ministry began. Jesus the Son of God resisted all those temptations and in that way “bound the strong man” as He explained in the parable in Mark 3.
22 And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Beelzebub! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.”
23 So Jesus called them and spoke to them in parables: “How can Satan drive out Satan? 24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. 26 And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come. 27 In fact, no one can enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man. Then he can rob his house.
The strong man in this parable is the devil. Jesus’s human opponents recognized his authority over evil spirits but they were saying that Jesus’s deliverance ministry was only effective because he himself was controlled by a more powerful demon, even the chief of demons, the devil. Jesus’s explanation for his control over evil spirits was instead that he had overpowered the devil, and “bound the strong man.” And this was accomplished during the Temptations in the Wilderness.
The temptations prepared Jesus to begin his ministry
Mark sums up the period of temptation very briefly: Mark 1:12 At once the Spirit sent him out into the desert, 13 and he was in the desert forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.
Jesus was in the desert for 40 days. Here was spiritual warfare at its most intense. It had taken the nation of Israel forty years of wandering in the wilderness to discover what it meant for them to be God’s chosen people. Jesus spent 40 days in the desert fasting and praying learning from painful experience how hard it is to be the Son of God living as Son of Man in a sin-spoiled world. Angels were there. Demons were there and for 40 days and 40 nights the prince of darkness tried every trick he knew to extinguish the light of the world. And then the battle was over – Satan was defeated, the Son of God was victorious and the strong man was bound. Jesus was then completely ready and equipped to begin his ministry of bringing God’s Good News to a dying world. Jesus had put the devil in his place, more than that, Jesus had faced all the temptation the devil could throw at him, all the temptations we ever face, and had learned by experience how to help others who so easily fall to those temptations. Jesus was now fully equipped to begin His ministry as Saviour of the world.
Jesus left the wilderness fully equipped for the ministry which lay before Him. The Letter to the Hebrews chapter 2 explains to us what Jesus accomplished there in the wilderness.
10 In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering.
“Perfect through suffering.” Jesus always was morally perfect. The word perfect is better translated, “complete”, or “fully equipped.” Jesus time of temptation equipped him to understand what it is to be human child of God.
14 Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. 16 For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. 17 For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. 18 Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.
Because Jesus went through the wilderness, he knows life won’t always be comfortable for us. He knows we won’t always be safe and protected, wrapped up in cotton wool. And Jesus knows the temptations we will face to take the devil’s short cut, to compromise. And Jesus will always be there to help us!
Hebrews 4 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. 16 Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
The temptations show us general principles about how the devil works, what we should be on guard against, and how we can defeat him
The devil is a very sneaky enemy. But as the apostle Paul says in 2 Corinthians 2:11 11 in order that Satan might not outwit us …. we are not unaware of his schemes.
The Message paraphrase says, After all, we don’t want to unwittingly give Satan an opening for yet more mischief—we’re not oblivious to his sly ways!
So what does this period of Temptation Christ face teach us about the devil’s strategies? It is not primarily about specific temptations which will come to us – because none of us is Jesus, the Son of God, the Messiah. But it does teach us that one of the devil’s best tricks is to twist scripture. God provided Manna for the Israelites in the wilderness, surely you could turn stones to bread? Surely Psalm 91 promises God will always keep his chosen one safe from harm?
So often that is how the devil works. “Didn’t God say?” Remember that is how the serpent deceived Adam and Eve in Eden.
Genesis 3 Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”
2 The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, 3 but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’ ”
4 “You will not surely die,” the serpent said to the woman. 5 “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
So Adam and Eve were deceived by the lies of the devil and they sinned by disobeying the only command God had given them. When God came searching for them Adam blamed Eve.
13 Then the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?”
The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”
Deception is the devil’s stock in trade. Twisting Scripture. And plain simple lies. Jesus said to those who were opposing him,
John 8. 44 You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.
We must be on our guard for the lies of the devil. We are not ignorant of his schemes. Our Christian life is a continual battle against the deceptions of the devil.
Eph 6:10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.
In the cosmic spiritual war we are caught up in, we have to be ready to stand up against the devil and all his lies and deceptions.
2 Thessalonians 2 9 The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, 10 and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 11 For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie 12 and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness.
“All kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders and every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing.” We must be on our guard because not everything which is supernatural comes from God – quite the reverse. And false teaching too is more widespread than ever these days!
2 Tim: 4 For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4 They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.
We must continually check out what we are taught by comparing it with the timeless truth of God’s Word the Bible. We must be on our guard against all the false gospels. Everything from the deception of the Health Wealth and Success Prosperity Gospel we thought about this morning to Satan’s counterfeits, the cults of Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons and Christian Scientists who are neither Christians nor Scientists. Not forgetting the devil’s short cuts we thought about last week – the cult of celebrity and the idea that popularity is a proof that something is true!
Jesus overcame temptation by quoting the truths of Scripture back at the devil’s deceptions. And we need to know the truths of Scripture if we are to stand against the lies and half truths the devil peddles!
Ephesians 6:17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
We need to be on our guard so that nobody deceives us in any way! We need the spiritual gift of discernment, because the devil is out to lead Christians astray even more than ever.
Jesus faced the devil in the wilderness – and was victorious! He bound the strong man and was then completely prepared for the ministry which would follow. Then we read
Luke 4:13 When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time. But for us who follow Jesus, the devil never finishes his tempting. He never leaves us! We must always be on our guard!
1 Peter 48 Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 9 Resist him, standing firm in the faith,