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Matthew 4:1-11
Bob DeGray
September 1, 2013

Key Sentence

Every temptation is an attack on our trust; build trust by clinging to God through His word.


I. Trust God to provide what you really need. (Matthew 4:1-4)
II. Trust God by not telling Him what he has to do. (Matthew 4:5-7)
III. Trust God by worshipping Him alone. (Matthew 4:8-11)


All our lives we make choices we know we’re going to regret later. That extra piece of pizza at 11:00 p.m. that comes back to haunt us at 3:30. That extra verbal jab that poisons a relationship. That just-one-more drink, that just-one-page-further click, that raised hand, that fourth press of the snooze button: all of them can get us into trouble, sometimes life changing trouble, but always heart troubling trouble. Even if we’ve been walking with Jesus for many years, the maturity to resist temptation often comes late and it often comes hard. And for all of us there are still moments when resisting temptation fails.

Yet Jesus resisted temptation all of his life. Scripture tells us he was tempted just as we are, yet without sin. How did Jesus resist temptation? Our text in Matthew 4 this morning is the case study in this. There we’ll find that every temptation Jesus faces is an attack on trust. Jesus defends against those attacks by using God’s word. God’s word strengthens his soul’s trust and thus defeats Satan’s attacks. So if our temptations are attacks on our trust, we too should build trust by clinging to God through his word. God’s word, the sword of His Spirit stands between us and our enemy’s attack. But it does that primarily by building us up in trust, the very thing our enemy wants us to abandon.

Matthew divides Jesus’ temptation into three episodes, so we’ll divide our text into three pieces and see how each temptation is designed to attack Jesus’ trust in His Father. Matthew 4:1-4 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4But he answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

We said last week that anyone who repents from sin and turns to God in faith is filled with the Holy Spirit and declared pleasing to God. Though Jesus had not sinned, his baptism was also a turning to his Father in faith and trust. So he was the first to receive the fruit of salvation, the presence of the Holy Spirit and the recognition that in his dependence he was well pleasing to the Father.

Now the Holy Spirit leads him into the desert. This passage has many references to Deuteronomy, specifically chapters 6-8. And that passage was written at the end of the forty years the people of Israel wandered in the desert after they had distrusted God, him to the test and worshipped idols. So it’s very fitting that God’s Son would be led into the desert to pass the test that Israel failed.

Matthew tells us that he was taken there specifically to be tested or tempted by the devil. Just as God allowed Satan to test Job, so now the Spirit allows Satan to test Jesus. Yet at some level this was God testing Jesus. As the one who was not only fully God but fully man, the Son had put himself in a position to be tempted, and he truly suffered under that temptation, so that he might fully sympathize with the weaknesses and needs of those he came to rescue.

Scripture teaches that God never tempts us to sin. But he does test our faith to strengthen it. In Deuteronomy 8 Moses tells the people to “remember the way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not.” God’s purpose in testing Israel was to strengthen her; so also with Jesus. Satan’s purpose in tempting was altogether different; he succeeded in tempting Israel to lose trust in God, numerous times, but he would fail every time in the same attempt with Jesus.

So, verse 2, Jesus is led into the desert and fasts for forty days, reminiscent of the forty years that Israel was in the desert. This fasting was, no doubt, preparatory for his upcoming ministry, but also set the stage for the first temptation. Verse 3: The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” In English the phrase ‘if you are the Son of God’ seems to lean the temptation in the direction of making Jesus doubt his own Sonship or Deity, which had just been affirmed in his baptism. But the Greek pushes this phrase toward ‘since.’ ‘If, as is the case, you are the Son of God’ or ‘since you are the Son of God.’ Satan is not so much wanting Jesus to doubt his Sonship as he is wanting him to doubt God’s goodness and provision. Can you trust God to provide? Shouldn’t you provide for yourself?

Jesus’ answer is wonderful in so many ways: It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” Don’t miss the simple truth that Jesus answers every temptation from Scripture. It doesn’t matter if you are here today as a brand new believer, one who just put your trust in Christ, or as a grizzled veteran of the faith, one who has been walking with Jesus for many years, this truth is still a truth for you. Don’t try to escape temptation or live life apart from God’s Word. The Word provides strength to trust, strength to avoid temptation to all of God’s people. Reading it, studying it, memorizing it, researching verses that address areas of weakness, delighting in the God it reveals and the Son he loves, these disciplines bless all of God’s people. If Jesus himself profited from studying and knowing the Scriptures so that he could use them at this key moment, then none of us is too grown up for this truth. And none of us is too immature or too new in the faith for this not to be our answer.

So notice what this temptation was: it was an invitation to substitute the meeting of his felt need, hunger, for the meeting of his real need, intimacy with God through His word. How many of our temptations are like this? Our heads know that God is sufficient for all of our needs and that his plan is the perfect one for providing for us. But our desires battle against those truths, and Satan wants to tell us the lie that if we just satisfy ourselves a little with something else; with alcohol, with porn, with greed, with anger, with selfishness, then we’ll be alright. ‘I can handle just a little of this, and it will help me through. A little won’t hurt, right?’ Wrong. Satisfying worldly desire cannot truly satisfy – you always have to have more.

Man shall not live on bread alone. You can’t live on what the world provides. You’ve got to trust what God provides. It reminds me of the form of starvation called Kwashiokor syndrome. If a child is only getting bread or some other staple that has no protein, they can die of starvation even while eating something every day. In the same way, if all you eat is what the world provides, even if you give in to every temptation and just consume it every day, you will die spiritually. Because God says ‘bread alone is not enough – you need what my Word provides – heart knowledge of God that strengthens your soul.’

Every temptation is an attack on your trust. ‘God’s not providing – I’ve got to take care of this myself!’ God’s word is the defense against these attacks. ‘When I am afraid I will trust in you.’ Trust God to provide what you really need.

And don’t give in to the temptation to tell God what he has to do. That’s the second temptation Satan offers Jesus. Verses 5-7: Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple 6and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ “‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’” 7Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

The holy city is Jerusalem, the location of God’s temple. The highest point of the temple is probably not on the sanctuary itself, Josephus describes the towers at the entrance as being taller than everything else in the temple complex, and in addition being built into the walls of the city, a jump from one of these towers would land you deep in the Kidron valley. So it’s a great place to postulate a lethal jump from which only an act of God could save you.

Notice how Satan even uses the Bible to try to convince Jesus. Since you are the Son of God, certainly this Scripture will apply to you: “He will command his angels concerning you,” “On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.” The enemy is quoting from Psalm 91:11-12.

This is a psalm of comfort and confidence to those whose trust is in God. The beginning of the Psalm says “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. 2I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” Satan’s deceit lay in encouraging Jesus to force God’s hand, to put himself in a circumstance where he’s trying to manipulate God’s behavior.

So Jesus' refusal comes not from doubting whether he or his Father could command the forces of nature, but because Scripture forbids putting God to the test. His reply is taken directly from Deuteronomy: “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” The word ‘again’ is interesting: Satan has quoted Scripture, but Jesus says that one Scripture is not allowed to trump another Scripture: they have to be seen in light of each other. The existence of a promise does not give you permission to break a command.

Sometimes when we’re tempted we find ourselves saying ‘well, God is loving and gracious and he’ll forgive me. I’ll do this and count on his forgiveness later.’ But that’s putting God to the test and it’s not a test you want to make. Even forgiven sin has consequences. The Deuteronomy passage is about an incident at Massah, in Exodus 17 where the Israelites "put the Lord to the test" by demanding water and threatening to rebel against Moses. God gave them what they wanted, but that became one more step toward their ultimate refusal to enter the land of Canaan; the consequence of that was 40 years in the desert.

And notice that the only alternative they had to testing God this way was trusting God. Would he have provided the water without their grumbling? Probably so. Would the incident then have had any negative long term consequences? No. It would have glorified God, and Moses probably wouldn’t have gotten sinfully angry the next time the people begged him for water.

Jesus recognizes Satan’s temptation as just this sort of contrast between trusting and testing, and he trumps Satan’s Scripture with that truth. He will not resort to manipulative bribery. So the question for us, faced with temptation or with any trial or difficulty is, will we trust or will we try to manipulate.

I read a good book while I was in Slovakia. Actually it was a three book trilogy and I read it twice – so I really enjoyed it. It’s called The Lamb Among the Stars. It’s Christian Science Fiction, so it might not be to everybody’s taste. But for those of you who care, I would call it real science fiction, not fantasy. And the Christian part is very much about the nature of evil and temptation. So there are these two characters: one is Merral, who is pretty much the hero, and the other is DeLastro, a clergyman who is not the hero.

DeLastro falls into this trap in a blatant way, because an envoy from God, an angel, has been rescuing the situation from time to time. DeLastro is impressed and seemingly zealous and wants to be able to make God’s envoy do rescues. So he searches Scripture and literature to find out how the ancients got spiritual beings to do their will. Needless to say, he soon gets trapped by the enemy.

But Merral is a more interesting case. He falls into all kinds of sin and temptation in the course of the trilogy, and often has to repent and receives forgiveness and incredible grace. It’s pretty nicely done. But the one that almost takes him down is a subtly growing presumption that he knows what God is doing. And when a circumstance happens where God does not do what he expects, Merral is crushed. His trust is shattered and God finally has to put him out to pasture for a while before he recognizes that “I became proud; I imagined that I had contributed to my own success, and that blinded me. Then, when the inexplicable happened, I rebelled because it went against my expectations.”

Have you ever done that? It’s called presumption. We stop trusting when we begin to think God has to do what we want. And we can easily go directly from that to spiritual pride, which is really a sad sin, the idea that somehow I’m better, more deserving of God’s favor than others: ‘Do you see how that person behaves? Do you see how that person dresses? Did you hear what that person did? Thank God I’m not like that.’ All too often we fall into the trap of being the Pharisee in Jesus’ parable, who felt that he could speak as an equal to God because what he’d done gained him that platform. I had to ask forgiveness on behalf of Trinity just this week for voices that seemed to speak from this pride.

This temptation attacks our trust; it causes us to change the focus of our trust from God to ways we can manipulate God. But we can’t. God won’t be put to the test. God will not become a vending machine into which we put a dollar to get what we want. Presumption and spiritual pride are light years away from trust.

So these first two temptations both attack trust; we are tempted to stop trusting God for what we need, or we are tempted to try to manipulate the God of the universe. But in both cases what we really need is his word, which builds trust in us by revealing a God who is too wonderful to be manipulated by our tests.

In the last section Satan tries to shift the focus of Jesus’ trust by shifting the focus of his worship. Matthew 4:8-11 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. 9And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’” 11Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him.

You trust what you worship; you worship what you trust. Satan bluntly asks Jesus to worship him, which seems ludicrous on the surface of it, until you recognize that Satan is offering Jesus a way out of his suffering. Matthew has already quoted God’s use of a suffering servant text in Isaiah, and he has said that Jesus has come to save his people from their sins and Jesus know, if no one else does quite yet, that his rescue will involve his sacrificial sufferings under the weight of our sins.

At the other end of this Gospel we see that among his greatest suffering was the temptation to disobey at the point of bearing our sins. Jesus goes to the Garden of Gethsemane and in anguish he prays “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me.” Luke tells us he was in such anguish that his sweat was like great drops of blood. He was tempted to derail God’s plan. But then he says “nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” That’s trust. He knows what he wants, but he chooses what God wants.

So here, at the beginning of his ministry, Satan is offering him a way out of that ultimate suffering. He offers an alternate path to the authority and kingdom that Jesus has come to inaugurate, one that sidesteps the suffering and the sin bearing and the separation from His Father. Sounds good. There’s only one little clause in the fine print: that Jesus the creator has to fall down and worship Satan, the rebel creature. Which would of course be the ultimate victory.

Satan had corrupted himself and rebelled. He had corrupted countless fellow spiritual beings and led an army of fallen angels in rebellion. He had corrupted Adam and Eve and led them to their downfall. He had corrupted countless men and women for centuries and millennia, getting them to worship false gods and his image in countless forms and to worship the satisfaction of base desires and themselves and the world’s false security. Now, if he could corrupt the one God had sent to save his victory would be complete.

And still Satan and his minions and the world system he’s in charge of paint these glorious pictures of the short cuts to happiness, the sidesteps of suffering. Only there is still one little clause, one little phrase in the contract: you have to worship these things, rather than the God who created you and died for you.

Think about the world’s false promises: Worship power and you won’t need more. Worship sex and it’ll all be ecstasy. Worship money and you’ll have security. Worship the bottle or the needle; the pleasure is worth it. Worship yourself; look out for number one; no one else is going to. Worship self-interest and relationships will become disposable when they no longer profit you. Worship ‘isms:’ communism; capitalism; socialism; conservatism; libertarianism and your ‘ism’ will make the world right.

Satan offers all of this and more. Put anything other than God in first place – that’s all he asks – that’s all this temptation is about. Trust something other than God and I promise, you’ll miss all the suffering. Though countless others fall into this trap, Jesus doesn’t. He again turns to Scripture, to the Ten Commandments which are also recorded in Deuteronomy 6: “You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.”

Trust and worship go hand in hand; you worship what you trust and you come to trust what you worship. Jesus chooses to trust and worship God. And so must we. And by worship I don’t mean showing up on Sunday morning to sing a few good songs. True worship is moving the focus of your heart from your interests and isms and desires and self-absorption to Jesus; moving the eye of the hurricane of the storm of your thoughts from anything else to God.

Gail began reading one of my favorite books, Knowing God to the kids at the breakfast table as part of resuming school this week. J. I. Packer says in his introduction that the book grew out of a Copernican revolution in his thinking, “through realizing that I am not the center of things, but God is, and that I am his creature and child exist for him rather than he for me.” That’s worship.

Every temptation attacks trust and every sin shifts worship. If you trust money or equity or security or employment to get you through life, then that’s what you worship. If you trust pleasure or sex or a high of some kind to get you through the week, then that is what you worship. If you trust your own abilities or competence or intelligence or persuasiveness to get you what you want, then that is what you worship. If you trust people apart from God to meet your emotional and spiritual and even relational needs, then you are not worshipping God and you will be disappointed. Jesus is reminding us today “You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.”

So Satan attacks Jesus at the point of trust – can you really trust the Father or do you need to do this yourself, to test him, to sidestep his plan? And Jesus affirms trust – I will depend on him alone, I will not put him to the test, I will worship him. Jesus uses the Bible as his resource to affirm and strengthen this trust. How can we not do the same? Before temptation comes you need to get the Word in you, heart, mind and soul. Study, meditate and memorize so that you get in the habit of thinking God’s thoughts after him. When temptation comes you will then be able to combat the specific temptation with specifics from the Word of God.

But you must also recognize it as an attack on your trust in God and combat it with trust truths, not just with the bare commands of Scripture. Let me close now with just a few of those trust truths. Then we’ll sing our transition song before I do the invitation to communion

Psalm 9:9-10 The Lord is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. 10And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you.

Psalm 20:7-8 Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God. 8They collapse and fall, but we rise and stand upright.

Psalm 33:20-22 Our soul waits for the Lord; he is our help and our shield. 21For our heart is glad in him, because we trust in his holy name. 22Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us, even as we hope in you.

Psalm 37:1-5 Fret not yourself because of evildoers; be not envious of wrongdoers! 2For they will soon fade like the grass and wither like the green herb. 3Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness. 4Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. 5Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act.

Psalm 119:41-43 Let your steadfast love come to me, O Lord, your salvation according to your promise; 42then shall I have an answer for him who taunts me, for I trust in your word. 43And take not the word of truth utterly out of my mouth, for my hope is in your rules.

Psalm 52:7-9 “See the man who would not make God his refuge, but trusted in the abundance of his riches and sought refuge in his own destruction!” 8But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God. I trust in the steadfast love of God forever and ever. 9I will thank you forever, because you have done it. I will wait for your name, for it is good, in the presence of the godly.

Psalm 91:1-2 He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. 2I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”