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Today my reading was the temptation of Jesus in Matthew. The reason many churches practice 40 days of fasting for Lent is because of the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness. I thought I would share a sermon about Jesus' temptation that I wrote several years ago. I did a series through the Gospels where I looked at the ministry of Jesus through all four Gospels at the same time. As I did it, I would combine the passages into one narrative with the various details of each Gospel. I would color-code them so you knew which details came from which Gospel. Here, I will designate them differently.

Matthew 4:1-11, Mark 1:12-13, Luke 4:1-13

The Spirit then compelled Jesus to go into the wilderness, where he was tempted by Satan for forty days. He was out among the wild animals, and angels took care of him.

Then Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan River. He was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted there by the devil. For forty days and forty nights he fasted and became very hungry.

During that time the devil came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell (this stone) these stones to become (a loaf) loaves of bread.” But Jesus told him, “No! The Scriptures say, ‘People do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Then the devil took him to the holy city, Jerusalem, to the highest point of the Temple, and said, “If you are the Son of God, jump off! For the Scriptures say, ‘He will order his angels to protect and guard you. And they will hold you up with their hands so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.’” Jesus responded, “The Scriptures also say, ‘You must not test the Lord your God.’”

Next the devil took him to the peak of a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world (in a moment of time) and their glory. “I will give you the glory of these kingdoms and authority over them,” the devil said, “because they are mine to give to anyone I please. I will give it all to you,” he said, “if you will kneel down and worship me.”

“Get out of here, Satan,” Jesus told him. “For the Scriptures say, ‘You must worship the Lord your God and serve only him.’”

When the devil had finished tempting Jesus, he left him until the next opportunity came, and angels came and took care of Jesus.

Before we get into the specifics of the passage, there are a few general things I want to point out. First, Mark just gives us a summary because the focus of the book of Mark is Jesus’ ministry. Mark gives us a few preliminary things before jumping into the action.

Second, although Matthew and Luke are almost identical, there is one major difference. In Matthew, the order of the temptations are bread, jump, worship; while in Luke, it’s bread, worship, jump. Some people who try to say that the Bible is inaccurate and unreliable would point to something like this and cry “Error!” The truth is that there doesn’t seem to be an obvious reason why they differ. We would have to ask Matthew and Luke. Remember, though, that these books are not textbooks and so are not as concerned with accurate chronological order as much as getting the point across. It really doesn’t matter what order they came in. Most scholars believe that Matthew is the correct one, but the point remains the same…Jesus resisted temptation.

Finally, and maybe most importantly, this event isn’t simply about how we can resist temptation. There is something much more significant going on here.

 The Temptation

Jesus leaves His baptism and goes immediately into the wilderness. When the Jews talk about the wilderness, they are speaking more of barren places rather than dense forests like we would imagine. As you walk east from where Jesus was baptized, there is nothing but wilderness. 

  1. Redeeming Israel’s Failure – God had a very specific mission for Israel. He placed them at the crossroads of the world to be the people of God in the world. They were to follow God by obeying Torah, and doing so would draw all nations to God.

          a. Just as Israel passed through the waters of the Red Sea, so Jesus passed through the waters of baptism.

          b. Just as Israel spent 40 years in the wilderness being tested and prepared by God, so Jesus spent 40 days in the same wilderness being tested and prepared for His ministry. This is one of the reasons Jesus went without food for those 40 days. All Israel did during their time in the wilderness was complain about food. Jesus goes without food to demonstrate its lack of importance.

          c. Just as Israel crossed the Jordan and entered their place of ministry, Jesus crossed back over the Jordan and entered His place of ministry.

In all of this, Jesus did what Israel was supposed to do, thereby fulfilling their purpose and the Law.  

  1. Redeeming Adam and Eve’s Fall – Jesus is also redeeming Adam and Eve’s failure. Starting with creation, Jesus is also rewalking the events of Genesis.

          a. The connection of Jesus with Creation

      1. Water represented chaos and death to the ancient Jews. Just as Genesis says that everything was formless and in chaos in the beginning, so Jesus enters the water which represents chaos.
      2. Just as Genesis says that the Spirit of God hovered over the waters of creation, so we see the Spirit of God hover over Jesus at His baptism.
      3. Just as Genesis says that God declared everything good during creation, we hear the voice of God declare that He is pleased with Jesus at His baptism. He is good.
      4. Just as God created a new world out of the void in Genesis, so Jesus comes out of the water ushering in a new world order where love and restoration would prevail over evil.
      5. Just as Adam and Eve were tempted in the Garden, so Jesus is now tempted.
      6. We also have an interesting word choice in Mark. Where Matthew and Luke say that Jesus is led into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit, Mark says he was “driven” or “compelled” to go. Why? Well, I don’t think Jesus had to be forced, although He may not have been excited about going 40 days without food. Instead, Mark is making one more connection to the Genesis account. Just as Adam and Eve were driven from the Garden into the wilderness because they gave into temptation, Jesus is driven into the wilderness to defeat temptation so that we can all enter the Garden.

          b. Lucifer in the temptation

    1. Lucifer is the archangel who led a rebellion against God. In Scripture, he is seen as the one who is constantly trying to thwart God’s plans. We see him particularly in Job, where he is called “satan”. There are two names given to Lucifer in this event. In Mark, he is called “satanas”, or “the accuser.” In Matthew and Luke, he is called “diabolos”, or “deceitful one.” Neither of these is a proper name, but rather a description of character.
    2. In Mark, it also records the fact that Jesus was among “the wild animals.” The word here, “therion”, is commonly used in the New Testament to speak of actual wild animals, but in Revelation, it’s used exclusively to speak of demons and most particularly, The Beast. It seems clear that Mark is making a clear reference to the serpent in Genesis who tempts Eve. A better translation might be, “He was tempted by satan, the beast…”

          c. The Three Temptations - The three temptations here mirror the temptation of Eve in the Garden. 1 John 2:15-16 gives us a little insight into this. It says: “Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world.” The three cravings here; craving for physical pleasure, craving for what we see, and pride; point back to Eve. In Genesis 3:6, she “saw the tree was beautiful” (craving for what we see), “the fruit looked delicious” (craving for physical pleasure), and “she wanted the wisdom” (pride). Jesus faces these same three temptations.

  1. Bread – Jesus is tempted to turn stones into bread. This is an obvious one because He was very hungry. He was tempted by physical pleasure. However, Jesus was completely submitted to the will of Yahweh, so He would not do it, in spite of His physical need. In this instance, and both of the others, Jesus points back to the Torah, specifically Deuteronomy, and says, “It is written…” He is in obedience to God’s Law. I want to say something here about Scripture memory. This is one of the most unpopular things we talk about in church. Few people like the idea of memorizing the Bible. Jesus knew it so well because He had memorized the entire Bible starting at age 5. The truth is that we memorize things all the time, as long as they interest us. So get interested. The Bible is the only weapon we have against the deceiver. Would you walk into a fight without a weapon? We do it all the time and then we wonder why we lose! One caution: memorize in context!
  2. Jump – Jesus is taken to the top of the Temple and encouraged to jump. The liar was correct that angels would have protected Him. He was being tempted to be demonstrate His divinity for all to see. If Jesus had jumped and then gently floated down, it would have been seen by thousands of people. People would have proclaimed Him Messiah right there. However, this was in direct contradiction to the secret nature of Jesus’ time on earth. It is clear that God’s will was that Jesus would minister quietly because His purpose was not for an earthly kingdom, but for a spiritual kingdom. The earthly kingdom would come later. Since Jesus was following God’s will, He did it God’s way.
  3. Worship – The liar shows Jesus the whole world and tells Jesus that if He’ll just worship Him, he will give Him all of it. It was Lucifer’s to give because he was given the title deed to the earth by Adam and Eve when they sinned. Jesus was being tempted by what He could see. Here’s what the accuser was offering…he was giving Jesus the easy way out. Jesus could avoid all of the suffering, all of the pain, everything, by just taking this shortcut.

And so it ends with the accuser, the liar, leaving having been frustrated, and with Jesus having done what Adam and Eve couldn’t do and what Israel didn’t do. In the final analysis, Jesus had a simple choice: do what was best for Him (by taking the easy road), or do what was best for others (by obeying God).


So where does that leave us? Well, we are all faced with that same choice in our personal lives and our mission as a church.

  1. We are walking the path of Israel. If you are a follower of Christ, then you have been baptized. You are now in the wilderness. This world is not the final destination but is a place of testing and preparation. When I deployed to Afghanistan, I didn’t take everything I owned with me, and I didn’t spend all of my time and money building and buying things I was going to leave behind. I invested in things I could bring home, and I invested in my future by paying off debt. It’s such a temptation to invest in this world. Unfortunately, we will find that pursuit unfulfilling. If we are doing what Jesus did, then we should be focusing on ministry, spreading the kingdom of God to the world around us. Many of you have heard me say this before…God has placed you where you are to be at the crossroads of someone’s life. It is not your mission to get a better job, a nicer car, a bigger house, or a better education. Your mission is to display the glory of God where God has placed you and to draw everyone you come in contact with toward Him! Israel lost sight of that. Let’s not be like Israel.
  1. We are fulfilling the mission God gave Adam and Eve. God’s mission to the first family was simple…have lots of kids, fill up the earth, and expand the boundaries of the Garden to the whole earth. God’s mission to us as the family of God is just as simple…have lots of “kids”, fill up the earth with people who love Him, and expand the kingdom of God wherever you are. Jesus gives more detail to this mission in Matthew 22 and 28. If we are doing those things, we will be expanding His kingdom. If we are not doing those things, we will die, just as Adam and Eve did!


Years ago, I chose three names of people who aren’t Christians and committed to pray for them every day at 3:00 for 3 minutes. I found that difficult initially. I actually put a reminder on my phone because if I didn’t, I would have forgotten…to pray…for someone who is going to hell! And every time it rang, I was tempted to brush it off. It was in the way of what I was doing! Can you imagine…I was tempted to ignore the eternal destination of these people because I was too busy to take 2/1,000ths of my day to pray for them! Now, the truth is that I did pray for them every day for a month and I invited them to church. They didn’t come, but I did what I promised to do. And you know what? I decided to continue to pray for my three every day until they come to Christ. I am not going to let the liar stop me from fulfilling God's mission!

Lucifer, the adversary, the deceiver, will not try to come and make us reject Jesus. No, he will tempt us with comfort, appeal to our pride, and try to get us to think of ourselves before others. Will we give in, or will we follow our Savior?


Glorious Day

Raise A Hallelujah

At the Cross


The Old Rugged Cross

...and we are learning:

The Blessing