Friday, March 3, 2017

Matthew 4:1-11 Overcoming Temptations

KEY TEXT: Matthew 4:1-5 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. And 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, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'"

KEY THOT: It is at Jesus' moment of greatest need and vulnerability (after fasting for 40 days) that the devil came to him to tempt him to turn stones into bread. Note that the devil tempted Jesus at the point of his legitimate need (food), not over some illegitimate or illegal need. 

In fact, the devil's strategy has always been to tempt us in our area of our needs (physical, psychological and spiritual). The temptation for Jesus was not so much about turning the stone into bread, but rather following the devil's way to meet his need for survival rather than God's way. The other two temptations of Jesus recorded in today's lectionary text (Mt 4:1-11) are similarly focused on Jesus' other legitimate needs. 

His second temptation to throw himself off the pinnacle of the temple (v.6) is not (as some scholars suggest) to do something spectacular to show off, but to meet his need for security--to know that God was always there for him when he met danger. And the devil even quoted the scripture to back up his temptation: "He will command angels concerning you" and "On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone" (v.6). So, the devil can also make his temptation sound "biblical" to deceive us into obeying him.

The third temptation of the devil is focused on Jesus' legitimate need for significance: "the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory" (v.8) and promised to give him the world if Jesus would acknowledge him as his master by bowing down to worship him. In fact, this is the reason Jesus came down to die on the cross--that he might become King over the nations and to receive a Kingdom. 

So, it was a legitimate need in line with God's purpose. But what makes this a temptation was to accomplish God's purpose the devil's way rather than God's way. God's way for Jesus to receive the crown is by means of the cross. The devil offered Jesus a painless way to apparently reach the same goal of becoming King of kings.

Eve was tempted the same way too in the Garden of Eden but she succumbed to the devil's temptations because she was more focused on her needs than on God's purpose and agenda: "So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food (survival need for food), and that it was a delight to the eyes (security need for self-esteem), and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise (significance need for wisdom), she took of its fruit" (Genesis 3:6). 

Unlike Eve, Jesus did not focus on his own needs but on God's purpose and agenda as revealed in God's word. In response to each temptation thrown at him by the devil, Jesus affirmed God's will for him as revealed in the Word by asserting, "It is written (in the Scriptures)..." (v.4, 7, 10).

It's only when we are committed to doing God's will as revealed in his Word and willing to surrender our legitimate needs as our priority goal in life that we can resist the devil's temptations. Sin does not begin by doing something wrong. We often slide into it by doing something right (meeting our legitimate needs) the wrong way (Satan's ways) rather than God's ways. Once we are accustomed to listening to the devil, we become his slaves. And the next time he prompts us to do something evil, we would easily succumb to it without resistance.

Father, lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. Amen.

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