Luke 4:1-13 // 1 Corinthians 10:12-13
When a person is saved, the battle with sin does not stop. When we repent of our sins and turn to Jesus Christ as Lord, our sins are forgiven and we are put right with God through our faith. We also, at that moment, set out on a journey of being transformed by Jesus. However, Satan does not give up that easily. Sin does not lose its ability to tempt us. And so we must expect to continue facing the temptation to sin every day. We see this illustrated in the life of Jesus Christ Himself.
In today’s reading, Jesus has just had an amazing encounter with the Heavenly Father. He had finalized His decision to follow God’s mission for His life by being baptized by John … then the heavens had been torn open and the Heavenly Father’s voice had spoken out: “This is my beloved Son” … and then Jesus had been filled with the Holy Spirit.
Jesus never had to be saved from sin because He never sinned. But this moment in the life of Jesus is the closest we’ll get to seeing in Jesus what happens to us when we are saved. We make a decision to follow Jesus … we are accepted by God as His children … and we are given the gift of the Holy Spirit. In a sense this moment in Jesus’ life models our own moment of conversion and salvation.
But notice what happens to Jesus next. He is led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted there by the devil. Please be aware that God did not send Him there for Him to fail. God sent Him there for Him to overcome the devil so that the remainder of His ministry would not be hindered by the temptations He overcame in the desert. God was allowing Jesus to settle a few issues even before He got into His ministry. And in those moments of temptations … the Holy Spirit was with Him all the way!
This scene out of Jesus’ life should also be a warning to us that we will also be tempted. I’m sure that’s why Jesus actually spoke about this ordeal to His disciples. I mean, that’s the only way it can be in our Bibles today. There were no other witnesses in the wilderness … and much of what happened was unseen anyway. So Jesus must have spoken about His experiences to the disciples and explained to them the deep secrets of His own temptations. Why? I believe it was in order to make them strong for their own battle with temptations. And I have no doubt that they recorded what Jesus said in order to make us strong for our temptations … and to help us to overcome them!
A. The nature of temptation
Here’s a great everyday illustration of temptation: the insect zapper. You know those electrified gadgets with the blue light. The blue light attracts the insects … they fly closer … and zap … they die! When the gadget is on, that happens all night. Hundreds and hundreds of bugs can die in a kind of bug-holocaust … night after night … the killing continues unabated. But why? It’s temptation.
You would think that the millionth insect might just perchance look down as he flies bewitched towards the big blue light … you’d think he would notice the dead bodies of his relatives and friends lying there all charred. You would think he might just say, “Whoa – wait a minute! Every time one of my family fly out into the dark night to follow the exciting glow of the big blue light … they don’t return.” You’d think that that clever little bug might consider resisting the irresistible big blue light. But alas … zzzzap … another bug bites the dust!
That’s temptation isn’t it? Satan the tempter puts the big blue light of sin out there. It looks so wonderful … so beautiful … so free … so exciting. Our minds ignore the obvious and not-so-obvious consequences of sin … and we plunge straight into the trap. We are never tempted by something negative and harmful. It is always something that looks incredibly attractive and appealing that lures us. But it is the hidden cost … the sting in the tail … that we should be looking out for. What is the sting? Romans 6:23 puts it this way … “the wages of sin is death!” Sin always destroys us. Not always in huge obvious ways like the “mozzie zapper” … but irresistibly and as sure as gravity sin draws us slowly further and further from God and deeper and deeper into the brokenness of the world.
Temptation always makes sin look so good and so harmless. Notice that Satan tempts Jesus to turn stones in to bread … that seems a great idea. He tempts Jesus to show off His power to draw a following … that seems a very effective way to start a ministry and draw a crowd. He tempts Jesus to gain worldwide success magically by bowing down to the devil and worshipping him. Okay … that’s pretty obviously diabolical … but the big blue light was to be king of the world … something that the Father had sent Jesus to do. Cleverly the devil tries to draw Jesus into going about His mission the wrong way … the easy way … the worldly way. We owe our salvation to the fact that Jesus overcame the temptations. But they are here in the Bible to warn us of the nature of the temptation we will face when we seek to follow Jesus … not just the temptation to sin … but the temptation not to do things Jesus’ way but rather to take the easy and popular way. They warn us that temptation is ALWAYS attractive and appealing!
Temptations should carry the advisory notice … BEWARE use of this product will lead to your death. But of course it doesn’t. It comes under the false advertising … this product will make your life BETTER and EASIER! That is quite simply the nature of temptation.
B. Overcoming Temptation
So we can see why resisting and overcoming temptation will demand great wisdom and discernment on our part. In the wilderness, Jesus models this for us. He does not present us with a three step programme to overcoming temptation. But He gives us a model of how to overcome through His own example.
1. Desire to bring God great joy
Luke 3:22 shows that Jesus’ baptism (just before this temptation) ends with God saying of Jesus: “You are my beloved Son; with You I am well-pleased!” This is a clue to Jesus’ victory over temptation. Above everything else in the world, He wanted to give His heavenly Father great joy! His relationship to His Father was THE most important thing in His life!
When His hunger drove Him to desire to turn stones into bread He resisted by remembering that it was God who satisfied His hunger and not mere bread. When He was tempted to test God’s promise of protection He remembered that because He loved the Father He could not put Him to the test. When tempted to worship Satan in order to get power more easily He remembered that only God was worthy of His worship and adoration. It was all about God, His Heavenly Father. So Jesus refused to do anything that would take away His Father’s joy in Him.
For most Christians today, the highest desire of our lives is not much different to the rest of the world. Most people desire their own comfort, ease and pleasure more than anything else in the world. And so temptation has great power over us … because this is exactly what temptation appeals to.
So the first key to overcoming temptation is making our relationship with God our Heavenly Father THE MOST IMPORTANT PART OF OUR LIVES. If we truly have no higher desire and aim than to bring JOY to God the Father, then anything that would steal God’s joy away we would NEVER be willing to do!
Above all else in our lives we must desire to bring God joy! In many ways this robs Satan and temptation of the power to lead us into death.
2. Seek to know God’s will
When you want to please someone and bring them joy, you have to study that person’s likes and dislikes. You have to figure out how to bring them joy. Without that knowledge, you may be well-meaning but you will probably fail to bring them any joy at all.
That is what Jesus had obviously been doing in the wilderness all those 40 days. He so freely quotes the Old Testament that it seems likely that He has been spending His time meditating on the Hebrew Scriptures, in which the will of God is made clear. The temptations He faces are so subtle that He might have been fooled into thinking that they were okay to do. After all Satan even quoted Scripture. He was trying hard to trick Jesus into thinking that He could do these things and still be pleasing to God. He was even using the calling Jesus knew He had to become king of the world … and to meet the needs of others … But Jesus was not fooled. He knew the Scriptures better than Satan. He knew God’s will … He knew what pleases God because He had studied God deeply.
Without studying God’s Word and reading it daily, we will be easily fooled and lured by temptation. So many people are being fooled today because so few people truly know the Word of God. They are tricked by the argument, “If it feels good it can’t be wrong!” Even “Everyone’s doing it”, still works. One popular argument is that God’s ways are outdated and another that the “end justifies the means.”
With so many modern trends being totally unbiblical we have got to know and understand what pleases the Lord. Ephesians 5:17 says, “Don’t act thoughtlessly, but understand what the Lord wants you to do.” This is the point I’m making. Jesus could resist temptation because He had trained Himself to know what the Father’s will was! If we are to resist temptation we must not only make pleasing God our highest desire … but must also get to know God’s desires through His Word. And then we must accept that even if it goes against the norms and trends of the world … this is the way to please God!
3. Trust the guidance of the Holy Spirit
One thing we must never ignore is the fact that Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert … and returned from the desert in the power of the Holy Spirit. All throughout His wilderness experience of temptation, the Holy Spirit was there giving Him the power to overcome.
It was not automatic that He overcame. He needed more than just the Spirit … He needed to make His choices for Himself … but He could never have done it without the Holy Spirit. The Spirit was the One who helped make pleasing God Jesus’ highest desire. The Spirit is the One who helped Jesus discern from Scripture what pleases God. The Spirit is the One who warned Jesus of the “big blue light” of temptation and set alarm bells ringing when satan came knocking.
For us too, the Holy Spirit is at work to help us to overcome and we must trust His guidance. That comes through our consciences primarily … He helps us to just know when something is wrong! When we are not sure, we must ask Him to help us discern God’s will. When we read the Bible we must ask Him to let the Word sink into us deeply. When we know what is right and wrong but are still struggling to overcome, we must plead with Him for the power to overcome. And He will help us.
Remember we have that wonderful promise of 1 Corinthians 10 to hold onto: “No temptation has come upon you other than what is common to all men. And when you are tempted God will always give you a way out from under it.” There is always a way. There is therefore no excuse for the believer to live in sin or to constantly give in. If we are finding that temptation is beating us time and time again then we need to go to serious prayer … asking the Holy Spirit to make God’s joy our highest desire … asking Him to help us see from Scripture what it is that brings God joy and what saddens God … and then asking Him to give us the power to resist temptation at all times.