Matthew 4:1-17

(sermon note:

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’ But he answered, ‘It is written,

“One does not live by bread alone,

   but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” ’

Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written,

“He will command his angels concerning you”,

   and “On their hands they will bear you up,

so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.” ’

Jesus said to him, ‘Again it is written, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” ’

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, ‘All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Away with you, Satan! for it is written,

“Worship the Lord your God,

   and serve only him.” ’

Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.

Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the lake, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:

‘Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali,

   on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—

the people who sat in darkness

   have seen a great light,

and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death

   light has dawned.’

From that time Jesus began to proclaim, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’


This morning’s reading reminds me of the one about a porta-potty that was sitting near the edge of a small cliff. Everyday young Bobby would walk by it on the way home from school, and every day he would resist the temptation to kick it off the edge of the cliff. This all changed one day when Bobby had a particularly bad day at school. He had learned about boring topics, like how George Washington cut down a cherry tree and wasn’t punished because he was honest, and Bobby had also failed a math test. He was heading to his friend’s house, and since he was in such a bad mood, he decided he would actually kick the porta-potty down the cliff this time. He gave it a solid kick and saw it tumble end over end down the cliff until it finally reached a stop at the bottom. Bobby now felt satisfied and continued on his way to his friend’s house. Bobby had a great time at his friend’s house but then had to go home. However, when he got home his father was in a particularly bad mood. His father asked Bobby if he knew why the porta-potty was at the bottom of the cliff. Bobby was very nervous and wanted to lie, but he thought about George Washington and the cherry tree and decided he should come clean. Bobby told his father, “It was me, dad. I won’t lie to you. I kicked the porta-potty down the cliff because I was in a bad mood.” So it came as a shock to Bobby when his father suddenly grabbed him and spanked him. Bobby, now in tears because of the pain, said, “Why dad?! Why did you hurt me?! George Washington’s dad didn’t punish him when he cut down the cherry tree!” The father looked Bobby dead in the eyes and said, “That’s because George Washington’s father wasn’t in the cherry tree!”

Can you imagine what that poor father had to endure because of what his son had done?! Disgusting! If that had happened to me, my son wouldn’t have gotten away with a mere spanking. I don’t care how truthful he was in confessing it to me. There are just some temptations that should ALWAYS be resisted, kicking over a porta-potty, let alone down a cliff, perhaps at the top of the list! How disgusting! 

Even Satan had enough sense not to tempt Jesus with kicking a porta-potty over a cliff. Instead, he tempted him with three opportunities to show just how powerful he is as the Son of God. And unlike Bobby, Jesus managed to resist the temptations quite well. First, we heard how Satan tempted Jesus with the opportunity to turn rocks into bread, especially tempting after 40 days of starvation. Then he tempted Jesus with the opportunity to throw himself off the temple and, with the help of angels, deny the effects of gravity. Finally, Satan tempted Jesus with the opportunity to worship him in exchange for reign over the kingdoms of this world, a particularly useless opportunity since Jesus already reigns over the kingdoms of this world. I suppose this early in Jesus’ ministry the world had yet realized the reign of Jesus but it was only a matter of time before the world came to realize Jesus’ supreme reign. Jesus could have given into the temptations but to what end? To prove himself to Satan? Does Jesus have to prove himself to Satan? Not really. Satan knows how powerful Jesus is. Satan knows Jesus can live indefinitely without food. Satan knows Jesus exists outside the forces of this world. And believe it or not, Satan knows Jesus’ reign over this world. Satan knows he can’t win against Jesus. He can’t even incite Jesus’ pride. Jesus knows who he is and just how powerful he is. Jesus doesn’t have a need to prove himself to anyone. What an amazing power to have! No need to prove himself, even to himself…how many of us can claim to have such power? We all seem to be proving ourselves to someone, anyone…to God, to ourselves. It’s a rare person who is absolutely content with who they are and willing to exist simply for the sake of existing. Yet that’s exactly how God would have us be, content and justified. We are loved just the way we are, why do we struggle with discontentment so much? Well, that’s a discussion for a different time. This morning we get to wrestle with temptation.

Jesus felt no need to prove himself and give in to Satan’s temptations. And Satan knew Jesus could resist his temptations. So why tempt Jesus at all? On the one hand, because Jesus was fully human and needed to experience all that we experience. We are all tempted at one point in our lives so it’s only right and fitting that Jesus would also be tempted. On the other hand, Jesus was tempted to show us how to resist it. Jesus is all about teaching us. If Satan uses scripture to tempt, then use scripture to resist. If Satan offers unreasonable rewards, then use common sense and be content with what you have. If Satan goads your pride, then remember to be humble. Paul writes in his first letter to the Corinthians, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your strength, but with the temptation he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.” (10:13) I love Paul’s wisdom for two reasons. No temptation is truly unique to any one person. Don’t think that Satan singles each of us out with special temptations. Satan is lazy and ineffective and doesn’t really care about each of us the way God does. Satan just considers us numbers and only cares about pulling the most numbers away from God. So really his temptations are pretty weak since they’re not unique to each of us. I also like Paul’s wisdom because it also reveals God’s goodness and grace. For every one of Satan’s temptations, God provides an opportunity to resist it. Our God is truly a good and gracious God! We ought to gladly heed James advice, “submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” (4:7) Our God is always looking out for our best interests and helps us resist Satan. 

Jesus was tempted because he was fully human and knew how to resist. In his resistance, he taught us how to resist. As Hebrews says, “because he himself was tempted by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” (2:18) God wants to help us. God loves us! Let us give thanks for Jesus’ temptations as a means of helping us. Thanks be to God! 

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.