The Temptation of Christ, Part 2
Topic: Expository Passage: Matthew 4:1-2
The Temptation of Christ, Part 2
Good morning! Welcome to Sunday school! Please turn in your Bibles to Matthew 4:1-11. We are back in our series on temptation this morning, and we will pick up where we left off on the temptation of Christ.
Last time, we talked about some of the background of this passage and also began studying Christ’s actions. First, Jesus submitted to the Father. Second, He fasted. We began to discuss fasting last week, but we didn’t finish that point. So we’ll pick up there this morning. First, let’s read the text.
[Scripture Reading & Prayer]
The second of action of Christ in this passage is that Jesus fasted. Let’s start with a little review.
2. Jesus Fasted (v. 2).
What is fasting? Fasting means voluntarily going without food (and sometimes water, too) for a certain amount of time in order to focus on God and to pray.
In our study on prayer a couple of summers ago, we said there are two reasons to pray: because I love God and because I need Him. Fasting is a very tangible way of saying, “God, I love you more than food and I need you more than food.” It is also a way to help yourself to love God and depend on Him more by cutting out one of the most common idols.
Sometimes, people fast from things other than food, and that is fine. But almost always in Scripture when you see the word “fast,” it is talking about abstention from food.
People fasted in Scripture for all different amounts of time, from forty days to just a few hours, (although it seems like the typical fast was longer than that). In this passage, Jesus fasted for 40 days and nights.
Now, you might read that and immediately think, “That’s impossible!” or at least, “That’s a miracle!” But it doesn’t necessarily have to be. First, the Bible never says that Jesus went without water. In fact, the parallel account in Luke 4:2 indicates that His fast was only from food.
Second, many people have survived 40-day fasts from food, as long as they had water. I even read about a man who went over a year without eating! Now, to be sure, that was an expectational situation, and that man was very obese, but the point is that people can go a long time without food.
That said, 40 days is definitely stretching the limits of what the normal human body can take! Interestingly, v. 2 states fairly specifically that it was after the 40 days that Jesus got hungry. What are we to make of that detail?
From what I have read online about long-term fasting, after the first few days, you don’t get hungry anymore until your body has depleted your fat reserves. After that, you get what they call “true hunger,” which is a warning that your body is about to begin eating muscle tissue in order to keep you alive. At that point, you are starving.
Christ’s fast brought Him to the brink of starvation. But He did it 1) out of submission to the Spirit and 2) because He loved His Father and knew that He needed Him.
Think about the timing of this fast. Jesus was about ready to start His earthly ministry. Soon He would not have time to get alone with God for so long. He needed this extended period of fellowship in order to strengthen Him for His ministry.
Do you think Jesus’ fasting made it easier or harder for Him to resist temptation? From a physical perspective, His hunger weakened Him and opened Him up to the first temptation. (You don’t tempt a man who has just eaten to turn stones into bread!) But from a spiritual perspective, Christ’s fast made Him stronger.
There is much for you and me to learn here. Is fasting for today? (Yes!) How do we know?
It is true that fasting is not commanded by the New Testament. But Jesus prefaced His comments about fasting with the phrase, “when you fast” (Mat 6:16). He said that His disciples did not need to fast while He was with them, but His expectation was that when He was taken away from them again, they would resume fasting (Mat 9:14-15). Also, fasting is spoken of positively in both the Old and New Testaments. It may not be a command, per say, but fasting is certainly for today!
How might fasting and prayer prepare someone to resist temptation?
I can think of at least three ways that fasting and prayer help us to resist temptation:
- It clears our minds from distractions and helps us to think about God.
- It helps us to battle our idols and trains our hearts to worship.
- It strengthens our will to deny ourselves and follow Christ.
The discipline of fasting certainly is foreign to modern American Christianity! But it has been a part of the lives of believing people for millennia. Maybe you should study it out and consider whether God would have you to fast.
One of the key ways that Christ resisted temptation was through fasting.
Finally, Jesus quoted Scripture.
3. Jesus Quoted Scripture.
Every time I’ve heard this passage taught, there is an emphasis on Christ’s use of Scripture–and rightfully so! Whenever the devil appeals to Jesus, Christ quotes the Old Testament. (By the way, all of his quotations are from Deuteronomy 6-8. We might talk more about the significance of that in a later lesson.)
But for today, I just want you to focus on why Jesus quoted the Bible. So? you tell me: why did Jesus quote the Bible? What did that accomplish?
Jesus quoted Scripture to resist the devil’s lies. I think sometimes we can get the impression from this passage that the recitation of Scripture has some kind of magical power. But that is not the case!
Have you ever heard it said that Satan “misquoted” Scripture in v. 6? There are a couple of problems with that idea. First, Christ didn’t push him on it. Second, Jesus does a very similar thing Himself in v. 10 by adding the word “only” to the Old Testament text! If you’re going to say that the devil misquotes Scripture in this passage, then you’ve got to admit that Christ does so, too!
So what’s going on here? Both Jesus and the devil understand that the power is not in the recitation of the exact words. Rather, the power is in the message of truth that the words represent. That’s why Jesus was comfortable paraphrasing Scripture.
Remember, Satan’s ultimate tool is what? It’s the lie. Jesus rebukes the lies of Satan with the truth of God’s Word.
I think sometimes we try to use Scripture to withstand temptation like this: “Oh, now Satan’s tempting me with lust. I better pull out my list and find a verse about lust that I can quote. Umm… here we go! “Whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her already in his heart–Matthew 5:28!”
Whereas we ought to use Scripture like this: “Oh, Satan wants me to think that watching this video will be fun and good. What’s a verse that contradicts that lie? How about this one? ‘Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning’–James 1:17. That verse teaches that every good gift is from God; therefore, no good gifts are from Satan. Therefore, when Satan tells me that watching that video will be good, he is lying to me.”
Do you see the difference between those two examples? James 1:17 might never show up in a list of verses about lust. But it was the exact verse that I needed to resist the particular lie of Satan that I was being told in that situation. Whereas Matthew 5:28 uses the word “lust,” but does not really pertain to the temptation I was facing.
What does this mean for you? It means you have got to think better! You must meditate on Scripture so you know what it means, and you must learn to identify the particular lies of Satan that have found a foothold in your heart. Then, you have to match the Scripture with the lie. That is exactly what Jesus does in this passage.
Before I move on, I should ask, if there wasn’t a problem with the devil paraphrasing the Old Testament, did he misuse it all? Absolutely! You say, “Pastor Kris, I’m confused! I thought you just said that the devil didn’t misquote the Bible!” He didn’t! But he did misuse it! And that’s very significant!
Satan tried to use Scripture to get Jesus to sin! That clearly was not the original intent of that passage! In v. 6, Satan takes Scripture out of context and then misapplies it. And that is what we should make special note of; not the fact that he misquoted the Bible!
Do people ever take Bible verses out of context and misapply them today? We all do, to some extent, right? None of us interprets the Scriptures perfectly! But then there are also particularly heinous misuses of Scripture that rise to the level of heresy and sometimes even support entire false systems of belief. (Think, for instance, of the Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses who sometimes knock on your door.)
What does Jesus do when the devil takes Scripture out of context? He cites another verse which proves that the first verse can’t mean what the devil claims that it means! In other words, Christ interprets Scripture with Scripture. And that is the same thing you and I must do when we are faced with misuses of Scripture.
If you ever come to a verse that seems to be saying something that contradicts multiple other passages, it’s time to look a little bit harder. Be very careful how you interpret that verse! Because the Bible never contradicts itself. That’s why we can interpret Scripture with Scripture, just like Christ does in this passage.
I’d like to close with a couple of applications.
My applications this week are going to come in the form of suggested New Year’s resolutions. I don’t know if it’s too late to be suggesting New Year’s resolutions, but here are a couple of suggestions for 2020.
1. Study/Try Fasting and Prayer in 2020.
In the Bible, fasting is considered to be a normal part of the believer’s experience. However, in today’s American Christianity, fasting is not only neglected, it is practically unheard of! It is totally foreign to our way of thinking! That is a weakness in our Christian culture.
So why not in 2020 say, “I am going to practice fasting”? Try it out! See how it goes! Work on ways to improve! You won’t learn anything new without trying!
Maybe you say, “Pastor Kris, I just don’t understand fasting. I wouldn’t know the answer to basic questions like why to fast, how to fast, how long to fast, what to focus on when I’m fasting, etc.” If that is the case, why not pick up a good Christian book about fasting and educate yourself on the topic? I’ve got one right here by John Piper that I would recommend. Come write down the information after the service and then pick it up! If you don’t have the money, the church will buy you a copy as long as you read it. J
Consider learning to fast in 2020.
2. Meditate More in 2020.
For some of you, you don’t need to be focusing on fasting in 2020. What you need is more basic. You just need to work on meditating on the word. There is no discipline as vital to resisting temptation as meditation on Scripture. If you are not consistently meditating on the word, I can almost guarantee that you are failing spiritually. It is that simple.
You say, “Pastor Kris, how can you say that?” Psalm 119:9– “How can a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed according to Your word.” Verse 11– “Your word I have hidden in my heart,
That I might not sin against You.” How about the New Testament? Romans 12:2– “[D]o not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” What about the words of Christ? His prayer for His disciples in John 17:17– “Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth.” The fact that meditating on Scripture is essential for spiritual growth is stated literally all over the Bible!
Some of you are trying to get all fancy with methods for spiritual growth; but if you aren’t doing this, you’re like a guy trying to overhaul his engine in order to get his car started when he doesn’t have any gas in the tank! Do the basic stuff first, and then you can get fancy! But the fact is that you probably won’t need to once you are doing the basics. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of regularly thinking about the Bible.
Maybe you say, “Pastor Kris, by God’s grace I am doing the basics. I read my Bible every day. I attend church. Maybe you even listen to a sermon once in a while. There is still room for you to grow.
David Brainerd once wrote in a letter to his brother, “Again, Be careful to make a good improvement of precious time. When you cease from labour, fill up your time in reading, meditation, and prayer: and while your hands are labouring, let your heart be employed, as much as possible, in divine thoughts.” We all have room to grow towards that ideal!
While you are driving, doing dishes, or hula hoeing, pick out a verse that you know well. Think about the words of that verse one-by-one. You can also meditate on a story in Scripture. Ask yourself questions about that story and then try to answer them. You will find that the Bible is as deep as the Pacific Ocean but that you have spent most of your time splashing around in the shallows.
Consider making it a goal to step up your meditation game in 2020.
3. Memorize Scripture in 2020.
Many Christians misunderstand why memorizing Scripture is important. As I said earlier, there is no magic in quoting Bible. So, you tell me: why is memorization important?
There are two things memorization does for you: 1) It gives you instant recall and 2) it forces you to meditate. Memorization is a meditation tool!
Take the challenge I gave you a minute ago to think through a verse word-by-word: how are you going to do that while vacuuming unless you have the verse memorized? You can’t!
Similarly, when you are facing temptation, you might not have time to go and look that verse up! You need to know what the Bible says about that topic, and you need to know now!
But perhaps most importantly, the process of memorization forces you to focus on a particular verse or verses for a long time; and, if you are memorizing correctly, then during that time, you are thinking about those verses.
I work with the 5th-6th grade boys in Awana on Wednesday nights. Sometimes a boy will quote a verse to me in order to finish his section, but when I ask him what that verse means, he doesn’t have the foggiest idea! If you aren’t thinking about what the verses mean while you memorize them, you are missing out on most of the value of Scripture memorization.
Some of you may say, “Pastor Kris, that’s for the young people. My brain is too weak!” Number one, don’t sell yourself short! You might be amazed how much Scripture you could memorize if you really set your mind to it! Number two, you don’t have to do as much as the young people are doing! What if you just tried for a verse a week? Anyone can do that! And think about it; if you keep up that pace, then by the end of 2020, you will have 50 verses memorized!
You say, “Pastor Kris, I thought this series was about temptation. Why are you talking about fasting, meditation, and Scripture memory?” Because these disciplines are how you are going to grow in the Lord and beat temptation. So what about you? Which of the four disciples I just mentioned is lacking in your life? Take some time now at the conclusion of this lesson to write down one or two ways you will work in those areas in 2020.