In a recent sermon in our series in the Gospel of Mark, we took time to redirect to the Gospel of Luke, where we find a fuller account of Satan’s temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. In Luke 4:1-13, we see five important truths about Satan’s involvement in temptation.
Satan attacks when we are most vulnerable (vv. 1-3).
It’s important to note that Jesus was attacked after forty days of fasting in the wilderness. He was hungry. He was starving. Even then, however, Jesus resisted. The devil’s first temptation appealed to a legitimate physical appetite—the body’s desire to be fed. He struck at the point of greatest need—of greatest weakness—where Jesus was most vulnerable. Satan tempted Jesus to turn stone into bread.
Satan will often do the same to you; that is, he will take advantage of your weaknesses. He will tease his lies into the crevices of your heart, where fears and doubts exist, and tempt you to live out your natural tendency toward self-will and self-government—living for yourself, instead of for the Lord.
Now, it’s very important that you understand one major difference between our temptation to sin, and Jesus’ temptation. When Satan tempts us, it is often because we have already given him something to work with, something to use in his favor. Our temptation begins in our sinful heart (James 1:13-16). Jesus, the sinless Son of God, did not have a sinful heart and, therefore, did not have sinful desires. Nevertheless, the temptations that Satan threw at Him were not any less powerful. Jesus, in the fullness of His humanity, was hit full-force by the devil. Yet Jesus resisted.
Satan casts doubt on God’s Word (vv. 3, 9).
“If You are the Son of God” was a subtle attack on the integrity of God’s Word, since God had just declared Jesus to be His Son. Now the devil was challenging God’s statement. Satan has not changed. He is the same sneaky serpent who did the very same thing in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:1). The Spirit’s goal in driving Jesus into the wilderness was to affirm who He is, while Satan’s goal was to disqualify Jesus from being the Messiah. Satan knew the promise of God’s curse, that one day a man would crush the devil’s head (Genesis 3:15).
In all of Satan’s temptations to get Jesus to act out in self-will, he twisted Scripture or cast doubt upon its authority. Satan does the same thing to you and me. He tries to get us to doubt the sufficiency or authority of Scripture over our lives. Through various forms of media and art, we have been led to believe that Satan’s chief mode of operation is in the weird, demonic stuff: séances, Ouija boards, witchcraft, horoscopes, and the like. Sure, he’s involved in all that stuff. But his chief mode of operation is in the realm of ideas and beliefs (2 Cor. 10:4-5).
The stronghold of the mind is Satan’s primary battleground. Spiritual warfare happens in the mundane, day-to-day decisions of life. Who will you live for? Yourself or the Lord? When you give in to the devil’s temptations and lies, Scripture becomes a mere suggestion—instead of the final authority for what you believe and the foundation for your life decisions.
Satan feeds our fleshly pride (vv. 6-8).
The devil’s attack came to Jesus in the form of appealing to man’s innate desire to have position and power. This desire is not evil in and of itself, since God did give man dominion over the rest of creation. But Satan often tempts men and women to act out their fleshly desire for power and position, by creating a position of prominence for themselves, rather than waiting until they have been approved by God. Satan tempted Jesus to grab hold of all power and authority before it was God’s time for Him to exercise it.
The devil tempted Jesus to break the very first commandment, to worship God, alone. What really was the temptation here? It was the temptation for Jesus was to grab hold of the power and authority that rightfully would belong to Him, someday, without having to suffer for it. The devil was essentially saying to Jesus, “You can have all of this apart from the pain and suffering of Mount Calvary. All Jesus had to do was bow one knee to the devil and it would all be His! But that was not God’s will. God’s plan for the exaltation of Jesus included—required—the cross. No cross, no crown. No humiliation, no exaltation. It’s because Jesus was obedient to the cross that He will one-day be exalted and every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that He is Lord (Phil. 2:8-11).
See, the second temptation was an issue of worship. The devil offered Jesus power and authority over earthly kingdoms if He would only bow before him. Such is the temptation that many world leaders cave under. But Jesus responded to the temptation for power differently. Jesus understood that the devil was tempting Him to submit His own agenda—not to God’s. He was tempting him to become a servant of the devil. And God was testing the obedience of His Son. He was testing His heart as the source and center of worship. “Jesus, what do you worship?” “Jesus, who do you worship?” Those are the questions He was being asked.
And we are being asked the same questions. Every time we are tempted to sin—to act out in self-will—we are being asked, “What will you worship the most?”; “Who will we love the most?” That is always the question.
Satan encourages us to test God.
The third temptation of Jesus was essentially a test of whether or not He would put God to the test, a sin that Israel did repeatedly while in their wilderness (Psalm 78:17-18). God is to be trusted, not tested. To tempt Jesus, the devil took him to the “pinnacle of the temple.” From here Jesus could see the entire Kidron Valley.
This would have been a 500-foot “leap of faith,” which would have been equivalent to putting God to the test. But, again, Jesus again quoted Scripture. He answered the devil with another text from Deuteronomy, where Israel put God to the test by demanding that Moses produce water for them to drink. To give in to the devil’s temptation would be to test God to protect Him in a moment of great foolishness.
Do you sometimes give in to temptation in this way? Do you act irresponsibly and then expect God to protect you? Do you put God to the test?
Satan never gives up (Luke 4:13).
Finally, you need to recognize that Satan will never stop tempting you until you cave in. Verse thirteen says, “And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time.” Satan’s attacks upon Jesus did not end when Jesus successfully resisted them. Satan just left Jesus alone for a bit, until another ideal opportunity arose. The same is true for you and me. Satan might leave us alone for a time, but he is simply waiting—waiting for another moment when we are at our weakest and most vulnerable. Therefore,
Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.
1 Peter 5:8-9