Christians want to walk with Jesus. We want to live with Him, live like Him, conquer with Him, and love like Him. Scripture is filled with the history of God interacting with His people, working, saving, keeping, delivering.
Jesus' experience is rich with insight. He is our Substitute but also our Example. His sinless life stands in place of our damaged lives. When we receive Jesus as our Savior, His life stands in place of ours. It is as if we had not sinned.
But everything works itself out in the end. What we are inside in fact will be seen outside in fact. Every claim will be validated, shown true or false.
At the beginning of Jesus' ministry, the Holy Spirit led Him into the desert. After 40 days of testing Jesus triumphed. How Jesus overcame is rich in instruction for us. Then let's look at three areas of temptation He faced for help in our own spiritual battles.
When we learn His method of overcoming, we will be overcomers with Jesus.
The First Temptation
Let's look more closely now at the first temptation. Follow along with me at Matthew 4:1-4 ESV:
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 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."'
Satan came to speak directly to Jesus not at the beginning or middle of his wilderness time but the end when Jesus was physically weakest. When did Jesus recognize He was in converse with Satan? At the very first word: "If." Jesus knew He was the Son of God. There was no "if" about it.
At His baptism the Father Himself had declared exactly who Jesus was. Satan sought to reframe God's word from a propositional statement ("This is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased" Matthew 3:17) to a question ("If you are the Son of God").
If you return to Genesis three you find the same. God had stated that death would result from disobedience, but Satan transformed the statement into a question about what God said.
God always communicates clearly. He is always clear about what is required in obedience, and in what is His promise. Always. Satan is just as consistent in his work to introduce doubt and confusion concerning God's terms of obedience and the promises given. Always.
Satan is very clear about what he wants to prevent; he is no postmodern thinker! He has very clear purposes. He laughs at us when we adopt his destabilizations of God's Word.
The Desire of Ages at page 115 tells us exactly what Satan saw he is so supremely urgent to intercept. After Adam and Eve fell, God opened the way for them to receive His help and be changed back. Then Ellen White says,
There was seen in men the working of a power that withstood his [Satan's] dominion (The Desire of Ages 115).
Satan wants to prevent the working of God's power in us. He wants to prevent us from voluntarily becoming overcomers with Jesus.
Jesus' Temptations and Ours
Our topic today is not in particular the nature of Christ. Still, in the very chapters which especially touch on these temptations of Jesus, Ellen White has important bits on this that we should at least mention. For example, from page 116:
The enticements which Christ resisted were those that we find it so difficult to withstand.
In our humanity, Christ was to redeem Adam's failure. . . . For four thousand years the race had been decreasing in physical strength, in mental power, and in moral worth; and Christ took upon Him the infirmities of degenerate humanity.
And down the page,
If we have in any sense a more trying conflict than had Christ, then He would not be able to succor us. But our Saviour took humanity, with all its liabilities. He took the nature of man, with the possibility of yielding to temptation. We have nothing to bear which He has not endured.
These statements make it very clear that Jesus took our damaged humanity "with all its liabilities." He had free choice; He could have yielded to temptation. There is no sense in which our conflict with evil is more trying than Christ's.
Let us keep in mind that Jesus was victorious and His victories are for us. In this message we will see exactly how He overcame. Again from The Desire of Ages:
Absorbed in communion with God, He [Jesus] was lifted above human weakness (ibid 118).
If He can do it we can do it. We can be more in communion with God. We can be lifted above human weakness. In that light consider this from page 120:
In every temptation the weapon of His warfare was the word of God. . . that which is greater than all miracles, a firm reliance upon a 'Thus saith the Lord' (ibid 120).
If we learn only one thing today, it should be this: there is something which is greater than all miracles. When you are tempted today, you can experience something which is greater than all miracles. What is that? "A firm reliance upon a 'Thus saith the Lord.'"
Would you like to have a miracle to help you overcome? There is something greater: to know what God requires, what step of obedience He is calling for, and, to know what promises He makes to you so that you can be an overcomer in His strength. In faith we are to trust both the clarity of what He has commanded, and the promise of help He is giving to power our overcoming with Christ.
How Christ Overcame
Return now to the incident. Satan has approached Jesus and tried to lead Him to doubt God's word. What happens next?
First, Jesus recognizes that reframing. He notices how God's will is being questioned. He recognizes immediately that the glorious angel is a deceiver. He doesn't Fall into the trap because He immediately recognizes that this is not the voice of God.
Jesus has accepted God's word. "This is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased." That's non-negotiable. Jesus knows His Father's voice well enough that He discerns its misuse. He knows His position too. And that is what enables Him to respond with "man shall not live by bread alone." But I wonder if we realize that this was not merely an off-the-cuff statement of principle. Actually, it is drawn from Deuteronomy chapter eight. Turn with me to that chapter. Follow along beginning at Deuteronomy 8:1:
The whole commandment that I command you today you shall be careful to do, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land that the LORD swore to give to your fathers. And you shall remember the whole way that the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that He might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. And He humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. Your clothing did not wear out on you and your foot did not swell these forty years. Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the LORD your God disciplines you. So you shall keep the commandments of the LORD your God by walking in His ways and by fearing Him. For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing out in the valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills you can dig copper. And you shall eat and be full, and you shall bless the LORD your God for the good land He has given you. Take care lest you forget the LORD your God by not keeping His commandments and His rules and His statutes, which I command you today, lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, who led you through the great and terrifying wilderness, with its fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty ground where there was no water, who brought you water out of the flinty rock, who fed you in the wilderness with manna that your fathers did not know, that he might humble you and test you, to do you good in the end. Beware lest you say in your heart, "My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth." You shall remember the LORD your God, for it is He who gives you power to get wealth, that He may confirm his covenant that He swore to your fathers, as it is this day. And if you forget the LORD your God and go after other gods and serve them and worship them, I solemnly warn you today that you shall surely perish. Like the nations that the LORD makes to perish before you, so shall you perish, because you would not obey the voice of the LORD your God.
Did you hear the obedience commanded? the promises given? Did you hear the warning about disobedience?
These were the things which came into Jesus' mind when He responded to Satan's temptation to make food for Himself. Jesus knew God's word well enough to know that the answer to controlling appetite and passions is found in something greater than any miracle, a firm reliance upon a plain thus saith the Lord.
Jesus overcame because He took God's word in Deuteronomy eight seriously, the commands and promises both.
But why do we even care? Jesus died for us, salvation is ours, end of story. All this overcoming stuff is just one big accessory. All our salvation is through Jesus.
Then how could this statement on page 122 of Desire of Ages be true?
[O]ur only hope of eternal life is through bringing the appetites and passions into subjection to the will of God.
But it is completely true. Recognize, it is not that gaining self-mastery earns us saving merit. But if we do not cooperate with Jesus so that in God's strength our appetites and passions are surrendered to God's will, whose control would they be under?
Not God's. Not ours. Whose control will they be under?
[Response:] Satan's will.
Yes. And how is that going to work out? How is it when Satan is in control of your appetites? When he is in control of your passions?
You will sin. And the wages of sin is death.
What then? Self-control does not earn us salvation. Self-control makes it possible for us to choose to be in God's will.
When we choose to be in God's will that won't save us either, not that in itself. There is no merit for us. We are only ever saved strictly through Jesus, through His merits, and changed through His power. It is a necessary condition that our appetites and passions be controlled but this in itself is not meritorious and does not save.
Mistakes which Rob us of Victory
We should consider some mistakes which rob us of victory. Commenting on those who failed at times, Ellen White writes this:
When strength failed, and the will power weakened, and faith ceased to repose in God, then those who had stood long and valiantly for the right were overcome (ibid. 120).
Satan came to Jesus when He was physically worn and weak. He came against Elijah and so many others the same way. When the circumstances of their lives overwhelmed them physically and emotionally, their willpower weakened and then they let their faith in God slip away.
Beware of letting yourself come into a situation where you are eating wrong, sleeping wrong, when you are not taking your emotional cares to God, when you are too busy to pray.
That is exactly the time when you are too busy not to pray. Food can seem comforting at such times. But notice Jesus' example. In His extremity in the wilderness He refused even to eat. Obedience to God, trust in His care, was enough. He had food to eat in doing God's will. Nothing can match that.
Here is one more tragic mistake all have made at times:
Often the tempter comes to us as he came to Christ, arraying before us our weakness and infirmities. He hopes to discourage the soul, and to break our hold on God. Then he is sure of his prey. If we would meet him as Jesus did, we should escape many a defeat. By parleying with the enemy, we give him an advantage (ibid. 121).
Satan will speak to us and endeavor to lead us to dwell upon our failures and focus on our own weak points of character. Understand me now. She calls this "parleying with the enemy."
So what is parleying? It is holding discussion with an enemy just before you surrender! It is negotiation. But we have no negotiating to do with the devil. God never calls us to dwell upon our weakness, but always urges us to dwell upon His strength!
It is one thing to make a realistic, God-guided appraisal of your weaknesses. It is another to dwell in that soup and drown in despair. Know your weakness but dwell on your Lord's power! don't give the devil any advantage.
When we Learn...
Jesus knew the power of God's word and employed that power. That is what you see when He quotes Deuteronomy eight back to Satan. There is no better example for why this is true:
When we learn the power of His word, we shall not follow the suggestions of Satan in order to obtain food or to save our lives. Our only questions will be, What is God's command? and what His promise? Knowing these, we shall obey the one and trust the other (ibid. 121).
It is hard to boil things down tighter than that. When we learn the power of His word, we will be ready to resist Satan's suggestions. We will trust God rather than our stomach. We will think of Jesus' death on the cross to save us and we will have only two questions:
- What is God's command?
- What is God's promise?
Then our response will be to obey the one and trust the other. No one needs a PhD to be a Christian or even to overcome. It is very simple.
The Test on Appetite
In our own strength it is impossible for us to deny the clamors of our fallen nature (ibid. 122).
You and I cannot overcome in our own strength. Without Jesus we are undercomers. We will, inevitably, and catastrophically, fail. But there is this advice:
Let him who is struggling against the power of appetite look to the Saviour in the wilderness of temptation. See Him in His agony upon the cross, as He exclaimed, 'I thirst.' He has endured all that it is possible for us to bear. His victory is ours (ibid. 123).
Jesus is our Example. Very specifically, Jesus is our Example. Very, very specifically, Jesus in the wilderness of temptation is our Example. When we struggle against the power of appetite, we are to look to Jesus both in the wilderness and on the cross. Many have been taught to look to Jesus on the cross as their legal Savior. But there is more. Jesus is a complete Savior. He is Substitute and He is Example. He overcomes for us and He overcomes with us and He longs to overcome in us. God wants to display His power in your life.
Jesus was victor in the first temptation. His words were not for Satan. He was under no obligation to say one word to Satan. When He repeated the promise of God's word to Satan was actually for us. It was for we who are told to look to Jesus in the wilderness of temptation.
Perfection of Character
Finally, one quotation remains we absolutely cannot ignore. Listen:
'The prince of this world cometh,' said Jesus, 'and hath nothing in Me.' John 14:30. There was in Him nothing that responded to Satan's sophistry. He did not consent to sin. Not even by a thought did He yield to temptation. So it may be with us. Christ's humanity was united with divinity; He was fitted for the conflict by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. and He came to make us partakers of the divine nature. So long as we are united to Him by faith, sin has no more dominion over us. God reaches for the hand of faith in us to direct it to lay fast hold upon the divinity of Christ, that we may attain to perfection of character (ibid. 123).
OK, so I did not write that; an inspired author wrote that. There was nothing in the mind, nothing in the heart of Jesus that responded to Satan's sophistry. And, mark it, it is sophistry to reframe the word of God so that God's propositional statements are made into questions and what-ifs.
Jesus did not consent to sin. Sin is a choice. To sin you must consent, you must choose rebellion. Jesus refused to choose that--ever. And (I didn't write this) "so it may be with us"!
Jesus was indwelt by the Holy Spirit. Can you and I make the same choice?
Jesus was united to His father by faith. Can you and I make the same choice? Then sin will have no dominion over us during that time.
"God reaches for the hand of faith in us to direct it to lay fast hold upon the divinity of Christ, that we may attain to perfection of character." Closely now, see that God reaches for the hand of faith in us. He finds your hand. He takes your hand if you are willing for Him to take it. He directs your hand if you are willing for Him to direct it.
How does He direct it? He directs it--that is, you, your hand under your own control--to lay hold of what? Of the fact of Jesus' divinity. Jesus is God. The fact that Jesus overcame in the wilderness and Jesus is God is indisputable evidence intended for us. It is evidence that humanity combined with divinity does not sin. Jesus took our humanity, our damaged, degenerated humanity, all confounded by inherited tendencies and disordered appetites. In that humanity He overcame.
Why? So that there would be seen in men the working of a power withstanding Satan's dominion. So that we may attain to perfection of character.
Jesus was tempted in the wilderness not for academic reasons, not to fill pages of Scripture, not because God wanted to introduce random drama or torture Himself. The Holy Spirit led Jesus into that situation to give you and me in 2019 an example of exactly how to overcome. Jesus overcame via "that which is greater than all miracles." He simply exercised firm reliance upon a 'Thus saith the Lord.'
You say, pastor, I can't do miracles. This one is not a miracle. This is greater than all miracles. This is a firm 'Thus saith the Lord.' Can God give you even you that gift? Then you can be an overcomer with Jesus.
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