This sermon is offered by the CRCNA as part of our Reading Sermons series.
Scripture: Matthew 4:1-11
Sermon prepared by Rev. John Jongsma , Hamilton, Ontario
This message will focus on temptation and ministry. It is about more than this. It is about Jesus in temptations and overcoming them. Also you and I, believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, are involved, since we benefit from Jesus’ victory and we,also trusting in Jesus, will overcome in the temptations that we face.
There was a lady, a member of a congregation, who covenanted with herself that she would pray daily for members of her church. She began this practice and was blessed by it. She would pray for the youth of the church, for families, for single members and the elderly. She also prayed for those who were not at that time attending church.
Then a change came about in this practice. She began to watch a television program which was shown at the exact time she usually prayed for members of her church. This need not have been an obstacle for her. She could have prayed for these members at another time, which she did for a while. But then gradually in time she discontinued her practice of these specific prayers for others.
You may respond to this by saying that this was really too bad. You may say you wish she had continued both, praying for others on a daily basis and also watching the program she loved to watch.
I raise this scenario with you to point out that we may discontinue ministries without putting anything else in their place. We give in to other interests, and our ministries suffer and so does Jesus ministry suffer.
On the other hand, the Lord strengthening us, we do overcome in these kind of temptations and the ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ is furthered. Something we all want.
There was a man, who had a very influential position in government. He committed crimes for which he landed in prison for some years. While there, a great change took place in his life. The Lord changed him. And he promised others that when he was released from prison, he would not forget those in prison. This man kept his word. He may have faced temptations not to ever return to prison and minister there. But if those temptations did arise, he overcame them. And he overcame them because Jesus Christ his Lord and Savior gave him grace to overcome. Praise be to Jesus name.
So again, the focus of this message is on temptation and ministry. It is about Jesus overcoming in temptation and therefore about you and me, who benefit from His ministry, also receiving strength to overcome, and when we fail, as we sometimes do, receiving the forgiving love and grace of our wonderful Lord.
We turn then to the temptations of Jesus in which he overcame the evil one.
Without a doubt the devil is a great power. We often speak about the demons of destruction or depression or lust. But the Bible makes very plain that the devil is also a person. As such, Jesus had to overcome him, and, we too, in our battles with him, need to overcome — and we will in Christ!
We read in Matthew 4 that, "that the tempter came to Him." The word tempter comes from the Greek word "diabolous" which means to split up or to split off. It is related to our word diabolical. That is indeed the devil’s chief aim — to split us off from God — to split up that which belongs together. We think of those who have covenanted to live together in marriage. And in the case of Jesus here, the devils aim is to split him off from the task he had come to carry out. But let me remind you, Jesus shall overcome him, and as Jesus ministers to us, we shall over come him too.
Let us look at the first temptation. The tempter came to him and raised this thought, put in the form of a conditional question in our Bibles: "Jesus, if you are the son of God, tell these stones to become bread".
We call this the sensual temptation. And we can see why this is so. The devil appeals to Jesus' senses, to His great hunger at this moment.
Imagine yourself on an island. You have been stranded there for a number of days with only water to drink. Suddenly in the distance you see a boat coming and it soon reaches the island. Those in the boat have food with them. They begin to prepare it. And they will share it with you. Imagine the pleasing aroma arising from this food. Your senses are greatly aroused. The same was true of the senses of Jesus. In other words, it was a real temptation.
But how does Jesus answer the devil? Jesus answers him with a quotation from the Old Testament. He quotes from the book of Deuteronomy. All of Jesus answers will be from this book. Jesus says," It is written man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God".
Let me emphasize a couple of truths at this point.
The first I will put in the form of a conditional question: if Jesus honors the Word of God, written, should we not also honor it? Sometimes we tend to draw too great a distinction between the Spirit of God and the Word of God. We tend to say, the Spirit causes us to be alive, while the Word of God does not do so. We do well to remember that the Bible calls the Word of God "The sword of the Spirit." Both the Spirit and the Word are gifts of God to bless us.
But let me mention a second truth flowing from Jesus' first temptation. In other circumstances it would have been very fitting for Jesus to turn stones into bread. We know that to feed the hungry people he multiplied the loaves and the fishes. Jesus was filled with pity for them. So what is not appropriate in one circumstance for Jesus is quite appropriate in another.
Think of yourself in the marriage relationship, if you happen to be married. It is very appropriate to enjoy all the blessings of marriage. However, if you seek to enjoy the intimacies of marriage outside of the covenant you have made with your spouse, it is very inappropriate. You have then fallen into sin. You have given in to temptation.
How thankful we should be then that Jesus overcame in this temptation, real as it was. And let us take courage that we also, in the various circumstances of our lives, if we are tempted to do that which is inappropriate shall also gain the victory through the power of his spirit. And if we fall into sin, when we repent, we will be restored again to a right relationship with our Lord.
We turn now to the second temptation. We read: "Then the devil took him to the Holy City and had him stand on the highest point of the temple"
So from the sensual, Jesus is taken to the spiritual. We might put it this way also. From what was Jesus weakest point at that moment, his great hunger, He is taken to what is His strongest point the spiritual. The truth is, if the devil cannot get us in one way, then he is going to try another. His bag is full of tricks!
On the highest point of the temple, the devil says to Jesus: "If you are the son of God, (and, Jesus had witness to this in His baptism) throw yourself down."
Satan adds to this, to make his challenge all the more attractive, a quote from the Psalms: "He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone."
Jesus answers: "It is also written: Do not put the Lord your God to the test."
Perhaps we do not immediately see the temptation in this for Jesus. It sounds ridiculous! Who is going to risk his life in such a stupid venture!
But there is a temptation for Jesus. If He goes along with Satan's suggestion, Jesus is putting Himself in the center of things. Here is an opportunity for Jesus to gain attention. Everybody will be talking about Him, He is going to gain recognition. He is going to be number one. But that means that His mission given to Him by His Father is going to be sidetracked. In fact, if Jesus disobeys, it will never be realized.
There is the temptation for us also to want recognition and it may be not in a God pleasing way. Think of the rich farmer. We know he was greedy. The Bible tells us so. But he also wanted to be in the center of things. That is why he built those bigger barns. So that people would notice him and say about him,"What a smart fellow he is." There is something alluring about this. Have we not all felt the pull to be in the limelight?
How does Jesus overcome the devil in this second temptation? Again it is by confronting him with the Word of God. Jesus says: "It is also written, do not put the Lord your God to the test."
And this raises another truth. Perhaps you noticed it. Satan approaches Jesus with the Word of God and Jesus answers with the Word of God.
What is the truth here for us to see? There is a fitting use of Scripture and an unfitting use of it. Satan's obviously is unfitting and Jesus use of Scripture is fitting.
There was a man who needed a very serious operation. He was quite nervous about it and wished the operation was behind him. As he thought about the operation and his life a verse of scripture kept coming up in his brain. The verse was from one of the psalms: "Be still and know that I am God." A fitting use of Scripture. It was a testimony of the man's faith. And it was meant to comfort him.
There was another man. He was a zealous Christian. He had much knowledge of the Bible. One time, to prove his belief in soul sleep, he quoted a text from Ezekiel: "The soul that sins shall surely die." And he interpreted it to mean that we become extinct at death. This man wanted to put the person he was speaking with on the spot. To quote scripture to get other people stuck or to embarrass them is never a fitting use of God's Holy Word.
How thankful we can be that Jesus saw through the devil's scheme. The devil wanted Jesus to do something ridiculous to place Jesus himself in the limelight. But Jesus saw through his schemes. Jesus overcame him with a fitting use of the Word of God.
And we likewise in Christ shall overcome. Perhaps, right now in your life, there is a temptation to put yourself in the center of everything. You want to shine and get all the credit. And you are failing to be a humble, faithful, servant of Jesus, carrying out His mission in your life. Look then to Jesus. Receive strength to overcome. He is surely there to help you. And also to forgive you and restore you to the Lord's favor, if you have fallen into sin.
There is a third temptation and it is the last one for this moment of Jesus' life. We read: "Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor."
Someone remarked that in these temptations the evil one was taking Jesus higher and higher and higher. That is so. From Jesus stomach, to the highest point of the temple, and now to a very high mountain.
But what was God's will for Jesus' life? To bring him lower and lower and lower.
We sing in a song usually sung at Advent: "Who came down from heaven to earth? Jesus Christ, my Savior. Who was born of lowly birth? Jesus Christ, my Savior"
And we also say when speaking about Jesus’ great love, that He suffered death on our behalf, and that he went down into the grave for us. He went down into hell for us too.
So Jesus needed to resist the devil's alluring call to go higher and higher, and obey His Father's will and go lower and lower.
What is the third temptation? Let me put it in the following way. The devil is now offering Jesus everything. He is offering him the whole world with everything in it. That includes all the people, all the riches of the creation. He is offering him absolutely everything with the veiled promise that this will give Jesus full satisfaction.
But what must Jesus do to receive all of this? According to the evil one not that much. Very simply, Jesus has only to worship him. Even if Jesus will only bow down one knee in giving his allegiance to Satan that will suffice.
We see the temptation in this for Jesus — but also for you and me. The tempter is suggesting a short cut to salvation and happiness.
The question has been asked: Could Satan deliver what he had promised Jesus? Our Scriptures for this message do not answer this question. We are led to believe from the witness of other Scriptures that he could not have delivered the goods.
Yet in the circumstance in which Jesus finds himself here, through the thoughts raised by Satan, Jesus did experience real temptation.
In thinking about this, remember what lay ahead for Jesus: suffering, a terrible death by way of crucifixion and the weight of the sins of the whole world on his heart and in his mind. Would it not be appealing to avoid this?
For us too, the journey of faith can be very difficult. Many questions arise for us, and, we do not always get an answer for them. We can be plagued with doubts. We can be deeply wounded by others who do not understand us. A shortcut to glory, avoiding all our many trials.
Yes, we sense the allurement of a shortcut to glory.
But, again, how does Jesus answer Satan? Of course with the Word of God.
We notice in the beginning of Jesus words to Satan a great intensity and passion. He says,"Get away from me, Satan." Jesus has had enough of the evil one’s assaults on God's will for His life. It is time for Satan to go and the sooner the better.
Perhaps many of us have faced temptations so real, so strong, we almost felt ourselves slipping into Satan's grasp. But through the wonderful, strengthening power of our Lord we were able to say: It is more than enough, get away from us. And then we experienced that we did overcome.
Notice also how Jesus’ words to Satan end. He reminds Satan of the written word of God: "Worship the Lord your God and serve Him only."
This is what Jesus came to do: "To serve God only." Satan failed to split Jesus off from his source of power and trust, his Father in heaven. Jesus overcame the evil one.
And Jesus is our sure hope that we shall overcome too. Yes, we may fall into sin; we may need to repent and be restored to favor with our Lord; but we shall also overcome.
May the Lord, our God give us this hope.
May it shine through in all we do in our lives.
Let us end this message with a verse from a hymn:
Thus spoke the Son: Hold Thou to me
From now on you shall make it
I gave my very life for thee
And for thee I shall stake it,
For I am thine and thou art mine
And where I am our lives entwine,
The Old Fiend cannot shake it.
Dear Father in heaven, we thank you for Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. We are so thankful that He remained steadfast throughout His difficult temptation. Oh we thank you Lord Jesus, from the bottom of our hearts, that you overcame the tempter. You give us hope. We are lifted up in our faith to testify also that: we shall overcome. Continue to strengthen us Lord! And we give to you all the honor and all the praise.
Proposed Order of Service
Gathering for Worship
Call to Worship: Ps. 146:1, 2
Our God invites us to worship Him now with these words of the Psalmist:
"Praise the Lord, O my soul. I will praise the Lord all my life.
I will sing praise to my God as long as I live."
That we might possess such a spirit of praise, let us each take a moment and silently pray to God asking Him to bless us in this Service.
Silent prayer ended with the hymn #625
God's Greeting (ask the people to stand)
We gather in the knowledge that our help is in the name of the Lord who has made heaven and earth. May Grace, mercy and peace be with us all, from God the Father, from Jesus Christ His son, in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Opening Hymn #247:1, 2, 3 "All Glory Be to God on High"
Prayer of confession of sin
Hymn of thanksgiving for sins forgiven: #475: all "Praise my soul"
Law of God: Romans 12
Hymn of faith: #479:1, 2, 3, "I Will Sing of my Redeemer"
Prayer of illumination
Scriptures: Matthew 4:1-11
Sermon: "Overcoming Temptation"
Hymn of response: #490:1,2 ,3 "Blessed Assurance; Jesus is Mine"
Hymn: #288:1, 2, 5, 6, "Take my Life and Let it Be"
Parting Blessing: As you leave this church, may our Father, God of all grace, who has called us to his eternal glory in Christ, restore, establish and strengthen us all with his presence. For to him belongs the dominion and power for ever and ever. Amen
Doxology: #291:1, 3, 5, "May the Mind of Christ, My Savior"