Facing Temptation

Luke 4:1-13

9 June 2002

Greyfriars Church


As we start a series in Luke's gospel we find Jesus in the desert, sent there by the Holy Spirit whom he had just received at his baptism. Just as Moses spent forty days and nights fasting on Mount Sinai as he received from God the law of the Old Covenant, so at the inauguration of the New Covenant Jesus is spending forty days and nights fasting in the desert.

Soon enough along comes the devil. Now, the devil's work is to keep us from God in any way he can, thereby guaranteeing our destruction.

We know that at the beginning of history the devil succeeded in attacking Adam and erecting the barrier between him and God. And the barrier of our disobedience has been between us and God ever since.

Now in Luke chapter 4 we see how the devil tries to attack Jesus' ministry in its very earliest days by tempting him to abandon God in three different ways: The devil tempts Jesus with desire; he tempts Jesus by deception and he tempts Jesus to doubt. (Many sermons are somewhat two-dimensional, but this one is fully 3-D!)

As we shall see the devil's tactics never change, and he is still hard at work trying to keep us all from God, so it is instructive for us to look at how Jesus handled the devil's temptations.


First, the devil attacks Jesus by appealing to his desires.

Luke chapter 4 verse 2 contains what must be the greatest understatement in the whole of the Bible: Jesus ate nothing during those forty days and at the end of them he was hungryref. Matthew makes it clear that this was no part-time, Ramadan-style fast. He says After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungryref. Of course he was hungry! He was starving! He was famished! He was ravenous!

So the devil comes along and attacks Jesus at his point of weakness: If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become breadref. The devil tempts Jesus with desire for food, just as he tempted Eve with desire for the fruit in the Garden of Eden. His tactics never change. We really ought to have learnt by now.

We might ask ourselves, would it really have been so bad for Jesus to do that? After all, in just a few days time Jesus will be turning water into wine at the wedding in Cana, and he will later turn five loaves and two fish into enough food to feed five thousand people! What harm would it do to turn one stone into a loaf of bread?

To understand Jesus' purpose we need to look at his reply, It is written: 'Man does not live on bread alone.'ref This is taken from Deuteronomy chapter 8, and some context is helpful. It says in verses 2 and 3 of that chapter,

Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.ref

It seems that Jesus had decided to submit himself to his Father's discipline: not for forty years, but for forty days so that God could test his heart, humbling him and teaching him.

For Jesus to have given in to the devil would have been to abandon that discipline, and therefore to have abandoned God, just as the Israelites repeatedly abandoned God during their time in the desert.

In our own search for holiness we will be submitting ourselves to various disciplines as God leads, and inevitably the devil will attack us as we do so.

I'm sure we have all experienced just this kind of attack. I have to confess that far too often I give in. For example, the devil knows that there's little I enjoy more than writing computer programs, so just this week as I was preparing this sermon I happened to have an idea for a marvellous new program, and I'm disappointed to say that I spent more time working on that than I did on this message. At other times it's been a film on the television, or a rather good novel that have taken me away from the discipline of holiness: none of them wrong in themselves, but all driving a wedge between me and my God.

Each capitulation may seem like a small thing, but the devil knows our weaknesses and knows that as he erodes our holiness so he erodes our relationship with God.

If we want to learn a true hunger for God, like Jesus we need to submit ourselves to God's discipline and be on the lookout for the devil tempting us with desire. In his book, A Hunger for God, John Piper writes,

The greatest enemy of hunger for God is not poison but apple pie. It is not the banquet of the wicked that dulls our appetite for heaven but endless nibbling at the table of the world. It is not the X-rated video, but the prime-time dribble of triviality we drink in every night... The most deadly appetites are not for the poison of evil, but for the simple pleasures of earth. For when these replace an appetite for God himself, the idolatry is scarcely recognisable, and almost incurable.

The devil attacked Jesus at his weak point, with desire for food to satisfy his hunger. But Jesus was only satisfied with God's word itself. Where are your weak points, and what are you hungry for?


The devil's second attack is to try to snare Jesus by deception.

Verses 5 to 7,

The devil led Jesus up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, "I will give you all their authority and splendour, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. So if you worship me, it will all be yours."ref

What a temptation this must have been! The short-cut to kingship. The gain without the pain. The attack is again at a point of vulnerability: Jesus already knows what lies ahead, the rejection, the persecution, the loneliness, the humiliation, the agony, the desolation of being cut off from his Father on the cross. Of course he knows that after all that he will again sit as Lord at the right hand of God, but it must have been an incredible temptation to take the short-cut to kingship.

But Jesus knows that there is no shortcut. The kingdoms of the world belong to one Lord, and one only. The devil only has them on loan; all the devil has to offer is a counterfeit kingship. This is a deception, just as the devil deceived Eve in the Garden by offering her the chance to "become like God". The devil only ever has counterfeit goods to offer us: his tactics never change. We really ought to have learnt by now.

There is only one path to glory. And Jesus knows it: Worship the Lord your God and serve him onlyref, whatever the cost.

We're always looking for the short cut, aren't we? For the end without the means, for the gain without the pain.

I get a lot of junk email, which is terrifically annoying, but occasionally amusing, like this one,

Diplomas from prestigious non-accredited universities. No required tests, classes, books, or interviews. Bachelors, masters, MBA, and doctorate diplomas available in the field of your choice. No one is turned down. Confidentiality assured.

Or what do you make of this?

Become a LEGALLY ORDAINED MINISTER within 48 hours!!!! Only $29.95.

Obviously these are worthless counterfeit goods on offer. There is no shortcut.

We will do well to remember this at times when we are put under stress and strain by God, when life is hard. The only way forward is to trust Him and serve Him, although the devil will surely offer us easy ways out. It might be tempting to tell that lie; it might be tempting to abandon that relationship; it might be tempting to commit that fraud. But these are all ways of denying God, and remember that in any case the devil has only counterfeit goods to offer us.

I have a Christian friend who is a business man in Indonesia. He sometimes finds himself in impossible situations because he refuses to bribe anyone as everyone else does. Yet God has always honoured this integrity, and despite the difficulties his business prospers.

Let us recognise the devil's deceptions for what they are so that we never end up denying God.


Jesus' third temptation is to doubt.

Notice the snide way that the devil addresses Jesus in the first and third temptations. If you are the Son of Godref, he says. Just a few weeks earlier God's voice had thundered from heaven This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleasedref, but now the devil is seeking to plant the seeds of doubt in Jesus' mind.

"Did God really say you were his son? What does that mean anyway? How about a little test just to make sure? Just throw yourself from this tower; God has promised he'll protect you. Don't you believe it?" This is just as he did with Eve in the Garden of Eden, Did God really say 'You must not eat from any tree in the garden?'ref His tactics never change. We really ought to have learnt by now.

It's interesting to note that the devil is quite capable of using truth to attack us as well as lies. He quotes the Bible at Jesus! It may be an out of context, twisted truth, but we must be on our guard. Many an individual or church or denomination has been damaged by a truth wrongly understood and wrongly applied.

However, Jesus knows that he needs prove nothing to the devil. He again answers from scripture, Do not put the Lord your God to the testref. Jesus trusts in God's word so that he does not need constantly to test God's faithfulness.

You can imagine how destructive it would be to a marriage if one partner were always saying to the other, "Do you love me? Go on prove it to me. Show me you love me" . Well, it's the same with us and God. The devil seeks to keep us from God by making us doubt his goodness and his love for us.

The way to be sure of God's love for you is to rely on what he has said in the Bible. He has given us ample reassurance; there is no need to doubt at all. Yet the devil will constantly provoke us to question and doubt God's love and to try to test it in arbitrary and irresponsible ways. This can only poison our relationship with him.


So the devil seeks to keep us from God in three ways: by appealing to our desires, which dull our desire for Him; by deceiving us into accepting a counterfeit substitute for spirituality; and by casting doubts into our minds about God's goodness and so poisoning our relationship with him.

Jesus' protection against his attack were the Spirit and the Word. All three of his responses to the devil are from Deuteronomy chapters six and eight. Perhaps they had been his meditation from "Every Day with Moses" that morning. Here we see that verse from Ephesians in action, Take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.ref Jesus could resist the devil because he was full of the Spirit, and he knew his Bible.

But the passage ends with some chilling words, When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune timeref. Jesus will again face almost overwhelming temptation in the Garden of Gethsemene when he wrestles with the prospect of going to the cross. But full of the Spirit and the Word, with the discipline of resisting temptation deeply ingrained into him, he is able indeed to go to that cross, thereby defeating the devil once and for all.

So if we are Christians we have nothing to fear from the devil. As long as we, like Jesus, strive to be full of the Spirit by obedience and prayer, and full of the Bible by diligent daily reading, then we, confident of the devil's defeat, can do what the Apostle James suggests: Resist the devil, and he will flee from youref.