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In this series we have talked about the fact that sometimes our obedience takes us straight into situations that are painful, that require waiting, and that not only grow us on the inside but further God’s plans on the outside. Last week we ended with the idea that the training is in the waiting, and that’s where we’re going to pick up this week.
Last week we briefly mentioned Jesus’ season of waiting in the wilderness. Jesus’ wilderness season is unique in that the Bible gives us details of the spiritual battle which took place there. This is where we’re going to focus our attention today - the spiritual battles in the wilderness!
We can’t accurately discuss Jesus’ time in the wilderness without understanding what happened before it. Let's look at all three accounts in the Gospels to see why:
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.
The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.
And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness
We see the words “then,” “immediately,” and “returned from the Jordan” to describe the timeline in which the Holy Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness. So what happened before? What happened at the Jordan?
Just before Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness, He experienced what some call his inauguration into public ministry. He went public! Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan River, and the Bible says the heavens opened, the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus like a dove, and God spoke from Heaven confirming the identity of His Son saying, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:11)
This was not only a spiritually high moment, it was a spiritually paramount moment. All three persons of the Godhead showed up in some form at the same time together on earth! After such an experience, we might imagine the Holy Spirit would lead Jesus immediately to start His ministry. But that’s not what happened. Instead, the Holy Spirit led Jesus immediately into the wilderness. So the path of Jesus’ obedience led Him into the wilderness!
We glanced at Matthew 4:1 and Luke 4:1 above. Now let’s pull in verse 2 of both of these passages because there’s something important we find out in verse 2:
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.
And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing during those days.
These verses tell us one more important detail of the story - Jesus fasted. Even though Jesus went into this wilderness season being full of the Holy Spirit, He was determined to use the time to His advantage by growing spiritually stronger through fasting. Oh how we should take note of that!
When we are led into seasons of wilderness, we must be determined to use them to our advantage spiritually!
I’ve always looked at this story as if Jesus was on the defense during His time in the wilderness. I’ve thought He was detoured, isolated, hungry, and Satan was out to get Him. But when I was preparing for this lesson, God showed me something that blew me away. Jesus was purposely led into this wilderness, commended by God, full of the Holy Spirit, and determined to use it to grow even stronger through fasting - Jesus was on the offense, and the devil was on the defense! That’s why the devil was out to get Him - he was trying to defend his territory from the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords Who was preparing for war! When we determine to live our lives purposely drawing near to God and being obedient to His plan for our lives, then we simultaneously are are taking up the offensive in the spiritual war against darkness to advance the Kingdom of God!
So many times in life we see things backwards to the way God sees things, just like we discussed in our lesson “Contradiction or Conduit.” In this story alone, let’s look at the obvious human viewpoint, versus the-not so-obvious Heavenly viewpoint:
Human Perception: Jesus was detoured / Heavenly Reality: Jesus was led to a destination of preparation
Human Perception: Jesus was isolated / Heavenly Reality: Jesus was blessed with a season of solitude with God
Human Perception: Jesus was hungry / Heavenly Reality: Jesus was denying the flesh to strengthen the spirit, becoming an example to us that we do not live dependent upon “bread alone” (human desires)
As humans, we naturally see the negative side of our situations when we are walking through a wilderness. But what if we asked God to reveal to us the good, positive, God-ordained reality of our situations?!
There’s one last thing we have to see before we get into the temptations themselves. The entire account of Jesus’ wilderness season in Mark is found in a single sentence, but it includes something the other two accounts don’t include:
And he [Jesus] was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him.
We’ll get to the part about the angels in a bit, but this verse tells us Jesus was with the wild animals. Mark wanted his readers to understand there were physical dangers in the place in which God led Jesus.
Sometimes God leads us into seasons where we’re at His mercy in every way so we can learn how to trust Him in every way.
If there was purpose for this wilderness in the life of the Son of God, then we better believe there is purpose for the wilderness in our lives!
Okay, before we study the actual temptations of Jesus, let’s first define what this word “tempt” means. The word “tempt” used in the passages we’re studying today means “to try, to test, to tempt.” Here are two explanations of this word:
to try whether a thing can be done; to attempt, endeavor
to make trial of, test: for the purpose of ascertaining [a person’s] quality (Strong’s)
This is a single word with so much meaning. We’re going to take a quick look at a few other places this word (or a form of this word) is used in the New Testament:
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, a whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.
1 Corinthians 10:13
No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.
For we do not have a high priest [Jesus] who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are--yet he did not sin.
We have to go through the trial and testing to gain perseverance so that we are ready to do what God has for us to do! We know God will always provide a way out, and we know the testing, trials, and temptations we endure will prove our quality, prove (to ourselves) that God is our Protector and that we can do this God thing! Furthermore, we have not only the example of Jesus to give us hope, we have the empathy of Jesus to give us comfort!
Now let’s look at the temptations described in this story. If you look closely at the Scriptures we’ve read so far, you’ll see it’s likely the devil was tempting Jesus throughout the entire 40 days. Matthew and Luke describe three of these temptations, and we’re going to look at the account in Matthew:
And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written,
“‘Man shall not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written,
“‘He will command his angels concerning you,’
“‘On their hands they will bear you up,
lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”
Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written,
“‘You shall worship the Lord your God
and him only shall you serve.’”
Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him.
Let’s start by taking note of the obvious: Jesus’ weapon against every temptation was Scripture.
Scripture is our greatest weapon against the enemy.
Take the...sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword
Scripture is powerful! Scripture is a weapon forged by the mouth of God. Find verses that speak truth to your situation. Print them, write them, or type them into your phone, and read them OUT LOUD every day. I’m telling you, it works!
In the first temptation Satan appealed to Jesus’ physical desire - food. This temptation is representative of any carnal desire, or lusts of the flesh. Satan knew Jesus had been fasting, so he viewed Jesus’ hunger as a weakness. The irony of the situation was that even though Jesus’ fasting had weakened Him physically, it was that very thing which was strengthening Him spiritually! The enemy will prey upon what he perceives to be our physical weakness, when it is that very thing God is in the process of using to become our spiritual strength.
Okay, let’s move on. Remember that Jesus’ ammunition was Scripture every time, so Satan decided to try the same thing. In the second temptation, Satan used Scripture, by distorting its meaning, to try and test the One Who wrote it. If the devil was arrogant enough to attempt to distort the Word of God to its Author, imagine what truths he’ll try to distort to us!
We have to stay in the Word in order to know truth:
So He [Jesus] said to the Jews who had believed Him, “If you continue in My word, you are truly My disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
In the second temptation, when Satan quoted Scripture to Jesus, he was basically saying to Jesus, “If you are the Son of God, then prove it.” But notice this: Satan started both temptations with the same words, “If you are the Son of God...”
Oh my goodness, get ready because I got so excited about this part of the lesson!
Satan KNEW Jesus was the Son of God! Jesus knew He was the Son of God. Furthermore, God had just testified to this truth FROM HEAVEN at Jesus’ baptism only weeks before. In our wilderness seasons Satan tries to get us to doubt who God says we are because he KNOWS who God says we are (remember, Satan knows Scripture)!
We have to KNOW who God says we are!
In both temptations, Satan tried to get Jesus to prove His identity. He was just more subtle about it the first time. In the first temptation Satan tried to subtly question Jesus’ identity by throwing it in there while appealing to His carnal desires (the bread). He does the same thing to us! Satan says “give in to the desires of your flesh, and by the way...are you really who God said you are?”
The second time around, however, Satan went in full force by pretty much daring Jesus to prove His identity. Jesus responded full force by quoting Deuteronomy 6:16, which says, “You shall not put the LORD your God to the test.” With this response, Jesus is saying, “You and I both know Who I am. I am the LORD [Yahweh, Jehovah] your God!”
Powerful. Satan didn't try that one again after that.
Satan’s final temptation was trying get Jesus to take the easy way out - a shortcut which would require sin (bowing down and worshipping the devil) and would thwart God’s ultimate purpose. God’s purpose was not just to have Jesus be glorified over earthly kingdoms, but to be glorified over spiritual kingdoms as Defeater of death, sin, and darkness! The one who was asking Jesus to worship him was the one who knew he was going down!
Don’t let the enemy deceive you into taking the easy way out - it’s only a facade God’s perfect plan! The easy way out will require disobedience, and it will steal the ultimate purpose God has for your life. The enemy is a liar and a thief with an agenda to steal, kill, and destroy what God has for your life.
Matthew and Mark tell us that after Satan left Him, Jesus was ministered to by angels. If God sent angels to minister to Jesus after this season, how much more should we need ministering to in our wilderness seasons?! We’ve talked about this already in this series, but we have a loving God Who is not only understanding of our humanity, but compassionate to our pain. He wants us to rest in the truth that He’s there for us.
We’re going to close with a verse in Luke 4 which comes right after Jesus’ wilderness season ends. It’s in a portion of Scripture titled, “Jesus Begins His Ministry.”
And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee
Just as we saw last week in the lives of Joseph, David, and Moses, Jesus’ season of waiting and wilderness preceded His season of action and influence.
Seasons of waiting and wilderness precede seasons of action and influence.
So if the Holy Spirit has led you into a wilderness, get ready. Use it to your advantage.
The wilderness precedes the purpose!