Matthew 4:1-11
Facing Temptation
by Rev. Jack Peterson

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Matthew wrote to show that Christ was the
Messiah and fulfilled the Jewish prophecies.

At that time Jesus was led by the spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.  He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was hungry. The tempter approached and said to him, "If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread."  He said in reply, "It is written: One does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God."

Then the devil took him to the holy city, and made him stand on the parapet of the temple, and said to him, "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down.  For it is written: He will command his angels concerning you and will their hands they will support you, lest you dash your foot against a stone."  Jesus answered him, "Again it is written, You shall not put the Lord, your God to the test."

Then the devil took him up to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence, and said to him, "All these I shall give to you, if you will prostrate yourself and worship me."  At this, Jesus said to him, "Get away, Satan!  It is written: The Lord, your God shall you worship and him alone shall you serve,."

Then the devil left him and, behold, angels came and ministered to him.

Our heavenly Father looked down upon his dear children with tender compassion and grasped our pain, confusion, and desperation. Sin, selfishness, and anger had so ravaged our world and caused immeasurable hurt, doubt, and despair. He could not leave us in that state. So, the Father chose to respond with immense love. God sent his only begotten Son to bring healing, forgiveness, and light to our dark and hurting world.

The birth of Christ in the stable at Bethlehem was a glorious and humble start to this loving response. Jesus leapt down from heaven and truly embraced our human condition, taking the form of a servant. Later, Jesus would subject himself to John’s baptism of repentance and demonstrate in a most powerful way that he came to take on our sin and pay the price for it while never committing a sin himself. Soon thereafter, Jesus would be led into the desert by the Holy Spirit, fast for 40 days and nights and be tempted by Satan. This moment, at the start of Jesus’ public ministry, is what we ponder on the first Sunday of Lent.

The mere fact that Jesus was tempted is encouraging. Jesus Christ was fully God and fully man. That is, Jesus, the second person of the holy Trinity, had two natures. The temptations were only possible because he had a human nature with a human will that was fully operational. So, we can say in truth that Jesus was tempted by Satan. It is encouraging to know that Jesus understands this element of our human nature — that we are tempted so often throughout each day. Furthermore, in Jesus’ rebuttal of Satan’s enticements, he demonstrated that we can turn aside from our temptations and humbly embrace the will of our heavenly Father. With God’s grace, we can live holy and upright lives. Paul encourages the community at Philippi with the famous words: “I can do all things in him who strengthens me” (Phil 4:13).

Satan’s first effort was to get Jesus to turn stones into loaves of bread. It certainly was a clever effort at the conclusion of a 40-day fast. The temptation represents a common one for most human beings — to over focus on the physical dimension of our lives at the expense of the spiritual dimension. Our body has many needs including food, water and rest. Those needs are very real and must be satisfied in order to sustain life. Furthermore, it is a good thing, following Jesus’ example, to share a warm, tasty meal with family and friends as well as to share our bread with the hungry.

However, our broken nature finds it very easy to place too much emphasis on food at the expense of our spiritual needs. We are, in fact, a body and soul composite. Our souls need to be nourished as well as our bodies. Jesus would argue that our spiritual needs are more important than our physical needs. Jesus’ response to Satan at this moment is quite direct: “One does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.” How devoted am I to centering my life in God’s Word, to studying and praying with it every day?

Satan’s second effort was to tempt Jesus to misuse his powers and gifts for show rather than to accomplish the plans of the Father: “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down (from the Temple roof ).” Satan wants Jesus to demonstrate his authority simply for a spectacle of power. Jesus responds sharply, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.” Do I give in to the temptation to use my gifts and talents falsely to build my ego and to lord it over others in my fields of influence such as in the family or at work?

Finally, Satan takes Jesus up a high mountain and shows him all the kingdoms of the world. Then, he makes a false claim to be able to give all of them to Jesus if he but prostrates himself and worships Satan. Satan can’t offer these things to Jesus. They are not his to begin with. Satan proves once again to be the prince of lies. Jesus rebukes him: “Get away, Satan.” Am I tempted to compromise my character and values to accomplish my personal goals, or do I worship God alone and lovingly, obediently embrace the Father’s plans for my life?

Let me finish with the words of Psalm 51: “Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness; in the greatness of your compassion, wipe out my offense. Thoroughly wash me from my guilt and of my sin cleanse me … Give me back the joy of your salvation, and a willing spirit sustain in me. O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall proclaim your praise.”

Fr. Peterson is director of mission and development for the Youth Apostles.