Teaching series from Luke

Overcoming Temptation

Luke 4:1-13

Teaching t20254


I want to back-track this morning to the event that immediately preceded the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry—his temptation by Satan in the wilderness.  Luke summarizes this event in 4:1-14.

Read 4:1,2a.  Note that God’s Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness in order to be tempted by Satan.  This is implied by 4:1,2a—and it is stated by Matthew (4:1).  Why was it necessary that Jesus go through this period of intense temptation?  There are many answers to this question1 - but I want to focus on the reason most applicable to you and me.  Jesus had to endure satanic temptation so that he could help us overcome temptation (read Heb.4:16). 

I’m not going to spend time arguing for the existence of a real, personal Satan, or that he and his demons do actually tempt us.  If you receive Christ and begin to follow him, you will become convinced of this soon enough!  You will be tempted—Satan will tell you subtle lies to entice you to forsake your trust in Jesus.  (Recommend The Screwtape Letters.)

One of the ways Jesus helps us in this regard is by exposing (through this passage) how Satan tempts us.  Although the specific ways that Satan tempted Jesus are different than how he tempts us (e.g., STONES TO BREAD; INTERNET PORN), yet the root temptations are universal.  Let me show you what I mean...

“Turn these stones to bread”

Re-read 4:1b,2.  This does not mean that Jesus had a “food hump,” so that he could go 40 days before experiencing normal hunger.  It means that he now began to experience excruciating starvation pains as his digestive tract began to digest live tissue for energy.

Evidently, God told Jesus to fast (or to stay in the foodless wilderness) until further notice—and further notice had not yet come.  It is at this point of extreme physical hunger that Satan suggests that it is foolish for the Son of God (“if” = “since”) to be deprived in this way.  And of course this temptation contains a slander (diaballos) against God: “He doesn’t care about your welfare, he doesn’t know how badly you need this.  Take matters into your own hands, use your own powers to meet your needs—turn that rock into a loaf of bread!”

Jesus’ response is a quotation of Deut.8:3 (read whole verse).  The context of this situation has significant parallels to Jesus'.  The nation of Israel was also in the midst of a wilderness because they were following God’s will for them.  No sooner did they begin to get hungry than they desired to “go back to Egypt.”  This was their way of taking matters into their own hands to meet their needs.  But God told them to keep following him in the wilderness and trust his promise to meet their food needs in his way.  He did this for forty years by giving them manna.  By quoting this passage, Jesus is saying that trusting God's revealed will is more important (and more secure) than taking matters into his own hands.

So the root temptation is “Trust yourself—not God—to meet your needs.”  This is the most basic form of temptation, and Satan rarely needs to use more than this temptation (in various forms) to corrupt and destroy most people’s lives.  Since God created us, he alone knows how to best meet our needs.  That’s why having a love-trust relationship with God is our one essential need.  Only God’s love can satisfy our deepest longings, and only God’s wisdom can teach us how he meets our needs.  But ever since the first humans listened to Satan, we have a foolish suspicion that God will burn us and a foolish pride that we know best how to meet our needs.  And so Satan just keeps playing on our suspicion and pride so that we waste our lives instead of following the One who knows the path to life.

This is Satan’s main tactic to distract you from coming to Christ.  He has concocted a sophisticated system to keep inflaming your lusts and deceiving you into thinking that gratifying those lusts will fulfill you (HEDONISM; MATERIALISM; EGOTISM EXAMPLES).  He mixes these three temptations in endless variety for every stage of our lives, and most people spend their entire lives trying in vain to satisfy the hunger of their hearts that only Jesus can satisfy (Jn.6:27,35).  How many more times do you have to get burned by this lie before you come to the One who made you and loves you and knows how to satisfy your needs with his love?

This is also Satan’s main tactic to derail you from growing in Christ.  When you receive Christ, you experience the goodness of God’s love and God begins to lead you into his purpose for your life.  But you still live in Satan’s system, and your fallen nature still resonates with its lies.  And he will whisper to you (especially when you are in need) that you should abandon your trust in God and “go back to Egypt.”  Some of you are being tempted in this way right now (EXAMPLES).  Some of you are living in Egypt and therefore spiritually neutralized.  If “Egypt” was so satisfying, why did you receive Jesus in the first place?  When have you ever regretted trusting God to meet your needs?  Why is this situation any different?  No need is so strong that it justifies abandoning God’s will!  You can choose to trust God’s love and wisdom by obeying his will!

“Bow down and worship me”

Read 4:5-7.  Satan gave Jesus a vision that distilled the magnificence of every human empire.  Imagine seeing and feeling Rome’s incredible military power, Britain’s fantastic commercial wealth, and the United States’ combination of the two!  Jesus knew that he was the rightful Ruler of humanity, and that it was his divine right to establish God’s kingdom on earth.  He knew that this would require a terrible battle with Satan, who had usurped authority as a rebel ruler—a battle that would involve not only physical torture and execution, but also the rejection and wrath of his Father.  Satan offers to surrender without a fight, if Jesus will (just once, in private) bow down and worship him.  We cannot imagine how attractive this offer must have been!

But Jesus firmly rejects this offer by quoting Deut.6:13 (read 4:8).  Nothing is more important than loyalty to God, and loyalty to God involves the means as well as the ends.  No offer, no matter how appealing, no matter how much good it can do, is ever worth selling out loyalty to God and his ways.  Jesus’ path to the Crown led through the Cross.  (Of course, Satan’s offer is a lie.  Had Jesus accepted it, he would become Satan’s slave and disqualified himself from being the Messiah.)

You probably haven’t been tempted with this specific offer (there aren’t too many Napoleon’s, Hitler’s, etc.).  But you will be tempted to use righteous ends to justify unrighteous means that avoid or minimize suffering.  I think this temptation is especially appealing to Christians (like many of us) who want to see Christ’s influence expanded.  If Satan cannot prevent you from wanting to serve Jesus, he will tempt you to believe that “You can advance his kingdom without suffering by compromising his means.”  Consider:

“You can bring more people to Christ without talking about unpopular ideas like sin, repentance, Jesus as the only way to God, etc.”  We should be loving and respectful, and we should focus on God’s grace—but we cannot avoid the offense of the Cross without compromising the message.

“You can become a fruitful worker without undergoing painful discipline by God.”  Genuine spiritual influence comes not primarily from personality and gifting, but from a humble heart—and humility is worked into selfish people through painful pruning (Jn.15:2) and discipline (Heb 12:4-11).

“You can be effective in Christian leadership without being honest about your problems and sins.”  Effective Christian leaders essential model God’s power through their weakness.  Self-righteous hiding creates hypocritical Pharisees who eventually shame Jesus, not life-giving leaders.

“You can develop a healthy church without the costly investment of personal mentoring.”  Healthy churches need more than super-star pastors, slick marketing and cute programs.  They need lots of growing Christians—and this requires older Christians who are willing to patiently love and teach them how to follow God.

There was no way Jesus could save humanity except through suffering.  Thank God he refused to cut corners!  And there is no way to serve Jesus effectively that does not involve suffering.  But the joy and satisfaction of being used by God is well worth it!

“Jump off this temple”

After Jesus overcomes the first two temptations by quoting God’s Word, Satan tries to tempt him by misapplying God’s Word.  Read 4:9-11.  “So you trust God so much that you will endure suffering to serve him?  Why not prove how much you trust him by jumping?  You trust his Word over mine?  His Word says you can count on him to send angels to protect you.  So trust God and jump!”

Jesus’ answer is very instructive (read 4:12 NLT).  Jesus interprets scripture with scripture.  Ps.91 cannot contradict Deut.6:16, which prohibits testing God.  “Testing God” refers to demanding that God give us what we want as a requirement for continuing to trust him.  The Israelites demanded that God give them water from a certain rock in order to prove that he was really among them.  God was angered by this “what have you done for me lately?” attitude that signaled a desire to manipulate him rather than trust him.  (As a matter of fact, Ps. 91 is not a carte-blanc promise of God’s protection from our foolish risk-taking.  It is promise that God will protect us ultimately from the danger he leads us into.)

So the root temptation is: “You can misuse God’s Word to get what you want.”  Using scripture in this way may appear spiritual, but it is not trusting in God so we can serve him—it is turning God into our Butler and his Word into a list of magical incantations through which we try to manipulate God to fulfill our agenda.  Can you recognize this form of temptation?

This is a favorite tactic of false teachers—twist biblical passages out of context, in contradiction to other passages to lead people astray in ways that ultimately shame Jesus’ reputation.  How about people who misuse the Bible to justify their racism and sexism?  How about the healer-dealers who teach that if you pray in Jesus’ name God must give you what you want?  How about the cults who misuse Lk.14:26 to justify rejecting your parents?  This is why many people are cynical about the Bible—which is also one of Satan’s greatest goals.

But we don’t need false teachers to fall prey to this temptation.  Have you ever rationalized walking into sexually tempting situations by saying “God says he will protect me from temptation” (1Cor.10:13, but 1Cor.6:18)?  I sometimes deal with college student Christians who rationalize not looking for work by saying “God says he will provide for my material needs” (Matt.6:33, but 1Thess.4:11,12).  Have you ever justified choosing a path you knew violated God’s will by saying, “But God says he will work all things together for good” (Rom.8:28a, but 8:28b)? God is under no obligation to respond, and he usually lets us reap the consequences of our spiritualized disobedience so we will learn to seek his will instead of our own (and discover how good it is Rom.12:2b).


Let’s not miss one more important lesson in this passage about temptation: Our main weapon against temptation is knowing God’s Word! 

Why was Jesus victorious in discerning and rejecting Satan’s temptation?  Because he knew God’s Word!  Spiritual warfare is not Hollywood (SARUMAN vs. GALDALF)—it is Satan’s lies versus God’s truth.  That’s why Jesus did not say “I think”—he said “It is written.”  And Jesus learned God’s Word in the same way we learn it—not by “switching on his omniscience,” but by reading it, memorizing it, meditating on it, etc.

Likewise, Paul says that our key weapon against Satan is “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Eph.6:17).  “Word” here is rhema, which means the utterance of God’s Word, applying it to specific situations.  Did Paul get this image from Lk. 4?

Here is one of the many reasons why it is so important to get into the Bible daily!  This is what gives you the spiritual acuity to recognize temptation for what it is (Heb.5:13,14).  And it will build spiritual knowledge resists temptation (Ps.119:104,165).  Why not start reading God’s Word daily with a friend (Recommend Carson, For the Love of God)?

1 Because the real battle was with Satan (1Jn.3:8), it was fitting for Jesus to start by facing him.  Because Jesus is the second Adam (Rom.5:19; Lk.3:38), it was necessary for him to choose obedience to God over rebellion suggested by Satan.  Because Jesus was the new Moses leading a greater Exodus, it was necessary for him to be tested in the wilderness for 40 days