Mark 1:12&13 “At once the Spirit sent him out into the desert, and he was in the desert for forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended.”
We are a dozen verses into Mark’s gospel and we are confronted with . . . Satan! There is no apology evinced nor needed for that fact, any more than for the appearance of the serpent in the garden of Eden. We are simply told of Satan’s activity by the evangelist Mark, that he tempted Jesus. Mark is not embarrassed by this, and would be perplexed by a patronising attitude to belief in the devil seen in pockets of the professing church of our day. “They have not tried to do much for Jesus,” he would respond, “or they would have been confronted with his devices.”
The existence of the devil is assumed by the whole Bible, especially the New Testament. So men are being urged to make some place in their philosophy of life for the reality of the devil and his works. In other words, when you read the New Testament gospels you are being lifted out of the shadowlands of godless materialism and you are confronted by a God-created universe in which an evil power lurks, and a supernatural world. It is a totally different world-view. For the Christian there is the ‘facticity’ of Satan; he lives as a spirit who is the head of a confederacy of evil. His name means ‘adversary’, because that is his main work to contend against every follower of the Lord Jesus. For our help in identifying him he has been given a number of additional names such as Devil, Apollyon and Belial. The Jews called him Beelzebub and regarded him as Prince of the demons. Satan is also termed the Dragon, and Serpent, a name which reminds us of his cunning. We are told that he was once a high ranking angel who revolted against God and became the leader of all other rebel angels who have a form of structure – principalities, powers and rulers of the darkness of this world. Satan’s chief characteristics are his power, hatred, evil and cunning.
The Lord Jesus referred to him on many occasions, and actually exorcised evil spirits from both men and women, young and old. There are many references to this activity in the second half of this first chapter of Mark. There was evidently a most unusual demonic presence in the land of Judah during the earthly ministry of the Lord Jesus, and that is exactly what we’d expect. We also find the Saviour warning those proud sons of Abraham who hated him that they were of their father the devil. Part of your personal problem – I do not say all your problem – but one part of it is that the god of this world has also been active in your life, as in the lives of all men, hiding from you the glories of Jesus Christ.
If your inclination is to take a penknife and cut out all the references to Satan in your Bible you will end up removing not only all that is supernatural, and miraculous, but also the Scriptures’ teaching on justification, redemption, heaven and hell. So Christianity goes. Once men started restating any part of the revelation of the Bible in what they called ‘modern thought-forms’ there was no reason to stop short of a complete rejection of the authority of the Bible. That is the Christ-less world we now live in. I’m talking about our individualistic, impertinent, confident, mobile, free-thinking, free-loving, free-choice, light-on-its-feet, modern age. For the folk who live in that world the devil is not a figure to be taken seriously, certainly not someone with whom they are acquainted, who could have had any influence over them at all. But neither do they take the Bible seriously; for them it has become a collection of religious thoughts some of which they are prepared to take on board – like love being the greatest of all – while most of the others they have rejected: “but I have to decide; I must become the ultimate authority for what I believe.” J.C.Ryle wrote with absolute accuracy, “Unbelief about the existence and personality of Satan has often proved the first step to unbelief about God.”
However, when men are confronted with particularly heinous acts of wickedness – the abduction and murder of two little girls, the Belsen concentration camp, teenage suicide-bombers, multiple rape, genocide in the Balkans, the killing of an old lady on Anglesey and the cutting out of her heart – a certain chill falls over them and secular certainties begin to look decidedly shaky. Even hardened soldiers and policemen are deeply troubled. Those men on the front line are not as confident as the academics in their ivory libraries to dismiss the existence and activity of Satan. They are the men carrying out the body bags. When you see pictures of the ordinary people who perpetrate such horrors, you sense behind them and through them a far darker abomination at work. Those who believe in Christ are taught by him to be aware of Satan, while those who reject Jesus Christ will surely become fearfully and intimately acquainted with the devil in the world to come.
1. THE SPIRIT SENT JESUS INTO THE WILDERNESS.
We are told that it was the Spirit of God that sent Jesus into the wilderness. He had just been baptized in the Jordan. He had heard the voice of God, and the Spirit of God had come upon him and remained on him. From such a peak redemptive experience he was taken by the same God off into the desert to deal with Satan. In other words, the temptations of Christ were all determined by God. One day he would take Jesus into a far worse wilderness called Golgotha. The temptations of Job were similarly planned by God. When Paul was troubled by a thorn in the flesh he tells us that it was a messenger of Satan, but also that it had been given to him by God. So here we have a God who takes the initiative in bringing trials into the lives of every Christian: God tests and tries his children. Perhaps that is one key lesson from this incident. In my life as a Christian God is often going to test my faith. It is going to be a stronger faith as a consequence, and I am going to know on darker days that I am not going to give it up easily because it has been tested on many previous occasions. Christ’s victory in the wilderness resulted in increasing confidence throughout his entire ministry.
This is the point I want to make, that there is no reason at all why any Christian shouldn’t be able to cope with major trials of our faith. Let me give you some solid reasons for this:
i] Firstly, there is extraordinary strength that is ours simply as men and women made in the image of God. We do not find our identity as the highest animals, the result of the evolutionary process, the fittest survivors of the animal kingdom. Animals don’t lay down their lives for their friends. Men and women have been made by God a little lower than the angels, and the implications of that are enormous for lives of courage and self-denial. More than that, we are also people living in a nation where there has been earlier grace, that is, where there has been Bible influence for many generations. We also cannot underestimate the benefits that come to people from being born into a stable loving family, which was the Creator’s pattern for mankind from the time of our first parents. I am not talking about Christians, you understand. I am saying that because of God’s common grace – which is shown to all people without exception – even men and women who are not professing Christians are capable of extraordinary resilience and endurance
Let me give you an illustration of this. There was a fascinating obituary in the Times this last week of a London lawyer named Henry De Lotbiniare who died on October 1 aged 57. When he was 42 this most handsome of men discovered an ulcer on the roof of his mouth, and it proved to be cancer of the salivary gland. Over the next 15 years in 17 operations at the Royal London Hospital a maxillofacial surgeon named Ian Hutchison removed almost every part of the left side of De Lotbiniere’s head – lower jaw, upper jaw, eye socket, forehead, part of his brain – reconstructing the face with skin and muscle grafts from other parts of his body. This is the wilderness God appointed Henry De Lotbiniare to walk through. What was his response? Suicidal despair? “Life is not worth living any longer? Let me die in dignity.” Not at all. Here was a most remarkable man who said, “I am alive, and I am not going to let this tumour get in my way.” Wherever he went, the people he met were left with a smile in their hearts. People who talked to him were staggered by his joie de vivre, and his reiterated reminder that “you only have one life and you must get on with it and not think of what might have been.” He had a plate in his mouth to enable him to talk after his palate had been removed. He professed to be unperturbed by the way he looked. It was wonderful, he insisted, simply to be alive. He always refused antidepressants, insisting that the brain and his character had not altered, and that “what you look like is a seriously minor part of the person you are.”
Henry said that he’d got an interesting job, two splendid children and a loving wife Anita who tolerated his passion for cricket. His vocation was being a lawyer, and his colleagues were amazed at his unquenchable exuberance, courtesy and sense of fun. When his left eye was removed in 1993 he took to wearing an eye-patch which he would change to match his colourful ties. In March this year, when the tumour spread to his right eye and he lost his sight altogether he immediately began to teach himself to touch-type. He continued to love doing crosswords and writing doggerel verse to entertain his friends. During a family holiday in Devon at a seaside village where they had gone every year since childhood, he caught pneumonia and died in a Plymouth hospital. There is no reference at all in the Times obituary to any church going or to his faith. He may have been a Christian, and I hope he was, but Henry De Lotbiniare was certainly made in the image of God, and all the operations on his head which he endured with such style could not efface that. He also lived in a nation where the gospel has been strong and the Bible’s truth has left its legacy. He had a fine classical education. He was blessed with loving parents and that family in which he himself was nurtured, and then he married and had another family of his own. It was God who ultimately brought this horrendous trial into the life of Henry De Lotbiniare but God who also gave him strength to resist despair. He had more courage than the prophet Elijah who lay down under a juniper tree and asked that he might die. God supported this man, and I believe I can say quite emphatically that God loved him, and had blessed him so that he helped many people. God had been so good to him, and that must be something his wife and children ought to say with the deepest gratitude. God also loves each one of you because he has brought you here to hear these words and hear of his Son Jesus Christ, and to know the way of forgiveness for your sins.
But such blessings that come to all mankind from our benevolent God, you understand, are not salvation, and that is an incalculable loss. It is not enough that you are here. The blessings of common grace do not bring us forgiveness of sins: they do not inevitably lead us to know the saving grace of God in Jesus Christ. They can engender pride and self-sufficiency and satisfaction in our own attainments and courage, but common grace in all its variegated forms does provide people with such good gifts as extraordinary resilience, hope, determination, love, sacrifice and long life. Men will deny themselves for their wives and children. There are grand people who are not Christians. Reading about Henry De Lotbiniare this week, looking at the photograph and oil painting of that much operated head with that confident smile, my wife and I were humbled and stirred. There are marvellous skills which God gives to surgeons, specialists, nurses and doctors for which we must give thanks to God. That is one, maybe minor, reason why we should not fear when the Spirit sends us into a desert. Even people without God have coped in such barren places, let alone those who live in daily union with Christ. In the most inhospitable place in the world God is there. Every wilderness lives and moves and has its being in God. There God can bring teachers, and colleagues, and solicitors, and authors, and managers, and neighbours, and scientists, and craftsmen into our lives, none of whom make any profession to be Christians but whom God can use to strengthen our own exodus to our heavenly home. The Israelites plundered the Egyptians as they left that land for Canaan. There were things those pagans had which were useful for God’s people in facing a wilderness. I am saying that simply as a creature made in the image of God you have vast resources of strength to overcome the trials you are facing.
ii] Secondly, when the Spirit takes you into a desert you will be able to survive because God promises all Christians that their faith will not fail. A verse which many Christians wisely memorise is I Corinthians 10:13, “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way of escape that ye may be able to bear it.” In other words, no time we have to spend in a wilderness by the decree of God will be of such duration and relentless agony that it will result in your faith in Christ collapsing, if you have truly been called and chosen and redeemed by the love of God in Jesus Christ. The wilderness time will be the great test of whether you are a real follower of the Saviour. Many who profess to be Christians do not survive a couple of days in the desert. Their faith has gone. So we judge that they were stony-ground hearers who sprang up quickly, responding joyfully to the first hearing of the gospel, but once they met a trial their faith collapsed just as quickly. There is no promise in the Bible that the faith of every single person who’s been confirmed, or baptized, or has gone forward in a meeting, or raised their hand, or prayed with someone, or even trained for the ministry, is going to endure. We personally know many who have fallen away, but none of the elect of God has ever perished because God took each one through the wilderness. Not one of them will experience the failure of their trust in God, though they are sorely tried in desert experiences. God will keep you, simply because he is the Shepherd of his people and he has not lost one lamb yet. He guards every single one who keeps looking unto his Son Jesus Christ. God will make a way of escape – a fountain will spring up in the wilderness. God will send some of his ravens to feed you.
iii] Thirdly, God says that you will survive the desert temptations because he who is in you is greater than he that is in the world. Who is in you? Jesus Christ the great wilderness survivor, the great conqueror of Satan. He is in you as much as your heart or your brain is in you, so that you have illimitable access to an indwelling Saviour. You will never be alone in the wilderness. I hope you don’t live with a fear always at the back of your mind that a certain calamity is going to overtake you. We think to ourselves that there are some wildernesses that we might cope with, but others . . . ? They would be our downfall. A person might say, “Just as long as I didn’t get Alzheimer’s and lived on not knowing who my own family were for a few years, a burden on everyone. I couldn’t bear that wilderness.” Or you fear some genetic disease which runs in your family, or you fear the loss of your spouse, and being alone after years of marriage, “God, not that wilderness,” you cry. I am saying, let all those things be of lesser importance. What do they matter if the Lord Jesus never leaves you? Wouldn’t you rather be in an old people’s home with a disease than home and well and without Jesus Christ – godless and hopeless, facing a lost eternity? Wouldn’t you rather be in the desert in which Job found himself, yet saying, “I know that my Redeemer liveth,” than have all your possessions and family, yet existing without God?
You know that I don’t want to give anyone any encouragement to sin but let me add another word. Every desert in which we find ourselves we suspect we have entered that wilderness not just because of a Sovereign God’s directing us there but in part quite deliberately by our own folly and weakness. Peter went into one such wilderness when he stood by a fire on a cold night and denied his Lord. That is what I am talking about and I am saying this, that even if we go into a sinful wilderness through our own stupidity (and some of Christ’s sheep can be very stupid creatures) the Lord will still be with us. That is no encouragement to anyone to defy God, and it won’t be taken as such by one real Christian. The promise of his indwelling is unconditional: “when you walk into that desert I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Surely that knowledge will make you want to avoid those wilderness escapades – “where am I taking my Saviour Jesus?” Yet we know that we are prone to wander – Lord we feel it – and prone to leave the God we love. We know that if we are spared today for another hour or two we are certain that we shall sin. We cannot avoid sinning. But God smiles upon his people in the end – Oh he frowns too! – but his promises are true, “Lo I am with you always, even until the end of the wilderness.”
So that is my first point, that Christ was driven into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit, and Jesus chose to go there. It was a positive initiative that the Son of God took. The apostle John tells us this: “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work” (I Jn. 3:8). Immediately the Lord Jesus is set apart for his public ministry he sets off. There is no time to waste. He is launching his attack on the Kingdom of Darkness, and after forty days’ training by prayer and fasting he confronts Satan and the encounter didn’t last very long. It was not an encounter the devil relished, indeed he would have rather have been in the pit of hell than have met the Lord Sabaoth’s Son, filled with the Holy Spirit, sure of the Father’s love for him and wielding the mighty sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God.
2. THE TEMPTATIONS OF CHRIST WERE REAL.
We are told that plainly enough, “He was in the desert forty days, being tempted by Satan” (v.13). The writer to the Hebrews tells us that Christ can help those who are tempted only because he himself has been tempted (Heb. 2:18). The same writer also tells us that Christ’s temptations, although without sin, were exactly like those of his brethren (Heb. 4:15), that is, those who are bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh. Whereas at his baptism the voice from heaven and the descent of the Spirit are saying to us, “This is God the Son,” his temptations in the desert are saying to us, “This is a human being.” It was as a man that Mary’s son Jesus had to face the devil. There are three important questions to answer about Christ’s temptations:
i] Were they real temptations that Christ faced? In other words, did he feel the appeal of the sinful proposals that were being put to him? Did he smell the scent of illicit power? Did the hint of the taste of forbidden fruit make his saliva ducts start to flow? Did he have to struggle, and fight with all his might not to receive these propositions? One of the old church fathers said that Jesus could dispel the assault of the devil ‘like vapour’. Would that it were so! Certainly it is not so for us. To switch off that television programme, to delete that wretched pornographic advertisement that comes unsolicited onto the monitor, to resist the pride that comes from praise – oh how hard! How often men succumb with scarcely a fight, but we are affirming that even the Lord Jesus himself didn’t win his victories effortlessly. There were forty days of prayer and fasting in the desert. “When Peter becomes the devil’s mouthpiece, the Lord’s rebuke (‘Get thee behind me, Satan!’) is so sharp as to suggest that the temptation had struck a raw nerve” (D. Macleod). In Gethsemane the resistance was such that his sweat was as drops of blood. The writer to the Hebrews speaks of his “strong crying and tears.” In the end, God’s will was done, always done, but the struggle to resist the temptation was immense. Jesus stood only by the power of the Holy Spirit: “not by some effortless, Samson-like omnipotence, but by the power of a relationship with God which was moral and personal and which meant that he was invincible in faith, hope and love” (D. Macleod). We must not misconstrue the effect of Jesus’ sinless integrity: It was not a series of short, painless struggles with temptation. Rather it involved our Lord in a lifetime of protracted resistance. Because he did not yield easily (unlike us), and was not an easy prey, the devil had to deploy all his wiles and use all his resources. “The very fact that he was invincible meant that he endured the full force of temptation’s ferocity, until hell slunk away, defeated and exhausted. Against us, a little temptation suffices. Against him, Satan found himself forced to push himself to his limits” (Donald Macleod, “The Person of Christ,” IVP, Leicester, 1998, p.228).
ii] What did the devil work on when he tempted Christ? James tells us that when men fall it is because they are dragged away by their own evil desire and are enticed. So it was with King David. So it is with all of us, even the Christians here, though sin no longer dominates us yet it remains in us, and will do so for the rest of our days, always to be resisted and mortified. There is a law of sin in our members that opens its arms to embrace its own. No so with the Lord Jesus: he lacked any predisposition to sin. There was no love of sin in his heart, and no affinity with sin. The prince of this world had no foot-hold on him. There was no evil passions to mortify. There was no sinful proclivity to which temptation could speak and find an encouraging response.
“What, then, did the devil work on? Part of the answer is that although Jesus had no vices he did have sinless human weaknesses. He could be tempted (and he clearly was) through hunger, through the fear of pain and love for a friend. It is not a mark of fallenness to feel any of these, and yet each of them could generate strong pressures to deviate from the path prescribed for him. Jesus also had holy affections, feelings and longings which, in the course of his work, he had to thwart. Foremost among these was the longing for communion with God. Is it any wonder that in the Garden of Gethsemane the prospect of losing this communion with God almost overwhelmed him? He was not being called upon to mortify a lust. He was being called upon to frustrate the holiest aspiration of which man is capable. What he wanted, and what his Father directed were in conflict. Hence the loud cries and tears (Hebrews 5:7)” (Donald Macleod, “The Person of Christ,” IVP, Leicester, 1998, p.226).
So the Lord Jesus had his humanness with basic desires for companionship, a life of peace, family affections and unity, food and drink. There were times when he had to choose between obeying God and satisfying those desires. In that choice lay the temptation. He was sent into a family of sinners, and lived for thirty years in a small town of sinners and then for three years engaged in close personal outreach to sinners. He must live amongst them. In his baptism he identifies himself with them, and at the end he dies the death a sinner dies. How his holy heart would shrink from all of that. It was in such areas that Satan tempted him.
iii] Did Jesus always know that victory over temptation was certain? If he were conscious that the dice was always loaded in his favour, and that he couldn’t possibly lose, then those temptations would have been only a charade wouldn’t they? Of course, the word of God which he knew, as well as the inward witness of the Spirit, persuaded him that he was God’s Son, accomplishing God’s task, upheld and kept by God in all the dangers and difficulties of his mission. It was impossible for him to fall. God cannot sin. But there is a difference between knowledge and the certainty that that knowledge is true for me. There is a difference between trusting in God keeping me and the assurance that God will keep me at this time of high and hot temptation. We generally know that we are Christians, and so we are going to persevere to the end, but that doesn’t mean in the midst of loss and guilt that we’re never afraid and anxious. Before the cross and on the cross the Saviour is wrestling with particular temptations. When he prays on Golgotha he addresses the Lord for the only time by the word, ‘God.’ Everywhere else when he prays he addresses God as his ‘Father’, ‘Holy Father,’ ‘Righteous Father.’ But he does not when he is in the midst of the dereliction. It is ‘God’. But even then it is ‘My God.’ So though he knew, as we know,
“Yes I to the end shall endure,
As sure as the earnest is given,
More happy but not more secure,
The glorified spirits in heaven” (Augustus Toplady).
yet in our temptations we do not always enjoy the comfort of that truth. Ultimately for Christ there was victory. Ultimately! “He was almost overwhelmed, almost broken, so that he had to cry with strong crying and tears. Far from being the one who escapes temptation because he is sinless, he is the one who precisely because he is sinless alone experiences temptation in its full intensity. He alone took all the devil could throw at him” (Donald Macleod, “From Glory to Golgotha,” Christian Focus, Fearn, Ross-shire, 2002, p.47).
3. THERE WERE THREE PARTICULAR TEMPTATIONS SATAN BROUGHT TO THE LORD JESUS.
We will look at them as they are recorded for us by the evangelist Matthew:
i] In the first temptation we are told that, “The tempter came to him and said, ‘If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.’ Jesus answered, ‘It is written: “man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”‘” (Matt. 4:3&4). Jesus was being tempted concerning his patience, and so this will be one major area in which we are going to be tested. Our fellow men want things done here and now, and we are affected by that mentality. The Lord Jesus was ravenously hungry and on the verge of physical collapse after almost six weeks of fasting and praying. The tempter appeared at that time, when Jesus was so weak, and Satan urged him to use his power to make food for himself. “Just speak the word and it will be bread.” What is the devil saying? “Save yourself!” It was the temptation that came to the Lord when he hung on the cross. One of the thieves shouted at him, “Save yourself and us if you are the Christ.” In other words, “How can you save us unless you first save yourself?” Wasn’t bread legitimate? Didn’t the Saviour himself teach his disciples to ask God, “Give us this day our daily bread”?
This is the first temptation and it is based on the lie that the end justifies the means. The end will be the life of Jesus, that he will live and help many people. You hear it so often, “A man has to live doesn’t he?” Students cheat writing their papers for their degrees. Men lead girls on to believe they intend to marry them. Women terminate an unwanted pregnancy because they have to maintain a certain standard of living. “I’ve got to live. A man has to live hasn’t he?”
The real issue is the impatience of unbelief that makes us resentful and causes us to challenge the wisdom and goodness of God. Who took away your wife in death? Who gave you the brain-damaged child? Who allowed the ulcer on the palate to be cancerous so that half the head had to be removed in seventeen operations? Who drove Jesus into the wilderness? God did it all. Job said, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away.” Not fate, not bad luck, and not the devil. Ultimately it is God – of whom, and through whom, and to whom are all things.
Israel wandered in the desert and murmured in their unbelief: “Is God here or not? Is God with us in this wilderness or not? Then why is there no daily food?” At times like that Satan comes and tempts us to use the power at our disposal to make a Golden Calf, to try another god, to end the weakness and frustration and poverty and hunger. “Make bread,” he tells Jesus. “Use it for yourself,” not for mankind. The devil turns our thoughts inwardly. Two prominent politicians, we have learned, both of them married, had a four year long affair. They did not think of others while they were cheating. They did not talk about their partners while they were together. They simply talked about themselves, “Look after number one, and his desires and hungers and feelings.”
How does Jesus answer Satan? Does he erupt in a magnificent display of glory that blows away the devil and puts him down on the planet Pluto? No! Christ does not use his miraculous powers at all because he does not need to. He has a miraculous book, the Word of God. He takes a truth from Deuteronomy 8:3 and he tells the tempter, “It is written: ‘Man does not live by bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'” (Matt. 4:4). Food may keep us biologically alive, but life that is abundant and purposeful and blessed and eternal is sustained only as we obey God. When the Lord says to us, “Come unto me and I will give you rest,” then we go to him. Those words came from the mouth of God, and life is found in doing what they say. That is where life starts. There’s no life without going as a heavy-laden sinner to Jesus Christ. Then life continues in absolute obedience to the will of God. If he says, “Not yet . . . wait a while,” then we are patient. You see, a man doesn’t have to live. That is a lie. But a man has to obey the Mighty God, and be obedient unto death.
God put Christ in a wilderness, and if bread does not come then Christ will die. But he will die in obedience to the will of God. Better to die than defy God. Better to die than refuse God. Better to die in the will of God than live outside the will of God. Life consists of depending upon the provision of God, trusting God to provide at all times. Have you learned that, that God never leads in one step that is not absolutely necessary for you? So you start trusting, and being patient where you are today.
Many people around us are looking for an Aladdin’s Lamp kind of Christianity. Remember the story, how you gave the lamp a little polish and a genie turned up and granted you your wishes. That is not how Jesus lived. He knew that God had led him to the wilderness and in the wilderness he trusted God. In the desert Jesus was patient when tempted. It was not more difficult for God to provide for him in a wilderness where he had been set by God’s will than in green pastures and by still waters.
ii] In the second temptation we are told that “the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. ‘If you are the Son of God,’ he said, ‘throw yourself down. For it is written, “He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.”‘ Jesus answered him, ‘It is also written: “Do not put the Lord your God to the test”‘” (Matt. 4:5-7).
Jesus was being tempted concerning his assurance that God loved him. The devil takes him to the house of his own Father, the temple, in Jerusalem, God’s holy city. He sets him down on the pinnacle and says, “What about a little test?” quoting to him from Psalm 91. That is a Messianic psalm, and it is all about Christ. “See if you are the Christ,” says Satan. “One little test will prove it. Dive off the pinnacle and the angels will be there to catch you, and then you’ll know.” We are going to be tempted by the devil whether we trust in God loving us.
How many times have you heard people say that if only they could know, yes or no, whether this Christianity were true, whether Jesus really did rise from the dead, if only they could settle it here and now, once and for all. What do you want? What would tell you? What are you listening for? You want someone to speak from heaven? Someone has spoken from heaven and he said to Jesus, “You are my beloved Son.” You want someone to walk on water, turn water into wine, rise from the dead? There’s been such a person. What are you looking for? Act on the knowledge you already have. Deal with the Jesus who is found here in his Word. Don’t put God to the test. Don’t say, “If you tore this curtain from top to bottom right now I’d believe.” A curtain has been torn from top to bottom and you still don’t believe. We don’t put God to the test. He is putting us to the test. We don’t lay down the conditions, he does. We don’t tell God what he must do. He tells us what we are to do. He says, “I have said all this through prophets and apostles, and done all these signs through my Son, why don’t you trust me? I have always been wise and caring and loving to a hundred generations of my servants. I don’t need to be tested, but you do. What good reason can you give for not reading the life of Christ, hearing his claims, being taught by his sermons, overawed by his miracles, encouraged by his promises, and overjoyed by his invitations? Then come to him.” That is how Jesus conquered the temptation. He wouldn’t jump. He wouldn’t test the merciful gracious God. Grace never comes to us too late. God is faithful and he provides.
iii] The final temptation tested Christ’s expectations. We are told that, “the devil took Jesus to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour. ‘All this I will give you,’ he said, ‘if you will bow down and worship me.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.'” Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.” (Matt: 4:8-10). Again this is where we are going to be tempted by Satan. What do you anticipate from becoming a child of God? Satan tempts Jesus concerning his expectations. God has sent his Son into the world promising him that he is going to set his King on his holy hill of Zion: “Ask of me and I will give you the nations for your inheritance and the uttermost parts of the world to be your possession.” But here is the beginning of the public ministry of the Messiah and the first thing God actually does is to send Jesus into a wilderness. He is starving, with no prospect of house or home in his future; “and Thy couch was a sod, O Thou Son of God, in the deserts of Galilee:” not much splendour there!
So in this temptation Satan is telling Jesus that he’s the one with the real power down here. He is the god of this world. Who is in charge? Who runs the world? It certainly looks to many as though the devil has got far more influence than the people of God. Look at the people who have their millions with unimaginable fame and influence. They are not the sons of God are they? Consider the sufferings and weakness of Christians. “Give it up, that delusion, and follow me. What has following the Lord ever done for you?” says the tempter. “I can do this for you,” he says to Jesus. “I can give you splendour. You can become the King and rule the world without waiting. No need to go to the cross. Let’s do a deal now, and you will get instant deliverance. Just give up following God and you can become the greatest.” Many have been bought by such words and abandoned Christ for the world. Satan has done his work.
I saw a woman being interviewed and she gave her remarkable testimony. She had been converted in 1961 and a few months later she was working alone in her office and a man came in, overpowered her and raped her. She became pregnant through that vile act. She carried the baby full term and gave it up for adoption immediately. She later married and then they discovered that they could have no children. The interviewer said to her, “But how could you keep trusting God if after being a Christian for only a few months he allowed this to happen?” “How could I have got by without the Lord?” she said immediately. She went on to say that one day 25 years after the rape the phone went and a woman introduced herself to her, asked some questions and then revealed that she was her daughter. They soon met and were immediately at ease with one another. Then that daughter came up on the platform with her birth mother. They were so alike. The daughter also followed Jesus Christ. It was intensely moving and a great demonstration of God honouring that mother’s submission to him.
So how does Jesus answer Satan’s temptation that he bow down and start to follow him? Once again he takes Scripture and he repeats these words to the devil, “Worship the Lord you God, and serve him only.” How will we attain real glory and authority so that we will judge angels? Moses in the book of Deuteronomy says, “Set you eyes upon God. Worship God alone.” Have you learned the lesson? Who overcomes temptation? The man who has seen the greatness and glory of God: the man whose heart is full of the love of God. It is worship that quenches temptation. You have come here on many a Sunday full of discouragement, doubts and disasters, fightings without and fears within. “Shall I keep going? Shall I stop following Christ? How attractive seems life with God.” Then in worship God comes near and Satan’s lies are seen for what they are. It is only by worshipping God that passion subdues, and desire becomes holy, and true priorities are seen. How great God is! Then we sort our lives out, and Satan isn’t so blatant next time. But he never gives up tempting us, not even on our deathbeds. We are not ignorant of his devices.
13th October 2002 GEOFF THOMAS