After Jesus' baptism and before he began his public ministry, Jesus was
tempted by the devil. Interestingly, they quoted Scripture to each other.


 

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be
tempted by the devil. When he had fasted forty days, he was hungry.
When the tempter came to him, he said, "If You are the Son of God,
command that these stones become bread." But Jesus answered,
"It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word
that proceeds
from the mouth of God.'"

Then the devil took Him up into the holy city, set Him on the
pinnacle of the temple, and said to him, "If You are the Son of God,
throw Yourself down, for it is written: 'He shall give His angels
charge over you,' and, 'In their hands they shall bear you up, lest
you dash your foot against a stone.'" Jesus said to him, "It is
written again, 'You shall not tempt the Lord your God.'"

Again, the devil took Him up on an exceedingly high mountain, and
showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. He said
to Him, "All these things I will give You if You will fall down and
worship me." Then Jesus said to him, "Away with you, Satan! For it
is written, 'You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you
shall serve.'"

Then the devil left Jesus. [{Mark 1:13-15} He was with the wild
beasts; and the angels ministered to Him. After John was put in
prison, Jesus came to Galilee, saying, "The time is fulfilled, and
the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel."]

                                                   Matthew 4:1-12 NKJV, condensed



                      Temptation--Where is the Victory?

Temptation, oh, we know it well. The pull to do something questionable.
The desire to be bad, to conform, to be less than we can be. Instant
gratification appears so wonderful we refuse to consider long-term
consequences. Often our temptations require us to be secretive and
deceptive. If someone looked over our shoulder to see what we were
doing, we'd be ashamed.

We rationalize. "It's no big deal. Lots of people do it and don't sweat it." 
We cheat, lie and steal if we think no one will notice. "What's it gonna'
hurt!" Broken trust, unkept promises, half-baked resolutions, disappointed
dreams--all lie in the dust of the storms we have created. Loved ones lay
crushed by the run-away train of our passions. We do know temptation
very well.

It might come as a surprise that Jesus knew temptation, too. "Hey Jesus,
there are alternatives. Here's an easier way. I know just the trick you can
use. You want a kingdom, I've got one in my pocket to give you. You're out
here in this wilderness all alone, no one will ever know."

The temptation story starts in the wilderness with Jesus fasting. Jesus
went without eating in order to strengthen himself! We in our culture think
that fasting makes a person weak. And it does. Some people in eastern
cultures think fasting increases their strength. And it does. We say we
need physical strength to fight our battles. They say their battles are won
at an inward level, in their spirit, heart and soul.

There's precedent for fasting 40 days. In the Old Testament Moses did
it once, Elijah also. Fasting for them was a spiritual experience, nourished
only by God, and usually linked to the highest form of communion. Jesus
set that same goal for himself as he entered the wilderness to sort
things out in his mind.

Who are you, Jesus? What kind of king are you going to be? The typical
image of a king is pomp and circumstance--power, prestige, armies,
treasuries, treaties, decrees. Jesus thought differently. His mission in life
was to lead people into God' s kingdom. How was he going to do that?
A mighty conqueror taking the world by force? Or through patient,
sacrificial love? Would it be a kingdom with armies or a kingdom with
a cross at its center.

Politics is important here. Herod reigned in Galilee to the north; Pilate sat
on the throne in Jerusalem. Jewish nationalists, called Zealots, routinely
incited rebellion. The faithful hoped and prayed and waited for a Messiah
to deliver them from the oppression of the Romans and the sufferings
brought on by their under-class position in life. So, Jesus, what are you
going to do! Who are you going to be?

While Jesus wrestled with these questions the devil came for just a
friendly little visit. The 1st temptation was about food and eating. "Jesus,
you really should eat something. You know you could turn these stones
into bread." Jesus' body needed food. If we could just snap our fingers
and make a loaf appear out of the air, who of us would chose to labor
and buy that bread instead! But stones to bread--where would that lead?
Jesus knew we do not live on physical sustenance alone. Of greater
importance is to live on the words of God.

The 2nd temptation was set at the temple in Jerusalem. "Jesus, stand
right here at the highest point and casually throw yourself down. That's
it, just jump right off the edge. Angels will come and not let you be hurt.
People will love it. You'll be an overnight sensation! Glory and fame--it
will all be yours."

The 3rd temptation took place on a high mountain. "Jesus, you don't like
the way the world is being run, do you? If you want to be king, I can make
that happen. I'll give it all to you, as far as you can see. Just bow down
and worship me and it's yours. And think what you could do to right all
those wrongs if you were in charge and had the armies of Caesar at
your command."

The devil came with quick and easy answers for everything. "You want
to eat--turn stones to bread. You want people to follow you--Do something
spectacular and they will love you. You want to be king Jesus--worship me
and I'll give you the world." Of course when you worship at the devil's altar
you sacrifice your goals, common sense, and integrity. His gifts have a
long string attached. Satan says, "Take short cuts. Do the easy thing. Be
reckless. It doesn't matter. Compromise with evil. You only live once.
Try it. Do whatever it takes."

If we succumb to temptation, where does it lead? Is it where we really
want to be? By saying, "Go away from me, Satan!", Jesus named his
enemy and took charge of his life. God's approval would always be more
important to him than eating, being popular, or possessing the powers
of Caesar. Without God, all gains are losses. Jesus accepted the way of
the cross. He would be our sinless Savior.

Use the following questions for small groups, journaling, further
study or reflection.


Icebreaker: If you were going to draw a picture of the devil,
                      what would the tempter look like?
                           Red outfit or business suit? Male or female?, etc.


Do you think it would be a good thing to--
            be able to snap your finger and turn stones into bread?
            live recklessly and expect God to always bail you out?
            get an awesome gift on a string from the devil?



We rationalize and make excuses for our sins.
            What are the most frequent excuses people use?
            Does the devil make you do it?



Jesus strengthened himself by fasting.
            What are some other things that help people resist temptation?
            What exactly needs to be strengthened in order to hold the reins firmly?
            Where does our desire to sin come from, and what can we do about it?



It seems to me that Jesus was struggling with three very basic questions:
            What will sustain me throughout my life?
            What should I do to be taken seriously?
            What is power and where does it come from?
In what ways have you wrestled with these same questions?
What are the three most common temptations in our society today?



After the temptations, the devil left Jesus. Luke adds, until another opportunity.
Hebrews 4:15 tells us that Jesus was tempted in every way as we are.
            What temptations do you think Jesus had during his 3-year ministry?
            Can you identify with any of these issues?



"We belong to the people we try to please; in a sense they own us."
            Has this ever been true for you?
            How does our desire to please people give them power over us?
Pleasing myself; pleasing others; pleasing God: It can become a triangle
that leaves us fragmented.
            How can we find wholeness when we are pulled in three directions?
            What guidance can we gain in this matter from Jesus?



Jesus returned from the wilderness in strength and victory. He would
not measure himself by outside expectations, but by faithfulness to God.
            Do you remember a time when you were victorious over sin?
            If so, is there anything you could share about how you felt?
            Contrast that feeling with times of defeat in the arena of temptation.

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