The Scope Of Temptation
Notes on the first of three messages on temptation.
Let us give serious consideration to this passage of Scripture, containing an account, which must have been given by our Lord Himself, of the temptation He endured in the wilderness. We see Him emerging from thirty years of private life. Surely He had known temptation there, too, and often Satan must have flung his insinuating darts into His mind concerning the love of God and the unfairness of God who allowed His Son to suffer such poverty. But upon those thirty years the Father has smiled with satisfaction and said, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” This is heaven’s token of a life of complete victory.
But I see Jesus emerging into His public ministry to be exposed to Satanic onslaught as never before experienced, and I see you doing the same—about to step across the threshold of home and preparation into all the conflict that awaits you. And I see yet others, myself included, who are in this battle now, conscious often of our failure to be the men we should have been. It is with a deep concern of heart for every student, every preacher in his ministry, that I ask you to consider the victorious Lord Jesus, tempted in all points like as we are, yet without sin. To begin with let me say three things about this whole subject of temptation.
1. There is no sin in being tempted.
Even our first parents in their original state were subject to it. That was not their fault. Our Lord was holy, harmless, undefiled, yet here He is under fire from Satan. No guilt is attached to temptation until it is yielded to, so be not discouraged if you are being sorely tried. Thank God Satan thinks you are worth bothering about—“Count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations, knowing that the trial of your faith worketh patience” (James 1:3–4).
2. Then, temptation does not necessitate sinning.
That which was possible to our Lord can be made possible to you by His power. God, who permits the temptation, has promised that “there hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: But God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). You can be kept by the power of God, and come through unscathed. It is not the man who falls who knows its power—but the one who resists. If you fall it is always your fault.
3. It is necessary that you should be tempted.
It was so for our Lord for “He was led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” Why? God never sends a ship to sea without testing it. Temptation is necessary for spiritual growth, for muscles only develop by exercise. Where would patience be if there was no suffering to test it? Temptation is necessary for usefulness, for he who was never tempted could not help those who are. Only when a heart has been made tender and sensitive by trial can there be comfort to others in trouble. We must be tempted to be victorious: no battles, no crowns; no conflict, no conquest.
We must stand in deadly foot to foot combat with the foe or else there will be no glory to Christ in our lives. Without question, temptation is in the plan of God for your life. That does not mean to say that God originated sin. He didn’t. Satan did that. Before there was a fall on Earth, there was a fall in heaven. Here in Matthew 4, the perfect man faces the greatest rebel in the universe.
The aim of Satan (as is the aim of Christ) is indwelling humanity by the incarnation of his spirit. Satan tempts to destroy: God tests to deliver. And the fact is that the higher the life with God, the fiercer the battle. You may press in for blessing from God; no less does Satan press in to attack. As surely as the heavens open, so will Satan, through your holiest experience, touch you just there. Jesus was driven by the Spirit from the fellowship of heaven to face the horrors of hell. If you would seek blessing, then you go into conflict. If you press for a Jordan experience, Satan will press you to a wilderness conflict.
Luke’s record of this dramatic event closes with this comment (4:13), “And when the devil had ended all the temptation he departed from Him for a season.” In other words, Satan had exhausted himself and he had no other line of approach to the uncaptured citadel of the Son of God. He had tried everything he knew—flung every dart without avail. So the whole area of possibility of temptation is covered here. He was tempted in ALL points.
But what is that area? It is the will of God. That is the battleground between heaven and hell in everyone of us. Is not that the whole purpose of redemption, “That ye may stand perfect and complete in the will of God” (Colossians 4:12)? “He that doeth the will of God abideth forever.” Then said He, “Lo I come to do thy will, O God” (Hebrews 10:9). “If it be possible let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done” (Luke 22:42). The will of God on Earth as it is in heaven—in you and me as it was fulfilled in Christ, for anything less than that is sin.
There are three lines of attack that Satan makes on the Lord in this issue, and they are the same as those he uses in attacking us: the will of God on our body—our spirit—our service. It was all directed to make heaven, instead of a place filled with the children of God, an empty warehouse where God would mourn alone.
I. The Will Of God For The Body
This is the first temptation (Matthew 4:3). “If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread.” It is not easy to determine whether these temptations came after the 40 days or during them—Mark and Luke suggest the latter—nor whether they succeeded each other in rapid order or were wrestled with constantly, now from one angle, now from another. Whatever it was, the pressure was intense.
As the conflict went on, hunger became severe and Jesus became exhausted. Yet the body is essential in the purpose of God, for all God’s dealings are through a body. A holy body is essential for a holy life, and it is here that Satan attacks first, “If you are the Son of God” (or “since” as the word really is), as if when the voice spoke from heaven 40 days ago Satan heard it too, and he did, for all Holy Spirit activity is carried on with the devil just around the corner, “Seeing you are what you are, command these stones to be made bread.” You are alone here; you have been brought down to the depths of suffering as a man, now use your power as God to escape. If you don’t, you will die of starvation. Better do this in secret and live. In this lonely moment something secret can be done which need never affect your public ministry. You can go back to the crowds tomorrow as if it had never happened. Just make these stones bread.
Do you see the subtlety of this? Hunger is a perfectly legitimate desire, but Satan suggests it be satisfied in an illegitimate way. Jesus was there in the will of God in that wilderness driven by the Spirit. Nothing accidental happens in such a life—hunger was part of God’s will. Nothing can touch the life in the will of God except by His permission. If only He could be persuaded to satisfy a physical craving when God intended Him to suffer it, then that personal choice outside of God’s choice would break His loyalty to God’s will. It seemed as if God had permitted the craving, but was not prepared to satisfy it. Therefore, says Satan, exercise your privileges of Sonship and break through and satisfy it yourself. Of course, there was no suggestion that Jesus should minister to some craving that was not right—that would have been useless, for He had none. But the devil was saying, satisfy a normal physical appetite in the wrong way. Satan’s idea of Sonship was selfish gratification.
Oh Christian, do you know anything of that—the legitimate appetites of the body—physical hunger—your own particular battlefield, whatever it may be? Satan whispers, satisfy it, you are alone, nobody will know. Disregard your loyalty to God’s will. Since you are a son of God, nothing touches you except He permits it. He understands and can sympathize with you.
II. The Will Of God For The Spirit (Matthew 4:5–6)
Having failed in assault on the Saviour’s weakness, Satan now attacks His strength, for it was His trust in God that enabled Jesus to ward off the first attack. Notice that Satan takes Jesus to a wing of the temple, a place that meant much to Him. It was in the holy city over which He wept. It was here, in the midst of all that would remind Him of God’s promises, that Satan launched this attack. Here Jesus saw deadness of religion, ignorance of people—how hopeless the spiritual condition seemed.
Now says Satan, “How can you get their attention? How can you get a following? Cast yourself down from this height. You have scriptural authority. I can quote Scripture, too. What an impression it will make to see you stand supported by unseen angels, then the people will believe. Do this thing that is spectacular, for if you want results—and you must have them—there is no other way.” In other words, trust in God expresses itself most perfectly in doing something unusual or extraordinary. Put your trust to the test to prove it by doing something out of the ordinary, after all you have Scripture for it! So Satan goes so far to admit that trust must be strong for it is the spiritual that counts, and even suggests a text to encourage the Lord to act out of the will of God.
Have you met Christians who are oppressed with the hopelessness of the situation? We must do something to attract crowds. Why doesn’t God do something—something spectacular? After all, you must get results! Who says so? If we cannot tabulate results, then we will be reckoned failures. But where are they six months later? Then, the moment we claim converts they are exposed to Satan’s attack. Any results achieved by methods out of the will of God are not the fruit of the Spirit and will never stand the test of time or eternity. Here is Satan attacking our strong point. We claim victory over his physical assault by simple trust in the Lord’s power. “All right,” says the devil, “I will trip you upon the place you think you are strong and prove that you are not strong at all, because you cannot trust the Lord to know His business better than you do.”
III. The Will Of God For My Service (Matthew 4:8–9)
I suppose the high mountain is used because distance lends enchantment, and Satan is making the best of the “kingdoms.” A town in the valley looks lovely from the mountaintop, but it is often dirty at close quarters. Here Satan comes out into the open. Jesus has already indicated in His baptism that His plan is the Cross, and redemption. He is numbered among the transgressors. The devil knows that the kingdoms of this world are to become the Kingdom of our God and of His Christ (Revelation 11:15). “I’ll give these to you if only you will worship me.” Jesus never denied his right to say he had control of them. Indeed they had become what they were because of his control. They were led captive by his will. They are all blindly asleep in the arms of Satan, and the poor world which thinks the Gospel is beneath contempt, is being hurled to destruction by a vast supernatural power. But God has promised His Son the nations for an inheritance, the uttermost part of the earth for His possession, and promised that along the path of obedience—suffering and death, resurrection and redemption. For the fact that the kingdoms are in plural, reveals their weakness. They are to become the Kingdom (singular), to be made one, under one Lord before whom every knee shall bow.
“Now,” says Satan, “take them (plural) from me instead of the Kingdom (singular) from God because of Calvary. So let me (Satan) retain my portion: worship me and all will be yours.” Christ knew those kingdoms would be His, but He knew that God’s will was the Cross, for only there could be redemption.
Has Satan tempted you to a path of service out of God’s will—just bow the knee to the devil, acknowledge his rule. He rules by deceit, by plunging men into sin and then blaming God for it. He rules by compromise, but never rooting out sin, but prepared, of course, to consider cleaning it up a bit! “Now,” he says, “you work with me in that line and you will have all you want. Service out of God’s will with no blood, no Cross, no sacrifice.”
Do you see the inclusive scope of temptation? The will of God for my Body, for my Spirit, for my Service?—always the will of God. How does this find you? Are you satisfying legitimate physical desire out of the will of God? Are you worshipping the God of success, playing to the gallery, doing the thing that is spectacular and so revealing that you do not really trust? “For in quietness and confidence shall be your strength.” Are you evading the Cross, seeking an easy road in His service, compromising just enough with Satan to make things more comfortable? Jesus faced all this for you. His eye is upon you now, and He enables you. He has won the battle and stripped from Himself principalities and powers. He says to you, “Come to me, my child.” Don’t you see that Satan is trying to do, by incarnation of his spirit in you, one thing: Jesus by incarnation of the Holy Spirit, another? Which are you going to follow? Will you renounce all Satan worship? In the realm of the Body, the Spirit, and Service stand in a circle: The will of God—nothing more, nothing less, nothing else?