Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterward He was hungry. Now when the tempter came to Him, he said, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.” But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God’” (Matthew 4:1-4).Notice that Jesus was led by the Spirit into that wilderness place. He was exactly where His Father wanted Him. When temptation comes, too often I find myself assuming that I’ve done something wrong and that is why I’m open to enemy attacks.
If I focus on, “Oh my, what did I do now?” I miss what is really happening. I busy myself running through all sorts of mental gymnastics trying to figure out what needs to be fixed before eventually realizing that the Spirit of God is not convicting me of anything. It takes me a while to figure out that I’m under attack by the enemy simply because I’m obeying God and Satan doesn’t want that to happen. He wants me to sin.
Temptation also comes when I am feeling a legitimate need. Jesus was led to that wilderness place and into a long fast. After six weeks plus, His hunger is no surprise. Surely there is nothing wrong with wanting to eat in that situation. However, Satan’s temptation was not about filling that need, but about filling that need apart from the command of God. He tried to get Jesus to do it by using His own resources.
This test has a broader base than usually noticed. Jesus was standing in the place of God’s people who were also tested in the wilderness. Would they rely on God? Or would they try to fulfill their needs in their own way? Where Israel failed, Jesus succeeded.
Every day I’m tempted to do things my own way without consulting God. Sometimes I don’t even notice that I’ve been tempted and just go ahead on my own. Interestingly, the response of Jesus applies to this. When He says I need to live by “every word that comes from the mouth of God,” He uses the Greek “rhema” for word. It means “a word suitable for the need of the moment.”
To put it another way, when I feel a need or when I need to do something, God has a word for it, an instruction or something to help or direct me. He wants me to live by that word for that need, not by physical, human sustenance, or my own reasoning or my strength. I’m to find in Him the answers to my questions, instruction on how to proceed, and the attitudes and strength for each situation. In each part of life, I’m to live by His word that is suitable for each circumstance.
Of course that means staying close. I cannot have the Bible open every moment, but I can read and study it, and I can be open to the Holy Spirit who will bring to my mind whatever I need from Him for that moment.
Temptation comes also when I doubt my identity or place in life. Notice that the devil said, “If you are the Son of God. . . .” then added the challenge to do what He could with the power that He had. Jesus didn’t live that way. He came to do the will of His Father and determined, “Not my will but Thine be done.” If Satan could break that determination, Jesus would sin.
The worst doubt is wondering if I’m really a Christian. However, Satan can suggest that I’m not what I ought to be in other ways, or even appeal to who I am with something like, “If you are a Christian . . . you can do it . . . He will forgive you.” These and other suggestions appeal to a need to know who I am and that I have significance. To counter them, I need to know what God says about my identity and purpose in life.
Temptation comes with the suggestion that I can do it without God’s help. Jesus had the power and ability to make bread from stones. He was hungry so why not use His power in that way? Part of the reason He refused is that He needed to pass the tests that Israel failed to pass. Part of His refusal is because we need to see how we must live.
I can do a lot of things. Does that mean that I do all of them? The older I get, the more I realize that I will not live long enough to do all that I could do. This necessitates choices and elimination. Often these choices seem very difficult, but they are simplified if I come to my Father and seek His “rhema” on each decision.
The temptation of Christ has great significance in fulfilling His role as the Israel of God, yet for each believer including me, the way He did it instructs us about the way temptation happens, and why, and even better, how we can also overcome all those sly suggestions.