Sunday school lesson for the week of May 4, 2014
By Dr. Hal Brady
Lesson Scripture: Deuteronomy 6:13-16; Matthew 4:1-11
Football teams do it in the locker room. Basketball teams do it during time-outs. Businesses and churches do it at planning meetings or on retreats. Strategize! All of us determine strategy.
In his baptism, Jesus had just experienced God’s affirmation of who he actually was: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” said God (Matthew 3:17). So Jesus was clear about his mission as the Messiah, but now he had to deal with the question of strategy. Being who he was, how would he go about it? How would Jesus publicly introduce men and women to the kingdom of God, and call them into fellowship with God? What strategy would he use?
Now, the writer of Matthew declares, “Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil” (4:1). Scholars inform us that temptations in the hands of Satan become a test in the hands of God. God will use them as a test and the strengthening of our character. Therefore, the testing of Jesus is the demonstration of Jesus’ full commitment to God – his absolute trust in God. So, we think of this incident before us not so much as the tempting of Jesus but as the testing of Jesus. It is the testing that always comes to the person whom God wishes to use.
A Word from Deuteronomy
We are told that the Book of Deuteronomy is an extended goodbye from Moses to the children of Israel. These Israelites are poised to cross over the Jordan River and enter the Promised Land. But Moses, their longtime leader, cannot go with them, as his death is at hand. However, before Moses and the people take leave of one another, Moses reminds them of the words and actions of God in the past so they might be faithful and sensible in the future in their new land.
Moses is aware that in their new Promised Land, the Israelites will be surrounded by people who worship other gods. Their great temptation and danger will be idolatry. So, Moses enhances his warning by recalling an incident out of the people’s own past. He recalls the experience at “Massah” (Exodus 17:1-7). The people thirsted for water in the desert and the Lord miraculously provided for them in that place. Yet the place was not named as a testimony to God’s goodness and their gratitude. Rather, the spot was named “Massah” (test) because the people not only thirsted, but they also doubted and complained against God. Bottom line is that the Israelites didn’t trust God to provide and thus betrayed the covenant relationship that required confident trust in God to fulfill his self-imposed covenant obligations. The Israelites didn’t trust God, put him to the test and expected to die of thirst in the desert.
Jesus Faces Temptations
The nature of Jesus’ temptations is announced in the tempter’s initial words, “If you are the Son of God…” (4:3). This phrase, which is repeated in the second temptation (4:6) and assumed in the third (4:9) demonstrates the tempter’s intentions to manipulate Jesus. Satan already knows Jesus’ identity as the Son of God. He is simply trying to deceive him by flattering him into going contrary to God’s will for the Son:
“If you are the Son of God why should you be hungry? Just turn these stones into bread and ‘pig out’! You have the power to make that happen.”
The temptation here is for Jesus to acquire food miraculously, which is not God’s will at this time. As scholars suggest, “For Jesus to have turned the stones into bread would lead Jesus outside of the Father’s will for the Son’s incarnational experience.” So, this first temptation is intended to diminish Jesus’ personal trust in God’s leading.
How does Jesus respond? Jesus answers Satan with a quotation from Moses, “It is written, one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes form the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4; Deut. 8:3). You see, Jesus knew that the Israelites had already experienced the allusion of “bread only” the hard way – from 40 years of wandering in the wilderness. The fact is that it was God’s will for them to be there, and they should have trusted God when He said that He would take care of them. But they tested God and complained.
“It is written…!” Jesus said. Thus, Jesus implies that the essence of life is trusting God to provide, and God’s word.
With bread out of the way, the tempter then sets Jesus in his imagination atop the Temple of Mount Zion. It is reported that a corner of the temple overlooks the Kidron Valley, which has a drop of 450 feet into the valley below. A rabbinical tradition reads, “When the King Messiah reveals himself, then he comes and stands on the roof of the Holy Place.”
Satan approaches Jesus again with the words, “If you are the Son of God” and then seeks to misuse the Scripture to his own advantage.
“Jump off,” said Satan” and by landing unharmed present yourself to the multitudes as a sensational national wonder-worker. And to make the temptation even more attractive, the tempter adds a quote or misquote from scripture-- something about God’s own angels protecting him from harm (Psalm 91:11,12).
But Jesus sees through Satan’s Scripture-twisting to the evil motivation behind it and again replies from Deuteronomy: “It is written. ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test!” (Matthew 4:6; Deut. 6:13)
Scholars point out that Satan is trying to get Jesus to test his Father in two ways:
1. By intentionally putting himself in harm’s way, Jesus would be inappropriately testing his Father’s love. True faith makes no such demands.
2. If Jesus were to cast himself off the top of the temple and the angels rescued him, think of the reaction of the people. Such sensationalism would get Jesus a Messianic following alright, but it would not be a following of “the way, the truth and the life” –the way of suffering and the cross.
Jesus’ third temptation has to do with compromise, taking a short cut and the easier way. In the third temptation, the tempter offers Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor if only he will fall down and worship Satan (4:9). The vision of the world that Jesus had come to save must surely have passed before him. Those kingdoms are the very reason he laid aside his own glory. His ultimate purpose is to gather those kingdoms into the kingdom of God.
But here, the tempter is suggesting that Jesus use another strategy to win the world- the way of Compromise, the shortcut, and less difficult. However, if Jesus takes the shortcut it will be costly, for he will give up the will of His Father. The Father’s will for Jesus’ life is the cross! (Matthew 16:21-27).
What is Jesus response? Jesus says to Satan, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” Again, Jesus quotes from the Book of Deuteronomy (6:13).
Now, all of us are tempted at the points of our own personal trust in God and His leading, our fascination with the sensational and our compromising, taking the short-cut and the easier way. The sum of our temptation is nothing other than “treating God as less than God.” Consequently, we are forever grateful to Jesus who, “tempted at all points as we are” (Hebrews 4:15), resisted temptation by his laying hold of Scripture and his strong affirmation that only God is God.
Jesus said, “It is written!” And our strategy for resisting temptation and accomplishing God’s will should be the same as His.
Dr. Brady is a retired South Georgia Conference pastor who lives in the Atlanta area. His non-profit organization, Hal Brady Ministries, focuses on preaching, teaching, conducting seminars, and inspiring others to lead and serve. Contact him at email@example.com.