Matthew 4:1-11
The Devil's Temptation

Authored By Rev. Takao Kiyohiro, Tokyo, Japan

Refer to 990221 Matthew 4:1-11 for a very similar sermon.


"So, since the son of God Jesus as the great high priest who has passed through the heavens is given to us, shall we not hold on tight to the faith which we publicly express?  This high priest is not one who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has met with testing on all points just like we have and yet has not sinned.  Therefore, for us to receive mercy, take part in his blessing, and receive his perfectly timed help, shall we not boldly approach the throne of grace?," (Hebrews 4:14-16).

2.  Christ met with testing just like we have.  The phrase "to meet with testing" appears in the scriptural passage for today.  But here it is translated as "to experience temptation."  Christ was tempted and met with testing.  Of course, his was a special test which he experienced as the messiah.  But, at the same time it was also a test "just like we have" experienced.

Israel Yielded To Temptation

3.  The devil said to Jesus, "If you are the son of God, why not command these stones be turned to bread!," (verse three).  This is the first temptation.  In reply to this the Lord answered with a quote from Deuteronomy that went like this, "It is written, 'Man does not live by bread alone.  He lives by every word that comes out of the mouth of God,'" (verse four).  From Jesus' reply we can understand the true nature of the devil's first temptation.  It is the temptation to pull a person from the truth that "a man lives by every word that comes out of the mouth of God."

4.  In Deuteronomy, which Jesus quoted, it says the following:  "Recall the wilderness journey of forty years in which the Lord our God led you.  Through it the Lord wanted to see what was in your hearts by bringing you pain and testing you, that is whether you would keep his commandments.  The Lord afflicted you, made you hungry, and made you eat the manna which neither you nor your ancestors had ever tasted.  For, he wanted to let you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord," (Deuteronomy 8:2-3).

5.  God once used Moses and led the Israelites out of Egypt.  Then God guided the Israelites into the wilderness.  There was no food in the wilderness.  Israel became hungry.  Then, God gave the hungry people manna.  But, as paradoxical as it seems, when God gave them manna he did so to let the Israelites know that man does not live by manna alone, that he does not live by bread alone.  A human lives by the word of God.  As a result, God set terms regarding the gathering of the manna.  They were "to gather only a sufficient portion for each day."  They should not collect two days worth.  Only on the day before the Sabbath should they collect two days worth.  In exchange, they were not supposed to try to gather any on the Sabbath.  That was God's word.  They were required to depend on God and live in obedience to his word.

6.  However, they never did attempt to live by the word of God.  The history of Israel actually became a history of renunciating the word of God for bread.  Until the country came to its ruin, they did not realize that "Man lives by every word that comes out of the mouth of the Lord."  Thus, the devil's temptation which Jesus experienced was about the same as the temptation that Israel had once succumbed into.

7.  The second temptation was the same way.  The devil led Jesus to stand upon the apex of the temple roof and said, "If you are the son of God, why not jump off! It is written, 'When God commands the angels for you, so that your foot does not hit against the stone, the angels will support you by the hand,'" (verse six).  In reply against this, the Lord gave this answer, "It is written, 'You should not test the Lord your God,'" (verse seven).  This was how the devil's second temptation was a temptation to test the Lord.

8.  It was Deuteronomy that the Lord quoted from.  The verse in its entirety says, "You should not test the Lord your God as you did when you were in Masa," (Deuteronomy 6:16).  What did Israel do in Masa?  There wasn't any drinking water for the people there.  The people were sore with thirst.  They said to Moses, "Give us water to drink."  They complained, "Why did you lead us up out of Egypt?  So that you might kill us, our children, and our cattle with thirst?"  For that, the Lord said to Moses, "Behold, I will stand before you on the rock of Horeb.  You will strike that rock. Water will come forth from it and the people will be able to drink," (Exodus 17:6).  That's how they got their water. But, then the Bible goes on to say, "He named that place Masa (Testing) and Meriba (Strife). For the Israelites said, 'Is the Lord really among us as we expected or what?,' and they strove with Moses and tested the Lord," (Exodus 17:7).  This is what happened at Masa.

9.  In saying, "Give us water to drink," they were making a request to "Get water by making a miracle happen."  They had already come to experience a number of divine miracles.  When they suffered he had changed the undrinkable water to potable water (Ex 15:25).  When starving, manna was given them.  But, no matter how many works of God they experienced, they did not come to live in full reliance upon God.  Instead, they said, "Is the Lord really among us as we expected or what?," and further more they made demands for miracles and wound up testing God.

10.  When placed in a test, the testing really falls on the side of the human being. In such times one's faith is being put to the test. Obedience to God is held to the test for questioning.  If one becomes separated from God, then repentance is required of that person. But people don't like to be put under tests and trails. We'd rather put God to the test. We don't turn to God and live in dependence upon Him, but would rather make demands for proof of God's love and presence. We insist, "Are you there, God? If you are, show us some proof."  Here is where the temptation was that Israel fell into.

11.  The third temptation is similar. The devil took Jesus to a very high mountain, showed him all the kingdoms of the world and its glory and said, "If you bow down and adore me, I'll give this all to you," (verse nine). The Lord's answer to that was "Go away, Satan. It is written, 'Worship the Lord your God and serve only Him,'" (verse ten).

12.  It was Deuteronomy chapter six and verse thirteen that the Lord quoted.  If I quote it in its context, it would go like this, "Be careful never to forget the Lord who led you out of the land of Egypt, the house of slavery. Fear the Lord your God, serve only the Lord, swear by His name.  You should not follow after other gods, the gods of the peoples of the surrounding countries," (Deuteronomy 6:13-15).  As we see from this passage, this temptation was not merely a temptation to worship Satan. It was a temptation to pull them away from worshipping only the Lord and serving only Him. This was also the temptation into which Israel fell.  The history of Israel was a history in which they rebelled against the Lord who had saved them and in which they had continuously chased after other gods.

Christ Overcame The Temptations

13.  Yet still, these tests and temptations are also the experience held in common by not only Israel but the church in the days when The Epistle To The Hebrews and The Gospel Of Matthew were written and also the church today.

14.  Consider the early church. The Christian church, which was first considered a sect in Judaism, soon was cut off from the Jewish community. Jewish Christians were ostracized. It was hard to get daily necessities.  All of a sudden getting bread became a real problem.  When bread is in short supply, it may separate a person from the word of God. When we read The Epistle To The Hebrews, it sounds like there were some who quit assembling together for worship. They were being put to the test over whether they could claim, "Man lives by every word that comes out of the mouth of the Lord."

15.  How about us today?  We aren't necessarily experiencing that type of persecution.  But, the nature of temptation is still the same.  When hard times come up, when we are put under duress, we say, "In times like this it's so bad I don't have the mind to even think of my faith, or of God's word, or of worship." Don't we think that?  Really then, we are being tested with whether we can claim, "Man lives by every word that comes out of the mouth of the Lord."  The first temptation is all too familiar.

16.  Next, in the early church, as we see in The Acts Of The Apostles, remarkable miracles and signs of wonders were performed.  But, miracles are not necessarily linked to the production of reliance upon the Lord.  Instead, the temptation to test God has certainly been the result.  It is the same with us today.  No matter how much we may have experienced the works of God's power, we forget that our own faith is being testing at the most critical moment and we begin to put God to the test.  Then, if God doesn't do as we ask, we rebel against Him and start blurting things out like whether "God or the Merciful One or whatever is even there?"  The second temptation is familiar to us as well.

17.  Next, it wasn't long when the early church came under the severe test of compulsory emperor worship.  And that's not all, in its chains within pagan society, in order to acquire the might and the prosperity of this world, one had to regard the validity of worshipping godless things.  I'd say this temptation was very big.  I'd also say it's the same for us today.  The temptation to acquire something by sacrificing the worship of the Lord or serving only the Lord is always very familiar to us as the devil's third temptation.  Isn't it?

18.  But, today we are being led to set our eyes on Christ who battled with the devil in the wilderness.  Christ placed himself in the temptation that Israel once fell into and that the church after him had continually experienced.  Then Jesus defeated the temptations of the devil.  His victory in the wilderness is symbolic.  It points to the fact that during his life and on the cross the Lord won a complete victory against the devil.

19.  This Jesus indeed is the one who is our Lord and our high priest.  And the scriptures exhort us by saying, "This high priest is not one who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has met with testing on all points just like we have and yet has not sinned.  Therefore, for us to receive mercy, take part in his blessing, and receive his perfectly timed help, shall we not boldly approach the throne of grace?"

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