“I will tell me dad.” There are few more reassuring things for a child than to know that their parents have got their back and are looking out for them. So, there is nothing more disturbing than when someone starts to sow doubt “My dad is bigger/stronger than yours).
This is one of the devil’s strategic aims, to get us to lose confidence in God as our good and loving heavenly father. He does this by causing us to doubt God’s goodness and love. He does it by causing us to doubt our relationship with him. Here in Matthew 4, we see him attempt to pull that trick with Jesus. How will things turn out?
Remember that the dominant imagery in the first few chapters has been of Jesus taking on the history of Israel and reliving it but perfectly. Israel was God’s rebellious son, Jesus was God’s obedient son. So, just as Israel had been brought out of Egypt, so Jesus is the son, called out of Egypt by his loving Father, just as Israel had experienced baptism leaving behind the slavery and death of Egypt to new life in a promised land by crossing the red sea, so must Jesus go through a baptism that foreshadows his own death and resurrection. Now, Jesus is led by the Spirit into the wilderness by the Spirit.
That Jesus is led by the Spirit with the words “This is my dearly loved son” still ringing in our ears highlights two things, that whilst the devil is about to tempt in order to try and disrupt and destory, this is also a period of testing and part of God’s plan for good. Secondly, we see that at the heart of this testing is the question of Jesus’ relationship to the Father. Is he the loved son, the obedient son who trusts in his Father’s love and care or is it all a sham?
We learn from Christ’s temptation because, in him we are also God’s sons and daughters. So the same challenge is there for us. Will we trust the Father’s love?
We are to trust in the Father’s provision (v3 -5)
The devil turns up with a challenge “If you are the son of God …” This is the oldest trick in the book. Back in Genesis 3, God has provided for Adam and Eve with all the fruit trees they could possibly want. He had set one restriction. They were not to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Then the devil shows up asking “Did God really say?”
Here, the Devil turns up after God has said that Jesus is his beloved son and the sense is once again “Did God really say?” Can you trust him, can you believe that you really are his son and that he has a purpose for you when you are out here in the desert, alone and starving?
In the wilderness, Israel had been pulled into this trap. They had seen God’s mighty acts of deliverance, they had heard his call to come out from Egypt and follow him but when hunger set in, they began to grumble and doubt God. Surely the food and drink was better in Egypt?
Jesus responds with Scripture, we don’t live by bread alone, we live on God’s word. There is more to life than our immediate physical needs. We depend upon God for everything. We can rely on his word, on his promises. Where Israel failed and lost trust, Christ continues to trust. Notice that Jesus responds by quoting Deuteronomy. He will do this with each of the three temptations. Deuteronomy was the book that gave God’s law, set in the context of that very Exodus when God’s people were tempted to doubt him/
Here we are in the middle of a pandemic and we may be worrying about how God can provide for us as we experience the economic consequences of lockdown. Well God’s promise remains true, not just to look after our practical needs but to look after us spiritually too. How has God been feeding you, teaching you, speaking to you at this time?
Rest in the Father’s care and protection (v5-7)
The Devil sees that Jesus is responding to Scripture, so he resorts to new tactics. He quotes Scripture too. In our 2 Peter series we saw the subtlety of false teachers who know, selectively quote and twist Scripture. The devil uses a Psalm to suggest that Jesus can throw himself from the Temple and the angels will catch him. Jesus responds with another Scripture, we are not to put God to the test.
In the Garden of Eden, Satan moves from doubting what God says to doubting his motives. He claims that God does not speak or act for Adam and Eve’s good but out of self-interest.
It is important to see at this stage that it is not a case of one verse being used to cancel out or contradict the other. Rather, we are meant to read Scripture in context. The Psalm reassures us about God’s protection and care but Jesus’s word remind us that we are not to try and force God’s hand to test him on this. Instead we are to show faith and trust him. Of course, Jesus could push God to see how far he would go -but he does not need to. He is secure in the Father’s love.
We may well be tested to push God to the limits. Perhaps at the same time we are pushing other believers to see how far they will let us go as well. We want to know if we are really loved and accepted and so the human temptation is to push the boundaries to see what will happen.
Have you been pushing things to see what you can get away with, to see if you are really loved and accepted? You don’t need to, God’s love in Christ is unconditional.
Have you been doubting God’s relationship to you and his motives. One of the biggest lies we can tell ourselves about God is that he does not love us. Yet our testimony, our experience constantly does prove that God is love and God is good.
Submit to the Father’s rule and reign (v8-11)
The third temptation is the most overt. The Devil doesn’t even both with Scripture. Instead he shows Jesus the world around him. Everything can be Christ’s so long as he submits to the devil. In Genesis 3, Satan promised Adam and Eve that they too could be like God but in fact, his desire was not to enthrone them as god but to draw them to worshipping him.
Idolatry is when we reject God and worship someone or something else. Jesus refuses and reminds Satan that we are to only worship God. Now, on one level, it may appear that the devil is trying to distract Jesus from the Cross with power now and to be sure this is one aspect of the temptation. However, it is also another attack on his relationship with the Father. He wants to take His pace in relationship to Jesus.
This is what the devil is always about. He wants worship for himself and wants to distract us from knowing, enjoying and glorifying God.
Well, if Jesus cannot be turned, then nor should we. Yet, we are constantly tempted aren’t we. We prioritise other things ahead of God because we believe that they can give us what we want and what we need. We prioritise popularity, material provisions, education, sex and relationships because we think that we are missing out without them.
The Bible tells us that all we need, all we can truly desire is found in Christ. We do not need to look away from him. We can cling to Christ. I believe that Coronavirus has been teaching us that as it has stripped away the idols we have learnt to rely on so that we are completely dependent on God.
So central to this Bible passage is the question of what it means to know God as Father. I want to highlight three things here as we close
First of all, if we want to know God as our Father, then central to that is knowing the Son. Jesus is the eternal, begotten son, we are only sons and daughters by adoption into God’s family through Christ.
Secondly, that this points us to the goodness of the Gospel. Some of us are settling for stones instead of bread, a false god instead of the true and living God and the belief that we cannot be sure of God’s love for us. The good news is that in Jesus, the one who is obedient, who knows what it is like to be tempted but does not sin, who died in our place, we can have a relationship with the God who adopts us and becomes our father.
Thirdly, that we are going to face temptation. It feels very much like we are in the wilderness and the biggest temptation will be to give up trusting, give up clinging on to God and to find other things to hope in. Yet for the people of Israel, the wilderness was temporary and led to the promised land. For Christ it was temporary too, the devil had to flea and angels came to minister to him. The people of Israel did not have to give in, they had God present with them. He constantly provided for them. Jesus goes into the wilderness led by the Spirit and with God’s word and promise. We are not alone. We have Scripture, we have the Holy Spirit and we have the hope of resurrection.