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Dealing with Temptation

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Some Thoughts for Further Meditation on Matthew 4:4

Introduction

Few things in the Christian life are as exciting as memorizing Scripture. It has provided me with hours of meditation and fuel for meaningful prayer; it has shaped my relationship and walk with God. I'm excited that you have started to memorize Scripture with a view to meditating on its truth so that you too can experience the power of a life transformed by the Lord.

If you have started the BSF Memory Program you have probably already memorized Matthew 4:4 (the first verse in the Program) and have given it lots of careful and creative thinking. If you have done this, then I hope the following brief comments will stimulate you even more. If, on the other hand you have not yet committed Matthew 4:4 to memory and meditated on it, I encourage you to go ahead and do it now. You'll love it!!! Spend some time thinking about it and then come and read the following comments on the verse. Remember, ABSOLUTELY NOTHING can substitute for your own memory and meditation. I am in no way discouraging the reading of other people (otherwise I would not have taken the time to write this), but only suggesting that your reading of the Bible come first.

A Note On Meditation

Meditation is the process of mulling around in your mind a passage of Scripture until its meaning becomes clear and one can see how it applies to him or her. One helpful tip I received a long time ago involves the practice of reading the verse(s) through several times, each time emphasizing a different word. This will help you see things you’ve never seen before and put the passage together better than you had previous. And what’s equally important, is that it is during this time of meditation that the Holy Spirit often leads us in the particular application of Scripture He desires.

Matthew 4:4
and the Example of Jesus

Let's turn our attention now to Matthew 4:4 where we can learn literally a ton about our Savior and how he handled temptation with the Word of God. We will begin, as we always should, attempting to place the passage under study in its context. Once we can see how it relates to what has come before as well as what comes after, we will focus on the passage itself.

The Context of the Passage

Matthew has already told us by virtue of Jesus’ genealogy (1:1-17) that he is the Messiah who will bring to realization all that was promised in the OT. Matthew connects Jesus to two prominent OT figures who represent two important covenants and the future hope of the nation of Israel and indeed the entire world. First, Jesus is related to Abraham and the Abrahamic covenant (Matt 1:1) with the inference that he is the one who will fulfill the promises made to the patriarch (see Genesis 12:1-3; 15:1-21). The Abrahamic covenant was further expanded many years later in the covenant given to David (see 2 Samuel 7:12-16). Thus Matthew’s connecting Jesus with David in 1:1 is to indicate that Jesus as Messiah will fulfill the promises made to David. Jesus is to be a king! This Matthew makes clear through the in 2:2: “Where is he who is to be born king of the Jews?”

Finally Jesus was born during difficult circumstances. King Herod was quite agitated by the news of another king. So feeling extremely threatened (by a child!!) he reacted in an attempt to have Jesus killed. Instead, he murdered some male children under two years old (probably around 10-15 boys). After Mary and Joseph escaped to Egypt they returned and ultimately ended up in Nazareth. Now, the important thing to realize about these events (i.e., his genealogy, birth, escape, return and settling down) is that they happened in accordance with what the OT had anticipated would happen. Thus the Word of God is playing a central role right from the beginning of Matthew’s story and as we shall see it plays a central role in the temptations as well. To review: First, Jesus’ genealogy is connected to significant OT Scriptures. Second, his birth is said to be the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy (Matt 1:23 and Isaiah 7:14). Third, the place of his birth was foretold in the OT (Matt 2:5, 6 and Micah 5:2). Jesus’ coming out of Egypt was the fulfillment of OT Scripture (Matt 1:15 and Hosea 11:1). Fourth, even Herod’s slaughter of the children is according to the OT (Matt 1:18 and Jeremiah 31:15). Fifth, Jesus settling down in Nazareth after his return from Egypt is also said to fulfill the OT prophets.

Following Jesus’ return to Nazareth, Matthew records for us the ministry of John the Baptist which is, of course, according to Scripture—Isaiah 40:3. While there are differences of opinion among scholars as to why Jesus felt the need to be baptized—and the precise meaning of to fulfill all righteousness in 3:15—it is perhaps best to see the passage as communicating the idea that Jesus thoroughly identified himself with the nation of Israel and the godly remnant who had obediently received John’s baptism. The reference in 3:17 is key to the meaning of the temptations in 4:1-11. In this text Matthew brings together two passages of Scripture, namely, Psalm 2:7 and Isaiah 42:1. Brought together in this way they may be said to refer to Jesus as the Suffering Servant who accomplishes God’s will and ultimately reigns but does so only after suffering first. The temptation account, then, in the following verses comes right on the heals of God declaring to Jesus that he was his Son whom He loved. It is after the temptation account that Jesus, having just defeated the Devil, goes into Galilee to begin his ministry of healing people and preaching the gospel—a ministry that ultimately leads to suffering and death on a cross before resurrection and glory. Now that we have some understanding of the context, let’s look at the temptation account now and in particular the first temptation and Jesus’ use of Deuteronomy 8:3 in Matthew 4:4.

The Passage Itself

We must first notice that it was the Spirit who led Jesus into a place where he could be tempted, though God himself was using it only as a test (4:1). If Jesus were to be able to stand in the place of the nation of Israel and indeed the human race as a whole, he had to be victorious where we have failed; he must withstand the temptations of the Devil and never succumb, otherwise he would be disqualified as Messiah and Savior.

Notice that Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to fast for forty days and forty nights (probably recalling by way of parallelism Israel’s 40 years in the wilderness, where she grumbled at God because of the lack of food; see Deut 8:2) and that it was when Jesus was at his weakest that the Devil came to him to tempt him. It is a safe thing to assume that the Devil will attack us when we’re at our weakest and in the area that we’re most vulnerable. In this case, it was a temptation regarding hunger and food.

Now, some commentators think that since the Devil said to Jesus, “If you are the Son of God” he was trying to get Jesus to doubt what God had just told him at his baptism, namely, “This is my Son, whom I love.” But the first two temptations themselves (vv. 3 and 6) seem to argue against this interpretation. It seems that the Devil, the Tempter as Matthew calls him in 4:3, assumes that Jesus believes He is the Son of God so he tries another trick. He tempts Jesus to use his Sonship in an ungodly, sinful way. Now there is nothing intrinsically wrong with turning stones into bread unless it is not God’s will. And this is the case here. The Devil is trying to get Jesus to exercise his powers of Messianic Sonship (cf. 3:17) apart from the will of the Father. This would be sin. We must also recognize that underlying this temptation, and in fact fueling it, is a view of God similar to the one the Devil sold Adam and Eve. The Devil is, in effect, trying to teach Christ that God cannot be trusted to meet his needs, that he doesn’t care and that if He wants to save His life he had better act now (In the Devil’s definition, life is basically physical [cf. “bread alone” in Jesus’ response], not spiritual communion with and obedience to God.). In essence God is not good and cannot be trusted. This is one of the litany of lies that Eve bought into when the Devil had convinced her that God was withholding from her by not allowing her to eat from the tree (see Genesis 3:4-5).

Well, we know that Jesus responded to the Devil with Scripture which was properly interpreted. His use of “it is written” (4:4) indicates a firm commitment to the written word of God and its finality as the authority for a life lived in obedience to God. He believed Deuteronomy 8:3 (as he did the rest of Scripture)! Jesus does not deny that man has physical needs, but only that therein does not lay the totality of one’s life. Thus, Jesus teaches us that when God takes us through times of testing it is better to trust him and hold up under it (1 Cor 10:13) than it is to devise a sinful strategy to get out from under God’s appointed trials (see James 1:2-8). We can only do this if we believe that God is good and has our best interests at heart. If we deny this, we will not be able to have any kind of relationship with him in the midst of difficult times. Now that is not to say that we won’t struggle with these issues, but we must draw near to God and ask for grace to help us in our time of need (see Hebrews 4:14-16). So Jesus is a great model for us when we face temptations. If we have a willing and obedient heart (as He did) and have committed the Word of God to memory (as He did), God can show us the path to follow. This is why Scripture memory is so important. Scripture stored up in our heart helps us to see particular temptations for what they really are and gives us the strength to overcome them as the Spirit marries the memorized Word to our consciences and delivers us from evil (cf. Galatians 1:4).

Related Topics: Temptation