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War in the Wilderness

Published: 1 year ago- 19 March 2023
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Big Idea: Jesus resists temptation from the devil through faithful obedience to God’s word.

My favourite line from a movie comes from Braveheart. (Scottish wars of independence in the late 13th early 14th century). It is delivered by Mel Gibson’s character, William Wallace to his friend at what I think is a critical point in the plotline, maybe the turning point of the whole story. Their Scottish way of life is under the crushing weight of English rule and abuse. It has come to a head, something needs to be done and Wallace says to his friend …

“It’s up to you and me now Hamish!”

Brilliant line. That’s my favourite line from any movie.

And another line that comes from the same movie gives us an insight into our passage today. It is spoken by the same character as he rides his horse toward the opposing English army. When asked where he is going, he responds …

“I’m gonna’ pick a fight!”

As we come to Matthew 4 we see that Jesus is being sent out into the wilderness and as it turns out it’s to pick a fight.

A fight I have called “War in the Wilderness.”

And for me, this passage has become my favourite fight scene.

For a long time, Matthew 4:1-11 was never one of my favourites. In fact, there have been times when I just didn’t even like it – if that’s allowed!?! Didn’t really know what to do with it. Maybe the issue of no food for 40 days.

But today I want to show you what makes this fight scene so good, as Jesus faces temptation in the wilderness. So, that’s the question we are going to ask Matthew today …

How does the temptation of Jesus give me confidence as I follow Him?

I want to highlight three things that make this fight scene so good as a follower of Jesus.

1. It gives us …


Because it shows us that God is in control, and he has sent his champion into the fight. Read v1.

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.

The Spirit of God directs the Son of God into the wilderness to be tempted by the opposer of God, the devil.

In Jesus God is taking the fight to the enemy.

There will be a show down but all the action, all the doing words, all the purpose clauses, and ultimately the victory belong to God.

v1 Jesus was led by the Spirit – led by God into the wilderness for the very purpose of being tempted by the devil

Do you see that Jesus was not ambushed in the wilderness; not taken by surprise; not blindsided? Not some meek and manicured man caught up in something overwhelming and unexpected. He was sent into battle. “I’m gonna pick a fight!”

God is in control, he is sovereign. Jesus is his champion. He will win where others have failed.

And God’s people certainly have a history of failure. Moses preached to Israel in the wilderness on the borders of the promised land.

Deut 8:2.

Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, [why] to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands.

Here is an earlier war in the wilderness. But in this one the son of God, Israel failed.

They did not love God with all their hearts. They did not trust him in times of testing. They failed.

BUT this time of tempting, this time of testing will show that Jesus is the champion.

And to show us that this is a God-thing we have v2.

Read v2.

After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.

Just as Israel were in the wilderness 40 years, Jesus the true Israel is in the wilderness 40 days.

God has sent Jesus into the wilderness to succeed where the ancient Israelites failed; to bring a better promise than that of Moses.

And after 40 days and 40 nights of no eating Matthew makes the very astute observation that Jesus was hungry.

The Snickers ad tells us that you are not yourself when you are hungry!

But Jesus being hungry shows us just who he is. He is a man with an appetite, he was hungry.

Truly Divine and Fully Human. God come to earth (1:23) as a man to save us from our sins (1:21). God come to earth as a man to succeed where we fail. God is in control sending his champion.

We can have great confidence in God because he does not leave us in our failure or condemn us in our time of brokenness. But sends his Son to fight our fight to win our battle.

As we feel the tug and pull of our many and varied temptations, we need to remember the nature of our sovereign, loving God who knows our failures and our weakness. He is not looking to condemn but to save. And so, he has sent His champion to the rescue.

If you like – our failures remind us that our heavenly Father has given us a champion, He has met our need. We can trust Him.

Jesus was hungry because after 40 days and 40 nights with no food he, like any other person, needed something to eat.

The devil says “I’ve got a good idea … “ Which is a nice segue to the second reason this fight scene is so good.

2. It gives us …


Jesus faces three temptations in the wilderness. They are very real temptations. They are very real victories. They all give us confidence in our Saviour.

Temptation 1.

Here is the devil’s solution to Jesus’ hunger. Read v3

The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”

The tempter, the devil is tempting Jesus to assert his sonship or divinity. He is saying SINCE you are the Son of God, and I know you are, command these stones to turn into bread.

Not a call for a magic trick. Not a non-wheat recipe for a gluten-free age; stone bread.

The devil is urging Jesus; Use your divine creating power to address your human desire. v3 command these stones, command these aspects of your creation with your powerful word.

Satan knows that all creation was made through Jesus and for Jesus. He knows that what he suggests, the temptation he presents is well within Jesus’ skill set.

This a subtle reminder that you can know and even believe a lot about Jesus without bowing to his Lordship in your life. Do you know about Jesus? Do you believe stuff about Jesus? Do you have a saving relationship with Jesus? There is an eternity of difference.

The devil is not interested in submitting only subverting. This is a very real test. Don’t write it off as something that is not appealing to Jesus in this situation at any significant level – it is a test.

Are you ever hungry? Look in the fridge and the pantry – nothing! Teenage locusts have been through already. Eat stale rice crackers and some cooking chocolate.

40 days no food. He is hungry. v3 Use your power to satisfy your hunger, your desire.

Not even asking Jesus to do something wrong. Later in his ministry, he will be accused of eating too much, and being a non-discerning glutton. This is an intermittent fast.

But Jesus’ response reveals to us the tempter’s trap.

Read v4.

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’

Quoting from Moses’ sermon to Israel in Deut 8:3.

He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.

In Deuteronomy 8 Moses was reminding the wilderness wanderers that God had them in the wilderness and caused them to be hungry then provided for them in a way they could not have known or expected. They were expected to trust God.

It’s not being directed by our desires that brings life and flourishing but being directed by every word from the mouth of God.

Bible In a Year – developing the routine of daily being In the Word, under the Instruction of the Word, shaped by the power and grace of the Word. Less concerned about your up-to-date performance. More on developing habits of being in the Word.

Satan was seeking to have Jesus use his Sonship, his power in a way that is inconsistent with his God-given mission. But Jesus remains directed by and obedient to God’s Word.

He is single-minded, he will not be diverted from his mission. He came to do and say all that the Father has given him to do and say and so bring salvation for his people.

Gives us confidence as we read through the rest of the gospel that despite the opposition, despite the looming reality of death on a cross Jesus will remain single-minded, he will not use his power to rescue himself from that mission.

Prayer in the garden on the night he was to be betrayed, not my will but yours be done. He had the power to call legions of angels to come to his rescue.

But he remained single-minded in his mission to save us. Our salvation is assured in the hands of such a Saviour.

Temptation 2.

Then the tempter says well, if you’re going to quote Scripture at me here’s one for you.

Read v5-6.

Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. 6 “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written: “‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’

Satan in the holy city quoting the Word to the Word at the temple. Apart from the absolute arrogance we see that The devil knows the Bible!?!

At least Psalm 91:11-12. But he is a rubbish preacher.

For some reason the Pointer Sister’s song; “Jump, jump for my love” comes to mind. Do it says the devil, jump (v5), experience the wonder of his supernatural intervention (v6).

Angels catching you, you will not even stub your toe. God’s word says it, make him do it, so you can feel it.

Get him to send his angels to rescue you. How cool will that be? How awesome … ? What a confirmation of your sonship.

If you are the Son of God throw yourself down (v6).

But Jesus is not taken in by misuse of the Word, he is again guided by Scripture, let’s Scripture interpret Scripture.

Read v7

“It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’

We need to have Scripture at the ready, to learn it and know it so that it readily comes to mind. That’s the danger of having the Bible on your phone – but it doesn’t help you reflect and think and have it sink in.

Jesus is quoting from Moses’ sermon again – Deut 6:16. Referring to the time Israel demanded a sign from God rather than taking him at his word.

God’s people are not to demand signs from God but to take him at his word. God’s people are not to Limit God to the spectacular.

This is not the last time in Matthew we will read this challenge – if you are the Son of God step down, come down

In Matt 27:39-43 Jesus is nailed to the cross.

Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!” In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! He’s the king of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.'”

How good is it to have a Saviour; Who did not limit God to the spectacular? Who did not step down to experience his own supernatural rescue? But fully submitted to the Father’s will so that we may experience eternal life with him?

How wise we would be to recognise the difference; Between trusting God, taking him at his word, and being those who demand a sign, an experience?

Confidence in our single-minded Saviour, the faithful one. How good is this fight scene???

Temptation 3.

The last confidence inspiring but no less tempting test strikes right at the heart of Jesus’ mission.

Read v8-9.

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour. 9 “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”

Satan is such a liar, a usurper, a deceiver. Why do we ever give him the satisfaction of falling for his sales pitch and walking into his snares.

He displays the fallen world yet hides its brokenness and highlights only its splendour.

Proverbs tells us that Madam Folly, the seductive adulteress offers delights so attractive, so Inviting but in the end delivers only death.

Satan is saying to Jesus, take the Messiah’s crown without the Saviour’s cross. No need to suffer. No need to exercise obedience. No need to wait on God the Father and his timing. Take the crown, ditch the cross.

Leave this world in its fallen, miserable, dying state and enjoy your glory.

Read v10

Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’

Deut 6:13. Do not bow down to other gods. Do not give your allegiance to any other. Do not seek only what God can provide through any God denying ways.

Jesus uses similar words to Peter when he identifies Jesus as the Messiah but rejects the notion of his death (16:23).

Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

There is no crown without the cross. No cross, no crown. Write on your whiteboard, tattoo it on your arm, stick it on your phone.

We have confidence in our single-minded Saviour as the one who willingly and obediently bore the pain, the shame, the suffering for us so that we might share in his glory.

He is the one: Who lived a wholehearted obedient life, and Who paid the cost of our failures and brokenness, So that we, through faith in him may be declared right with God, his beloved children.

And that faith is seen, displayed as we take up our cross daily and follow Him.

And finally, this is a great fight scene because, 3. It gives us …


Read v11.

Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.

The devil left him, but the Father never did.

The God who is sovereign and in control is the God who will not abandon his people.

Confidence in our temptation is that Jesus, the one who represents us before the Father, our mediator, knows better than we do what it is like to be tempted.

We get tempted and give in. The pressure stops. Jesus did not give in, he has experienced the full force.

He knows the power of temptation better than we do. He sympathises with us in our testing.

He knows our weakness. He stood in for us, he has secured our forgiveness for all our failures (even the ones we haven’t done yet).

It does not surprise him that we fail, that is why he came, he knew we could not do it. But he has done it for us.

Do you love him? Doesn’t this truth give us confidence as we face temptation?

Confidence that temptation is not sin. Jesus was tempted and yet without sin. Don’t be disheartened that you are tempted, we are always tempted. That it is an ongoing part of your life. Satan did not stop the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. Luke tells us he left for a more opportune time. Temptation will be a feature of life for every follower of Jesus.

This life is a time of testing, it’s our wilderness wandering. Ever prayed like this; “Lord just make me better, make me godly, do it now!”

Not how God works.

Maturity and Sanctification is a process. This life is a time of discipline and testing so that we grow to love Jesus and trust him more, rely on him more.

NOTICE: We have the same resources to fight temptation as Jesus had in the wilderness. God’s Spirit – the gift of Jesus to all his people. God’s Word – special revelation; authority for life and faith.

The struggle and the disappointment of failure in the face of temptation is a sign that you are seeking to honour Jesus with your life, that you have joined his side in the war.

Good friend of mine who became a follower of Jesus later in life often reflected on how becoming a Christian makes life harder in some ways – the fight, the struggle.

1 Corinthians 10:13

No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.

God is sovereign. Jesus is our Saviour. We have confidence in the midst of temptation.

Favourite movie line: “It’s up to you and me now Hamish.”

But in the reality of this life in this world; My confidence is not you and me, but only Jesus.

God’s champion who showed right from the start that he would be victorious. A victory and a confidence that he credits to all who trust, repent, believe and follow him.