Growing through Temptation
Matthew 4:1–11

The Purpose Driven Life #3


Thursday was our wedding anniversary. I imagine you will long remember what you were doing on the 7th July when you heard about the awful bomb attacks in London. If you receive the weekly e-news you will remember the memory verse for the week was John 10:10. Jesus said, “The thief only comes to steal and kill and destroy. I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.” 

This week most people do not need to be convinced of the reality of evil and its awful dehumanizing effects that would lead people to contemplate and commit such evil and destructive acts. Only the Christian explanation of ‘demonic possession’ can explain such perverted evil perpetrated by human beings.

One of Satan's most common scriptural names is the devil, from diabolos, which means accuser or slanderer and we meet him face to face in our gospel reading. Among the many other names given him are: the ruler of this world (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11), the god of this world (2 Corinthians 4:4), the ancient serpent, called the devil, Satan who leads the whole world astray (Revelation 12:9), Abaddon in Hebrew and Apollyon in Greek, both of which mean “destroyer” (Revelation 9:11), and in our reading today - the tempter (Matthew 4:3;  1 Thess. 3:5).  He is all of these, all the time, slandering, accusing, tempting, destroying, just as much today here as on Thursday in London.  

I wonder if you felt his tempting power on Thursday - the temptation to accuse God for allowing such a crime, the temptation to accuse religious minorities of being responsible, the temptation to want to retaliate. In the passage before us today, Matthew has two primary purposes in presenting Jesus’ temptations in the wilderness. First, to demonstrate, at the beginning of his mission, Jesus’ victory over Satan, the only other great ruler and dominion in the universe.  Second, to demonstrate how we too can overcome temptation and Satan’s attempts to destroy us. As we shall see Jesus relied on one thing and one thing only to defeat Satan, His absolute submission to the Will of God revealed in the Word of God. This momentous encounter, may be divided into three parts: We see here the purpose of temptation, the nature of temptation and the means of victory over temptation.

1. The Purpose of Temptation (Matthew 4:1-2)

“Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.” (Matthew 4:1–2)


1.1 Temptation came directly after blessing

Jesus has just been baptized. God the Father had declared, “This is my son in whom I am well pleased!” What a spiritual high. You will discover that testing will often come on the heels of a spiritual high point in your life.

1.2 Temptation came with physical weakness

Jesus had not eaten in 40 days. Temptations often come when we are a weakened state physically or emotionally, when we are exhausted and emotionally spent. In a survey on temptation among readers of the Discipleship Journal, the respondents noted temptations were most potent when they had neglected their time with God (81%) and when they were physically tired (57%).[1]

1.3 Temptation came when Jesus was alone

We are most susceptible to temptation when we are alone. That is why friends are so important - why fellowship on a weekly basis whether here in Community on a Wednesday or in a small group is so essential. The same Discipleship Journal survey found that 84% of respondents said they overcame temptation by prayer, 76% said by avoiding compromising situations, 66% said Bible study helped them and 52% said being accountable to someone helped them. That’s quite an advert for small groups bible study, prayer and fellowship.  What Satan intended to lead the Son into sin and disobedience, the Father used to demonstrate the Son’s holiness and worthiness.  That is God’s plan for all of His children. Christians cannot be tempted in a way that God cannot use for their good and His glory.

James even tells us to, “consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, when you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:2–4).


That is God’s plan and purpose—to use Satan's temptations as a means of testing and strengthening our faith in Him and of our growing stronger in righteousness. God allows testings in our lives in order that our spiritual “muscles” get exercise and grow stronger. Whether the testing is by God’s initiative or is sent by Satan, God will always use it to produce good in us when we meet the test in His power. 

It is God’s great desire to turn into victory what Satan intends for failure, to strengthen us at the very point where the adversary wants to find us weak. The Purpose of Temptation - testing.


2. The Nature of Temptation (Matthew 4:3-10)
In each of these temptations we hear the devil speak and Jesus answer. Lets view them one at a time.

2.1 The temptation to do it yourself  (Matthew 4:3-4)

The Devil Speaks: “If You are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.” (4:3). Satan is not casting doubt on whether Jesus is the Son of God.  He literally says “since you are the Son of God.”  The first temptation would be no temptation at all if Jesus were not the Son of God. His basic strategy is to make us believe that God can’t be trusted. You could almost sense the innocence in the devil’s suggestion – “just turn these stones into bread” – what’s the big deal? You the Son of God – just do it!  Jesus had been without food for nearly six weeks. This temptation was therefore very real. John Piper says that sin …"gets its power by persuading me to believe that I will be more happy if I follow it. The power of all temptation is the prospect that it will make me happier."[2] The Devil speaks. Jesus Answers: “It is written, ‘People do not live on bread alone.’” (Matthew 4:4). Notice Jesus uses the same phrase in each of his answers, “it is written.” He did not allow the situation or the circumstances or even the enemy to dictate the truth.

The answers to all three temptations comes right out of Deuteronomy, the story of God’s pilgrim people delivered from slavery. Jesus was saying, “I will not take matters into my own hands. I will trust my Father and his word.” We will never be tempted to turn stones into bread because the impossible does not tempt us. Instead, the Devil’s ploy is to make us believe that if we want something done we need to do it ourselves – not trust in God. His way, his purposes, his timing. I am regularly tempted to go outside the confines of God’s will to satisfy my personal needs or desires - and all it takes is a credit card. The temptation to do it yourself answered by a reliance on God’s Word.

2.2 The temptation that seeing is believing (Matthew 4:5-7)
Next Satan leads Jesus to the highest point of the Temple and quotes from Psalm 91: “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here. For it is written: “’He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’” (Matthew 4:5-7)


For Jesus to have followed Satan's suggestion would have been, in the eyes of many Jews, sure proof he was the Messiah. Sensationalism is always appealing, and many are willing to believe almost anyone or anything as long as the claims are accompanied by the supernatural.  As is so often the case, the divine promise Satan quotes is preceded by a divine command which he conveniently leaves out.

If you make the Most High your dwelling—even the Lord, who is my refuge— then no harm will befall you, no disaster will come near your tent.  For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways;  they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.” (Psalm 91:1-2, 9-12)


Notice the conditional clause? "If... then..."  To ignore the divine command in order to appropriate the divine promise is presumption not faith, it is rebellion not obedience. We cannot separate the means from the motive. Dramatic signs, even when they are from God, do not produce faith; they only strengthen the faith of those who already believe. Jesus’ miracles merely hardened the opposition of His enemies to the point where He declared that “an evil and adulterous generation craves for a sign” (Matt. 12:39).  Jesus Himself was the greatest sign ever given by, yet, as Isaiah had predicted hundreds of years before, He “was despised and forsaken” (Isaiah 53:3; Luke 18:31–33). Demanding sensational proof is not evidence of faith but of doubt. To long for the visible sign, the big miracle, the dramatic proof is nothing but unbelief. Jesus would have no part in Satan’s stunt. “It is also written” he replied, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” (Matthew 4:7)

Jesus refused for at least two reasons. First, any miracle is inevitably frustrated by the law of diminishing returns. People are never satisfied. They always want one more sign, one more miracle, one more show. To have maintained His influence over the people by the use of miracles, Jesus would have had to produce greater and greater sensations. His followers would only have been lovers of sensation, not lovers of God. Second, and more significant, no matter how noble and important we may think our reasons are, to test God is to doubt God. And to doubt God is not to trust Him, and not to trust Him is sin. That, of course, is what Satan wanted Jesus to do.  Had Jesus put His Father to such a test, He would have perverted the divine plan of redemption—the very purpose for which He had come. Jesus refused this shortcut.

There are many subtle ways that we can put God to the test. We may not jump from the top of the church – but we may be tempted to think that God is only present when we see certain spiritual gifts used, or particular musical instruments are played, or a particular person is involved. When we expect a word of knowledge rather than study God’s word we test God. When we would rather read a newspaper or novel than memorise the Scriptures, we test God. When we think that occasional attendance and not dedicated service will keep us on the right path - we test God. When we take risks with clear moral absolutes like truth telling and honesty, we test God.  Why then are we so surprised when we fall.  The temptation to do it yourself . The temptation that seeing is believing. 

2.3 The temptation to take the easy way (Matthew 4:8-10)
The Devil Speaks.   “The devil led him up to a very high mountain and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour. “All this I will give you” he said, “if you bow down and worship me.” (Matthew 4:8-10)


The devil was not lying when he promises Jesus, “this has been given to me, and I give it to anyone I want to.” (Luke 4:6).
The devil was offering Jesus a kingdom but without the cross. Why go to all the trouble and pain to win the world when it can be yours for free. No suffering, No struggle, No pain. Just switch allegiance and join my team. But a crown without the cross would mean no forgiveness for our sins. So Jesus Answers: “”Away from me Satan, for it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’” (Matthew 4:10). We do not have to look for to see the application. We are taught to avoid pain, to take the easy way, the path of least resistance. Avoid sacrifice. Charity begins at home. Why put up with the same partner? The only absolute is my right to personal freedom and affluence.

Jesus contradicts this when he answers Satan: “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only…’ - period, unconditionally, unreservedly, irrespective of the consequences, without any incentive other than that we are obedient to his perfect will. In one sense these temptations Jesus faced were unique and personal to Jesus. As we shall see, Satan knows our weaknesses and where we too are vulnerable.

The temptation to do it yourself. The temptation that seeing is believing. The temptation to take the easy way. Each defeated by the Word of God. The purpose of temptation - testing; The nature of temptation - personal.

3. The Victory over Temptation (4:11)

“Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him” (Matthew 4:11).


In Luke’s account he adds, Satan, “…left him until an opportune time.” (Luke 4:13) When it says that the Devil “left him” the Greek is much more emphatic. It means he “stood off.” This battle was over but Satan had not given up. Margaret Thatcher once said, “You may have to fight a battle more than once to win it.”  You may withstand Satan today but remember the battle is not over - he lies in wait for another opportune moment. When you are weak – expect a major assault. When you resist – be ready for a different approach. When he leaves – count on another attack.

Rick Warren suggests three simple steps to overcome temptation.

1. Refuse to be intimidated

The Lord gives all of His children the power to resist Satan. “Resist the devil,” James assures us, “and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). As he did with Jesus, Satan will not stay away very long, but with every temptation God promises on his word, he “will provide a way of escape” (1 Corinthians 10:13).

For every temptation Satan leads us into, a way out is provided by the Father. Satan's temptations can become God’s testing.

Warren says “In one sense you can consider temptation a compliment. Satan does not have to tempt those who are already doing his will; they are already his. Temptation is a sign that Satan hates you, not a sign of weakness… Its not a sin to be tempted… Temptation only becomes a sin when you give in to it.” Refuse to be intimidated.

2. Recognise your vulnerability

We are all wired differently. There are certain situations that will make you more vulnerable than other people. These situations are unique to your weakness, and you need to identify them because if you don’t, Satan surely will. He knows exactly what trips you up.

1 Peter 5:8 in the Message says “Stay alert. The Devil is poised to pounce, and would like nothing better than to catch you napping.” (1 Peter 5:8). Ask yourself “When am I most tempted?” “What time of day?” In the morning? In the evening? Ask yourself “Where am I most tempted?” At work? At home? At a neighbours house? At a sports centre? In an airport? In a hotel? Ask “who is with me when I am most tempted?” Friends, co-workers? Strangers? When I am alone? Also ask “How do I usually feel when I am most tempted?”

It is probably when you are tired or lonely or bored. When you are depressed or under stress. When you have been hurt, or angry or worried. Perhaps after a big success or a spiritual high.

For me its usually Mondays - When I am most tired, when I am alone. When I am out of my routine.  Identify your typical pattern of temptation and then avoid those situations as much as possible. When you are tempted, turn it into an opportunity for growth.

Ask yourself - “What Christ-like character quality can I develop by defeating this temptation?” Proverbs says,

Plan carefully what you do… Avoid evil and walk straight ahead. Don’t go one step off the right way… God’s people avoid evil ways, and they protect themselves by watching where they go.” (Proverbs 4:26-27, 16:17). Refuse to be intimidated. Recognise your vulnerability.

3. Request God’s help

“Heaven has a 24 hour emergency hot line. God wants you to ask him for assistance in overcoming temptation.”  God says, “Call on me in times of trouble. I will rescue you, and you will honour me.” (Psalm 50:15). Rick Warren calls this a “microwave prayer”

When temptation strikes, you don’t have time for a long conversational prayer. You simply need to cry out for help.

“The Bible guarantees that our cry for help will be heard because Jesus is sympathetic to our struggle. As we have seen, He faced the same temptations we do. That is why Hebrew 4:15 is such a comfort “understands our weaknesses, for he faced all the same temptations we do, yet he did not sin.” (Hebrews 4:15)

If God is waiting to help us defeat temptation, why don’t we turn to him more often? If we are honest we would admit that sometimes we don’t want to be helped! We want to give in to temptation even though we know it is wrong. At that moment we think we know what’s best for us more than God does.

At other times we are embarrassed to ask God for help because we keep giving in to the same temptation over and over. Warren reminds us that God never gets irritated, bored, or impatient when we keep coming back to him for help. The Bible says, “Let us have confidence, then, and approach God’s throne, where there is grace. There we will receive mercy and find grace to help us just when we need it.” (Hebrews 4:16). “God’s love is everlasting, and his patience endures for ever. If you have to cry out for God’s help two hundred times a day to defeat a particular temptation, he will still be eager to give mercy and grace, so come boldly. Ask him for the power to do the right thing and then expect him to provide it.”

Think about it. Jesus is the perfect sinless eternal Son of God, yet he chose to rely solely on the Scriptures to defeat Satan. What makes us think we can do it any other way? In your news sheet this morning is a Bible Reading Plan. I cannot think of anything more important to give you to help overcome temptation. Keep it carefully in your bible. It will help you to become diligent in reading God’s word. It will help strengthen you to withstand temptation as you learn to rely on God’s word to defeat the evil one.

The purpose of temptation - testing, the nature of temptation - personal, and the victory over temptation - certain.

“Temptations keep us dependent upon God. Just as the roots grow stronger when wind blows against a tree, so every time you stand up to a temptation you become more like Jesus. When you stumble - which you will - it is not fatal. If we were to summarise Jesus’ responses to the tempter, they were, in essence this: “I will trust my Father; I will not presume on His Word; I will rely on it. I will take my Father’s good gifts from His own hand, in His own way, and in His own time.” When you are tempted, like Jesus, instead of giving in or giving up, look to your Heavenly Father, expect him to help you, and remember the reward that is waiting for you.

“God blesses the people who patiently endure testing. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.” (James 1:12). Lets pray.


With grateful thanks to Rick Warren and his book, “The Purpose Driven Life” (Zondervan 2002);  John Hamby, pastor of the First Baptist Church, Vilonia, Arkansas, to Benjamin Sharpe of Cornerstone United Methodist Church, Fayetteville, North Carolina, Charles Swindoll and to John MacArthur’s commentary on Matthew (Moody Press) for content and ideas.


[1] Discipleship Journal, November / December, 1992

[2] E. Lutzer, Putting Your Past Behind You, (Here’s Life, 1990), p.54