8Again, the devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. 9And he said to Him, “All these I will give You, if You will fall down and worship me.” 10Then Jesus said to him, "Be gone, Satan! For it is written,
‘You shall worship the Lord your God
and Him only shall you serve.’"
11Then the devil left Him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to Him.
Remember that Jesus’ entire mission - His reason for being on earth at this point - is to redeem mankind, and restore them to Himself, so that He will one day rule over them in righteousness. The temptation here, then, is a huge short cut. Jesus knows what is to come; He knows how difficult it will be, and He knows the pain He will have to endure. Satan has been granted temporary power on the earth (called the “prince of the power of the air” by Paul in Ephesians 2:2), and is offering to transfer this control to Jesus.
Just reading this temptation, knowing what we know now, we might come away thinking “The temptation was to worship Satan? That one should be easy to resist!” As we think about it, though, this may be the most seductive of the three temptations. Turning stones into bread would have satisfied an acute physical need, and throwing Himself off the pinnacle of the temple would have been just another miracle story. But this - this is a way to take control of the world away from Satan without going through the pain and suffering. For Satan, there is the added benefit of distracting Jesus from His mission, which means an ultimate thwarting of God’s plan to redeem mankind. He’d gladly cede some earthly power now to win the long game in the future.
However, Satan miscalculated in this temptation; Jesus’ mission was not to come to earth to control it, but to redeem it. Power wasn’t the goal; salvation was. Once again, Jesus uses Scripture from Deuteronomy to rebuff this temptation:
13It is the Lord your God you shall fear. Him you shall serve and by His name you shall swear.
The translation here isn’t quite the same (Deuteronomy’s original language is Hebrew, Matthew’s original language is Greek), but the point is the same, particularly if you consider that this is the point immediately following the one in that famous speech from Moses that starts “Hear, O Israel; the Lord our God, the Lord is one.” (Deuteronomy 6:4). Interestingly, the point after this one is the one about not testing the Lord, that Jesus used to refute Satan during the second temptation. Within this point, though, it is part of a charge from Moses to the Hebrew people that, when they arrive in the land that God has promised them, they are to serve Him alone, and not turn aside to other gods they will find there.
At this point, Satan is 0-3; three temptations have been refuted with three passages of Scripture. Jesus passed this temptation, and angels came and ministered to Him (v. 11). Showing that He still had power over Satan, even on earth and in His weakened state, when Jesus said “Be gone, Satan!”, Satan had to scram.
John, in 1 John 2:15-17, puts everything wrong in the world into three categories: the “lust of the flesh,” the “lust of the eyes,” and the “pride of life.” It is not difficult to see that each of Jesus’ temptations addressed primarily one of these categories. As the author of Hebrews said, “[He] was tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15b) He withstood these temptations through the power of God’s Word. As we’ve seen with the previous two temptations, we must know Scripture if we are going to able to recall it during times of temptation. We must follow Jesus’ example if we are to find success resisting temptation.
This time, we’ll continue looking at how we can resist temptation, using Jesus as our example. (If you missed the last one, no worries - you can catch up here.) We’ll pick up where we left off, looking at Matthew 4:5-7.
5Then the devil took Him to the holy city and set Him on the pinnacle of the temple 6and 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.’"
7Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
For this temptation, Satan takes Jesus up to the top of the temple. At this point, it seems that he may have learned from the prior temptation, because he tries to use Scripture as part of this temptation. He uses two verses, Psalm 91:11-12, to support his claim that Jesus can do the spectacular trick he has just dared Him to do.
As with the first temptation, the request itself is not sinful, at least at first glance. At many points within Scripture, God asks people to do things that would normally lead to their deaths, yet He preserves them through the midst of that dangerous situation. This situation isn’t quite like those, though.
In each of those situations, the miraculous outcome brought glory to God among many people. Jesus performing this trick would bring glory to Him - not His Father - and likely would have only been visible to Satan.
God did not request this activity; Satan suggested it. This was not within the will of God; instead, it would have been a foolish misapplication of faith. God’s promises in one context cannot be presumed upon in completely different contexts.
Jesus is unimpressed with Satan’s knowledge of Scripture. Instead, He reaches back to Deuteronomy again to thwart this temptation.
16You shall not put the Lord your God to the test, as you tested Him at Massah.
Massah was the name given to the place described in Exodus 17:1-7, when the children of Israel were complaining that they had no water as they wandered. God miraculously provided water from a rock, but the place where this occurred was named to remind Israel of the sin that this represented. (“Massah” literally means “testing.”) Testing God indicates not only a lack of faith, but also a lack of belief in His goodness and sovereignty.
For the second time, we see Jesus using Scripture to withstand temptation. Here, the temptation was something He could easily handle; He literally could have thrown Himself down from the pinnacle of the temple, and had a cadre of angels catch Him at the bottom. It would not have even been a challenge.
This is the exact scenario where we are likely to fail. We have just accomplished something great, and our confidence is high; or, we encounter a situation that we are sure we could handle without having to think about it. In these times, we must continue to rely on God. If we run into situations without thinking, we will not have time to pray, or apply our knowledge of Scripture to the situation. That is a recipe for a fall. We must know Scripture to be able to apply it, and we must be consistent in actually applying it, if we are to successfully resist temptation.
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,
‘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)
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.
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.
Today’s focus verse is one that is an encouraging principle and promise from the Word about how we can live the Christian life. Let’s start with the verse itself, 1 Corinthians 10:13.
13No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation He will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.
The common twist on this is actually in the way it’s usually quoted; it becomes…
God won't give you more than you can handle.
- Misquotations 7:15
There are at least two problems with this twist. First, it simply isn’t true. I’m in my 40th year of knowing Jesus as my Savior, and I can assure you that God gives me more than I can handle all the time; just my past 7 days have had way more than I alone could handle. If we tell struggling people “Well, you know, the Bible says that God won’t give you more than you can handle!”, we are seriously damaging our credibility, which will, in turn, hamper our further ability to share the things of God. If God never gave us more than we could handle, why would we need Him once we have obtained salvation? The Bible is replete with examples of people who were getting more than they could handle; let’s look at one such instance in Psalm 40.
11As for you, O Lord, You will not restrain
Your mercy from me;
Your steadfast love and Your faithfulness will
ever preserve me! 12For evils have encompassed me
my iniquities have overtaken me,
and I cannot see;
they are more than the hairs of my head;
my heart fails me.
13Be pleased, O Lord, to deliver me!
O Lord, make haste to help me! 14Let those be put to shame and disappointed altogether
who seek to snatch away my life;
let those be turned back and brought to dishonor
who delight in my hurt!
The Psalms, being poetry, often speak to feelings common to mankind, and this is one of those places. The theme of the psalm is God’s deliverance, something David cannot manage to do himself - it’s literally “more than he can handle.” Yet, this bigger-than-him situation causes David to cry out to God for help, and to depend on Him for his deliverance. God brings us through situations that are more than we could handle ourselves, to demonstrate His love that is not just a saving love for our souls, but a living and active love for our lives as well. How could He do that if He never allowed “more than we could handle”?
The second problem with this twist is that it completely misses the actual promise of the text. 1 Corinthians 10:13 is talking about temptation, and comes immediately after a verse that is usually quoted correctly, even when snatched from its context.
12Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.
In the even larger context of this chapter, Paul has warned the Corinthian church about idolatry, sexual immorality, and testing God. He then writes vv. 12-13, telling them to be on guard, yet encouraging them that God will not allow a temptation so great that they, through Him, cannot resist. This is a very big deal! We all face temptation; if you have tried to resist it yourself, you’re likely thinking back to the time when you failed in those efforts, and gave in to the sin you had been resisting.
Why are we so bad at resisting temptation on our own? The main reason is that resisting temptation is spiritual warfare, but our fallen nature (what we use when we do it “on our own”) is ill equipped for that battle. Paul writes that we have a way of escape provided; let’s look at a few of different strategies given in the Bible. The first is from Jesus Himself, speaking to His disciples after He returned from praying in the garden of Gethsemane and found them asleep.
40And He came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And He said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with Me one hour? 41Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
Did you pick up on any common themes in those three passages? “Pray” (Matthew 26:41), “pursue righteousness” (2 Timothy 2:22), and “submit[ting]…to God” (James 4:7) are three different ways of saying the same thing - we must have God’s power if we are to be able to resist temptation. We must actively pray, pour His Word into our hearts, and be vigilant. This is the only way for us to be able to recognize the “way of escape” so we can take it.
There is one final caution, back in vv. 12-13, where Paul says that this temptation will not exceed our “ability.” Ability is developed through practice, and God, in the process of refining us to make us more like Him, will provide opportunities for us to increase our ability. Don’t lose heart if, after successfully resisting temptation, another stronger one appears. Conversely, you may reach a point where most temptation is pretty easy to resist; that’s where the warning in verse 12 becomes even more important. When we let our guard down, we become the most vulnerable to temptation.
As we have looked at what 1 Corinthians 10:13 says, and what it doesn’t say, I pray that you have been blessed. It truly is an encouraging promise for us who are trying to live our lives the way Christ would have us live them. I hope you also realize how much damage this common misquotation can do, both to the truth and to our witness. The Christian life is great, having Jesus to guide, warn, and protect us; I wouldn’t want to live any other way. That being said, though, we would be lying if we say that it is easy, and saying this to a hurting person will provide the opposite of comfort.
We know we should study the Bible. But why? When I was growing up, one of the questions they asked every Sunday, right at the start of Sunday School, was “who read their Bible every day last week?” We all wanted to be able to raise our hands; I remember, on the few occasions when I could not, I felt really bad. Back then, it wasn’t for the right reason (it was more that a lot of the other kids had their hands up), but it was the right feeling. Today’s Scripture gives us several great reasons why we should study the Bible.
First, we should study the Bible because It is Inspired by God. (“All Scripture is inspired by God…”) Inspiration literally means “God-breathed”, and is the basis of the Bible’s inerrancy (perfection). God moved through the authors to provide exactly what He wanted to. Revelation 22:18-19, while speaking directly about Revelations, speak a warning that applies to all Bible readers even today…
18I testify to everyone who hears the prophetic words of this book: If anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book. 19And if anyone takes away from the words of this prophetic book, God will take away his share of the tree of life and the holy city, written in this book.
Second, we should study the Bible because It teaches us. (“and profitable for teaching…”) Teaching is the act of imparting knowledge. Studying the Bible can increase our knowledge, and help us develop a proper Biblical world view. Being knowledgeable about Biblical principles can help us when we encounter new situations that may not be directly addressed in Scripture.
Third, we should study the Bible because It reproves us. ("…for reproof…") Reproof is “an act or expression of criticism and censure.” (WordNet) The Bible can call us out when we fail to live us to the standards within It.
Fourth, we should study the Bible because It corrects us. ("…for correction…") Correction is “the act of offering an improvement to replace a mistake; setting right.” (WordNet) This flows naturally after reproof, and is really one of the great things about the Bible that a lot of Christians miss. It not only tells us when we do wrong (and what we do wrong), It tells us how to make it right!
Fifth, we should study the Bible because It shows us God’s righteousness. ("…for training in righteousness;") Righteousness is not something we can do on our own; rather, it is given to us (imputed) based on Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. We are declared to have kept the law (something we cannot do on our own) because of Jesus’ ability to keep the law. Training in righteousness helps us live up to the gift we have been given.
Sixth, we should study the Bible because It equips us. (“so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.”) A soldier wouldn’t go to war without the proper equipment. The Bible is our main weapon in spiritual warfare. Ephesians 6:17 expresses it this way.
17Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is God’s Word.
The answer is diligence. Reading the Bible every day, as asked by my Sunday School teachers many years ago, is an important part of Bible study. It will also help us interpret It accurately - by acquainting ourselves with the Bible, we will have no reason to be ashamed. This is important, as certain verses can be taken out of context and twisted to support an argument that is not Biblical. For example, a church used Luke 4:7 as it’s theme verse…
7If thou therefore wilt worship me, all shall be thine.
This sounds like an excellent promise, doesn’t it? There’s only one teensy-weensy problem with this. Let’s read the verse in its context, Luke 4:5-7 (back to the HCSB, although the capitalization gives it away)…
5So he took Him up and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. 6The Devil said to Him, “I will give You their splendor and all this authority, because it has been given over to me, and I can give it to anyone I want. 7If You, then, will worship me, all will be Yours.”