Series: Encounters with Christ (Satan in the Wilderness)
Rev. Todd A. Linn, PhD
Henderson’s First Baptist Church, Henderson
Take your Bibles and join me this morning in Matthew chapter 4 (page 650; YouVersion).
We are preaching a series of messages entitled, “Encounters with Christ,” studying the encounters of various persons in the New Testament with Jesus, encounters with Christ. So we have read about folks like Zacchaeus, Doubting Thomas, the Rich Young Ruler, and others.
Today’s encounter is a bit unusual. It’s like no other. We are reading this morning Matthew’s description of the temptation of Christ. And so this morning’s passage is not about some human being who encounters Christ, but about a supernatural being who encounters Christ—or maybe better, how Christ encounters him, Christ’s encounter with the devil, His encounter with Satan in the wilderness.
Please stand in honor of the Word of God.
1 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.
2 And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterward He was hungry. 3 Now when the tempter came to Him, he said, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.”
4 But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’”
5 Then the devil took Him up into the holy city, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple,
6 and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down. For it is written:
‘He shall give His angels charge over you,’
‘In their hands they shall bear you up,
Lest you dash your foot against a stone.’”
7 Jesus said to him, “It is written again, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God.’”
8 Again, the devil took Him up on an exceedingly high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory.
9 And he said to Him, “All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me.”
10 Then Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve.’”
11 Then the devil left Him, and behold, angels came and ministered to Him.
Our study this morning is entitled, “Wilderness Survival.” I had a buddy when I was growing up—in fact he became the best man at my wedding—and I remember this time when we were still in high school that he became intrigued with wilderness survival. His big thing was he wanted to go through some kind of survival training where he would parachute from a plane into the wilderness without knowing exactly where he would be dropped and, have nothing with him but his training and sheer will and determination, he would be able to find water and shelter and eventually find his way to civilization. If you’ve ever watched Bear Grylls, that’s the idea. And that was his dream. And while I’m not sure he ever fully actualized that dream, he did learn a great deal about wilderness survival.
And I thought of my friend as I studied the passage this week. Because among other things, this account of Jesus in the wilderness teaches us a great deal about how we can survive times where we find ourselves in a wilderness of sorts, a difficult time of testing, a season of struggle, a period of doubt and uncertainty.
Not too long ago I listened as a couple who dropped in for a visit shared about their coping with cancer since her sudden diagnosis at the end of last year. And she is a Christian and we all remarked on the importance of having a healthy theology, in this case, a healthy theology of suffering.
She understood that Christians are not exempt from suffering. This world in which we live is fallen. It is sin-cursed. This is why we have deadly catastrophes, plagues, tornados…and cancer. And she shared about her trust in God, especially since the diagnosis, and how Christians survive—and even thrive—when faced with shocking news, an unfortunate and unexpected turn of events.
We learn the same in this passage of Scripture. This passage, which describes the temptation of Christ, is supremely practical in that it helps each and every Christian during times of trials, and suffering, times of difficulty, and darkness—especially darkness—especially those times when you feel like the devil himself has come into your world, climbed into your car, moved into your house, come alongside you as an uninvited guest to tempt you to turn away from the God you love and the Christ you serve. Wilderness survival.
I’ve arranged my thinking on this passage in terms of reminders for when we battle the enemy, when we encounter the one who encountered Christ. Three things to remember when battling temptation and trials of any kind. First:
I. Remember the Nature of the Son (3:17)
Remember who Christ is, that He’s not merely some religious teacher, prophet, or Jewish rabbi. He is those things, but He is more than those things.
In order to really appreciate what the Bible records about the temptation of Christ, it is important to recall what immediately precedes the teaching in the very passage before. And what we have as we look in Matthew’s Gospel is the passage on Christ’s baptism immediately before the accounting of Christ in the wilderness. If we go back up into the end of chapter 3 we read about Christ’s baptism. And especially in the last couple verses, verses 16 and 17, we read about how after Christ was baptized that there was the breaking open of the heavens, the sky splits and the Spirit of God descends like a dove upon Jesus, and then verse 17: “And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.’”
And then look at the very next verse, verse 1 of chapter 4, the very first verse and the very first word: “Then.” Then. Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” It almost carries the sense of “Therefore.” Then—immediately after this statement of God the Father, immediately after God parts the heavens and says, ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased,”—then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.”
I stress this close connection between the last verse of chapter 3 and the first verse of chapter 4 because, what do you think Satan’s first words are to Jesus? The Father has just said, “This is My beloved Son,” and the very first words out of the devil’s mouth are in verse 3 and what does Satan ask? “If You are the Son of God,” If. Not since, not because, but if.
Satan wants to instill doubt in the mind of Jesus. Satan wants Jesus to doubt the truth of God’s Word. That’s what the devil did all the way back in Genesis 3. Remember how Satan tempted Eve? By causing her to question God’s Word. He challenged Eve, “Did God really say you shall not eat of every tree of the garden?” Did God really say that? Are you sure?”
Satan is relentless in his efforts to keep us from believing in God and trusting in Christ. I really think one of the reasons some say they do not believe in a literal devil is because they’ve got the wrong idea of him, the wrong picture of the devil in their minds. They picture him as the silly red mask that comes with the halloween costume. A silly kind of creature who doesn’t really say much and just walks around sticking people with a plastic pitchfork.
The Bible describes Satan as a thief, a liar, a deceiver, a slanderer, the adversary, the one who goes about like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. His ultimate aim is to instill doubt in our minds about the truth of God. He tries his level best to get us to turn away from Christ, to doubt His goodness, to doubt His nature as the One True God who takes on flesh. “If You are the Son of God—.”
Jesus IS the Son of God. It is so important that we get this truth, that we understand this truth. If Jesus is not the Son of God, then we have nothing but a dead, cold religion. If Jesus is not the Son of God, then it is entirely up to us to get in a position of favor with the One True God. So we’ll have to be sinless. We will have to keep all the commands of the Bible perfectly, consistently, and entirely. Well, we’ve failed at that so we’ll have to atone for our sins, we’ll have to die for our sins, dying a kind of death that actually satisfies the wrath of our Creator, a kind of death that actually atones for all of our sin—and we can’t do that, either, because we are finite and God is infinite. Because God is infinite our sins require an infinite payment, no amount of works on our part could ever satisfy His righteous demands. If Christ is not the Son of God, we are in trouble.
But of course, Christ is the Son of God. The nature of the Son is divine. In Christ, deity takes on humanity. God the Son is perfectly good, infinitely good, infinitely righteous, infinitely holy. He is perfect in all His ways. So He perfectly trusts God and trusts His Word.
You think about this for a moment. The first temptation is a temptation to distrust the Father’s care. Knowing Jesus is hungry after 40 days of fasting the tempter comes to Christ in verse 3 and says, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.”
And Jesus replies in verse 4, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God,’” and that Scripture Jesus is quoting is from Deuteronomy chapter 8. It’s Deuteronomy 8:3. The context of Deuteronomy 8 is—listen: God’s people in the wilderness. And God says to His people wandering in the wilderness, “Trust Me. I’ll care for you. I’ll provide for you. I’ll give you what you need—food, water, shelter, clothing—I’ll give you whatever you need. Trust Me.”
Christian, listen to me: whatever you are facing right now, whatever it is that Satan is trying to use against you, have the wisdom to see that Satan is trying to get you to doubt the Father’s care for you. That’s what Satan does. He does his level best to get you to question God, to doubt God, to be angry at God. Satan doesn’t want you walking in victory. He wants you to wallow in defeat.
Trust God to know your every need and to provide for you accordingly. Trust God in your wilderness to know what He is doing in your life. He’s at work. He always does the right thing. He always does the right thing. Say that with me: “He always does the right thing.” Live it this week.
Remember the nature of the Son of God. God the Son is stronger and mightier than the devil. God the Son defeats the devil. God the Son is victorious over the devil.
Secondly, when you find yourself in the wilderness of trial and temptation this week:
II. Remember the Nearness of the Spirit (4:1)
This passage begins with a statement that is easy to miss on the first reading. Verse 1 of Chapter 4, “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” Mark’s Gospel is even more direct. Mark 1:12, “The Spirit drove Him into the wilderness.”
Now listen: God tempts no man. The Bible teaches that very clearly. James 1:13, for example, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone.”
God does not tempt you to sin. God doesn’t do that. What God will do, from time to time, is to walk with you through the wilderness of trial and temptation. Satan does the tempting. Satan wants you to stumble, God wants you to stand. So Satan will do his best to get you to turn away from Christ, while God will be there to help you through the trial and difficulty so that your trust in God grows greater and so you become stronger.
And God is right there with you the entire time. The Spirit of God was right there with the Son of God during those 40 days in the wilderness. The Spirit of God is always with you in your wilderness. He is the God who has promised never to leave us nor forsake us. He has said, “I am with you always.” Remember the closeness, the nearness of the Spirit.
This is so important because if we really believe that the Spirit is with us in times of trial and temptation, then we’ll be more likely to trust Him during times of trial and temptation.
Satan wants you to question that God really cares or that He is really there for you. When you go through suffering, Satan wants you to think this way, “Well, God must be really angry at me. God must not love me. God doesn’t care for me. If there really were a God, He wouldn’t want me to suffer.”
You look at these three temptations of Satan here in the wilderness. You’ll see that behind these temptations is Satan’s trying to keep Jesus from suffering, to question God’s allowing that suffering. Satan is trying to get Jesus to take the easy route. “Don’t be hungry. Change these stones to bread. God doesn’t want you to suffer hunger. So you trust God to provide for you, huh? Okay, trust Him to save you when you throw yourself down from this temple. He’ll keep you from suffering injury.” And then the third temptation is like an act of desperation on Satan’s part. Satan doesn’t want Jesus to go to the cross and so accomplish victory over everything so he’s like, “Just bow down to me, you need not suffer, bow down to me and I’ll give you everything!”
Suffering is part of the Christian experience. Job’s friends were wrong. They were saying, “Look Job, the problem is you’re not living right. Don’t you know that God wouldn’t allow you to go through all this nonsense of sickness, catastrophe, and loss of family if it weren’t for something you were doing wrong? God doesn’t want you to go through the wilderness of suffering, the wilderness of trial and temptation.”
Job’s friends were wrong. God often allows suffering when He knows it is for our good and for the good of our family and for the good of His glory. His own Son was perfectly obedient in all that He did, and yet God allowed Him to suffer. God loved Him. God allows people He loves—and often those who love Him most—to suffer. Remember that when you are tempted to think that you only suffer because you’re not living right. Jesus was living right. And Jesus suffered.
God often bring us through the wilderness, refining us through difficulties and trials and temptations. That’s how we grow stronger in our faith and grow more deeply in our love for Him and our trust in Him. That’s how we endure greater times of suffering. We remember the nearness of the Spirit, the same Spirit with our Lord in His wilderness is with us in ours.
Wilderness Survival. Survival Training 101. Remember the nature of the Son, remember the nearness of the Spirit. Thirdly:
III. Remember the Need for the Scriptures (4:4, 7, 10)
This point is very obvious, isn’t it? Jesus is tempted three times by Satan and every single time Jesus responds to the temptation by quoting Scripture. Three times without exception, verses 4, 7, and 10, Jesus says, “It is written.”
How does Jesus get through the wilderness of trial and temptation? By quoting the very Word of God Himself. The Bible is not just some book, not even just some great book, not even just some great book of literature. The Bible is God’s Word, His very Word.
If you believe that, really believe that the Bible is God’s Word, then you will be hungry to hear from Him. Jesus said, “Man shall not live by bread alone but by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”
How is reading the Bible like eating food? I eat food when I am hungry. I need to eat or I will starve. Each of us has a deep-seeded hunger for spiritual things. We are spiritually hungry. And the only thing that will satisfy our spiritual hunger is the Word of God, the Bible.
You can try to satisfy your deeply emotional and spiritual hunger with other “foods,”—replacement foods, additives that lack nutrition or worse are bad for your spiritual health, junk foods like pornography, wasted hours watching television, surfing the internet, taking in hours of food substitutes like Facebook or Instagram.
Real sustenance, real food, real nutrition comes from the Word of God. Satan wants to keep you from it. Satan tells you, “Look, what’s the big deal here?! Just a little of this or a little of that, why there’s really nothing wrong with this or that.” And if he can get us to stop reading our Bibles, stop attending worship, stop listening to Christian music, stop meditating upon Scripture, stop memorizing Scripture, he will be happy because he knows if he can keep us from the Word of the Lord, he’s more likely to keep us from the Lord of the Word.
Every single time Jesus was tempted He responded to the temptation with the Word. Jesus quoted the Word of God, the Bible, the Scripture.
We can learn from Him. He is perfectly good, consistently good, entirely good. Yet Jesus still needed the Scriptures. If Jesus needed the Scriptures, how much more do we need the Scriptures?
In fact, it is especially during the dark days of depression and the thorny paths of the wilderness when we are most in need of the Word of God. And if we live a life saturated with the Word, then it just comes out to help us during those times. This was the way of our Lord; something like 10% of all the words of Jesus in the New Testament are either direct quotations or allusions to the Old Testament Scripture. Jesus lived and breathed the Word.
The psalmist said in Psalm 119:11, “Thy Word have I hid in my heart that I might not sin against thee.”
The Apostle Paul in Colossians 3:16 wrote, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom,”
Many of you know I am a runner, actually more like a jogger. Someone said, “There are two types of people in the world: those who don’t run, and those who do run and brag about it!” I hope to be somewhere in-between those two types. Awhile back I was running a marathon and there were these little signs on the right of the roadside that were just little words of encouragement. And one of them read simply, “Trust your training.” And that sign helped me a great deal because towards the end of a race, your body feels like it’s just going to stop. And your mind tells you to stop. And everything in you says to stop. But that little sign was a reminder to me that 16 weeks had gone into preparation for this marathon. 16 weeks of training so that when the final day came, while my body and my mind may be saying, “Stop,” I knew I could continue because I had spent time preparing for this very thing. Everything I needed was in the storehouse and I just needed to go back to the storehouse and draw out a little more stock to keep moving.
The Bible refers to the Christian life as a race. The more I run the more I understand why the New Testament writers were drawn to running as a helpful metaphor. There are times when we go through immense difficulty, trials, temptations, on a jogging trail through the spiritual wilderness. There are times when it will seem that Satan is laughing at us, and craftily whispering in our ears, “Stop. Give it up. You’ll never make it. You’re no good.” It is especially at those times Christians are wise to “Trust their training,” and draw upon the reservoir of strength that comes from the storehouse of Scripture. Read the Word of God and live the Word of God.
Jesus Christ passes the test and comes through the wilderness as the one and only Son of God.
Satan had said, “IF you are the Son of God,” and Jesus demonstrates that He IS the Son of God.
And because He has accomplished everything necessary for eternal life, if you are “in Him,” then you are covered by the righteousness of the Son of God. You are accepted by God and approved by God not on the basis of your religious performance, but on the basis of Christ’s righteousness.
This is the knowledge that Satan wants to keep you from getting. Satan wants you to think of Jesus as merely a good man, a nice man, a good teacher who teaches good things.
Satan doesn’t want you to have this kind of power—to live in this kind of victory—to know that because of your faith in Jesus Christ that, while you are weaker and more sinful than you ever before believed, that through Christ you are more loved and accepted than you ever dared hope. If you are “in Christ,” you are loved, approved, accepted, for eternity.
• Stand for prayer.
COPYRIGHT DISCLAIMER: The text contained in this sermon is solely owned by its author. The reproduction, or distribution of this message, or any portion of it, should include the author’s name. The author intends to provide free resources in order to inspire believers and to assist preachers and teachers in Kingdom work.