No one is perfect. Except Jesus.
He lived the perfect, sinless life that Israel couldn’t live and that we cannot live. Throughout Israel’s history, they proved over and over again that they could not possibly live the holy and sinless lives that was required to be in healthy relationship with a holy God. So God provided his written Law and established a sacrificial system so that his people could do what was needed to have their sins forgiven when they transgressed. But the Law wasn’t enough. Even Following the law and even performing sacrifices wasn’t enough to permanently maintain a holy and healthy relationship with God.
Then, God sent his Son, Jesus. He sent him to deliver humanity from sin and evil so that we could finally have a path to a permanent relationship with God. In order for this to happen, Jesus had to live the perfect life so that he could die the perfect death as the ultimate sacrifice – not just to cover sins, but to completely eliminate them.
And in order for Jesus to live the perfect life and take our place on the cross, he had to face the temptations that humanity faces and he had to resist them. We see this happen in Matthew 4:1-11.
It is worth noting that this account of Jesus being tempted by Satan in the wilderness occurs immediately after his baptism where the Spirit descends on him and God the Father proclaims Jesus to be his Son. Immediately, that same Spirit guides Jesus into the wilderness in order to be tempted. Jesus had to be tempted like we are so that he could succeed where we fail.
In the wilderness, Satan tempted Jesus “in every way” (Luke 4:13) – but three major temptations are recorded in the gospels. In order to understand how significant and how beautiful Matthew 4:1-11 really is, we must observe the parallels between Israel’s history and Jesus’ life. This table highlights just a few of these parallels:
|Events in Jesus’ life in Matthew||Israel’s History|
|Slaughter of newborn boys (2:16-18)||Slaughter of newborn boys (Exodus 1:22)|
|Time in Egypt (2:13-15)||Egyptian captivity (Exodus 1-13)|
|Baptism (3:13-17)||Crossing the Red Sea (Exodus 14)|
|40 days in the wilderness (4:1)||40 years in the wilderness (Numbers 14:34-35, Numbers 32:11-15, Joshua 5:6)|
|Temptations (4:3-11)||Temptations (Exodus 17, Exodus 32, Numbers 11, Numbers 13, Numbers 14)|
Through these parallels, we begin to understand that Jesus was in fact living the life that Israel was supposed to live – that we are supposed to live. He was obedient, trusting, and faithful where Israel was disobedient, rebellious, and unfaithful. Jesus’ life is about redeeming Israel’s disobedience – in essence, rewriting and redeeming Israel’s history on their behalf and in so doing, redeeming all of our histories.
Now, let’s look at the three temptations Jesus encountered. Satan temps Jesus with three of the things he would have wanted more than anything at this point in time. Sometimes we pass these off as things that were easy for Jesus to deny because he was God. But he was also human and these were very real temptations for Jesus.
1. Temptation #1 – Meet YOUR needs NOW
The reality of the temptation – Jesus hadn’t eaten for 40 days and he possessed the power to actually turn the stones into bread. This temptation was very real for Jesus – to utilize his power and authority to serve himself, rather than trust in God to provide it for him. Basically, Satan wanted Jesus to take for himself what he wanted, when he wanted it.
How Israel failed – They didn’t rely on God – they complained and craved the food they had in slavery, thinking it better (Numbers 14). The demanded bread to satisfy themselves right then. And even when God did provide food for them miraculously – they complained about it to the point of wishing God had never even saved them.
How we fail – We demand things of God like spoiled children – expecting God to give us what we want, when we want it and throwing a fit when we don’t. We seek to satisfy our own desires rather than deny ourselves and rely on God’s word to sustain us.
Jesus’ success – Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 8:3 and overcomes the temptation and relies fully on God and God’s word alone to meet his needs and provide for him. He has complete faith and trust in God to provide for him – not in himself. He chose to deny his own wants and trust in God’s provision.
2. Temptation #2 – Show the world who you really are
The reality of the temptation – “Prove to the world that you actually are God’s divine Son! Have him save you miraculously – that way everyone will know who you are – isn’t that what you want?” It would have been tempting for Jesus to do something drastic to prove the whole temple and nation that he really was God’s Son by doing what Satan said.
How Israel failed – In Exodus 17, the people demand provision in the desert from God. They basically say, “God, if you’re actually among us and you actually care about us, then give us what we want!” In verse 7 they say, “Is the Lord among us, or not?” In essence, they tested God and his love and provision for them by demanding he give them what they wanted.
How WE fail – We do the same thing. We put God to the test and demand he give us what we want to prove his love for us or make his presence known among us. We may not ever claim this to be true, but our lives tell a different story. When he doesn’t heal our sick loved ones or give us the job we want or provide for us how we want him to in some other way, we either stop or slow down our love for him. It isn’t real love if we throw a fit and stop loving him when he doesn’t give us what we want.
Jesus’ success – Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 6:16 and tells Satan that God is not to be tested – not even by the Son of God. If anyone had the right to do this, it was Jesus. But he does not test God by making demands to get what he wants for himself. To test God and demand proof of his power or love in our lives is sinful – and Jesus overcame that.
3. Temptation #3 – Skip the suffering, claim your throne NOW
The reality of the temptation – The Messiah’s reign over the kingdom was fact to the Jewish people. Satan is tempting Jesus to avoid the suffering, rejection, and the pain that he knew he would endure in order to more quickly receive his throne and authority. Jesus knew that the cross was waiting for him in Jerusalem. He even prayed in Gethsemane that this punishment might be taken away if at all possible.
How Israel failed – Israel worshipped false god after false god after false god. They perpetually worshipped these idols in an attempt to gain worldly wealth and authority. They thought they could worship God and receive his blessings while also reaping the worldly benefits of worshipping other gods as well.
How WE fail – We believe Satan’s lie – “You don’t have to suffer and be rejected”. We falsely believe that we can worship God and something else and avoid the suffering and rejection and pain that come from obeying God. We think we can be good Christians and love God while also loving other idols and serving them too.
Jesus’ success – Jesus’ responds by quoting Deuteronomy 6:13. It is God alone who is to be worshipped and served. Jesus remained true and faithful to God alone, despite the difficult path that lay ahead because of this (his suffering and death on a cross). In essence, Jesus says, “I will remain faithful to God alone no matter what I must endure.”
In this passage we see that Jesus was able to do what Israel wasn’t, and what we aren’t able to. If we were in Jesus’ shoes, we wouldn’t even have made it past temptation #1 – most of us would turn stones into bread in 40 minutes – let alone 40 days. Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness so that he could face and conquer these temptations (and every other kind) for our sake out of great love for us.
This account is just a glimpse into how Jesus lived the perfect life that we couldn’t live. His whole life on earth was about being the perfect man in our place so that he could die the perfect death in our place. Matthew’s account shows us that Jesus was perfect for us because we couldn’t be. His death, therefore, is enough to bring us life. He did it for us. He was perfect for us. He overcame temptation for us. He lived for us and he died for us. He beat sin and death for us. This season – Christmas, the coming of Jesus – reminds us that without him, we are nothing and we are not capable of doing what needs to be done in order to receive eternal life and enter into healthy relationship with God. Adam and Eve failed, Israel failed, and we fail – but Jesus succeeded.