Society of Fellows
Several years ago a character on Saturday Night Live became quite famous. She was known as "Church Lady." This blasphemous woman would sit in a sanctimonious pose, hands folded, and a pious expression on her face, wearing a Sunday dress. The setting was a room with a stained glass window and an ornate desk. In her holier-than-thou voice "Church Lady" would lecture the audience. On one particular occasion she was reflecting on the demise of our nation; the breakdown of the family, the immorality of youth, the ruin of sin. And then with a wry smile she asked, "And do you know who is behind all this?" Pausing she exclaimed, "SSSSSatan." The audience howled with laughter.
Are Satan and his work something to laugh about? Only if you think Osama bin Laden and the Twin Towers were hysterical. Satan will do all he can to bring ruin into a person’s life and that even includes our Lord Jesus.
Let’s look at Matthew 4:1-11 to see how Satan's tempting work can be blocked and how every Christian can be victorious.
I. Christ was sent. (v. 1)
The first step in overcoming temptation is to realize that there will be times when you will be sent into the wilderness. Jesus was totally in the will of God because verse 1 says it was the Holy Spirit who did the sending. In fact, the word 'sent' may be a mild translation; ‘thrust’ may be a more accurate rendition. Have you ever felt like you were going in the direction the Lord directed and yet when you got there it was wilderness? Sometimes a pastor will feel confident he is being sent by the Holy Spirit to a new church field. Upon arrival he makes the sad discovery that the deacon chairman has turned on him and this once charming deacon makes the anti‑Christ look like Billy Graham! The pastor cries out, "Lord this can't be your will!" Maybe it is.
What is the Lord doing when he sends us into the wilderness? He is determining if we live out in the Monday evening deacons meeting what we preach from the Sunday morning pulpit. He is also demonstrating the truth of 1 John 4:4…….”Greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world.”
One hundred fifty years ago a railroad company built a bridge across a Western canyon. Before the bridge was completed a rumor began stirring on both sides of the canyon. It was said, "When the first train goes across, the bridge will collapse.” To counteract that rumor the president of the railroad and his top executives came to the bridge to be the first to ride across. After successfully crossing, the president ordered the train back across. And so it went for the rest of the day. The train filled with the president and his executives rode back and forth across the bridge. What were they doing? They were demonstrating the strength and stability of their work.
What is the Holy Spirit doing when he sends us into the wilderness? He is demonstrating the strength and stability of the work He is doing in our lives.
II. Christ was tempted. (v. 3‑10)
The three areas of temptation Christ faced are similar to what we all encounter.
1. He was tempted through his senses.
In essence Satan was saying to Jesus, "Here are some fresh bagels, Jesus. You are so hungry; go ahead and eat. You are starving. Do this for yourself.”
Satan's temptations are never "Do this drug for me or listen to this pagan music so that my kingdom will grow." He never says, "Become bitter so that evil can rest in your heart." Rather, he comes with a sympathetic voice as he did with Jesus and says, "Do this for yourself, you are needy."
Satan appeals to three emotional areas of the senses. a.) Pride: "I don't deserve this. If I'm hungry, someone ought to feed me." b.) Pity: “No one cares that I'm hungry, not even God. Therefore, I will have a pity party.” c.) Passion: "I'm so hungry, I will die without food. Therefore, I've got to get bread anyway I can."
I see so many Christians and, yes, even pastors who give in to one of these areas. A minister of a Southern Baptist Church had seen his ministry grow in phenomenal ways. Yet he had to resign in disgrace because passion took lodging in his heart. A family, a church, even a community has been devastated because of one man’s yielding to temptation of his 'senses'.
Do you think as the world thinks, go where the world goes, act as the world acts? Does your life give evidence of having your affections set on things above, not on things on earth? [i]
The next few verses show us how to overcome temptation through the senses.
Jesus replied, "Man shall not live by bread alone." At pastors’ conferences, ministers are often exhorted to preach the Word. If more ministers would feed on the Word, the preaching would take care of itself.
2. He was tempted to test the supernatural. vv. 5‑7
Josephus writes that the pinnacle of the temple was 450 to 500 feet high. Satan uses this to tempt Jesus to rely strictly on the supernatural. Satan does the same today. A wonderful Christian girl begins dating an unbelieving young man. A proposal is made and the devil whispers, "Go ahead, jump into a relationship with him. God will perform a miracle and save him." She listens and tempts the Lord God. A minister will move to another church field knowing it is moving him up the denominational ladder, but also knowing it is not God's will. Satan has whispered, "Go ahead and jump. The Lord will bless your ministry anyway." Charismatic Christians will jump into the faith arena by eschewing medical treatment believing God has to heal them. Satan has whispered, "God is bound to your faith, therefore you will be healed." These examples show the reason why there are lives which lie in ruins.1 Corinthians 2:13 teaches us to…”compare spiritual things with spiritual." Do not jump while trying to push the Lord God to catch you. A big greasy spot on the road of life may be the result.
3. He was tempted to take shortcuts. v. 8‑10
Part of Satan's temptation was to sidetrack Christ from the cross. Why? The cross represents suffering. Instead, Satan's whispers were, "Jesus, there is an easier way to save the world. This crucifixion is messy stuff."
Many shortcuts are taken today by Christians, especially those in America. The goal seems to be to make Christianity as comfortable, convenient, and careful as possible. Many ministers are listening to this enticing siren call to a comfortable church. The result is watered down preaching to 'felt needs' and a convenience store approach. Twinkie theology is now the order of the day, which is sweet on the outside and no lasting value on the inside. Some mega‑churches have taken this shortcut and have seen astounding numerical results. How much of it will receive the same rebuke as Peter when he tried to dissuade Christ from going to the cross? (Matthew 16:23)
"Miss Joan Miller, a dancer in Greenwich Village Café, who for a year danced in the nude nightly as a human firefly, her body illuminated with weird glowing designs of phosphorus, is near death." Thus read a line in a newspaper. Phosphorus paint did it. It was Miss Miller's practice to paint her body three times nightly with phosphorus and sulfur, practically the same composition as match heads, for her act. For this she received $125 a week. There are many who for no compensation at all, are daily dallying with devices of the devil more deadly than the poison of phosphorus paint. [ii]
There is no shortcut to heaven's beauty and away from hell's fire. There is no shortcut to eternal life. There is no shortcut to holiness and intercessory prayer. There is no shortcut to taking up one’s cross and daily following Christ. Anything less is giving in to Satan's whisper, "Take the shortcut to easy Christianity."
III. Christ was victorious. v. 11
Verse 11 begins, “Then the devil left him…” Luke 4:13 says he departed from him for a season. Victories over temptation are sweet, but the rest is only temporary. Satan is relentless in his attacks, choosing carefully the next moment. We must be vigilant at all times.
Verse 11 concludes…. “angels came and ministered unto him.” Temptation and overcoming it is an other-world experience. As much as we must stand against Satan, we must also receive the ministry of angels. Without this and the Holy Spirit's comfort we will grow weary in well doing.
Keep the fire burning in the wilderness, stay away from shortcuts, stop testing the supernatural, avoid pampering your senses, feed on the Word, win souls, and stand firm in the Lord. Satan's temptations are inevitable, but victory is sure for those who stand.
Rev. Chuck Williams, Pastor
Rev. Chuck Williams has been the pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Jackson, Tennessee since 2000. Prior to coming to Calvary, he was pastor at First Baptist Church in Washington, Missouri for almost 10 years. Rev. Williams received the bachelor of arts degree from Union University and the master of divinity degree from Mid-America Baptist Seminary. He and his wife Sara have five children and two grandchildren.