Pastor Scott Andrews | November 27, 2022
Does anyone know the number one cause of weather-related deaths in the US each year? It’s not floods, it’s not tornadoes nor hurricanes – it’s lightning. An average of one hundred people per year are killed by lightning strikes. In recent years, lightning deaths have occurred while people were boating, standing under a tree, playing soccer, swimming, riding on a lawnmower, fishing (there’s a good reason to give up that pseudo-sport), golfing, mountain climbing, and bike riding. Most of those are good things – and yet, they ended in death.
But, when you stop to consider some facts, it’s no wonder so many are struck by lightning. For example, at any given time, there are 2,000 thunderstorms happening in the world, which produce an average of 100 lightning strikes every second, or 8 million strikes per day. In the US alone, we have 100,000 thunderstorms per year which account for about 20 million lightning. With those stats, it’s amazing more aren’t killed. Here’s another interesting fact: A typical lightning bolt contains 1 billion volts and up to 200,000 amps of current. It’s no wonder they can be so destructive.
Many of us have heard that lightning travels from the ground up, which isn’t technically true. The highly-charged invisible bolt of lightning travels from the cloud to the ground in a series of steps, forming a channel. It looks for something to strike, usually, not always, but usually something higher. Once the ground is made and the circuit is complete, the visible light travels back up the channel, the whole process taking about half a second.
Now, your chances of being struck by lightning in the US are 1 in 600,000. By the way, those of you on your way back to Florida should know your chances of being struck are much higher because Florida is the lightning capital of the US. Which is to say, perhaps summer residents should consider staying in Boone. Now, think about it, a 1 in 600,000 chance of being struck by lightning. But, there are some other ways you can raise your odds besides moving to Florida; you can raise your 3-iron in a thunderstorm, fly a kite with a key on it, or go stand under the tallest tree you can find.
But let me suggest another way you can raise the odds to an unbelievable one-to-one ratio. You see, this isn’t a science class and I’m not talking about physical lightning – I’m talking about spiritual lightning. Paul calls them the flaming arrows of the evil one – or the fiery darts of the devil. And there is a way you can guarantee such strikes – a one-to-one ratio.
How can you do it? Very simply, choose to be the tallest tree in the forest – choose to stand tall for God, and you will draw attention, you will draw fire. How do I know? Because it happened to godly people throughout the Bible. It happened to Jesus. The story is found in Matthew 4. I’m going to take a break this morning from Revelation, because I’ve been talking a lot about increased persecution for followers of Jesus. So, how do we stay faithful – more, stand high for Christ in the midst of such opposition? Turn in your Bibles to Matthew 4.
Thirty years after His birth, Jesus, the Christ, is about to be revealed. His kingdom is at hand – that’s the message He begins to preach. The forerunner, John the Baptist, has announced His coming.
Jesus Himself had been baptized. Although He had never sinned, meaning He was perfect and had nothing of which to repent, He had been baptized to identify with sinful humanity – to obediently follow the will of the Father, setting an example for us. By so doing, the Christ was revealed, and His kingdom was offered. The Holy Spirit descended on Jesus, empowering Him for service, and the Father Himself said, “this is my beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.” Those are the last words of Matthew 3. You expect great things to happen, but then, like a lightning strike, something unexpected happens. Look at it with me, Matthew 4:1-11.
Can you believe that? The first thing Jesus had to face after His revelation was not the adoring crowds, not the worshiping disciples, not even the sick whom He healed. The first thing He faced was opposition from Satan himself. And from this story, we learn some very important truths on how to face temptation. How to face opposition. Further, we see Satan tempts Jesus to receive all the kingdoms of this earth – right then. Prematurely – before His cross work. Oh, to be clear, Jesus will receive the kingdoms of this earth – but it was not yet time. We’ll see that, next week. This morning, I want us to look at:
- The Timing of His Temptation (1-2)
- The Nature of His Temptation (3-10)
- The Victory Over His Temptation (4,7,10)
All instructive to us, in hopes that we, too, can be prepared for the forces of evil being unleased against us. Consider the story. Jesus was just entering His public ministry. You would expect Him to burst on the scene with a miracle or two – heal a sick person, calm a storm, raise the dead, or drive out a demon.
But that’s not what happens. The first thing He faces is the prince of demons, Satan himself. Now I suppose we should talk about this Satan for a moment. In the Scripture, he’s called the old serpent, the slanderer, a murderer, the father of lies, our adversary, the god of this world, the prince of the power of the air, the accuser of the brothers, Beelzebub, the prince of demons, Abaddon and Apollyon, both which mean destroyer, the devil, and here he’s called the tempter. He is openly opposed to God and His purposes – and His people. He started his opposition to God by attacking those created in God’s image, as early as the Garden of Eden where he successfully tempted Eve to eat of the forbidden fruit. He appears in heaven in the book of Job, requesting permission to devour Job. Later, he wanted to sift Peter like wheat.
So later, Peter tells us he is like a roaring lion, prowling around, seeking someone to devour. He is out to get us, to oppose us, to cause us to stumble and fall, to devour us. And we will see the culmination of his war against us, and his ultimate defeat, soon in our study of Revelation. He is not an abstract idea representing evil – he’s as real as you and me. We’re told to resist him, to stand firm, to be aware of his schemes, to draw near to God, who will then draw near to us, causing the devil to flee. Beyond any hope of redemption, Satan is and will always be the enemy of our souls. But his end is sure, victory belongs to God, Satan is already been defeated, and will ultimately and finally be defeated when Christ returns in great glory. But until then, he fires his deadly arrows like lightning against us. And he will fire his deadly arrows against you if you stand high for God. This is what I’m challenging us to do. This is what the seven letters to the seven churches challenged us to do. But it will paint a target on your chest. You say, can’t I just be a quiet Christian – incognito – keep my head low? I’m not actually sure the Scripture speaks of such a Christian.
Well, the tempter is the one who stood against the newly revealed Christ. As Jesus entered His public ministry, Satan was prepared to do battle. And I find the timing very interesting. Because you see, the very important principle for us today is this – if God is active, then the enemy will be active as well. Let me say that again – if God is active, you can expect Satan to be active as well. Listen, if Jesus would have just stayed a carpenter, not fulfilling the Father’s purpose for Him, everything would have been just fine. He could have kept on making yokes and hand tools and small pieces of furniture. But, as soon as He stepped forward as the rightful Christ, things heated up – life got tough. The same will be true for you.
When you decide to get serious for God, which I have been calling us to do – haven’t you found it’s then that everything seems to fall apart? As long as you go on your merry way, tipping your hat to Christianity, everything seems to go more or less okay. But, you decide to start reading your Bible, you decide to get serious about your prayer life, make a commitment to be involved in some ministry at church, share your faith, to love Jesus, to put yourself aside and decide you’re going to be a good father, a good husband, a good mother, a good wife, a good brother or sister or roommate or whatever – you decide you’re going to follow Jesus – you can almost feel the Spirit of God descend on you in a new way with new power – and all of a sudden, it heats up – and everything falls apart. Why?
And then what do you do? We have a tendency at those times to question ourselves, to question God. God, what am I doing wrong? Why am I facing so many trials, so much temptation? We hear the words of the prosperity teachers and think we must lack faith – we must be doing something wrong. And the real answer is – the enemy. In the words of Steve Lawson in his book on the life of Job, “When all hell breaks loose, you might be doing something right.”
So when we get serious, it shouldn’t surprise us that the enemy is active, too. In fact, we should expect it. He will attack our families, our relationships, our commitments. Many of you are facing some of the most difficult challenges of your married lives. Some of your marriages are in shambles. Some of you are facing significant challenges with your children. The enemy is tempting – our adversary is prowling around, seeking someone to devour. The battle for your souls and your families is on. What are we going to do about it?
Some of you are facing financial challenges, health challenges. I suspect some of you are battling discouragement for any number of other reasons right now. You’re upset with your jobs, you’re struggling in school, you’ve been disappointed by a friend, you’re unhappy with the church – you don’t like someone or something, and you’re not even sure why. I want to challenge us to not be unaware of the devil’s schemes – he’ll use anything to discourage us, to sidetrack us – to keep us from fulfilling God’s purposes for our lives. When God is active, we can expect the enemy to be active is well. And God is active – so let’s not be surprised when the forces of evil show up – there should be no such thing as a sneak attack – we should expect it and battle it the way Jesus did. Listen, here is the best way to get the devil to leave you alone: live for yourself. Live for what you can get out of life. Do anything but live for Jesus. I promise, he’ll leave you alone, because then, you’re already his.
Now, I want you to notice a couple of other things here before we move to our next point:
First, verse 1 tells us it was the Spirit who led Jesus into the wilderness. Why did He do that? To be tempted by Satan. It was the Spirit who led Jesus into battle. But notice, Jesus was led by the Spirit, which means the Spirit was there. Luke says it this way, “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led around by the Spirit in the wilderness.” The point is you don’t have to face the battle alone. As a child of God, you are filled with the Spirit of God. Find joy in that. Find peace in that. You are never alone.
Now, why did Jesus have to face those temptations? To prove Himself a worthy Savior – to prove Himself perfect – not to the Father, not to Himself, not even to Satan. But to us. Which is why later, the author of the book of Hebrews would say, “He was tempted in all points as we are, yet without sin.” And further, “Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For since He Himself was tempted in that which He suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted.” There’s not a temptation, there’s not a trial that we face that Jesus is unfamiliar with – He faced them all… successfully, as our High Priest, and He can come to our aid – help us when we’re facing similar temptations. Remember too, He said, no one is above His teacher – if they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you.
Now, by the way, we learn something very important about temptation here. Jesus was faced with temptation, but never sinned. Which means, temptation is not sin – it’s what you do with temptation that makes it sin. You can’t do anything about the temptations that bombard your physical, emotional and spiritual senses all day long. But you can keep from acting on those temptations. Martin Luther said it this way, “You can’t keep the birds from flying around your head, but you can keep them from building a nest in your hair.”
So, why does God allow the trials in our lives? Why does He allow temptations? You know the answer. To prove us – to put us through the fire and find us genuine – refined – mature. Peter said it this way, “In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ; and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls.” Trials and temptations are sure to come – but when they do, they fulfill God’s purposes in our lives.
And so here we see that when we get serious about God – when we stand tall for God, we can expect the trials and temptations to come.
Now what do those temptations look like? That brings us to our second point, the Nature of Temptation. Three times Satan came to Jesus to tempt Him. And notice, he came when Jesus was at His weakest point – after He had fasted forty days and forty nights. Look at those:
The first is found in verse 3. Jesus had just fasted for over a month, and so Satan came with a physical temptation. He said, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.” Now, Satan knew who Jesus was. He was simply saying, since you’re the Son of God, there’s no reason to experience physical hunger – turn these rocks into bread.
What was he doing there? He was tempting Jesus to satisfy His own needs apart from the will of the Father. He was trying to elevate Jesus’ physical needs above His spiritual needs, the will of the Father. You see, Jesus did have the power to turn stones into bread – that was no big deal. He would later take a boy’s lunch and feed 20,000 people. But Satan was tempting Him to use powers He had laid aside to fulfill God’s purpose – namely, to identify with humanity to bear their sins – to be the Savior of the world. To use those powers to accomplish His own ends would not be in keeping with His mission.
How might that look for us? We might also try to meet physical needs, ignoring the more important spiritual needs in our lives. We might set goals to promote ourselves physically, to make life comfortable, to elevate ourselves in the eyes of men, all the while, failing to meet our more important spiritual needs and ignoring God’s plans for our lives. Satan tempts us with all the physical luxuries of life. The parable of the sower, the cares of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth can choke out the reality of faith. We must not be unaware of his schemes.
The next temptation comes in verses 5-6. Read that again.
Isn’t that great? Satan was saying, come on, you’re the Son of God – God won’t allow You to be hurt. Throw yourself down from the temple – surely the angels will take care of You. If you won’t use your own power to meet your needs, prove you’re the Son of God by having God use His power to save you. But in doing so, Jesus would have been putting God to the test – tempting God to fulfill purposes outside the mission. It would be demanding God’s miraculous protection as proof of God’s care. The bottom line is this: to test God is to demonstrate doubt – which is exactly what Satan wanted Jesus to do. The truth for us is the same. When we doubt God’s care for us, we’re falling prey to Satan’s schemes – believing the lies of the evil one.
Don’t miss what Satan does here. Jesus quoted Scripture to Satan, so Satan quoted Scripture to Jesus. Have you ever thought the enemy might just misuse Scripture in your life to tempt you, dissuade you, destroy you? He actually quoted Scripture – he took just a little truth, twisted it, and tried to use it against Jesus. Which is the way he’ll try to trip us up as well. He’ll mix in just enough truth to get us confused, trick us, masquerading as an angel of light if we don’t watch out. It’ll come in the form of false teachings, heresies, anything to get us to disbelieve God or put Him to the test.
The third and final attempt comes in verses 8 and 9 – read. What was Satan doing here? He was offering a shortcut – full messianic authority – full rule, which rightly belonged to Jesus, by sidestepping the mission – not to mention the introduction of idolatry. The kingdoms of this world are currently under Satan’s control as the god of this world. But his rule is short-lived. He was defeated at the cross, and there is coming a day that, while Jesus currently sits at the right hand of the Father, the kingdoms of this world will become His. We’ll see that next week.
Notice, at first, Satan tempted Jesus to do something for Himself. Then he tempted Jesus to have God do something for Him. Now, he tempts Jesus to allow Satan to do something for Him. He drops all the pretense – it’s a direct frontal attack – worship me and see what I can do for you. As ridiculous as that sounds, people worship all kinds of things today for the perceived benefits. We’ve seen they will continue to worship demons even when they know God’s wrath is being poured out.
Very quickly, how did Jesus respond to these temptations? That brings us to our final point, His Victory over Temptation.
By the way, ever since Christ walked on this earth, men have tried to figure out the best way to deal with temptation. Some have tried to remove themselves from it altogether – shutting themselves up in monasteries or convents. Benedict of Nursia, who lived in the 6th Century, thought he would increase grace and remove temptation by wearing a rough shirt of coarse hair and living for three years in a desolate cave – he had just enough food to keep him alive lowered to him on a cord. Once he threw himself into a clump of thorns and briars until his body was covered with bleeding wounds. All to escape the temptations of the world.
Others have tried to overcome temptation by denying it. Jovinian, a heretical 5th Century monk, taught that after a person was baptized, he was free forever from the devil’s power and temptation. Don’t you wish that were true. Jerome, who was a contemporary of Jovinian, wisely pointed out that baptism does not drown the devil.
So, what’s the best way to overcome temptation? We have the greatest example right before us in the person of Jesus. Meaning, we should follow His example if we expect to stand tall when the fiery darts comes. How did He respond? Three things:
First, He faced Satan in the power of the Spirit. Remember, when He was full of the Holy Spirit, that’s when He faced the enemy. And I want to tell you, there’s no way you can face the forces of evil on your own. Jude tells us even Michael the archangel wouldn’t bring a slanderous accusation against Satan when they battled for the body of Moses – rather, he said, “The Lord rebuke you.” The point is, even Michael knew from where his power came. The good news is, we don’t have to fight the battle alone, because greater is He that is in us than he that is in the world.
Second, when Jesus knew He was going to face the battle, He did it with prayer and fasting. Even though the text doesn’t say anything about praying, we know those two disciplines – prayer and fasting go together. That is, after all, one of the reasons we fast. We set aside the physical things of this life to pursue spiritual things. And I would say, when God is doing great things, and we know we’re in a battle, fasting and prayer, getting in touch with the Commander in Chief, is certainly in order. (Piper) You say, I know I’m in a battle for my marriage. I know I’m in a battle for my kids, or with my job or my church. Then fasting and prayer just may be what you need to have the spiritual strength to persevere in the battle.
Finally, the last thing Jesus used, very obviously, was the Word of God. Each time He was faced with a temptation, Jesus responded by quoting God’s Word. In this case, each verse He quoted came from Deuteronomy 6 and 8. Which means a couple of things for us. If we’re going to successfully stand tall, if we’re going to successfully protect ourselves from the fiery darts of the devil, we must know God’s Word.
That’s why, in Ephesians 6, where we read about the armor of God, Paul speaks of the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. You want to successfully defend yourself against the attacks of the evil one? Then be a person of the Word of God. Notice, I don’t think when Jesus was presented with these temptations, He said, hold on just a minute, Satan, let me see what God’s Word says about that. He knew what it said. And He was ready to use it at a moment’s notice. Which is why David said we must hide the word of God in our hearts, so that what? We might not sin against God – we might stand tall, and not give into temptation.
One final thought as we close. The first Adam was placed in a perfect environment in the Garden of Eden, with all his needs and wants met – with everything you could possibly imagine – with a great-looking wife and no other women to tempt him. And yet, he did not resist the temptation of Satan. He disobeyed God and plunged humankind into sin.
But here, the second Adam, unlike the first, was wandering in a hot, barren desert. The place is described as an area of yellow sand and crumbling sandstone. It has a contorted topography where ridges run in all directions. The hills are dust heaps, the limestone blistered and peeling, the rocks bare and jagged. Luke tells us He was with the wild beasts. There’s hardly any place He could have been that would have been more uncomfortable. He was alone, without food, hungry. But He was also full of the Holy Spirit. And He was victorious over those same temptations the first Adam faced and failed in a perfect environment.
The point is, circumstances and your environment have nothing to do with your ability to withstand temptation. It has to do with character. Are you standing tall for God? The bad news is, when you do, you will attract attention. Don’t be surprised when it comes. When all hell breaks loose, it might just mean you’re doing something right. Stand firm. And the good news is, Jesus made victory available to us through His victory and the presence of the Holy Spirit. You can withstand temptations and opposition by being full of the Spirit, by remaining close to God through prayer and fasting, and by being a person of the Word of God. Are you in the midst of a battle right now? Here’s the question – what are you going to do about it?