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  • Writer's pictureRobert Phillips

The Temptation of Jesus: A Template For Our Own Struggles

This year as a church, we are going to be studying Jesus' "Sermon on the Mount", a sermon many Bible teachers consider to be the greatest sermon ever preached. Every great sermon bursts forth out of work God is doing, not out of what a preacher is conjuring. This is why it is important that we look at the context and timeline of what was happening in Jesus’ life before he preached the great sermon!




Understanding Our Brokenness


We begin by reading Matthew 4:1-11, which records Jesus' temptation after forty days of fasting in the wilderness. Satan used several tactics to try and tempt Jesus during this moment of hunger for Jesus. Have you ever stopped and thought about when you struggle with temptation and sin the most? The reality is, not only do we often not think about our sin struggles until we are already failing and struggling, we rarely have entire sermons on sin in church. And yet, Gospel theology and sanctification theology are built on the teaching that sin is real and must be dealt with. In fact, you can’t truly embrace Biblical Theology unless you are willing to admit you are a broken sinner in need of help.


You can't truly embrace Biblical Theology unless you are willing to admit you are a broken sinner in need of help.

In a book by Mark McMinn titled Psychology, Theology and Spirituality in Christian Counseling, the author speaks about the fundamental bedrock of brokenness in all three of those disciplines. MacMinn, M. R. (2014). He points out that until someone understands their brokenness, they cannot pursue health. In psychology, this means understanding what is broken and why.

In Theology, this means understanding that our brokenness is part of the fall of Adam and Eve in Genesis 3. In spirituality, this means we must be broken so that we can be remade and formed in the image of the unbroken one, Jesus Christ. Part of the breaking process is God’s allowance for struggle, that we might truly understand our own spiritual frailty, and God’s sufficiency.


So, why did Jesus face temptations to begin his whole ministry? Because to fully understand the Gospel, we need to see that Jesus was righteously un-broken. He was strong enough to heal our brokenness because He himself was un-broken. There is imagery to show this truth: Jesus was tempted in the wilderness for forty days and nights to show that He was in His perfection what Israel could never be, even with God’s presence in their midst. We see from verses 1 and 2 that sometimes the ministry of the Spirit will lead us into times of the wilderness. Wilderness times are times we must remember that what we feel does not excuse what we know to be righteous. What did Jesus feel? Simply: hungry!As someone whose life is run on sugar and caffeine, I can tell you that this is a very real feeling that can cause us to be weak. However, hunger isn’t always about food. We can hunger for things such as recognition, success, peace, prosperity, rest, health, closeness with family or friends--the list goes on and on.


Temptations in Our Feelings


The first step in falling to sinful temptations is over-validating what we feel, regardless of how valid that feeling feels. Feelings tend to become permission slips to dwell on dissatisfaction, and dissatisfaction was the first deceit of Satan in the Garden of Eden for Eve.

In Matthew 4, Satan knew what Jesus was feeling, and so he hit Jesus with the same temptations as he had hit Eve with thousands of years before.The three temptations of Satan to Eve were the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, and the pride of life. (Gen. 3:6; 1 John 2:15-17).


Satan began with the most prevalent feeling Jesus was feeling: hunger. This temptation was for the Desire of the Flesh, even though the need for sustenance is not inherently evil. In verse 3, Satan tempts Jesus with bread. Why was bread a temptation to Jesus? Two reasons:

  • #1 Jesus had committed to fasting in an effort to focus solely on His Heavenly Father, and Satan wanted Jesus to turn his attention to self. Selfishness is always at the center of sinful decisions. Selfishness believes oneself to be the center of God’s plan.

  • #2 Satan was appealing to Jesus’ rightful place as God on a throne, instead of Jesus’ current place of subservience to God’s current will and plan. Pride is always the instigator of sinful decisions. A king could summon food to arrive at will. They could snap their fingers and food would arrive. Jesus had set aside the throne and all of His royal rights. Pride believes oneself to deserve more than God has given to oneself.

How did Jesus respond to the temptation of the desire of the flesh? He quoted Scripture that reminded Satan of the Gospel narrative. Jesus reminded Satan that everything God does and allows is for us to see his pre-eminence and sufficiency. God doesn’t do good things for us, but in spite of us. Every single feeling we feel should be aligned with God’s pre-eminence and sufficiency because it was given to lead us into a deeper desire for God’s presence.

  • When we hunger for recognition - we must remember God deserves all the recognition for anything good.

  • When we hunger for prosperity or success - we must remember we could not accomplish any success apart from His blessing.

  • When we huger for peace - we must remember that Jesus is the Prince of Peace.

  • When we hunger for rest or health - we must remember that rest is the reality of heaven for all eternity because of the presence of Jesus, but now is for burning the midnight oil to see the world won for Jesus.

  • When we hunger for closeness with family or friends - the true ache of our heart is the eternal presence of Jesus and the family of God in the perfection of heaven.

When we face these and other earthly hungers, we must feast on the Word of God for true satisfaction.


Temptations in Our Pride


Satan’s second temptation of Jesus didn’t follow the Biblical order of flesh, eyes and pride. Satan was already striking at Jesus’ potential pride, so he pushed on the feeling of pride a little more, and flipped the script by quoting Scripture himself. In verses 5-6, Satan quoted Psalm 91 to Jesus, which ironically is about the protection God offers when we seek refuge in Him. Satan is daring Jesus to function outside the will and refuge of God by taking matters into His own hands and forcing God to action! We have to remember that Jesus had all the armies of heaven under His command, yet He walked the path of sacrifice because God had asked Him to do so. The recurring theme of response from Jesus' disciples was to take up arms and overthrow Rome to free Israel. Jesus’ disciples wanted the very thing Satan tempted Jesus with: victory in war that established a kingdom. Remember the definition of pride when it comes to temptation: pride believes oneself to deserve more than God has given you. The real root of this second temptation had to do with Jesus proving he had the power of God, which is why Satan took Jesus to the temple.


Jesus’ sincere prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane shows that Jesus had to work hard to trust God’s purpose, and that should give us encouragement that the struggle to follow God down a difficult path is not the sin itself. Sin begins when pride whispers discontent with God’s plan and we take matters into our own hands. Anger, rage, slander, gossip, deceit, violence and many more sins flow from this moment of decision. What was Jesus’ response to the temptation of the pride of life? He quoted Scripture once again, as verse 7 records.


How often do we test God’s sovereignty in our responses to what he allows?

  • “God, this is a bad idea!”

  • “God, this is not fair!”

  • “God, You are not helping yourself here!”

  • “God, this is too far and I don’t respect your right to be God in this!”

When we trust God, we don’t test God. When we test God, we don’t trust God. This is not a "Gideon's fleece" type of testing. I’m not talking about looking for clarity; this is a marked questioning of God’s freedom and authority to be God.


When we trust God, we don't test God. When we test God, we don't trust God.

Temptations in Our Fulfillment


Satan pushed in on the temptation of pride by bringing the third temptation in his arsenal: the desire of the eyes in verses 8-9. In this temptation, Satan brought both pride and selfishness together in showing Jesus what life could look like if He would just abandon the sovereign plan. Satan tried the temptation of immediate satisfaction on Jesus, a temptation that is very common in most of our earthly temptations.The temptation of immediate satisfaction is built on both pride and selfishness together. Satan was also once again whispering some truth to strengthen the temptation. The Old Testament prophets had prophesied that the Messiah would gather all the nations of the world to God, and Revelation reveals that is exactly what Jesus is accomplishing. Satan offered to bypass the Genesis 3 plan and accomplish the winning of the loyalty of the nations to Jesus in a much easier way. We see this very idea today in the temptation to compromise and soften the Gospel message in order to have a more palatable message to win the world. However, when we cheapen or change the Gospel, we simply make it easier for Satan to rule the world.


Jesus’ response was to quote scripture that speaks of worship! In verse 10, Jesus quoted from the Shema (Deut. 6), the focal point of all the Law. This particular verse was set in a series of verses on idolatry (13-15). Jesus was not willing to make a good thing a “god-thing”. He knew that the nations of the world would be won, but only through God’s plan of sacrifice and bloodshed. Jesus would take the hard road in humble reverence to God the Father.


We tend to struggle with the desire of the flesh when we esteem fulfillment itself as of more importance than God’s path to fulfillment. Pre-marital sex, theft, dishonesty, indebtedness, speeding, manipulation of relationships and controlling tendencies are just some examples of the result of elevating fleshly desires and searching for more immediate satisfaction. The result of Jesus’ response to temptation was the very promise of Psalm 91 that Satan had tried to twist contextually. Jesus sought refuge in God alone for satisfaction, and God ministered to Jesus with His angels.


Winning The Battle of Temptation


Winning all the battles of temptation in our life comes down to one truth applied in our hearts and minds: do we trust God enough to seek refuge in Him for our daily needs and desires? Trust your feelings and you will test God.Test your feelings and you will trust God (Heb. 4:15; 1 Cor. 10:13).


Allow me to end with Paul’s description of Jesus as the great example we are to follow in this difficult life of temptation:

"So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (ESV)

Philippians 2:1-11


1 MacMinn, M. R. (2014). Psychology, theology, and spirituality in Christian counseling. Tyndale House Publishers.

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