Come and See His TemptationPastor Lutzer | February 8, 2004
Having little and following God is always better than fulfilling yourself through sin.
Selected highlights from this sermon
Jesus was led by God into the desert to be tempted by Satan. But Jesus summarily dismissed Satan’s temptations, refusing to fulfill desires through illicit means.
We too are often tempted; we hear the lies that God doesn’t love us because we have unfulfilled desires. But God calls us to be obedient. Just like Christ, we need to be willing to endure life’s deserts as long as He is glorified.
May we learn to rely upon the church, the Bible, and Christ’s victory to dismiss Satan’s schemes.
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When I mention the word temptation, I think that all of you would agree that we intuitively understand what it is, and all of us at times have fallen into temptation, temptation of one kind or another. When I was in high school I had a friend who said, “There’s only one thing I can’t resist and that is temptation.”
What is temptation? Well, temptation is the opportunity for us to pursue and to fulfill what might be a legitimate need, but to do so illegitimately and wrongly. That’s what temptation is. There’s nothing wrong with you desiring to get a good grade in school, but if you get that good grade and cheat, you’ve fallen into temptation. There’s nothing wrong with loving and being loved, and wanting to be loved. There’s nothing wrong with that, but if we have wrong relationships or fulfill those desires with the wrong person, then of course, we’ve sinned. We’ve fallen into temptation. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to earn money, but greed is sin.
It was Martin Luther who said that we can’t prevent birds from flying overhead, but we can prevent them from making a nest in our hair. What he meant was that temptation itself may not be wrong. It’s not the problem. In fact, as we shall see today, we are led into temptation, but succumbing to temptation - the wrong decision in temptation - that’s another story.
Are you troubled by the fact that the Bible says in Matthew 4:1 (And that’s our text today, by the way. Please turn to it.) that Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil? He had just heard the wonderful words, “You are my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” Those beautiful words had been said at the baptism and then there is the word. The Spirit drives Christ. It’s even stronger than led. The Spirit drives Christ into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. You say, “Well, God doesn’t tempt anybody.” That is true. He does not solicit anyone to evil but God does test us, and furthermore, it wasn’t God soliciting Jesus to evil here. It was Satan. But God brought Jesus to the place of temptation. Does He bring you sometimes to the place of temptation? Do temptations come your way?
Jesus is known in the Bible (1 Corinthians 15) as the last Adam, or the second Adam. The first Adam was in a gorgeous paradise with all of his needs met, and he sinned. Jesus, the second Adam, is in a wilderness where none of His needs are met, and He overcomes the serpent – the devil. The first Adam is in a place where he has everything going for him. The second Adam is in a place where nothing is in his favor, and yet He stands against the devil. The first Adam became the head of a whole new race, and everyone now who participates and is born into the kingdom of the first Adam is born into the kingdom as a loser. Jesus also stands at the head of a brand new race of born again people. And whoever becomes a member of that kingdom becomes a winner, thanks to Jesus. So here in the desert, God places Jesus in a place where Jesus and the devil are going to tough it out.
There are a couple of facts that we should know about this temptation. First of all, temptation, of course, has a purpose. Jesus was led of the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. What is the purpose? First of all, I’m going to give you the devil’s purpose, and then I’m going to give you God’s purpose.
The devil’s purpose in temptation always is to draw us away from God. It is to cut our fellowship off from God, and the devil does that with sin. And what he wants to do is to bring out the worst in us. He wants to draw us into a situation where that which is the worst comes out where we believe that we are too far gone for God to care about us or to love us so that we keep on going the devil’s direction. And that’s why he is called the diabolos, which means the accuser, because he even accuses us about sins that have been forgiven, but also he is called apollyon, and that word means the destroyer. He comes to destroy, to do evil. That’s his purpose.
God has an entirely different purpose. God’s purpose in temptation is to bring out the best in us and to give us an opportunity for us to love God more than our passions. We love God more than having our needs met. We love God so supremely that we will choose in His favor when we are faced with that decision, and we will make a tough choice even if it hurts and does not seem, in the short run, to be profitable.
When we are faced with temptation and if we make the right choice (if we make God’s choice), God is glorified, Jesus receives honor, character is built, and the cause of Christ is advanced. That’s God’s intention. Why do you think it says in Genesis that God did tempt Abraham? The Hebrew word actually means that God tested Abraham. God said, “Abraham, sacrifice your Son.” What God was saying is, “I know that you really love Isaac. You are absolutely in love with this boy, but do you love him more than you love Me?” That’s what God is asking. So God says, “I’m going to test you to see where your loyalties lie.” Temptation has a purpose.
Secondly, temptations are diverse. They come in many different forms. Now the bottom line is that Satan’s desire is always, always to make sin look good to us. And if he can make it look good to us, our minds begin to rationalize so that sin not only looks good but also right to us, so we say, “This is the right thing to do.” And we encase our actions with all kinds of rationalizations, usually looking at other people, and saying, “Well, look at what they’ve done. This isn’t too bad.” And what Satan does is he uses lures, because he himself always must remain hidden. If he came to us in a fury, we’d be terrified, but as long he’s not there, as long as he uses disguise, we do not fear him. That’s very important to him.
Hunters will tell you that this is true about animals. In the first apartment that Rebecca and I lived in, we learned early on when we had a mouse problem that we did not solve when the mice saw us. I won’t go into detail but what we needed to do was to get a trap, and it would be there whether we were physically present or not. And what we needed to do for the mouse was to put some cheese on that trap. All we wanted him to want and desire is the cheese because we knew that he didn’t understand all this business of springs and wood and steel. And we turned out to be right. He didn’t understand it.
When you want to kill a bear, what do you do? You use a trap. You yourself get away and you let the trap do the work for you, and you use meat. Satan has as many lures as there are interests among Americans, except that what he does is he concentrates on a few that he knows are most successful. But listen to me carefully. Behind the trap is the trapper, and behind the lie is the liar. What he wants to do is to put ideas in our minds that we think are our own so that we won’t fear them.
You’ve heard me say that when Ananias and Sapphira were having breakfast and eating their bagel, and the idea occurred to them to lie about the price of the land, if Satan had come into their kitchen they would have been terrified, and they would have told the truth. But because they talked about it and thought it was their idea, they thought that this deceit need not be feared. And that’s what the devil wants us to do. He wants us to think that the consequences are controllable and they are in our hands.
Well, what kind of temptations did he give to Jesus? You’ll notice that first of all Jesus has fasted for 40 days and 40 nights and is hungry. And the tempter comes to Him in verse 4 and says, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” Now you must understand that Greek scholars tell us that it’s not as if Satan is doubting that Jesus is the Son of God. The idea is, “If you are the Son of God, and You are, then command these stones to be bread.”
Satan was not questioning whether Jesus was the Son of God. What he wanted Jesus to do was to fulfill a legitimate need illegitimately. Is there anything wrong with Jesus creating bread? No! Later on He’s going to do it for 5,000 people in one stretch. But this was not God’s time to eat, and this was not the way He was to satisfy His desires so Satan says now, “I’m questioning God’s love. You say that God loves you, huh? If God loves You, why are You hungry? Tell me that.”
He comes to us and says, “If God loves you, why are you single? If God love you why didn’t that work out? Look at the love of God. What does the love of God mean when you are starving in a desert and there’s no food?” Satan comes that way, and you’ll notice that he’s using now the desires of the body, and the lust of the flesh. And Jesus says to him, “It is written. Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.”
Does the devil say, “Oh You win, Jesus; one verse of Scripture and I am out of here?” Do you know what Jesus says? “Huh! You’re going to quote Scripture? I can play your game too. I’ll quote it too.” Satan comes to Him in to verse 5. “And then the devil took Him to the holy city and put him in the pinnacle of the temple and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down, for it is written (He says, “You quoted a verse. I’ll quote one.”), ‘He will command His angels concerning You and on their hands they will bear You up lest You strike Your foot against a stone.’ There’s a verse for You, Jesus.” So what he comes with is a Scripture. It was customary in those days for false messiahs to do something spectacular like that, saying “I’m going to jump down,” or “I’m going to do this.” And he’s saying, “If you are the Messiah I am appealing to Your pride now. Everybody will see You jump down and live, and they will say that You are the Messiah. Do it, Jesus!”
You know, I need to pause here and throw in a parenthesis. We live in a time when there is so much heresy on television by many television evangelists – not all of them but some of them – who are receiving these special words from heaven with verses of Scripture taken out of context. Can’t you almost see somebody saying, “Oh, you know what the Lord just showed me? You know, the Lord just showed me that based on Psalm 91 we could jump from the pinnacle and the devil would catch us. Hallelujah,” not knowing that Scripture out of context, unbalanced, wrested out of its proper hermeneutical context, can be heresy. So the devil comes and says, “You’re using the Bible, Jesus? I’ll use the Bible.”
Let me ask you something today. Has the Bible ever been used to justify foolish silly things, including sin? And the answer is yes! Of course it’s been used. Some people say, “Well, he misquoted Scripture. He left out a phrase. He will keep you (quote) in all your ways.” I thought about that. I’m not so convinced as others here that the devil deliberately did that. His memory might have skipped a cog there and he missed a phrase, something like school students sometimes do when they are quoting Scripture. Maybe there is significance there, but my point is that he’s using the Bible to say, “Jesus, do something spectacular.” But Jesus would have no part in cheap sensationalism to try to glorify Himself, and to do something spectacular. Wasn’t it in one of the musicals where it says, “If You are the Son of God, walk across Pilate’s swimming pool?” Jesus isn’t into that kind of silliness.
So then Jesus says to the devil again in verse 7, and underline the word again. Jesus keeps quoting Scripture too. “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.” You know, you are not going to ask Jesus to act presumptuously based on a text taken out of context. In verse 8 the devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory and he said to Him, “All these I will give You if You fall down and worship me.” Wow! It takes your breath away. And Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord God only, and Him only shall you serve.” I can imagine the devil saying, “I’m not asking about service; I’m asking about worship.” And Jesus is saying, “Whoever you serve you do worship, you know.”
I don’t know how the devil did this but it’s possible that he actually in some way was able to show Jesus all the kingdoms of the earth, maybe the pyramids of Egypt, maybe the Acropolis, which was, of course, already standing in Athens, and the glories of Rome. And he said, “All these things I will give You. Just worship me and You can have them.” You see, the devil understood Psalm 2 very well because in Psalm 2 God said, “I am going to take my Son and I’m going to make Him king over the kingdoms. He shall rule over the nations.” And so the devil is saying, “What you need to do is not go to the cross. Take a shortcut. Worship me and You can have it all now. Don’t worry about the future. The future has too much pain. It has too much hurt. You can get it at this moment. Just worship me.” If Jesus had succumbed to this temptation, of course, instead of redeeming the world, He would have ended up joining the world. And you and I would not have been redeemed if Jesus had done this.
But what Satan says to us today in this last temptation is, in a sense, a culmination of all of them. What he’s saying is, “What you can do is you can have it today, and don’t worry about tomorrow.”
One day I was counseling a man who was leaving his wife for another woman and I warned him of the consequences. And he said, “I’ll have what I want today and deal with the devil tomorrow.” Wow! Alright! So you will! And tomorrow is going to be dark and bleak and damning.
About six weeks ago a Christian man left his wife to be with another woman, and I happened to be privy to the things that were going on. Thanks to the Internet, I received an email from the man’s counselor and I listened to what this counselor had been saying, and I agree with him. And because I know that you have no clue who this person is (He lives in an entirely different part of the United States of America.) I’ll give you a little bit here of what is going on and then I’m going to give my own summary of the situation.
Basically what the man is saying is this. “For 21 years I have had a loveless marriage. I’ve been serving the Lord. I’ve been teaching the Word, and I am unfulfilled. Now suddenly I find somebody, a soul mate with whom I have that sense of connection, and fulfillment, and joy, and exhilaration, and euphoria. And I basically have been in a desert. I find an oasis, and now you tell me to go back into that desert.”
Even his children (This brings tears to my eyes.) have gone to him and said, “Dad, please come back home,” but he said this. “How do I choose between the lack of fulfillment over here (serving Jesus like I did for 21 years and I’m not fulfilled), and finding fulfillment over here? You only go around once in life. If I miss this opportunity it will be forever missed.” That’s his argument.
You know, I think it’s time that somebody stood up and said this. We in the Christian faith sometimes give people the illusion that if you follow Jesus you are always going to be fulfilled and everything is always going to turn out good. Now some of us project that because for some of us it is true. I thank God today that I am fulfilled in my marriage and that I am fulfilled in my ministry (applause) and that I wake up every morning excited about what I have to do. And how I thank God for my wife, Rebecca, who stands with me! But listen to me carefully. It’s time somebody said this. For some people following the will of God may be a desert. For Jesus it was a desert, and it is better for you to be in the desert without food and with hunger where there is endless sand than to fulfill yourself illegitimately outside of the will of God (applause) because I think what Satan does is this. He takes ten years and he makes that ten years sound like an eternity. And then he takes eternity and he tries to shrink it down into maybe one year saying, “Have it now.” And what we need to say is, “It is better to be in the desert in the will of God than to be in Paradise outside of the will of God. You might not get it now, but eternity is coming. There is a heaven to be gained. There are rewards and there is faithfulness.”
And I’ll tell you what will happen to that man. His fulfillment and his wonderful experience will last for a year or two, and then all of the bills are going to start to come due, and all of the dominos are going to fall, and all of the influence is going to be great among his children and among those who knew him. And future generations are going to be affected by his sin, but he can’t see that now because what he’s saying is, “I want it now.”
If we were talking to Jesus, Jesus would say, “You know, when you follow the will of God it might just be a long desert where your needs aren’t met. Who knows? It might also be a cross. It might be dying in a place where you are misunderstood and misinterpreted and where you are spat upon.” Sometimes that is the will of God, and you don’t get it now but you remain faithful because you know that eternity is coming. And the devil says to Jesus, “Have it now.”
Some of you listening to this needed to hear this message today. You may be contemplating making a decision that is sinful but you say, “I have needs. I have desires and I need it now.” No, you don’t. If it is sinful you don’t need it now. Jesus proves you don’t need it now. Be faithful even in a desert without food.
Well, how do we overcome the devil? Temptation is resistible. Very quickly today – first of all, the Word of God! “It is written.” The devil comes back saying, “It is written.” You keep saying it is written, but it’s not just quoting a verse. This is proof of the fact that you can quote a verse to the devil and he isn’t going to necessarily flee, and I’ll tell you why. If there is sin in your life he’s going to say, “Who are you to tell me what the Bible says?”
The power of the Word is that when we ourselves are under the authority of the Word then we can exercise the power of the Word. Then we can say, “Be gone, Satan.” Some of you if you said to him, “Be gone, Satan,” he’d say, “Yeah, what about all this in your life and what about all that in your life? Do you think I’m going to run when I’ve got so much of you?”
But certainly the Word of God is absolutely necessary, and listen to me carefully. You know, if you are not learning the Word of God and reading the Word of God regularly, you are not going to be ready for the devil when he comes anyway. You know, when the devil comes you can’t say, “Oh, where’s a concordance to find a verse?” (laughter)
Jesus had all of this in His heart, and He was able to say, “Be gone for it is written.” I’ve often had to do that, and sometimes I’ve had to repeat a verse many, many times before peace came to my heart and I was convinced that the devil finally left. Do you know what it says in the Gospel of Luke in chapter 4? It’s the very same story. It says that the devil left Jesus (Catch this.) waiting for a more opportune time. Don’t ever think that this was the end of it. And angels ministered to Him. Sometimes, you know, we make light of angels but there are angels. I think that we should not speak about them disrespectfully, and some of us have done that. I think I’ve been guilty of that.
I received a letter about two weeks ago, and I don’t know whether or not this person is here, but he wanted me to know that when he was crossing Clark Street, it was as if a presence just took him and pushed him away from an oncoming car. And he said, “Pastor Lutzer, I just want you to know that there are angels out there guarding the people who come to Moody Church.” Well, that’s certainly possible isn’t it? Aren’t they ministering spirits sent forth to minister to those who are heirs of salvation? And only heaven will reveal the number of times angels have ministered to us in our need. So first of all – the Word of God!
Secondly, the work of God! You should be absolutely convinced of the triumph of Jesus over the enemy. It says in Colossians that He disarmed all principalities and powers. I love that. That’s actually what the Greek says. It says, “He disarmed them. He rendered them neutral.” You say, “Well the devil is certainly not neutral today.” Yes, he is out on bail and doing a lot of trouble, but his end is absolutely certain. And the reason he hates us so much is because we are going to be exalted above the realm, which he once ruled. It’s very clear that we are going to be above the angels. We have to be because they can’t be brothers of Christ.
Years ago I preached a series of messages on Satan, which are in the book entitled The Serpent of Paradise where that was explained. So he has this fury, but we have to be convinced that when Jesus Christ triumphed over him, it was a genuine triumph and all things are now under His feet, and that when Jesus died on the cross it was as if He took that serpent and just took His heel and ground his head into the dirt. That’s what Jesus did on the cross. Are you convinced of that today? You have to believe it and act on it so that we can attack him from the standpoint of strength.
And then third, there are the people of God. We can’t get out of these things alone, and especially once Satan has ravished us, and he’s had his day with us, and there are certain habits and sins and addictions, we need the people of God to pray for us to hold us accountable and to help us because the warfare is intense. And you’ve heard me say before that it’s possible for you to slip into a pit without anyone’s help, but maybe you can’t get out alone so you have the Body of Christ.
Finally, we also have the purposes of God in this. Now let’s think back over the passage that we just looked at, especially temptation number 3. Catch this now. Satan is talking to Jesus and he’s saying, “Jesus, if You bow down and worship me I will give you the kingdoms of this world.” I have to look at the text and ask myself this question. Did he really have a right to give Jesus the kingdoms of this world? I don’t think so. You say, “Well, he’s the god of this world.” Yeah, he’s the god of this world, but I want you to know today that whatever he does, he does only by the supervision and direct intervention of God. It was not his right to give Jesus the Kingdom.
You’ve come today as a visitor. Some of you have come from far away, and you’ve often wondered to yourself how strong the devil is. Thank God you are here today because you are finally going to hear an answer to that question. Aren’t you glad you came?
I’ll tell you exactly how strong he is. He is as strong as God allows him to be and not one wit more. That’s how strong he is. (applause) I think he was bluffing. It’s God who has the right to give the kingdoms of this world to whoever He will. And if Satan is the god of this world, he rules under God’s authority and God says to him, “Go this far but not that far,” and ultimately he knew that the kingdoms of the world were not his to give.
Listen to me. When he comes to us with temptation he inflates the value of what he can give us. You know he says, “If you follow this you’ll have these desires, and you’ll have this enjoyment,” and he makes that to be such a big thing. Listen, the true enjoyments of the world are not his to give to anybody.
Many years ago J. B. Phillips wrote a book entitled Your God is Too Small. I think somebody ought to write a book entitled Your Satan is Too Big because there are some people who make Satan out to be almost equal with God so that you don’t quite know in your own life who is going to win or who has the capacity to win. We give him too much credit. We give him too much authority because of the way in which we speak about him. Yes, he is powerful, but his power is limited by the authority, the power, the dynamism and the purposes of God. (applause)
As many of you know I have more than simply a passing interest in the Reformation in Europe, and I’ve been in the Colbert Castle where Luther was holed up during the time when the Augsburg Confession was being written. And he couldn’t go anywhere because he was a fugitive, and he paced back and forth, wondering whether or not Melanchthon was going to do the right thing. And there is some debate as to whether or not Melanchthon did the right thing.
We’ve also been, of course, in the Wartburg Castle. It is in those huge castles (And I’ll tell you the Colbert is huge; it’s acres and acres and acres.), in that kind of context that Luther wrote the hymn A Mighty Fortress is Our God. We all love the hymn, but listen to me carefully. I love that third stanza.
And though this world, with devils filled,
should threaten to undo us,
we will not fear, for God hath willed
his truth to triumph through us.
The Prince of Darkness grim,
we tremble not from him;
his rage we can endure,
for lo, his doom is sure;
one little word shall fell him.
And that little word is J-E-S-U-S. Isn’t that wonderful? (applause)
As we go through our lives in the days ahead, confess your sins. Come clean before God. Don’t give the devil a foothold. Stand on the authority of Christ. And when we do, his rage we can endure. When he reminds you of your past that has been forgiven, remind him of his future. His rage we can endure, for lo his doom is sure; one little word shall fell him.
Father, we ask in the name of Jesus that You would help us to understand and be aware of the wiles of the devil because he walks about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. There are some people listening to this message who have already been devoured and are being devoured. Father, we rebuke that in the name of Jesus. And there are some, Lord, who are going through times of deep distress, and the devil is somehow involved in it. We stand against all of his schemes, all of his intentions and all of his desires against us and against this church. Help us to walk in the victory of the Triumphant One.
And some of you who have never received Christ as Savior I’m speaking to you now. You know you can embrace Him as yours, the triumphant One who died on the cross and was raised again, as your very own. And then you are on the winning side of the devil’s conflict.
Cause all that to happen, Father, we pray in Your grace in Jesus’ name, Amen.