A Stunning Victory
Preached by Jason Abbott
In 1990, Buster Douglas KOs then undefeated Mike Tyson in the 10th round. In 1919, aptly named Upset (a 100 to 1 shot!) hands Man O’ War his only loss during the Sanford Memorial Stakes. In 2000, Rulon Gardner stuns everybody when he out wrestles Alexander Karelin—who hadn’t been beaten or scored upon in the preceding decade. In each of these situations, the world witnessed the defeat of a previously thought unbeatable champion.
And I wonder if there isn’t something like that happening in today’s passage. I wonder if Jesus’ defeat of Satan—in three straight sets!—isn’t really the defeat of a previously undefeated champ. Simply ask yourself this: When had the devil—in the history of the world!—ever met anyone he couldn’t get to sin when tempted? The answer is never; Satan was undefeated!
Consider Israel during the wilderness wanderings as a prime example of this. Despite having seen God work miraculously on their behalf over and over again, the Israelites repeatedly sin against God. For a full forty years in the wilderness, God provides what they need and sustains his people—bread from heaven to eat, water from a rock to drink, and the God (above all gods!) to lead and protect them. But it wasn’t enough. They were tempted, and they sinned:
- Bread on the menu again—grumble (Exodus 16)!
- God isn’t with us; we’re dying of thirst—grumble, grumble (Exodus 17)!
- Where’d that Moses go?! Aaron, come on; make us an idol to worship—grumble, grumble, grumble (Exodus 32)!
And, by the way, these three specific examples aren’t just random instances of Israel’s temptation into sin. These are the failed situations, in Israel’s history, from which Jesus derives divine truth in order to rebuff Satan’s temptation of him in today’s passage. See, we are supposed to see a parallel between Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness and Israel’s 40 years in the wilderness.
We’re supposed to see that where Satan was undefeated with Israel (and us!) he’s met his match in Jesus—the one and only champion. We’re supposed to see that God’s promise to Abraham—to love this whole world through his lineage (which was road-blocked by temptation and sin time and time again!)—has been (and is being!) opened and fulfilled in the person of Christ.
Don’t miss this here! In this passage, God’s plan to love the nations begins with his loving redemption of Israel. And, as you’ll see in next week’s sermon, God’s love plan will move on from Israel to all the nations of the earth.
Let’s read today’s passage and, then, pray for God to teach us (page 913).
1 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4 But he answered, “It is written,
“‘Man shall not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple 6 and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written,
“‘He will command his angels concerning you,’
“‘On their hands they will bear you up,
lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”
7 Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. 9 And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10 Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written,
“‘You shall worship the Lord your God
and him only shall you serve.’”
11 Then the devil left him . . .
As we look at this text, we’ll see three ways which Jesus defeats the devil. Each of the three is a denial of self. He says (1) not my desire, (2) not my glory, and (3) not my choice. Let’s look at each in turn.
1. Not my desire . . . (vv. 1-4)
In the history of literature, there’s perhaps no sentence as greatly understated as the one we find in verse two of today’s passage. There Matthew simply writes:
And after fasting forty days and forty nights, [Jesus] was hungry (v. 2).
Do you think?! Really?! Thanks captain obvious!
When I met my wife in college, she was kind of a puritan, just a bit extreme. She’d spend Friday and Saturday nights alone reading her Bible and journaling rather than going out. And guys in campus ministries wouldn’t ask her out either since she had the reputation of being on a dating fast. (She maintains she wasn’t, but I’m still not so sure.) She was extreme.
Once, at the beginning of our relationship, she fasted from food for a week. And I (because I was dumb and in love!) told her I’d fast too. (Give disclaimer.) Well, I’d really never fasted from food before. After all, I was a college aged guy. And a day or so into it, I was famished! I noticed every person who had a sandwich and every billboard for every restaurant and every smell of anything faintly edible. I mean I was literally dreaming of food after a couple of days!
Well, here we have Jesus after forty days of fasting and in waltzes the devil. “Oh, Jesus! You don’t look so good. Are you hungry? You could really use a meal. Wait…I know, see those rocks over there that look a lot like loaves of fresh bread? Well, since you’re the Son of God, turn them into bread—hot and delicious bread from heaven!”
How satisfying such bread must have seemed! How tempting! And, Jesus, he could have done it too. But instead, he replies:
“It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God’” (v. 4).
Jesus replies—not my desire but God’s desire for me! And Satan staggers!
(Just a note: Jesus is quoting Deuteronomy 8:3. That passage highlights God’s provision of manna for Israel when she couldn’t provide food for herself. Just think, Israel receives bread and grumbles to God while Jesus goes without it and sings praises to God. Quite a contrast isn’t it!)
Let’s move to the next round of this confrontation. Next Jesus says:
2. Not my glory . . . (vv. 5-7)
After missing his first opportunity, Satan gathers himself and comes again. This time he decides to quote some Scripture of his own. The devil transports Jesus to Jerusalem and the temple’s highest point and tells him to throw himself off because Psalm 91 says that God will save him by sending angels to rescue him. And, of course, it’ll show everyone how righteous and loved by God Jesus is!
First, let me point out that just what we’d expect Satan to do with Scripture, he does. He twists and distorts it. Psalm 91 is all about God’s care and protection of his people. However, it is not at all about flaunting his love, care, and protection for our own acclaim or glory.
For Jesus to throw himself from the temple to prove his status as God’s Son would be reckless and not at all in line with what’s being described in Psalm 91. Rather, he would be using the Father to garner his own glory and praise and honor. So, Jesus says no—not my glory!
Second, let me point out that we are often guilty of this very kind of thing. You see, it’s a fine line between quoting Scripture for God’s glory and quoting it for our own glory. It’s a fine line that separates serving God in this or that ministry and serving yourself in this or that ministry.
If we’re honest, many of us have jumped from the temple for our own glory. But not Jesus. He says—not my glory but yours Father. And Satan reels again!
(Just another note: When Jesus replies that we’re not to put God to the test, he’s quoting Deuteronomy 6:16. That passage alludes to a time when the Israelites tested God by demanding a miraculous provision of water to quench their thirsts. Essentially they were saying, “God doesn’t really love us. If he did, he’d show us. Give us water, and we’ll know you love us. Serve us and we’ll believe in you.” They were testing God. They were jumping from the temple saying, “Serve us! Glorify us!”
Now, consider Jesus in contrast, God in human flesh. He’s the only person who’s ever walked the earth and who actually deserves honor and praise and glory! Yet, he sets it aside to serve his Father in humility! So amazing!)
Now to the final round of this match and, then, I’ll make a few observations. At the third temptation, Jesus says:
3. Not my choice . . . (vv. 8-11)
Let’s reread these final four verses together. Here’s what Matthew records:
Again, 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 will fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God / and him only shall you serve.’” Then the devil left him . . . (vv. 8-11).
I wonder if you have ever considered why this would be tempting for Jesus. In other words, what would make such an offer seem like a good deal to Jesus? Moreover, why on earth would he answer the devil’s offer the way that he does? Wouldn’t it be easier to say—“Be gone, Satan! For I am God, there is no other! The whole, entire universe is forever mine!” After all, that would’ve been true. Why, then, didn’t he say that?
Well, as for this second question—Why Jesus answered the way he did?—his answer is doubtlessly very much connected to his identification with humanity, with you and me. You see, before this section of Matthew’s narrative is another, which is also strange—Jesus’ baptism.
Why would the sinless Messiah need to be baptized implying repentance? The answer is he doesn’t need to repent but, rather, identify with those who do. Jesus is identifying with sinful humanity in order to “fulfill all righteousness” or—in other words—to succeed in righteousness where we have always failed.
Thus, Jesus answered the way he did for our sake. When tempted like this, we should respond like Jesus does. We cannot say—“I am God, there is no other!” But, we can and should say—“It’s written: Worship the Lord and serve him only.” That’s the answer that fulfills all righteousness for us.
As for the first question—Why would such an offer be tempting to Jesus?—we have to think about the answer Jesus gives. And, we need to think contextually about the offer Satan makes.
Again, Jesus’ response to Satan’s offer of all the kingdoms of the world is:
“Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God / and him only shall you serve’” (v. 10).
What exactly will it mean for Jesus to worship the Lord and serve him only? What will it mean for Jesus to obey this command? Friends, it will mean sorrow. It’ll mean suffering. It will mean betrayal. It’ll mean the cross.
Now do you begin to see why this is a temptation?
Satan is essentially offering Jesus the easy route to glory, honor, and praise. He’s saying—“Why go through all the humiliation and pain of the Father’s plan? Worshiping me is so much easier. You can have it all and now.” And, to this offer, Jesus says—“Be gone, Satan! My Father’s way is best. It is his choice, not mine. I’ll only follow and honor God.”
And Satan can take no more so he retreats. A stunning victory!
Friends, allow me to make some practical observations and then conclude. Our culture has long ago ceased to war against the kind of temptations found here. In fact, such sins are no longer seen as vices but virtues. Think about it:
- If we desire something—food, cars, money, sex—what should we do? We should go get it. Just turn those stones to bread if you can.
- If we have the opportunity to shine—15 minutes of fame or the like—what should we do? Take it and run because it might never come again. Just throw yourself off that temple and show how valuable you are.
- If we have the opportunity to choose—the easy way or the hard way—what should we do? Well go for convenience since only results matter. Just fall down and worship Satan, and it’s yours already.
However, if we’re going to follow Jesus in God’s “loving more people plan” then we must reply to these temptations of Satan quite differently. We must desire what God desires—which will be hard. We must seek God’s glory, not our own—which will be hard. We must choose what God will choose—which will be hard.
We must follow in the path of our Savior, through the power of our Savior, for the praise of our Savior. In short, we must pick up our cross to love the world.