The Temptation of Christ - Seven Lessons in Perseverance

I'll admit it. I was this close to titling this article "The Temptation of Jesus, and Why We're All Wussies".

Luckily, cordiality and meekness won out, and so we have been left with the current title of this piece.

Still, the main point stands. In comparison to Christ, we are an extraordinarily weak, shortsighted, and impatient people. So often we fall into the trap of expecting life as a follower of Christ to be an easygoing and leisurely affair. Then, when hardship comes our way, we are left shrugging our shoulders and scratching our heads.

This is so pronounced in Western Christianity that we even have entire ministries built around the "Health, Wealth, and Prosperity" movement.

(Note: I will not be discussing the flaws found in such ministries in this article. But, stick around for awhile. I promise, I won't be able to bite my tongue for long.)

But, what does the Word of God say?

If you would, please join me in this verse by verse study of Christ's temptation as it is found in Luke 4:1-15. I will be using the ESV Bible as my primary reference, but you can feel free to use whichever translation most suits you.

 1 And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness 2 for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing during those days. And when they were ended, he was hungry. 3 The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” 4 And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone.’” 5 And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, 6 and said to him, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. 7 If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” 8 And Jesus answered him, “It is written,

“‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.’”

9 And he took him to Jerusalem and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, 10 for it is written,

“‘He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,’

11 and

“‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”

12 And Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 13 And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time.

Jesus Begins His Ministry

14 And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and a report about him went out through all the surrounding country. 15 And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all.

First Lesson: You have the Holy Spirit, the same Spirit that enabled Christ to resist Satan.

Firstly, let's examine the setting of this event in Jesus' life. Looking back at Luke 3:21-22, we find that the episode immediately preceding Jesus' temptation was his baptism:

21 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, 22 and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

Let that sink in for a second.

Right after his baptism, Jesus went out to the wilderness to be tempted by Satan and to starve.

As an illustration, imagine receiving your driver's license, and immediately joining the Indy Car Series.

Granted, Jesus was no ordinary man. We are talking about the living, breathing, Word of God made flesh here. Also, instead of receiving his driver's license, he obtained something much more powerful: the Holy Spirit.

Now, none of us can claim that we are the incarnate Word of God, so we are already at a distinct disadvantage. However, we have been given the Holy Spirit, as seen in Acts 2:33:

33 Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing.

So, while Christ usurps us in authority, we need to realize that the same Spirit given to him at his baptism, he now freely gives to us.

Second Lesson: The Holy Spirit will lead you to do difficult, uncomfortable things. But, the Holy Spirit's power is also most manifested in your weakness.

Secondly, it is important to look at the question as to why Jesus was in the wilderness. Let's take a closer look at Luke 4:1-2:

1 And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness 2 for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing during those days. And when they were ended, he was hungry.

Notice the importance of "led by the Spirit" in this passage of scripture. Could it be that the Spirit led and enabled Jesus to go through the temptation experience?

This shatters any preconceived notion of safety and ease of life in the Christian life. If the Spirit led Jesus to and in the wilderness, what makes us think the Spirit is calling us to a life of pleasure and relaxation?

Let's be honest.

What good is the Comforter if you're already comfortable?

Third Lesson: Materialism and fleshly gain should not be the focus of your faith.

3 The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” 4 And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone.’”

Now, you may be wondering how materialism and worldly wealth play into this passage of scripture. The allusions aren't immediately apparent, but when you look closer, a clearer picture begins to develop.

As we found in verse 2, Jesus wasn't eating anything in the wilderness, and as a result had become hungry. From most of our perspectives, this would have been the perfect opportunity for Jesus to display his power by turning the stone into bread. Instead, we can almost imagine Jesus looking at Satan, smirking, and saying. "I don't need bread. God is enough."

Now, we can translate this to any number of our situations today. After all, everyone has times in which they are in need of something, whether it be food, shelter, or the latest Apple product (okay, maybe the last one isn't so much a need). Most of the time, we'll recognize this need or want, and immediately pray for it to be filled.

But is this always the correct response? In this passage, we see a hungry Jesus not using his power to satisfy that hunger. Instead, he affirms the superiority and sufficiency of God alone in this situation, denying his flesh outright.

What would happen if we as God's people spent less time praying for our needs to be filled, and resolved to instead acknowledge the fulfillment of those needs in God alone?

Fourth Lesson: You are to make much of God, not much of yourself. Anything less is idolatry.

5 And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, 6 and said to him, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. 7 If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” 8 And Jesus answered him, “It is written,

“‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.’”

At first glance, this passage almost appears to be completely straightforward. Indeed, to take it at face value would not be an error in exegesis. But, why skim over it, when we have the opportunity to extract further beauty and truth from it?

The common interpretation of this passage goes something like this: "Don't fall into sin or worldliness for the sake of making worldly gain."

But, look closer. In a layman translation, we can imagine Satan telling Jesus, "If you want to be powerful and rule the world, worship me and I'll make it happen." So, when Jesus responds in verse 8, it is natural to think that Jesus is telling Satan he won't worship him because God alone is worthy of worship. However, upon further examination of Jesus' response, another understanding can develop.

Look at the specific offer Satan makes to Jesus, and how it involves Jesus' exaltation over the kingdoms of the earth. Satan offers to make much of Jesus, apart from God.

Now look at Jesus' response, and you can see that not only is Jesus denying Satan of worship, but at the same time he is denying himself of ungodly exaltation, which is the far greater risk in the church today.

After all, when's the last time you heard of a Christian worshiping Satan? Probably not very often. But, if we look around we will see that self-glorification is rampant in our congregations today.

Fifth Lesson: Don't twist God's Word to justify reckless and ungodly behavior.

9 And he took him to Jerusalem and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, 10 for it is written,

“‘He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,’

11 and

“‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”

12 And Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

 

The traditional interpretation of this passage dissuades us from testing God with our behavior. There is no error in such interpretation, but as we found in the previous passage, why not see if there is another lesson the Spirit may be teaching us here?

First of all, notice that in this collection of temptations, this is the first and only time Satan uses scripture to directly tempt Jesus, almost as if he is saying, "It's okay to do this, because it is written!" How often do we try to justify our own sin and shortcomings by wrongfully using God's Word in out of context situations?

We can imagine the alcoholic justifying his next drink with 1 Timothy 5:23. We can see the adulterer dodging accountability when confronted by a believer with Matthew 7:1.

How does Jesus combat this twisting of the scripture?

By recognizing that the Word of God does not contradict itself.

If following one scripture causes you to disobey another, then your interpretation and understanding are not in line with what the Bible is actually saying.

Sixth Lesson: By resisting, Satan will flee from you. But you must be prepared for further temptations and trials in the future.

13 And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time.

The good news is that through your resisting, Satan will flee from you.

The bad news is that he doesn't stay gone.

The worst news is that he usually comes back when you are at your most vulnerable.

All of us would rather not deal with continued temptation and struggle, but it is a fact of life until the return of our Lord and Savior.

Luckily, there is an added bonus of standing strong in the face of Satan's onslaught...

Seventh Lesson: When you overcome the enemy, you become stronger in the Spirit.

14 And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and a report about him went out through all the surrounding country. 15 And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all.

It is no coincidence that these verses appear directly after Jesus' temptation.

All throughout the New Testament scriptures, we can see how perseverance in temptation and persecution lead to greater and greater manifestations of the Spirit of God. While the hardships and the struggles themselves are difficult to bear, the resulting strength we receive in the Spirit causes us to become sanctified and enables us to stay firmly planted in the tumultuous seasons of our lives.

Imagine the Olympic sprinter who trains constantly from a young age, giving up joys and entertainment during childhood in order to one day run a ten second race, where they hope to receive a medal that they hang on their wall to admire.

Not only does temptation train us and make us stronger, but if the Olympian can put in that much effort for a medal, can not we give equal for eternity?

By more closely examining instances such as Jesus' temptation, not only do we receive a clearer picture of the supremacy of Christ, but we also begin to see how we can better imitate him in all that we do.

We can understand how God works in our weakness, and why perseverance is so important in the Christian life.

Pray that you would not enter into temptation, but if you do, stand strong. Be assured of the hope we have in Christ, and look forward to the promise we have in our soon coming Savior.

About the Author: Truth & Freedom Radio is a multimedia ministry  dedicated to preaching, teaching, and sharing the wonderful truths of God that are shown to us in the never changing Word of God. We believe that with the knowledge of those truths we, as Christians, can live free lives that are dedicated to our awesome Creator. For daily updates in Christian news, check out our YouTube channel!