Jesus shunned the devil’s shortcut to splendour and chose the slow task of building God’s Kingdom person by person by way of the cross. Alone “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one” Today’s passage shows how Jesus is qualified to answer that prayer.
I’ve been watching a show on TV called 'Alone', it’s a survival show, survive for the longest in the wilderness and you win.
It is you versus a slice of freezing Canadian (or wherever) wilderness. Your only shelter is what you can build, your only food is what you can collect or catch eg fish, leaves and slugs.
You get no help, you don’t even know where the other competitors are, let alone how they are going. You just will have to persevere for weeks and months on end, hoping the other competitors ‘tap out’ and quit first. If you’re the last person standing you go home with half a million dollars.
Now, the interest in watching the show is that it's about people’s stamina as they face incredible hardships, as they basically starve, lose their body fat, lose their minds, as they face the temptation to ‘tap out’ at any moment, to press the button on their sat phone and get evacuated back to food, warmth and shelter.
Jesus was led into temptation and it was on no reality show.
He didn’t hunt and gather, He fasted for 40 days, He was as hungry as you can get. Imagine confronting your enemy after that! His body, mind and will would be at breaking point. You can see how He would be so vulnerable to the temptation to ‘tap out’.
To ‘Tap out’ by the way is really a martial arts term when you’ve been wrestled to the ground, and you tap on the floor to say ‘You’ve got me, I submit, I give in.’
Since our forefather Adam in the garden, we’ve been tapping out under temptation. Adam and Eve ate fruit in a paradise where they already had every God-given food and comfort they needed. Israel tapped out and gave in countless times, especially in their 40 years in the wilderness and you can see the parallel here with Jesus’ 40 days. Israel grumbled and complained, they turned to despair, and they ended up dancing around like idiots worshipping a golden calf.
All of us humans, none of us, you or me, can kid ourselves that we’re above tapping out. Giving in to our appetites, be they terrible vices or more commonly hidden, but equally sinful sins.
Who will rescue us from this body of death? Thanks be to God who rescues us through Jesus Christ our Lord! Let’s see how that plays out here…
There are four sections to this chapter. Let’s look at them in turn.
You know what Jesus was being tempted to here? To take a shortcut to splendour. He was tempted by the devil to gain all the kingdoms of the world without the pain of the cross. He need only tap out and give in.
And make no mistake, if Jesus had succumbed, you and I would not be here today. We would have no salvation, we would be slaves to the devil.
Everything hung in the balance here in the desert.
Now temptation only works if you are given a genuinely attractive offer. Take the first one.
…“If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread” ~Matthew 4:3b (NIV)
He is the Son of God, He has just been told that by the voice from heaven after His baptism. The devil doesn’t try to dispute that, just twists what it means. Surely a quick fast-food miracle would be fine for the Son of God? There is no one around to even see! It would be nothing! Just like Israel eating Manna in the desert, what’s the big deal? But it would be the first step on a slippery slope of putting his own needs ahead of God’s.
Jesus will listen to only one voice! “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of Lord.’” (Deuteronomy 8:3b)
One voice only. The Spirit of God had descended on Him like a dove, had led him into the wilderness, He would only obey His voice. And note where the Spirit’s voice is found here - it is found in Scripture. Do you know Scripture well enough to use it when temptation comes?
A servant is not above his Master, don’t think for a moment that you won’t be tempted by reasonable-sounding whispers:
James says we have to learn to “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7) Jesus resisted with the words of Scripture. Are you reading? Memorising? Praying over Scripture? Do you know it well enough to use it?
I have heard sermons on the temptation of Jesus that are all like that, all about following Jesus’ example as we face temptation. But this passage is about what Jesus did for us, before it is an example of what we’re supposed to do.
Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written: “‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’” Matthew 4:5-6 (NIV) [Psalm 91:11,12]
What is the temptation here? Why would Jesus be remotely interested in throwing Himself off the biggest precipice in Jerusalem?
There is the temptation!
But Jesus won’t be sucked in
“It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” ~Matthew 4:7b (NIV) [Deuteronomy 6:16]
The devil might have quoted Scripture, but he uses it in a way that puts God to the test, far from submitting to the rule of Scripture, he manipulates it. But again, Jesus will only listen to one voice, He won’t twist God’s arm for His own comfort. The voice at Jesus’ baptism identified Him as not just the ruling Messiah, but the wording echoes Isaiah’s suffering servant. To be the Son of God is to suffer! He will go to the cross! Jesus will not shortcut to splendour. He stays on task.
The devil pulls out the big guns here,
…the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” ~Matthew 4:7-8 (NIV)
Imagine being offered the American Presidency? Well, big deal! you’re never going to change the world even with that for just a few years. But this is different! This is permanent presidency/prime ministership/Kingship over every nation. Every time. From the Roman Empire to the Chinese. But…
…“Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’” ~Matthew 4:10 (NIV) [Deuteronomy 6:13]
Enough! Away from me! This is the same voice that will finally send the devil to hell, Jesus takes charge, He will not be distracted, He stays on mission.
Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him. ~Matthew 4:11 (NIV)
Notice that Jesus resisted calling down angels to rescue him earlier but now he gets angels! Caring, feeding and restoring him! He never tapped out and God came through. The angels know who He is. And they will sustain this suffering Messiah for the long path ahead.
And that path begins in our next paragraph.
1. Jesus is the Great light
Jesus begins his ministry by moving house, but this is more than a sea change! It parks him right in the heart of the old Israelite tribes, Zebulun and Naphtali. They had long since been smashed by the Assyrians so that the area now had mixed blood. It wasn’t considered pure Israel like Judah was… it was now: ‘Galilee of the Gentiles’. Which says a lot about Jesus, He had come for all 12 tribes, not just pure and proud Judah. And the mention of Gentiles is a hint that He had come for more than just these 12 tribes too!
None of this should surprise a Bible reader… in fact it should excite us, as Matthew makes clear by quoting Isaiah:
“Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” ~Matthew 4:15-16 (NIV)
And the excitement really comes if we read on a couple of verses later in Isaiah:
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne… ~Isaiah 9:6-7 (NIV)
The old Northern tribes of Israel had been stuck in terrible darkness since they broke away from Judah 9 centuries earlier, their dodgy kings stopped them from going to the temple in Jerusalem, stopped them from living under the kings in David’s line, and made them worship more golden calves and then they were exiled. It was a long, long, dark, dark night. The very shadow of death. But now the dawn has come… a great light draws near the horizon!
Are you an early riser? It is not my thing but when I force myself to get up early, I always love it. I woke up at 4 am on my day off one winter’s morning and couldn’t go back to sleep so I decided to get up and drive to Mt Hay in the Blue Mountains, it has views in all directions. As I arrived, there was a glow 100km to the east, over Sydney’s CBD, I could see all the city buildings in the crisp morning air but beyond it was the light of dawn, a glow that grew and grew until the Sun blinded my eyes an hour later.
Jesus is the Great Light for broken, sinful, deathly Israel and He walked into their villages, crying out: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
At last! Near, like dawn on the horizon because the King has come. The Prince of Peace, claiming David’s throne forever!!
But notice the message, the kingdom of heaven, the great light, is for those who repent, who stop living in darkness, accept the King on His terms of pardon.
This is just like John the Baptist’s preaching but we have more information now. The King has come, He has passed the test in the wilderness. Three years later He will pass the test on the cross. He never tapped out. He demands we repent and follow Him and enjoy THE LIGHT, who overcame sin, death and the devil for us. Let me plead with you today, if you haven’t yet, repent and turn to Jesus and live under his peace! Be like those being baptised today, repent, and know their joy!
2. Jesus recruited fishermen
Do you want to know what repentance and kingdom living looks like? Look no further than Peter and Andrew, or James and John. Jesus says jump and they say ‘how high’?
“Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” At once they left their nets and followed him. …and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him. ~Matthew 4:19-20, 22 (NIV)
‘At once’, ‘immediately’ they leave their old life behind and follow the King. They are in His service now, they would literally follow him on foot for three years, learning how to fish for men and women. This is the best Bible college or MTS ever!
The challenge of this passage for us, is their willingness. Now they may have already known Jesus, but when the call comes they turn their backs on all that is familiar and comfortable – their jobs, their father and they sign up immediately. How willing are you? Jesus is not an accessory that you add on to life, another god to add to the shelf. He is the LIGHT at the centre of your new life, and He calls you to go fishing.
How willing are you?
You get the idea. Where is God nudging you to serve? “immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.” And it is an exciting task.
3. The news is good!
When Jesus goes fishing for people throughout Galilee the response is staggering:
Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed; and he healed them. Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis,Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him. ~Matthew 4:23-25 (NIV)
Why is the fishing so good? Are the crowds so big? Because the news is truly good news. We can so easily forget that!
We get used to Jesus and lose the sense of wonder. He is truly amazing! Have you ever had a brand new Christian join your Growth Group of old-timers? It is the best thing for the group! Everyone gets to see the wonder of Jesus again through the new Christian’s eyes. Everyone’s joy gets rekindled!
These verses picture an amazing foretaste of the Kingdom of God, sickness, demon possession, & disability are all erased on the spot. In Jesus, the curse upon Adam in the garden is temporarily reversed. At the cross in a few years, Jesus will utterly undo it! The Great Light is dawning! And the crowds see it! They come from every corner of the old Israel and even beyond.
Think about it… this joy will be ours for all eternity! Imagine Jesus walking down your street in heaven, as he has ten thousand times before, and you’re rushing out to see Him again. Heart filled with joy and wonder that you, of all people, you, are even there at all! Looking again at the nail scars in his hands and feet, evidence that your sin, though deadly, was fully paid for. That is why we should go out and fish for people! Good news is good and not to be kept to ourselves!
Not tapping out, drawing all this together. On Monday nights a group of MBM men don’t just pray ‘keep us from temptation’ to pornography, but take action. They meet. Support one another & pray. And see progress. As we mentioned last week, you can join them, just email [email protected] and the guy at the other end of that email will give you some info in confidence.
Those guys seek God’s help to not ‘tap out’.
But how are they different to anyone else out there who wants to overcome sin? Because they have a Saviour who withstood temptation for them! Jesus is a GREAT LIGHT to us because He resisted the darkness of the evil one for us!
Imagine if we resist the temptation to be saved? The leader of the denomination we used to be part of in Thailand impressed everyone by fasting for 40 days like Jesus! Then depressed everyone by committing adultery soon after.
Jesus is a great light because He did what Israel, you and I, failed in again and again. He withstood the devil and his schemes and then went a step further, utterly disarming the devil through his death and resurrection.
Matthew chapter 4 is not about Jesus giving an example of how to fight, though a great example it is, it is about Jesus winning the war for us! Securing our salvation. Only saved people can learn the art of not tapping out.
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. ~Hebrews 4:15-16 (NIV)
In Jesus we have mercy when we tap out. In Jesus we have grace to help us not to next time.
And filled with His Spirit, you have the power to not tap out.
So, there you are with your girlfriend or boyfriend, the lights are low, the music is on, you swore you were never going to let this happen, but now every nerve in your body is electricity, you’re here now and you’ve never felt such desire to go further. The devil is whispering in your ear that it is no problem, enjoy this, to hold back is unnatural, don’t think about tomorrow, you’ll never be in this moment again. Well, let me tell you, you can stand up, go for a walk together and cool off so to speak, you do have the power to step off that slippery slope you were starting to slide down, you can say ‘no’. More than that, you can say ‘yes’ to glorifying God, building trust with this one you love, building integrity, holiness, witness. “Away from me Satan”.
Jesus said that for you so that you can walk in His victory and not tap out!
“The people living in darkness have seen a great light”