There is an old proverb that says, “Opportunity knocks at the door only once, but temptation hangs around persistently all the days of our lives.”
If that proverb be at least partially true, we need to know as much about temptation as we possibly can, and there is none better to be our teacher than Jesus Himself.
What does Jesus know about temptation? He is the sinless One, someone says. The Bible tells us, “He has been in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:13) And so the text talks about Jesus being tempted by Satan.
Let me first ask you, do you believe in a personal devil?
If you reply, “Yes, I do,” then there is the question, “Why?”
How would you answer? Let me tell you some of my answers. The tempter was after Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. He was after the three fathers of the Jewish people – Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He was after Israel’s greatest king, David, “a man after God’s own heart.” He was after the Apostles; he was after Jesus; and he is after me every hour of the day.
Our text says, “Jesus was led to the desert to be tempted by the devil.” From this experience in His life, Jesus gives us many insights into temptation. Here are three of these insights:
1. Satan attacks when we are most vulnerable. He comes when we are tired, alone, and discouraged. Jesus had been in the desert for 40 days. He had not eaten during this time. He must have been emotionally exhausted as he saw what the next few years had in store for Him. At that hour, with his body crying out for food, Satan said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” What an opportune time to attack Jesus!
Think about it. When do you experience some of your greatest temptations? You might answer, When I am with a group of people, and they influence me to do things that I know are contrary to God’s will. How true, but don’t you also have some of your most difficult temptations when you’re alone?
The young person is alone in her room. Her folks are not happy with her grades. Her boyfriend is not giving her the kind of attention she wants, and she can’t seem to decide what kind of work she wants to do in life. Life seems so heavy. Satan is right there and says, “I thought you had a Lord who was going to answer all of these problems for you. Why didn’t he make school as easy for you as He did for your brother? Why do you have to live with these strict laws regarding sex that are way outdated? Why bother yourself about tomorrow? Enjoy today and do what brings happiness.” This is the hour when Satan’s attack is so powerful.
But you know it isn’t any easier for grandpa, who is now living in the nursing home. He is 86 years old. Life was pretty good for grandpa until grandma died four years ago. They were always together. Now it is so lonesome without her. Why does he have to live? He can’t see well, and he worries about losing his license to drive the car. So many of his buddies are dead. His needs are not being met; at least that is the way grandpa feels. And Satan says, “I thought God was going to give you a peace that is beyond reason? Where is it? Where is your God who promised to be with you in the difficult times of life?” That’s temptation in the last days of grandpa’s life, and it is just as strong as when he was 18 wondering about his future.
In those vulnerable hours, Satan’s attack is, “Where is your God?”
2. Satan questions our identity and our relationship with God. The devil said to Jesus, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. For it is written, ‘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.’” (vs. 6)
Imagine the temptation when Satan says, “If you are the Son of God . . .” Jesus had heard the voice from heaven say at His baptism, “This is my beloved Son whom I love, with him I am well pleased.” Now Satan is trying to make Jesus question this revelation. He must have been asking Himself, “Am I really the Messiah?”
Think of the times when Satan said to Christian people, “Do you really think you are God’s child? Do you really think you are saved? Are you really convinced that all of God’s promises telling you that He is with you are true? Then why do you have all of these trials? Look at all the good you have done for the Church, all the good things you have done for your family, how prominent you have been in the community, and then this tragedy comes to you.” He is getting you to question your identity – Am I really a Christian, and if so, what does that mean?
3. Satan offers us the world if we will bow down and worship him. “He showed him the kingdoms of the world and their splendor, and then said, ‘All of this I will give you if you will bow down and worship me.’” There is a price to pay, but think of the material blessings if we will forsake God and bow down to Satan.
The devil is still at it. Could Satan have spoken to a high-ranking official at Enron, who already had millions of dollars, one night as he flew in a private jet to his 6_ million-dollar-house? You and your colleagues at Enron have done a marvelous job in leading this company to big things. Would you like to go farther? You will have to bow down and let me direct you. Here is one way you can show a big profit and better dividends for your stockholders. You can avoid paying federal income tax for 4 out of 5 years and receive millions of dollars in federal tax refunds. All of this is legal, even if it might not be quite moral. Wrong decisions were made, and you know the rest of the story. Many employees have lost their retirement benefits and others have lost millions of dollars as they watched their investments become almost worthless.
Humans often fall to Satan’s tricks, but not our Lord. He defeated Satan by again turning to God’s Word when He said, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”
Tricky fellow, this Satan, isn’t he? He’s powerful too, but Jesus Christ defeated him. Jesus not only gives us insights into how Satan attacks us, but He shows His children how to resist the devil’s attacks. With each temptation, Jesus resisted Satan by quoting Scripture. What does it tell us? Know God’s Word so well that His divine truths will be your defense against the tempter. And that Word has its power in the truth that Jesus, through His resurrection, won the victory for us over Satan. He can tempt us, and too often we fall. But ultimately we have the victory over sin through the Resurrected Christ.
Our world reveals that Satan is alive and well. One of the news magazines printed on its cover, “So many choices, and no one to trust. In today’s world you’re on your own baby.”
There are many temptations, but we do not face them alone. Christ is our victor!