A few weeks ago I preached a sermon on how the temptations of Jesus fit into the Story of God. Below is an edited version of my manuscript. It is so long I will have to post it in portions, but I hope you will follow along day by day. The permeating thought is this. The Bible says that Jesus is a High Priest who was tempted as we are and as such is able to sympathize with our weaknesses. I don’t know about you, but I find it hard to sympathize with Jesus’ temptations (Matthew 4 and Luke 4). Turn a bread into stone? Fly off of a building? Worship the devil to rule the world? Honestly, this is not my problem. I know the Bible says that Jesus sympathizes with my temptations, but I have a hard time sympathizing with His. What good is His sympathy to me? Yet when we examine the temptations of Jesus faithfully from the Biblical text we are able to sympathize with His temptations and in the end we realize how He sympathizes with our own. A rock eating, building leaping, devil worshiper – you may be closer than you think.
The New Moses
The opening statements of Matthew 4 tell us not only that Jesus is now in the wilderness and that he is going to be tempted by Satan, but Matthew wants us to know that this moment is very purposeful. This is no accident. Immediately there are two things we can glean here:
- God does not tempt us. The Bible says that the Spirit led him there, but it is Satan that will do the tempting. James 1 affirms this for us.
- Temptation is not only a problem for us, but it serves a greater purpose. There is something to be accomplished in our endurance of temptation. It is not just that we are the punching bags of the devil, but God is actually wanting to see us come through temptations for a reason. What is it?
One conclusion we can draw is that this temptation is very much connected to the Story of God in the Old Testament. This is not an isolated event, but it is rather a sequel, the continuation of a story that has already begun. Jesus quotes the Book of Deuteronomy three times to refute the devil. The Book of Deuteronomy was Moses’ swan song. It was his last sermon. His audience was a new generation of Israelites who stood on the edge of the Promised Land after watching their parents and grandparents march themselves to death in the wilderness for forty years. Israel was in the wilderness forty years. Jesus has been in the wilderness forty days. Matthew’s intent is to draw a definite parallel. In order to possess the promise of God Israel had to do one thing, obey the Word of God. But they failed. Failed in what? The temptations associated with their time in the wilderness. The result was that they were not worthy to retain the promises of God and become God’s holy nation.
So here is Jesus. He is the new Moses about to lead a new group of redeemed people out of the bondage of sin, through the wilderness of temptation, and into the promised land of God for eternity. His use of Moses’ words to Satan is unmistakable. He is establishing that He will do what Israel could not, obey God’s Word.
The Exodus is sort of the redemptive storyline of the Bible. Its elements sort of hold the plot together both in the Old and the New Testaments. The plot line is:
Bondage, Redemption, Water, Covenant, Wilderness, Promise
This was not only the story of Israel, but it is also the story of the church. We are born in the bondage of sin and it has powerful dominion over us much like Egypt had over Israel. Israel was redeemed out of Egypt miraculously. God gave them a lamb to be sacrificed whose blood would save them from death. Jesus’ is the lamb God has given us and His blood shed on the cross was the sacrifice necessary for us to be redeemed from the power of sin and death upon our lives. Israel passed through the Red Sea, it was their initiation as a legitimate nation on the earth. The crossing of the sea and the crush of the Egyptians served warrant to the rest of the nations that Israel was no longer enslaved and her God was all powerful. We pass through the waters of baptism as our initial initiation into the new nation of God’s people the church. At Sinai, Israel received the old covenant of the Law. We have received a new covenant by the blood of Christ and we revere this covenant by obedience to God’s Word and by communion. One day we will inherit the New Heavens and the New Earth under the leadership of our Moses, Jesus.
But here is the problem, there is another part of the story we shouldn’t forget. Wilderness. It is here that we find the most difficult part of the gospel and it was here that Israel found the most difficult part of the covenant – it was in the following. We are all about being saved and forgiven of our sins. We are all about having an eternal home with God; but we are not so taken by the idea of until we get there we are supposed to faithfully follow Christ.
Many people fail and turn away from the gospel in the wilderness, in the in between. But you won’t fall away if you see the greater purpose of the wilderness. The wilderness, this life you and I now live is the in between of our salvation and eternity. It is a wilderness full of temptation, trial, danger, and suffering. Jesus has called us to do no easy thing. Follow Him through all of this. Look at the text – the Holy Spirit of God has led Jesus to this very dangerous, tempting place. It is no accident of God that you go through what you go through in this life. The purpose of the cross was to get you out of Egypt. The purpose of following Jesus in the wilderness is to get Egypt out of you.
The wilderness is reorientation to life. It is unlearning your old ways in which God was no consideration for you. Now you are relearning a new way of living life under Christ’s Lordship. The old life was indulgence, the new life is obedience. The old life was take, the new life is sacrifice. The old life was do what you feel. The new life demands self-control. The old life was anything goes. The new life is lived by the Word of God. These bad habits are not easy ways to break – but the wilderness will break you.
To be continued . . .