Overcoming Temptation by Thinking Like Jesus

Jesus Being Tempted by the Devil Artwork

A sermon idea based on Matthew 4:1-11.

Matthew 4:1-11 NRSV

[1] Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. [2] He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished.

[3] The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” [4] But he answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

[5] Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, [6] saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” [7] Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

[8] Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; [9] and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” [10] Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’”

[11] Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.

Angle

The relevant topic I would be addressing, based on this text…

The tactics the enemy uses to tempt us away from God’s purposes aren’t new. They’re actually very old. And so are tools God provides us to overcome temptation.

Anchor

The heart of the message, a potential outline, key truths to share, special notes for interpreting the text, etc.

There are several possible directions to go with a message from this passage. For example:

  • We could take a Christocentric approach and focus on the purpose of God in Christ which could have been thwarted had Jesus given into these temptations.
  • We could also talk about the trustworthiness of God’s self-revelation to us in comparison with the counterfeit messages the enemy sends us.
  • We could also see what a spiritual pilgrimage could look like – an extended season of prayer and fasting – and the kinds of temptations that would follow.

The approach I’m taking with this idea is a more practical one. In addition to seeing Christ’s role in history being guarded through this experience, we can also learn some incredibly valuable lessons from Jesus about overcoming temptation.

This story comes early in the earthly ministry of Jesus. He has just called his initial disciples and they have a lot to learn over the next few years. Jesus heads out into the wilderness for a time of spiritual preparation for all that is coming. When he does, the temptation he faces to take a shortcut to success becomes strong and heavy.

The passage gives us some things to think about when it comes to what temptation looks like in our lives.

  • Temptation doesn’t always lure us toward dark, scary, obvious vice and sin. Sometimes the hardest temptation to resist is that which calls us to something that seems like a good, viable substitute for God’s best plan for our lives.
  • Temptation hits us hardest on the heels of spiritual breakthroughs. Right after the peaks and highlights come the moments that are most likely to trip us up.
  • The enemy seizes on our weaknesses and exploits our hunger and our weariness. It’s hard to resist temptation when we are unrested and battling natural cravings.

The way in which Jesus responds to each wave of temptation provides us with some powerful tools with which to prepare for the spiritual warfare that so often takes place in our minds when the enemy shows up.

There are three lessons that stand out, one from each of the temptations recorded in this passage.

1. Think beyond the natural.

I like that the NRSV uses the word “famished” to describe Jesus’ state after forty days of fasting. I use that word when it’s time for dinner and I had an early lunch, but I digress.

I love that there is an acknowledgment that Jesus was human. He was hungry. He felt what we feel, in every respect. But he didn’t let the natural, physical reality of his hunger distract him from the bigger picture of what was happening at that moment.

Jesus, the co-creator of the cosmos according to Colossians 1:18, thought cosmically and spiritually about the moment.

We should train ourselves to think, Yes, I’m hungry, and yes, I can bake bread, but what else is going on? What is happening on a cosmic and spiritual level that I need to be tuned into?

2. Think bigger than mere novelty.

I’m a sucker for a good magician. Or an illusionist. Or, my favorite, a mentalist like Lior Suchard. I like novelties.

But novelties, while remarkable, are novel. They aren’t important. Novelties aren’t bad, in and of themselves, but they can become a cheap substitute for the real and serious things we need to be dealing with in life.

Sometimes, we treat God like a novelty. We ask him for favors and hope he’ll fix all the little things like a master magician. But when it comes to the deep issues of our souls, we fail to properly understand his power and majesty.

Jesus refused to treat the Father as a novelty or a mere game.

3. Think about your real purpose in life.

I worship Jesus as the resurrected and enthroned King, but Jesus’ purpose on earth wasn’t to draw attention to himself or to have people bow before him as the dictator of a new earthly empire.

Instead, his purpose was to show the God of truth and love to all of us. So he skipped the shortcut to stardom and stayed on track for all of humanity and its generations to come.

Remember the story of the tribes of Israel going into the Promised Land? Two of the tribes fell in love with the land east of the Jordan and decided to settle there. They were then instructed to cross the river and help their fellow Israelites take the land before returning to the place they’d chosen so that they would know what they’d missed out on.

I fear that sometimes we settle for good – or what seems good to us at the moment – instead of pressing forward for “the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus,” as Paul called it in Philippians 3:14 (NRSV).

Anything that lures us away from God’s ultimate purpose for our lives – becoming part of his forever family, being shaped into the image and character of Christ, etc. – is a temptation. And the best way to deal with temptation is to think like Jesus.

Application

The big call-to-action in the message…

Are there areas of your life where you’re giving into the temptation to settle rather than pressing forward to achieve God’s greater purposes for you? Decide now that you want all that God has given and promised in Christ!

 

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About the Cover Art: JESUS MAFA. Jesus is tempted – Matthew 4:1-11, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.

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