11. Temptation

Starting a Journey with Jesus, Day 11    (Matthew 4:1-11)

When you travel, you probably have a destination in mind.  Yet even with a destination defined, it is rarely a straight line to get there.  Jesus goes into the desert, which was not exactly a detour, but it isn’t the most direct route that human wisdom would choose for bringing in God’s Kingdom.  What important lesson needs to be learned in the wilderness?  Let’s see…

Next Jesus was taken into the wild by the Spirit for the Test.  The Devil was ready to give it.  Jesus prepared for the Test by fasting forty days and forty nights.  That left him, of course, in a state of extreme hunger, which the Devil took advantage of in the first test: “Since you are God’s Son, speak the word that will turn these stones into loaves of bread.”

Jesus answered by quoting Deuteronomy: “It takes more than bread to stay alive. It takes a steady stream of words from God’s mouth.”

For the second test the Devil took him to the Holy City.  He sat him on top of the Temple and said, “Since you are God’s Son, jump.”  The Devil goaded him by quoting Psalm 91: “He has placed you in the care of angels. They will catch you so that you won’t so much as stub your toe on a stone.”

Jesus countered with another citation from Deuteronomy: “Don’t you dare test the Lord your God.”

For the third test, the Devil took him to the peak of a huge mountain.  He gestured expansively, pointing out all the earth’s kingdoms, how glorious they all were.  Then he said, “They’re yours–lock, stock, and barrel. Just go down on your knees and worship me, and they’re yours.”

Jesus’ refusal was curt: “Beat it, Satan!”  He backed his rebuke with a third quotation from Deuteronomy: “Worship the Lord your God, and only him.  Serve him with absolute single-heartedness.”

The Test was over.  The Devil left.  And in his place, angels! Angels came and took care of Jesus’ needs.   (MSG)


Jesus started preaching the kingdom, he said it is near.  He sounds like he is on a mission.  Even John the baptizing prophet recognizes a higher spiritual authority in Jesus.    On this journey, Jesus is led by the Spirit into the desert wilderness.  That seems like a detour from the kingdom.  In fact, Jesus discovers someone else wants to be king.  In the desert it is time to face the devil, to be tempted and tested about what the kingdom is and who is going to be king.

First, hunger.  Not “I-just-missed-a-meal” hunger.  This is 40-days-without-food hunger.  First devilish thrust: “If you are the son of God, tell the stones to become bread.”

Jesus parries it with the sword of God’s Word.  It is written “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes out of God’s mouth.”

Second, heights.  Heights make some people dizzy while others grow overconfident and lose their judgment.  Forgetting how much they need God, they might even think they can command God’s miracles or wonders as if they are magic tricks.  Second devilish taunt:  “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down.  For it is written ‘they will lift you up … so you will not strike your foot on a stone.”

Jesus counters the devil’s scripture twisting with spiritual truth.  “It is also written, ‘Do not put the Lord Your God to the test.’”

Third, holy majesty.  We ascend mountains to worship or to claim conquest.  From the mountaintop, the devil offers all worldly kingdoms in exchange for worship.  It was a naked power play.  Third temptation: “All this I will give you if you bow down and worship me.”

Jesus’ third rebuttal:  “Away from me Satan!  For it is written: Worship the Lord your God and save Him only.”  There was nothing more to offer, no temptation that could compare.  The devil left him and angels came and attended him.

On most journeys, small and seemingly insignificant choices made near the beginning set the course for the whole trip.  If you get started in the wrong direction, even slightly, you won’t arrive at your destination.  Jesus is tempted in several wrong directions.  He sees the traps and doesn’t go off-course.

  1. Man needs bread, but he need God’s word even more.
  2. God will take care of us, but we should not be stupid and put Him to the test.
  3. Power is alluring, but not at the cost of worshipping what is false and turning away from God.

The mistakes and missteps you have made in the past–as well as the wonderful choices you have made–have brought you to where you are now.  Where are you being tempted?  What’s being offered or promised?  Can you see as wisely as Jesus did what is really at stake?

As we continue to journey with Jesus, learn from what he says, watch what he does, and let the truth and wisdom of it speak to your heart.

For today, in whatever way you are being tested or tempted, ask God to help you meet the temptation with more than your own willpower, to have the power of His Spirit helping you.

Prayer:  God, I am tempted to put myself first and to take care of my needs and do it my way. 

It is written: “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word from Your mouth.” 

You teach me: Test yourself, but don’t put God to the test, demanding miracles on a whim.  Worship God alone. 

Lord, I am walking with You and by Your grace and power, today I will walk past the temptation and instead honor You.