Our Lord’s Temptation

Matthew 4

This scene stands quite alone. It cannot be classed along, or placed in comparison, with any other.

We find the blessed Son of God before us in all the moral perfection of manhood. It is correct to say of man, that he lives, moves, and has his being in God, that the highest glory of man as a creature is absolute dependence on, and obedience to, that God by whom he was created. Aught else is sin and alienation.

But here we see the absolute dependence of the Son of man on “every word” that God had spoken. His life, as man, His every movement, was assuredly in that God in whom He had His being. He presents to us man as he should have been in relation to God.

The scene is laid, however, in the wilderness; and what is that? How comes there to be such a place as a wilderness? Is that the normal idea, the proper or natural abode of man? Certainly not.

The garden of Eden, in the wealth of its provision, was the home of man. That garden knew no lack, no desert existed within its charming domain. All that nature could desire was abundantly supplied, and God Himself deigned to enter its precincts. A wilderness then was unknown.

But, alas! the serpent entered, plied his wily snares, and first the woman, deceived thereby, sinned and fell, quickly to be followed by the man.

Then all was changed. The fair garden, or rather God’s holy presence there, could no longer be endured—nor indeed might sinners remain within—and God drove them out.

If outside the garden, where could man be but in the wilderness?

The earth, devoid of God’s presence, is a wilderness, and that is Satan’s sphere. It is there man is now placed, and though he may endeavour to alter its character, and to close his eyes to the fact of God’s absence, it is a wilderness still. No amount of human embellishments, no resources of science, no achievements of skill, no medical relief, no philosophic sentiments, can undo the awful facts that God is not here, and that the earth is therefore a wilderness. Mercy may kindly remember, and cause the sun to shine, and the rain to fall, and thus in a thousand ways tell of a God of long-suffering pity. Still sin has turned the earth into a wilderness.

Now the blessed Lord was led of the Spirit into the wilderness, into the domain of Satan’s special power, into the very stronghold of the enemy.

It was there—the exact locality is not told—He met the foe on his own ground. Forty days of fasting were succeeded by hunger. There is nothing sinful in that. Man even as to his bodily wants is dependent on God’s supply, and that moment of need was chosen for the first assault. “If thou be the Son of God command that these stones be made bread,” said the enemy.

Through and beyond the veil of manhood Satan perceived that He to whom he thus spoke was the Son of God. He was man, but infinitely more. Hence he suggested to Him to command these stones to be made bread. Had the Son of God so commanded He would have taken Himself out of the state of absolute dependence for direction which marks perfect manhood. He, and He alone, was in that condition.

Hence His beautiful rejoinder, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.” That is the becoming attitude of man.

When we test ourselves by this standard what constant failure we must own. What a contrast are we to Him. As man He had no word to transform the stone to bread, and therefore He refused to act; and what a wonderful thought it is that He who had power to do so would not relieve His need without a direct Scripture for so doing. We, alas! often infringe Scripture to satisfy our wants. He would not break His fast without Scriptural permission; and to Him “every word” of Scripture was the word of God. Foiled in this first and most open assault, Satan conducts the Lord to the holy city, and sets Him on a pinnacle of the temple. Proof against “the lust of the flesh,” would He yield to “the pride of life”?

To do exploits and make ourselves a name is pleasing to us, for we naturally love self-exaltation, but in this case such a feeling was unknown.

To cast Himself from the pinnacle, even when Scripture seemed to provide for such a contingency, would have been a mere tempting of God, and would not have been a step in what are called in the psalm from which Satan quotes His ways. Those ways were ways of dependence; this would have been one of presumption. The man of dependence does not tempt God. Such was Jesus, and again the enemy is foiled. But not yet hopeless of conquest, he takes the Lord to a high mountain, and shows Him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them, saying, “All these things will I give Thee, if Thou wilt fall down and worship me!” “Worship me.” That was the aim of the enemy. “All these things” for unfaithfulness to God! “It is written,” said the Lord, “Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve.” Here the foe showed his hand. He sought the worship that is due to God alone. The perfect Man, again quoting the Scriptures, gave the final stroke, saying as well, “Get thee hence, Satan.” “Then the devil leaves Him.” He is defeated by One who had assumed manhood, and who used no other weapon than the word of God.

Perhaps nowhere does the perfection of manhood shine so brightly as in the temptation. For Satan to cope with Godhead were folly, but here is a Man, one too who was “an hungered,” and who in His conflict did not resort to means beyond the reach of any. He simply quoted the written word of God, and that sufficed. Here was a Man perfectly controlled by the Word, and for such an one Satan was no match. The strong man was bound by the stronger.

True it is that the difference between us and this blessed Victor is illimitable; for He in any circumstance was never less than God, whilst we can be but men, and sinful; but as children of God, through faith in His Son, we too are dependent on Him, and have the same precious Word for our counsellor and weapon. As it is to us the first, so will it be the second. In proportion as we are controlled by it, so are its effects outwardlly. In communion with God we need never be beaten. God will authenticate and make good His word even in feeble hands like ours. Infidelity will not leave the field through mere argumentation, nor will Satan be defeated by logic. No, the word of God held in living communion with Him is the all-sufficient weapon for this difficult day.

“Be of good cheer; I have overcome the world,” said the victorious Master. May we follow humbly but faithfully in His wondrous footsteps.