Defeating the Devil

Matthew 4:1-11

I came across a poster a while back that said, “Opportunity may knock only once, but temptation leans on the doorbell.”

How true it is! From the beginning of human history, temptation has been a part of living in this world. We only need to look at Genesis chapter 3 to find temptation in God’s perfect world between the serpent and Adam and Eve. We see this scenario play out again and again throughout history and even in our own lives.

Temptation. Someone once said, “To a greater or lesser degree, if you are alive then you are tempted.”

I came across a funny story about temptation. A minister parked his car in a no parking spot and left a note on the car saying, “I circled around this area ten times and couldn’t find a parking place. I’m going to be late, and so I’m parking here. So, please, forgive us our trespasses.”

When the minister returned to his car, he found a citation with a note saying, “I am a police officer. I have gone around this block every day for 10 years, and if I do not give you a ticket, I will lose my job. Lead us not into temptation.” ☺

The truth is, temptation can be a dangerous business. Giving into some temptations like breaking God’s commandments, attempting to run our own life without God’s help, or doubting God’s love for us can be dangerous to our spiritual, emotional and physical health.

A while back, I was talking with an alcoholic friend of mine who had fallen off the sobriety wagon. When I asked him what happened, he said, “I tried to do it on my own power without God’s help. I stopped working the program.”

I think of a man who came in to see me. He emotionally cheating on his wife and was almost ready to commit the physical act as well. In my counseling with him, it turns out he had left God out of the equation. He was on the verge of destroying his marriage and his family to feed his appetite.

Jesus knows what it’s like to be tempted. In the book of Hebrews, for instance, we find this reflection on that truth: “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (4:15). We also see this truth in our text for today.

It is near the beginning of the ministry of Jesus. He has just been baptized and affirmed by His heavenly Father – “This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” He has been given an understanding of the purpose of His life and the means by which He was to carry it out. He was to be a suffering servant.

Immediately following the thrill of His baptism, Jesus was led by the Spirit out into the wilderness – not to the cities to do ministry – but to the wilderness! It is a hot, miserable, desolate place. Jesus was led there to be tempted by the devil.

Sometimes the word “test” is used for tempt. Jesus was field-tested before He began His ministry of proclaiming the Good News of the kingdom and eventually dying for the sins of the world at the cross.

Satan tried to knock Jesus off His game plan in the wilderness. Jesus had fasted for forty days, which is quite a fast! He probably lost about forty pounds. He was weak physically, but strong spiritually as He learned to focus and depend upon God and God’s promise to take care of Him. The devil then approached Jesus, and the battle was on.

It is interesting to note the temptations Satan threw in Jesus’ direction to get Him to quit following and trusting God. The first one seemed innocent enough: “If you are the Son of God, feed yourself by turning the stones to bread.” In other words, Satisfy your appetite with the power you have, Jesus. You don’t need God for that. Take care of yourself!

Now remember, Jesus hadn’t eaten for forty days; He must have been starving. But Jesus refused. I’m trusting God’s Word. I’m trusting God to provide for Me.

The next temptation was to gain popularity with the masses. You can really wow people as You jump from the pinnacle of this temple, Satan said. You will be saved by God’s angels, and You’ll have quite a following. Jesus was being tempted to test God’s love for Him. But He refused. No. I refuse to test the God who loves Me.

Finally Satan tried this one. “Worship me.” All you have to do is worship me, and I will also give you all the kingdoms of the world! This is a shortcut to success. You don’t have to go to the cross. Again Jesus replied, “Away with you, Satan.” I’m sticking with God! Only Him will I worship.

In all these temptations, Jesus was basically being asked, You’re the Son of God, aren’t You? Why are You in this position? Satan was attempting to create doubt in Jesus’s trust in God and in God’s love for Him. With each temptation, Jesus basically responded, I’m going to do life God’s way, My Father’s way. I will not compromise My trust in Him!

The forty days in the wilderness remind us of Israel wandering around in the wilderness. However, they failed the test of their trust in God completely!

We are reminded of Adam and Eve living in the Garden of Eden without sin. They gave into believing the tempter’s words that God was holding out on them and they could do better by eating the fruit of the tree, which God had warned them about. The devil was trying to put doubt in their minds, and he succeeded. They failed the test, and great was the fall.

But in today’s story, we see round one between Satan and Jesus – and round one goes to Jesus! Jesus is the strong man who emerged a victor that day. Satan will leave Him to test Him again and again. For instance, when Jesus asked Peter, “Who do men say that I am?” and told the disciples about His journey to the cross, Peter replied, You don’t have to do that, Lord!  But then Jesus said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!”

In the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus also faced temptation as He prayed for strength to face the cross and crucifixion. Ultimately, He emerged victorious at the cross and at the grave. He remained loyal to God’s mission as He paid for our sins. God raised Him from the grave and affirmed Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. He will give victory over the grave to all who trust in His Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus is our strong man, our champion sent from God – the conqueror – who perfectly carried out God’s will and plan for His life and to rescue us.

What does this have to do with us? It is a nice story about Jesus as He takes on Satan and wins. But listen: Although the battle has been won by Jesus, and Satan will be ultimately destroyed someday by God, we are still in the midst of mop-up operations. The tempter is prowling around like a lion or an angel of light seeking to destroy people’s lives and their relationship with God. He is tempting them to compromise their trust in God and not live their life God’s way.

I am reminded of the story about a hunter who raised his rifle and took aim at a large bear. When he was about to pull the trigger, the bear spoke in a soft, soothing voice. “Isn’t it better to talk than shoot? What is it you want? Let’s negotiate the matter.”

Lowering his rifle, the hunter said, “I want a fur coat!”

“Good!” said the bear. “That is a negotiable question. I only want a full stomach, so let’s negotiate a compromise.”

They sat down to negotiate, and after a time the bear walked away, alone, into the dense woods. The negotiation had been successful. The bear now had a full stomach, and the devoured hunter had his fur coat.

Satan is deceitful like that. He often wants to negotiate, to compromise the truth of God’s Word and cause us to doubt God’s love for us. Sometimes he works on us through hardships and suffering. Other times through prosperity and good times, making us believe we can do better on our own. Sometimes, he works through peers who encourage us to go with the flow, lay aside our values. Other times, through opposition and persecutors who make us afraid to follow Jesus. Satan works his tricks on us in many ways.

But here is the Good News – Help is here! I have One I can turn to knowing He is the strong One, the Son of God, Jesus Christ. He is my refuge and my strength!

The book of Hebrews tells us that as we are tempted, Jesus sympathizes with us in our weakness, because He’s been there. So as I focus on Him and lean on Him in prayer, calling out to Him for help on a daily basis, I find strength in Him to be experienced as I face my own temptations. HE WILL HELP ME, but I have to call on Him. Some of us have a hard time asking for help. Calling on Jesus to help us overcome temptations may look weak to people but the demons know it is their undoing.

Billy Graham said one time, “We can’t flee from temptation on our own strength, but God will give us the strength we need if we only seek it.” A friend of mine says, “When the devil knocks, I just send Jesus to the door.” How about the little children’s song,

“Jesus loves me, this I know. For the Bible tells me so.
Little ones to Him belong. They are weak, but He is strong.
Yes, Jesus loves me. . . .”

By the way, did you notice when temptation was thrown Jesus’ way, He had the Word of God to guide Him, to keep Him on track, to protect Him? He kept saying,
“It is written . . .”
“It is written . . .”
“It is written . . .”

If Jesus needed to lean upon the Word of God, can we do any less as His followers? There is power in reading and studying and applying the Word of God. There is power in having a biblical perspective to look through as we are faced with situations. It is important for us to get to know God’s Word. It is crucial for our spiritual welfare, for winning the battle. It’s been described as the Sword of the Spirit. In it you discover God’s promises and God’s directions for making life work best for you and for others. We cannot afford to be inept in our handling of God’s Word, dear sisters and brothers. Martin Luther stressed the importance of God’s Word in his hymn, “A Mighty Fortress,” when he wrote, “One little word subdues him.” Satan – he can be held at bay with a word.

Martin Luther wrote one time, “The devil cannot bear to hear God’s Word. It is the power of God, which burns the devil and gives us immeasurable strength, comfort, and help. We need the Word! We need to be in the Word, know the Word, and lean upon it, because the battle is still on! Temptations will continue to come our way until our dying breath.

But the Good News we learned today is, We are not alone! Jesus is still here for us. We don’t have to face these temptations on our own. We have the Word of God – the Sword of the Spirit – in hand. Call on the strong name of Jesus for help knowing He is the conqueror, and in Him we are more than conquerors. He will strengthen and guide you as you study His Word. Call for help in prayer. Lean upon others in the community of faith to stand by you and help you be strong in the Lord.

I want to close this message with a story out of the textile factories in New England. In one of the workrooms hung a sign that said, “If your threads get tangled, send for the foreman.” A new employee got her threads tangled. The more she attempted to untangle them, the more helpless she became. She finally cried for help. The foreman came and asked why she hadn’t sent for him earlier. She replied in self-defense, “I did my best.” The foreman smiled and said, “Remember. Doing your best is sending for me.”

In a world filled with temptation, our Lord would use those words: Doing your best is sending for Me. That is the way a Christian handles temptation. Just send Jesus to the door. Amen.

Pastor Steve Kramer