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:
- During the Great Flood, rain fell for 40 days (Genesis 7:12)
- Egyptian embalming was a 40-day process (Genesis 50:3)
- Moses went up on the mountain to meet with God for 40 days (twice - Exodus 24:18 and Exodus 34:28)
- The spies searched out the Promised Land for 40 days (Numbers 13:25)
- The city of Ninevah was given 40 days to repent (Jonah 3:4)
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.