Sunday, January 27, 2008

Matthew 4:2-4 The Temptation of Jesus Part III

Satan often attacks us where we are weakest and when we are at our weakest. I can think of time after time in my life where Satan provided opportunities for me to give in to my flesh and disobey God. Sometimes I’ve done well and stood firm against those temptations. Other times I’ve looked like a skinny cornerback charged with tackling a 250 pound running back who has made it past the linebackers and I’ve gotten run over. While Christ did not have an inherent sin nature for the devil to appeal to, Christ did face the testing described in this chapter when He was at His weakest. As we read about this encounter, we can be encouraged that we have the same spiritual power available to us to stand strong in the middle of our trials and temptations.

In verse 2 of this chapter, we are introduced to the physical state our Lord was in when the tempter came to test Him. We are told that He had not eaten for 40 days and nights and that “afterward, He was hungry”. Our Lord fasted in order to devote Himself to prayer and communion with God the Father in preparation for the testing He would now face. I can’t even begin to imagine how hungry He must have been. When I was studying music in college, I had a semester where I went from 8 in the morning until 7 or 8 at night with only a 30 minute break on Mondays and Wednesdays. I would leave Jazz Band rehearsal (which ended at 5:30) early sometimes because I had not had time to grab lunch and I was shaking from a blood sugar low. That doesn’t even begin to compare to what our precious Lord endured. It was at this moment of physical weakness that Satan came on the scene.

Verse 3 records the first temptation Satan brought against our Lord. He was hungry and Satan hoped to appeal to His physical desire for food in order to motivate Him to sin. He said, quite simply, “If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.” God had called Jesus “Son” in the previous chapter. Satan now uses that title in his temptation. Basically, I think he was saying “Ok. You’re the Son of God. Why should you suffer from lack of food? I mean, if you’re going to live as a human you’re going to have to eat. You’d only be doing what is normal and necessary. Go ahead. Make yourself some bread.”

This temptation, though, really had nothing to do with food. There is a much bigger picture for us to see here. As Philippians chapter 2 tells us that Jesus, as God the Son, became willingly submissive to God the Father. He did not become less that God. He simply willingly subjected Himself to God the Father. Therefore, He would only do what God the Father directed Him to do (Luke 2:49, John 8:28, John 12:49, John 14:31). If He had changed these stones to bread to satiate His hunger, He would have been operating outside of the direction of God the Father. Of course, this is what Satan wanted Him to do.

Jesus’ response is a marvelous example to believers when we encounter trials. First of all, Jesus used the previously written word of God, not a new revelation. He could have spoken a new truth and it would have been just as true as what He quoted. However, He appealed to scripture that had already been recorded. In verse 4, Jesus said “It is written ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’”. As noted in Vincent’s Word Studies, “It is written” is in the Greek perfect tense. In other words, the phrase could be rendered “It has been written and stands written even today.”He then quotes from Deuteronomy 8:3. In that verse, Moses was teaching the people that God allowed His people to hunger and then fed them with manna in the wilderness. There was a spiritual purpose to this physical trial. God wanted to teach them to rely on Him. Instead of feeding them with food as they would have expected, He used supernatural means to provide for them. Therefore, the lesson they should have learned was that no matter what the circumstances, God can and does provide for His people. By quoting this verse, Jesus was saying that He was willing to be obedient and wait on His Father to provide even if He was hungry because God was fatithful and would provide for Him.

As we read the account of Jesus’ first temptation by Satan, we can be encouraged to remain faithful to God and to rely on His word when temptations come.

Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Matthew 4:1 The Temptation of Jesus Part II

As we begin to examine the temptation of Jesus, there are some important questions we must ask ourselves in order to fully understand the drama as it unfolds in scripture. Rather than proceeding to the next verse this week, I thought it would be a good idea to point some these issues out so that we can keep them in mind as we continue to study this section of Matthew’s gospel account.

First of all, we should realize that Jesus was tempted in Matthew chapter 4 for the same reason that God allows us to go through trials. In 1 Peter 1:6-7 reads” 6 In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” In these verses, Peter identifies a kind of temptation that you and I endure. He says that these believers to whom he wrote were experiencing “trails” (Greek-peirasmos). This word is closely related to the word for tempted in Matthew 4:1 (Greek-peirazo). This is not a temptation to sin, but is rather an opportunity for our faith to be proven genuine. Therefore, God was allowing Jesus to demonstrate through His actions that He was in fact the Son of God with whom the Father was “well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). Even so, God allows us to go through temptations (trials) on occasion for His glory so that our faith is shown to be true.

In addition, we should note that we have at our disposal the same means to endure the trials we face as our Lord did. We observe in verse 2 of Matthew 4 that our Lord fasted for 40 days and forty nights. While scripture does not record it, we can be sure that He spent that time in prayer, communing with the Father in preparation for the trial He would face. I’m not certain that we must fast to draw close to God, but certainly there are Christians that practice that spiritual discipline. I believe, however, the most important fact for us to notice is that He spent time in prayer to the Father. If Jesus, Who was the Lord of all creation and the eternal Second Person of the Godhead, spent time praying when facing a trial, we should say to ourselves “If it was good enough for my Lord, it’s good enough for me”. Further more, we notice throughout the trial that He made use of God’s word. In the series I wrote on Psalm 1, I made the point that the subject of the Psalm meditates on the word of God day and night. Now, if you and I meditated on the word of God and quoted scripture in the midst of trials rather than complaining under our breath, we would have greater success in facing these trials. Again, let us look to our Lord as our example.

Finally, we should note the difference in the trial that our Lord endured as compared to the temptations that we face. You and I are prone to sin because we have a sin nature that lives within us. Even once we are born again in the spirit, we are still living in corrupted flesh that doesn’t know how to do anything better than to sin. While God does try or test us, the same Greek word can be used to describe a person being tempted to sin. Satan wanted to tempt Christ to sin. However, Christ had no sin nature. Since sin is passed down from father to children (Romans 5) and Christ had no human biological father (Matthew 1) Christ did not have a sin nature for the devil to exploit. As James 1:13-14 reads “13 Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am tempted by God"; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. 14 But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed.” This does not diminish the victory that Christ had over the devil. We simply need to remember that our sinful temptations are different from the temptation that Christ faced in the wilderness. However, we have victory over sin through His precious blood and His Holy Spirit will conform to His image. Therefore, while we will not have total victory over sin in this life, we can become more like Christ and have greater victory over sin. We also, through the same power that was available to Jesus, can stand firm and demonstrate the genuineness of our faith in our trials just as our Lord did in His trial.

Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Matthew 4:1 The Temptation of Jesus Part I

Jesus Christ provides the perfect example of faithfulness to God our Father in scripture. It is such an encouragement to read how He faced temptation by Satan and consistently obeyed God’s will. As Christians, we will fail at times when faced with temptation. However, through the power of the Holy Spirit we too can have victory in trials just as Christ did. As we examine this scenario over the next few weeks, I believe God will demonstrate to us through His word how we can have this victory.

First of all, we should observe that this temptation of Jesus was God’s will. Matthew records in verse 1 that “Jesus was led up by the Spirit”. As far as I can tell from having read, this happened immediately after His baptism by John in the Jordan River. He had just publically announced His entry in the His work as the Messiah. Prior to beginning His ministry, God led Him into the wilderness. Notice that Jesus was led by the Spirit. This wasn’t something that He thought up on His own. Christ did not come to do His own will but the will of His Father. God, in His providence, had a plan in mind for this journey. As preparation for the ministry that Christ was about to enter, God wanted to demonstrate that Christ was the faithful Servant who would completely obey Him. In order to demonstrate this, He allowed Satan to tempt Jesus in the wilderness.

We should also note that Jesus was sent alone into a place of solitude. He would have no companions and no comforts. He would demonstrate the truth of His incarnation and His willingness to be obedient to God the Father in a setting which would seem to give His adversary an advantage. This was no vacation or pleasure trip that our Lord entered upon but rather it was a solemn time of reflection and preparation.

The word translated “tempt” is the Greek word “peirazo”. This word can mean to try or to test. When we are tempted as our Lord was tempted we are being tested. Satan would use this time to try to tempt Jesus to sin and disobey God. God was using this time to demonstrate that Jesus was perfectly obedient and submissive. The Devil (Greek diablos-false accuser) would try to motivate Jesus to be unfaithful by tempting His with the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. God would allow Jesus to endure these trials to provide for us a guide to follow when we are tempted. While our Lord had no sin nature that He had to overcome, He had victory over His temptations by the same means we can have victory over our temptations-the word of God.

As Jesus was alone in the wilderness facing the wiles of the Devil, He did not use His divine power to sidestep or overcome those temptations. He met each one head on and engaged the enemy using the sword of the Spirit. When we fail (as I do daily), it is not because I don’t have the means to withstand the temptation. More often than not, I chose to ignore the clear warnings of scripture. Satan had a goal in mind for this encounter with Jesus. God allowed Satan to try to tempt Jesus to sin in order that Jesus might prove Himself to be the perfectly obedient Son in order that He might pay for sin on the cross.

Praise God for the obedience of His Son, Jesus Christ.

Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Psalm 1:4-6 There is a payday someday

I read a bumper sticker one time that said “If you’re living like there is no God, you better be right.” Proclaiming that God is righteous and holy and will judge those who do not have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ is not a popular message. As the book of Proverbs notes, most people are more than happy to proclaim their own goodness. However, regardless of how unpopular it is for us to proclaim that there is judgment for sin, the Bible is as plain and clear about that truth as it can be. People need to realize that there is a judgment day coming and that they don’t have unlimited time to get ready to face that judgment. There will be no grading on the curve. Punishment will be final and terrible. Those who reject Jesus will find that they are both helpless and hopeless before the righteous fury of a holy God.

First of all, they will find that they are helpless. We noted in the last lesson on Psalm 1 that ultimately a righteous person will prosper because he will have a home in heaven with all the saints. He will enter into the joy of fellowship with God’s people for all eternity. However, Psalm 1 verse 4 says “The wicked are not so”. There is no happy ending for them. As bad as trials may have been in their life, they are in no way prepared for the eternity that awaits them. The verse goes on to describe their helplessness. It describes them as “chaff which the wind drives away”. I am from the Gulf Coast originally. I have seen my share of hurricanes. That’s why I no longer live on the Gulf Coast. When the wind of a hurricane starts blowing, it picks up things and throws them willy-nilly. It uprooted a huge tree in the front yard of one of my aunt’s houses. That is why when people know a hurricane is coming, they tie up lawn furniture and pack up kids toys. There is no way to control where that stuff is going to go. In like manner, the ungodly will be scattered before God’s righteous judgment. They will be utterly helpless on that day.

They will also be hopeless. People who choose to reject Biblical truth and the offer of salvation from God through Jesus Christ are proud people. Basically, they are saying “I can handle this on my own” or “I will not submit to the Lord. I will not have Him as God over me.” However, verse 5 of this Psalm records that these proud, haughty people who think that they will stand up to God and show how powerful they are will in fact “not stand in the judgment”. Their defiance will eventually come to an end. They will not have the strength to face God’s judgment. He will overpower them and overcome them. He will also make a distinction between the righteous and the wicked. The wicked will be excluded and will not be found in the “congregation of the righteous”. Obviously, people who believe that everyone will make it to heaven are wrong according to this verse of holy scripture.

Someone reading this might ask “Why? Why is there a difference between the wicked and the righteous?” For all I know, someone reading this blog might have just stumbled on it and not know the reason for the distinction made in the judgment. Notice that verse 6 says that God “knows the way of the righteous but the way of the ungodly shall perish.” The ungodly perish because God does not “know” their way. The Hebrew word translated “know” is the word “yada” and it means to know in a relational sense. It is not the know of someone who knows that 2 times 2 equals 4. It’s the know of me knowing that spending quality time with my wife is one of the most important ways for her to know that I love her. That isn’t something I learned by reading a textbook. I came to know that because of our relationship. As Jesus said in John chapter 10, His sheep know Him and hear His voice. Because we are His sheep, He knows our way. The end for the ungodly, however, is a terrifying picture of judgement.

Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission.