Temptation can be difficult. Oscar Wilde wrote “I can resist anything except temptation.” Lane Olinghouse noted that “those who flee temptation usually leave a forwarding address.” Even when we do resist, we may not be pleased with the result; James Branch Cabell said “There is not any memory with less satisfaction than the memory of some temptation we resisted.”
Of course, these are all written from a human perspective; Christians are called to more than that, and to see how to do that, we can look back to one of the first events in Jesus’ earthly ministry. In this and the following two devotionals, we’ll look at three different times that Jesus resisted temptation, and see how we can follow His example.
1Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2And after fasting forty days and forty nights, He was hungry. 3And the tempter came and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4But He answered, "It is written,
— Matthew 4:1-4 (ESV)
‘Man shall not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’"
The first temptation shows us Jesus resisting when He was weak. He had been fasting in the wilderness for 40 days and nights, and was physically weak and drained from that experience. The timeframe of 40 days is significant; we see that in several other places in Scripture, and usually indicated something being done to completion:
Satan tempts Jesus to turn stones into bread. There certainly isn’t anything wrong with eating, and Jesus was physically famished. However, the temptation here was for Him to use His divine power to satisfy a physical urge. His mission was to come to earth, live as we live (sinlessly - Hebrews 4:15), then give His life as a ransom to pay for our sin. Making bread materialize out of thin air, or starting with some rocky raw materials, would not have been consistent with that mission. If other humans can’t do it, He shouldn’t do it.
There is a taunt in there with the temptation. Notice Satan’s first words to Jesus: “If You are the Son of God…” Jesus was (and is) the Son of God, but He had no need to prove Himself, or respond to that taunt. He knew His identity, and He saw through Satan’s attempt to get Him to do something to prove it. As with the stone-to-bread temptation itself, though He was the Son of God, He was living as a human; this was the time for humility and humanity, not miracles and majesty.
Jesus resists Satan by using Scripture (Old Testament, no less!); specifically, what He quotes to Satan comes from Deuteronomy 8:3.
3And 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.
— Deuteronomy 8:3 (ESV)
In this passage from Deuteronomy, Moses is encouraging Israel to remember what God has done for them, and how He has protected and provided for them as they have wandered in the wilderness for the past 40 years. It is part of the Torah, what we now call the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament), which was the “Bible” for the Jews of that day. Jesus did not call upon His divine nature to resist this temptation, nor did He miraculously remove Himself from the situation; He used God’s revealed Word to defend Himself against Satan and resist this temptation.
Like Jesus, we should resist temptation when we are weak. That seems to be Satan’s favorite time to come to us, when he can tempt us with something that we think will improve our lives. To be able to resist, however, we must rely on God’s power and His Word; and, to be able to rely on His Word, we must know what it is. Pouring ourselves into God’s Word (and it into us) is the best way to prepare for whatever temptation may come our way. We must make it so familiar to us that, even when we are weak, we can bring His words to our mind, and use them to resist temptation.
This week, we come to the most popular 3:16 of them all. It’s a verse so popular, people can write just the reference on a piece of poster board, and those seeing it know exactly what they’re trying to say. Yes, today’s 3:16 comes from the book of John.
16For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.
— John 3:16 (HCSB)
This verse is part of the larger context of Nicodemus’s visit to Jesus at night, described in John 3:1-21. While we won’t recount that story in detail, it is interesting to note that John 3:3 is the source of the term “born again,” and it came from Jesus. Also, we won’t rehash what we looked at two weeks ago, regarding man’s need for God; if you missed it or would like to re-read it, feel free. Rather, I’d like to focus on what the Old Testament says about the coming of Jesus. Notice that “gave” is past tense; at this chronological point in the Bible, most references to God’s Son were in the future tense.
The coming of Jesus is a recurring theme throughout the Old Testament, and it starts early in Genesis.
15I will put hostility between you and the woman,
— Genesis 3:15 (HCSB)
and between your seed and her seed.
He will strike your head,
and you will strike his heel.
This was God speaking to the serpent, after it had been used to deceive Adam and Eve. The “He” in this verse is pointing to Jesus. As we continue from there, Moses wrote in Leviticus 4 about the sin offering; while this description doesn’t mention Jesus by name, the picture of how the sacrifice was slain is a foreshadowing of the way Jesus would die, His blood spilled out all over the ground. However, His blood didn’t just cover sin - it completely washed it away! Further on, the Israelites began complaining about God leading them out of Egypt, and God sent poisonous snakes into their camp. Through their deliverance from the snakes, we have another picture of salvation, and the way Jesus would die.
8Then the Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake [image] and mount it on a pole. When anyone who is bitten looks at it, he will recover.” 9So Moses made a bronze snake and mounted it on a pole. Whenever someone was bitten, and he looked at the bronze snake, he recovered.
— Numbers 21:8-9 (HCSB)
Jesus even brings this up when He’s talking to Nicodemus! He really was trying to tell people what was coming.
14Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up…
— John 3:14 (HCSB)
Isaiah paints what is probably the most poignant picture of the suffering Savior. Before we talk a lot about it, I’ll let you read what Isaiah had to say.
2He grew up before Him like a young plant
and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no form or splendor that we should look at Him,
no appearance that we should desire Him.
3He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of suffering who knew what sickness was.
He was like one people turned away from;
He was despised, and we didn’t value Him.
4Yet He Himself bore our sicknesses,
and He carried our pains;
but we in turn regarded Him stricken,
struck down by God, and afflicted.
5But He was pierced because of our transgressions,
crushed because of our iniquities;
punishment for our peace was on Him,
and we are healed by His wounds.
6We all went astray like sheep;
we all have turned to our own way;
and the Lord has punished Him
for the iniquity of us all.
7He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet He did not open His mouth.
Like a lamb led to the slaughter
and like a sheep silent before her shearers,
He did not open His mouth.
8He was taken away because of oppression and judgment;
and who considered His fate?
For He was cut off from the land of the living;
He was struck because of My people’s rebellion.
9They made His grave with the wicked,
— Isaiah 53:2-9 (HCSB)
and with a rich man at His death,
although He had done no violence
and had not spoken deceitfully.
As a child growing up, this was a passage that I had to memorize. As I worked to commit the words to memory, I either did not ever take the time to view them all together as a whole, or maybe I just didn’t know enough to really, really get it. Verses 2 and 3 describe an image to which I can relate, and I suspect you can too; have you ever seen what a root looks like? This person blended in, or maybe even stuck out in an undesirable way. People took one look and despised Him, turning away from Him. I’ve had people literally turn their backs to me and walk away, and it’s no fun. How much more did this hurt the One who had given up everything He had in heaven to come here with the power to save us? I can also tell you that it wasn’t love I felt in my heart towards the people who walked away from me. Not only did Jesus take this abuse, this hate borne of misunderstanding, He continued His mission - His mission of even more suffering, untold torture, and eventual death - all not for what He had done, but for the sins that these very
same people who rejected Him had done! What an amazing, unimaginable love He must have for us!
Verse 6 is one of the more well-known verses in this passage. We have all done wrong, every single one of us - if you’re like me, several times daily. We have all “turned to our own way.” No matter what we’ve seen, no matter what blessings God has given us, we all keep veering off the path, seeking our own way. (Yes, even saved people still sin; Jesus’s sacrifice paid for that sin too.) The King James Version translates the word “punished” in that verse as “laid on” - the picture I get from that is of our sin being piled and piled and piled upon Jesus, until He broke from the heavy load.
Verse 7 presents a concept that is completely foreign to many people today - Jesus did not defend Himself against the false accusations that were made against Him. The Sanhedrin council levied all sorts of charges against Him, and He presented no defense for them. The Roman authorities could find no fault with Him, even taking the step as to publicly wash their hands of any evil that the people wanted to do against Jesus. As a child, this was one verse I didn’t understand. I understood it as prophecy that was fulfilled as recorded in the Gospels, but I didn’t have my head completely around it. Why didn’t He defend Himself? I believe there are two main reasons. First, verse 7 - this was prophecy concerning the Messiah, and had He defended Himself, this prophecy would be unfulfilled; this would have given His detractors a reason to speak against Him. Second, it would have done no good whatsoever; the people who were coming against Him were not going to stop until they had Him.
Finally, verse 9 is just neat. “They made His grave… with a rich man.” Joseph, from whom Jesus’s tomb was borrowed, was a wealthy man who was also a follower of Jesus. (I wonder if Joseph gave Him a special 3-day rate…) The detail in these prophecies that are fulfilled really increases my faith, and I hope it does the same for you. Confidence in the Scripture is important, because without the solid foundation of Scripture as inerrant, our knowledge of God could not be certain.
So, how do you live forever? Jesus told us, right up there in the second paragraph of this devotional. Did you miss it? :) All kidding aside, it really is as simple as Jesus explained to Nicodemus - “so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” Paul put it this way to the church in Rome…
9if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.
— Romans 10:9 (HCSB)
If you have never done this, I pray that today is the day that you trust your life to Jesus. Life is tough, and there’s no way I’d want to go through it without God on my side. If you’d like this broken down even further, check out God’s Simple Plan of Salvation. If you are a Christian, remember the sacrifice that Jesus had to make to be able to give you this free gift. Thank Him, and be sure to share His gift with others that you see.