The Temptation of Christ – Matthew 4:1-11

February 18, 2010 at 4:45 am 1 comment


Yesterday at Concordia, we kicked off our Lenten season with a two and a half day fast.  If you want more information on fasting, its theological significance, as well as some of the mechanics of fasting, you can download a pdf of our fasting booklet here.

My guess is, if you are participating in our fast from solid foods, even as you are reading this, your stomach is growling.  Mine is.  And yet, as I mentioned in my message last night, we fast so that we can feast.  For as our stomachs are emptied, our souls are filled as we remember, “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).

As I was thinking further about the temptations Satan leveled at Jesus while he was fasting in the desert, a few things struck me.  First, I found it striking that Satan didn’t stop at one temptation.  He circled back to tempt Jesus a second and a third time.  When it comes to luring people into sin, Satan’s motto seems to be, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again!”  Thus, this is a temptation truth that we do well to remember:  Fighting temptation is not a battle, it’s a war.  If we resist temptation once, we can be pretty much guaranteed that Satan will come back for another round.  But, then again, lest we throw up our hands in despair, believing it is futile to even try to resist temptation because Satan will simply continue to assault us, I also found Matthew 4:11 to be especially heartening: “Then the devil left Jesus.”  Satan will eventually check out, even if he comes at you for a few rounds.  Jesus’ brother James puts it well:  “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).  If you, like Jesus, are fighting a battle with Satan, I would simply offer you this exhortation:  Resist the devil.  And keep on resisting.  Even if it takes forty days.  For Satan will eventually check out.

The second thing I found striking about Satan’s encounter with Christ is what one scholar terms as the “descending Christology” of these temptations.  In his first temptation, Satan addresses Jesus: “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread” (Matthew 4:3).  Notice that Satan acknowledges Jesus could be the Son of God, but he does not acknowledge he is the Son of God.  But Satan does not stop here.  He dives deeper into heresy until he crassly declares in his third temptation: “All [the kingdoms of the world] I will give you if you will bow down and worship me” (Matthew 4:9).  Satan begins his temptations by saying, “If you are the Son of God…” He ends his temptations by essentially saying, “If I am god…”  He ends his temptations demanding Jesus worship him as a god.  A subtler error turns into a huge and hoary one.

Satan uses the same tactic with us that he used with Jesus.  He begins by tempting us with smaller errors but then tries to drag us into larger errors until he finally destroys our faith altogether.   This is why, whether it be a temptation to tell a little white lie or a temptation to commit murder, we must resist Satan’s every temptation at every turn and on every front.

The final thing I found striking – and really, touching – about Christ’s battle with Satan is the final line of Matthew’s temptation account:  “And angels came and attended Jesus” (Matthew 4:11).  The Greek word for “attended” is diakaneo, a word which describes someone who waits on tables.  This has led many scholars to believe that following Satan’s temptations, angels came and waited on Jesus with food.  And so Jesus finally breaks his fast.  Oh what a relief that must have been for our Lord.  And oh what a joy it must have been to see all of heaven concerned with his hunger and temptations.  And here is comfort for us too:  When we feel hungry or weak or tempted, all of heaven is concerned with our concerns.  And heaven attends to us.  God’s angels and best of all, God’s Son, offer us strength when we are weak and perseverance when we are tired.  And so, as you fast, rejoice that all of heaven watches.  And rejoice that all of heaven cares.  But most of all, rejoice that the God of heaven loves you.

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Entry filed under: Devotional Thoughts. Tags: , , , .

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Ruth  |  April 23, 2011 at 11:06 am

    Really interesting, thankyou! It helped me understand the temptation of Christ in John Milton’s ‘Paradise Regained’ a lot better, and made me understand why Milton chose to write about it! Thankyou again, God bless

    Reply

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