Temptations in the Wilderness
by Elizabeth Paige Chavoustie
When Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan River, the Spirit of the Lord led Him into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil (Matthew 4:1), because He needed to be “tempted in the same ways we are tempted”, but without sin (Hebrews 4:15, ESV), to defeat the devil and become our Redemption. “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the Kingdom of His beloved Son.” (Colossians 1:13, ESV)
It seems odd that the Spirit of the Lord would lead Him into the wilderness, but it was necessary. Strong’s Concordance describes the wilderness as “a desolate area, isolated (left alone), laid waste, destroyed, left abandoned, deserted”. “He was despised and rejected by men; a Man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces He was despised, and we esteemed Him not.” (Isaiah 53:3, ESV)
That means that there is no suffering or sorrow that you could go through that He hasn’t gone through first. He knows what it is like to be rejected. To be an outcast. To be the subject of slanderous accusations and contempt. You are never alone, even if you are going through the “valley of the shadow of death” (Psalm 23:4, excerpt). He is Emmanuel—God with us—and “He will never leave you nor forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6, excerpt).
After forty days of fasting in the desert, He was hot, tired, and weak. This is when the enemy came to Him. Not in His strength and power and glory, because the enemy is a coward and trembles at the mention of His name. The devil is conniving and cunning, going about “like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8, excerpt). The only strength he has is in his deception. If the enemy came to the Son of God when He was weak, know that it is in that desperate season of frailty that he will also try to make you question God, and ultimately His love for you and His goodness.
We all go through wilderness experiences in our journey in this fallen world, in which times are difficult, fruitless, and we feel all alone. Sometimes it seems that God is silent, or has abandoned us, though we know that “He never leaves us nor forsakes us”, but often our feelings try to rule over the Truth of His Word, especially when we are weak and desperate---in the wilderness.
During these times of great trial and the suffering of our souls, the enemy comes to us, just as he did to Jesus, with three main temptations.
First, “the tempter came and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” (Matthew 4:3, ESV)
There are several issues here. The enemy tried to make Jesus question who He was. “If…Did God really say?” Oh, how the enemy loves to attack us with doubt. Doubt about who we are in Christ. Doubt about whether He loves us or not. Whether we are worthy or not. Whether we deserve Him or not. Doubt about the validity of Scripture. Doubt about our ability to hear Him. Doubt that we are even His children at all.
Then the enemy began to question His authority. How humiliating this must have been for the God of the Universe “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.” (Philippians 2:6-8, ESV), to have his archenemy in His holy face, scoffing Him, berating Him, trying to make Him feel so small and weak and helpless, yet He created everything that is created with just a word—sending planets into orbit and sending darkness into hiding. How the angels must have gasped to see the very Bread of Life--who had never had need of anything in all eternity---hungry.
You live by God’s teachings, and yet they mock you for your faith, call you a prude, make fun of your virginity and purity, call you a baby for not drinking and carousing with them, and call you a coward for not fighting them when they push you and taunt you. “They are surprised that you do not join them in their reckless, wild living, and they heap abuse on you.” (1 Peter 4:4, NIV)) Oh, it would be so much easier to give them what’s coming to them. But even when faced with such humiliation by his archenemy, Jesus did not retaliate, because “He can do only what He sees His Father doing” (John 5:19, excerpt). To stray to this would have been to commit the same crime that Adam did, to bow His knee to Satan, because your master is the one you obey. “Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?” (Romans 6:16, ESV)
To try to get Jesus to stray from God’s plan, the devil tempted him with the underlying ideas: “Be self-sufficient. Don’t wait on God. Do it in Your Own strength. Prove Yourself.” And the worst one of all, “Don’t have God’s Word as Your everything.” He tempts us in the same ways.
And we must answer in the same ways as Jesus, our Prince of Peace, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” (Matthew 4:4, ESV)
Jesus knew Who He was, He didn’t doubt His authority, or God’s love for Him. He didn’t stoop to the enemy’s level and He didn’t obey him. He fought him with the Word of God, knowing that His Word is life.
“Then the devil took Him to the holy city and set Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple. ‘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, lest You strike Your foot against a stone.’” (Matthew 4:5-6, ESV)
Again with the “ifs” and doubts. Recognize that faith comes from God and seeds of doubt and unbelief are from the enemy. “For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” (Romans 14:23b, ESV)
But this time, the devil sees a way in which he might make Jesus stumble—and this is a way that works against many Christians—he uses (gasp) the Word of God. Yes, really! He tries to get Jesus to obey him, which would make him His master, by quoting Scripture. And here we have to be very careful. The enemy probably knows Scripture better than you or me, and he knows how to take it out of context, change it’s original intent, twist it just enough to make it no longer Truth, then wrap it up in a beautiful package so we grab a hold of it and internalize the lie.
Jesus knew to follow the voice of Father God and His leading only, not a Scripture that contradicted what His Father had in His heart for that moment in time.
The devil was trying to trick Jesus into committing suicide. To tempt Him to harm Himself, saying that God would send angels to stop Him from any real damage. If that didn’t work, his underlying plan was this, “Exalt yourself. Perform miracles. Make Your name known. People will follow You and believe in You if they see a miracle in this very public place, in this very extraordinary display of power and angelic triumph.” And then, the underlying lie—the worst of all, “Despise humility and sacrifice and the way that God wants to do things in Your life.”
And Jesus, knowing the Word far better than the devil, because He is the Word made flesh (John 1:1), answered him, “Again it is written: “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” (Matthew 4:7, ESV)
Not only do we need to know the Word of God, but we need to be led by the Spirit of God, “for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” (2 Corinthians 3:6b, ESV). “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” (Romans 8:14, ESV)
“Again, the devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. ‘All this I will give you,’ he said, ‘if you will bow down and worship me.” (Matthew 4:8-9, ESV)
This seems absurd for him to try this one on Jesus, but this is what he is trying to get all of us to do—bow down and worship him. Remember, we become slaves to whomever we obey. He wants us to turn from God’s ways to those that make sense, suit our logic, are in-step with the world’s ways, and promise us great gain.
Oh, the Bible says so much on this subject. It must be because we are often like Esau, with sin crouching at the door, trying to get us to sell our birthright for a pleasure of the flesh. (Genesis 25) “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.” (1 Timothy 6:10, ESV) “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” (Matthew 6:24, ESV)
Yes, it is true that “the blessing of the Lord makes rich, and He adds no sorrow with it” (Proverbs 10:22, ESV), but apparently, the “god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4, excerpt) has the ability to bestow the wealth and splendor of the kingdoms of the earth on whom he desires, or it would not have been a temptation.
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21, NIV)) “Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.” (Proverbs 4:23, NLT)
Again, when the enemy tries to tempt us and turn our hearts away from the Living God, we must answer him as Jesus did, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written: ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve.’” (Matthew 4:10, ESV)
If you continue reading in your Bible, to see what happens next, after Jesus is tempted in the wilderness, He is refreshed by angels, and then He begins his ministry. The time of testing has a reason. “My brothers and sisters, you will have many kinds of trouble. But this gives you a reason to be very happy. You know that when your faith is tested, you learn to be patient in suffering. If you let that patience work in you, the end result will be good. You will be mature and complete. You will be all that God wants you to be.” (James 1:2-4, ESV)
No matter what you are going through, and how difficult the struggles, or how long you have been in the wilderness, you must remember that God loves you, He is with you in every storm, in every trial. He holds every tear in a bottle (Psalm 56:8). He is Emmanuel, God with us, and “when He has tested me, I shall come forth as gold.” (Job 23:10, NKJV)
© Elizabeth Paige 2005