Jesus’ Ministry Begins

Series: Preacher: Date: March 3, 2013 Scripture Reference: Matthew 3-4,11; Mark 1-3; Luke 8; John 1-4

Matthew 4:1 – Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.

2 – After fasting forty days and forty nights, He was hungry.

3 – The tempter came to Him and said, “If You are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”

4 – Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every Word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

5 – 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.’”

7 – Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

8 – Again, the devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor.

9 – “All this I will give You,” he said, “if You bow down and worship me.”

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

11 – Then the devil left Him, and angels came and attended Him.

I’ve always been interested in battlefields reading about them and visiting them whenever possible. I’m especially interested in those battlefields where an amazing victory was won. For example, I’ve toured Gettysburg several of times and, as I’m sure you know, this is a battle that changed the course of history in that it was the “high water mark” of the confederacy. I think it is ironic that the point at which the confederate troops got their furthest in this crucial  battle, I mean the literal “high water mark” of Lee’s soldiers was farmland owned by a free black man named Abraham Brian. That’s where they were stopped. From then on the confederacy lost ground until it was finally defeated two years later.

I’ve also been fascinated by the Battle of Aguincourt which was part of the 100 years war and was fought in 1415 in Northern France. You may know more about this battle than you think because it was the centerpiece of Shakespeare’s play, Henry V. The thing that made it famous enough for Shakespeare, is the fact that the British forces won a decisive victory over the French at Aguincourt, even though they were greatly outnumbered.  Plus, the French were better fed and better equipped but the English still won, for two reasons: first, because of the power of the English long bow, a very accurate weapon that was able to pierce armor. The French didn’t have the long bow in their arsenal. The second reason England won was because the field was so muddy that the French knights could not maneuver in their heavy armor which made them sitting ducks for English archers.

Another battle that has always interested me took place on the beaches of Normandy, June 6, 1944. The more I have read about that D-Day invasion, the more I am amazed at the victory that was won there. I mean, the last minute break in the weather; the tidal cycles which meant timing had to be perfect; the fact that the German panzers were kept out of the battle, it’s a miracle that the allies won.

I bring all this up because in our reading this week in The Story, we studied what I believe is the most decisive battle ever fought up until that point and I’m referring to the battle that Jesus waged with Satan and WON, after Jesus’ baptism. The fact that this battle occurred at the BEGINNING of our Lord’s ministry shouldn’t be a surprise to us because the being that declared war on God and successfully tempted mankind to sin was Satan. We read about that in the first week of our study of The Story. Well,Jesus was born, He came to repair the damage that Satan caused. As 1st John 3:8 says, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.” Jesus came to make the way for our sins to be forgiven so that our relationship with God that was destroyed by the fall could be restored.

Now, as I said this literal battle between Good and evil took place shortly after Jesus’ baptism. We read about that this week as well and as you did, you might have wondered why Jesus, the sinless Son of God, would need to be baptized. I like how that great preacher from yesteryear, Harry Ironside, answered this question. He said, “He Who was to take the sinner’s place came to be baptized by John, that He might thereby be identified with sinners for Whom He was to lay down His life.”

Jesus’ baptism was also a formal beginning of His earthly ministry. We see this in the fact that when He was baptized God spoke audibly from Heaven and said, “This is My Son, Whom I love; with Him I am well-pleased.” (Luke 3:22) Then the Spirit of God was seen descending like a dove on Jesus. By the way, this is one of the few times we see each Person of the trinity in the same place at the same time, a verification of the fact that Jesus was indeed the long-awaited Messiah. After this John tells us that Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert and after 40 days of fasting from both food and water, the battle began.

Let’s begin by getting an image in our mind’s eye of this battlefield.

It took place in the wilderness that lies between Jerusalem and the Dead Sea. The Old Testament calls this area “Jeshimmon,” which means “the Devastation,” and after having seen it myself, I would say this is a fitting name. It stretches over an area of thirty-five by fifteen miles and is filled with yellow sand, crumbling limestone, and scattered shingle. The ground itself is contorted, ridges run in all directions as if they were warped or twisted. The hills are like dust heaps; the limestone is blistered and peeling, rocks are bare and jagged, the whole area glows and shimmers with heat like some vast furnace. Even to this day as one drives through or flies over this region, it appears to be forsaken by man and God. But, in this desolate area, Jesus could be more ALONE than anywhere else in Palestine. And perhaps this is why the Spirit of God led Him to spend 40 days there. After all, He had just been commissioned for His life’s work and before He got started He needed some time by Himself.

And, you know, in our own lives when we face crucial decisions, what we need most is to be alone with God, time to STOP doing and START thinking and praying. I think that most of the mistakes we make in life might never happen if we learned to stop and give ourselves a chance to be alone with our Heavenly Father, time to pray and even fast, time to “look” at things from His perspective.

Jesus went to this desolate place so that He could prepare Himself to begin the task that had been His since the foundation of the world. Note that verse 1 says one part of this preparation involved Jesus being led there by the Spirit of God so that He could be TEMPTED by the devil. And it is important for us to understand the exact meaning of that word, “tempt.” The Greek word here is “peirazein.” And “tempt” is not the best translation. To “tempt” means to “entice someone to do wrong, to seduce a person to sin.” But “peirazein” means “to test.” It’s the same sort of word used in Genesis 22:1 where it says, “Sometime later God TESTED Abraham” by commanding him to sacrifice his only son, Isaac.” As it says in James 1, God never tempts someone. He would never lead someone to do evil, but He does TEST us as He tested Abraham’s faith.

When a new plane is designed, its structure is TESTED by being forced to hold more weight and endure more stress than it would ever have to do in real flight. It is tested in this way before it is put to a useful purpose and in the same way a man or woman must often be tested before God can use him or her for His purposes. In 1st Timothy 3:10 Paul advises young Timothy that before deacons serve they, “must first be TESTED.” In Job 23:10 Job referred to his trials in this way. He said, when He (God) has tested me, I will come forth as gold.” So God’s TESTING is a good thing. William Barclay refers to it and writes, “What we call temptation is not meant to MAKE us sin; it is meant to enable us to CONQUER sin. It is not meant to make us BAD, it is meant to make us GOOD. It is not meant to WEAKEN us, it is meant to make us emerge STRONGER and FINER and PURER from the ordeal.”

So, sometimes what we think of as trial or temptation is really a TEST that comes to a person God wishes to use. We can reap a rich harvest of spiritual maturity when God allows tribulation or testing to come our way. For example, in Romans 5 Paul reminds us that when trials come, we learn perseverance which produces true character. Then this quality of character brings forth hope. As John Stott says, we learn that “the God Who is developing our character in the present can be relied on for the future too.” So testing is something to be thankful for. It is good for us. Remember the words of James 1:2-4: “Consider it pure joy my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the TESTING of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking in anything.”

Okay, back to the text. In verse 1 it says, “Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted or TESTED by the devil. Now, who or what is “Devil?”  Well, first of all we should understand that he is not some impersonal evil force. Matthew introduces him here as “THE” Devil, using the definite article with a masculine noun, implying personality. But Matthew is not the only time we see THE Devil referred to in this way. The entire Bible teaches that Satan IS a person, a fallen angel who rebelled against the sovereign rule of God and is in the world working against, battling both God and man. In Matthew 9:34 he is called “the PRINCE of devils,” implying that he has under his command a host of devils or demons who do his bidding.

The Bible presents Satan as a being of great power, and records several different NAMES for him, each of which speak of his nature and work.

  • For example, in 1st Peter 5:8, he is called “Adversary.”
  • In Revelation 9:11 he is referred to as “Apollyon” which means “Destroyer.”
  • He is also called “Belial” in 2nd Cor. 6:15 which means “worthless.”
  • In John 8:44 Jesus refers to him as the “Father of all Lies,” and this title is seen very clearly in the way Satan and his minions continually tempt men not to believe in God.

James reminds us that demons believe and shudder. They know there is a God. After all, these fallen angels once served God yet they seek to lead people away from belief in Him. Satan is indeed a liar! I could go on and on listing the titles or names of our foe for he is mentioned 83 times in the Bible.

  • 74 of those times he is called either “Satan” or “Devil,” which means “slanderer.”

This is appropriate because in Genesis 3:4 we see him slandering God to man (Gen. 3:4) and then in Job 1 he is slandering man to God.

  • Here’s one more of his names. The Greek word for devil is “diabolos,” which in its verb form means “to split.” And that’s another good name for our enemy.

He is a splitter, a divider, a wedge driver. He divided Adam and Eve from God in the garden and he’s been dividing people from God ever since.

By the way, I find it interesting that when Satan appears to man he never does so in his true form.

  • In Eden he appeared to Eve as a serpent, perhaps a beautiful, graceful, flying serpent, before the fall.
  • In 2 Corinthians 11:14, Paul says that he transforms himself into an “angel of light.”

These demonic disguises make him a very deadly adversary, because if he appeared to us in his true form, we would no doubt fear him and run from him, but because he does not, people listen to him and face the inevitable painful consequences. An equally impressive truth is that the devil always appears before God in his true form. You see, God knows him for who he is, the enemy at war with God and His purposes. And while, according to Romans 8 and 1st Corinthians 15, this battle continues to rage even in the natural elements, the main arena of this conflict between the forces of good and evil is in the mind and thoughts of people like you and me.

And, since we are so directly involved in this battle, since we all endure our own struggles with Satan or his minions, then I think it would be prudent for us to note WHEN Satan attacked Jesus. Verse 2 says that he did so at Jesus’ weakest point, at the END of the 40 days of fasting.

And this is the way Satan works. He always attacks us when we are weak. As Max Lucado writes, “He doesn’t challenge us to a fair fight. No, he is the master of the trapdoor and the author of weak moments. He waits until your back is turned. He waits until your defense is down. He waits until the bell has rung and you are walking back to your corner. Then he aims his dart at your weakest point and bull’s eye! You lose your temper. You lust. You fall. You take a drag. You buy a drink. You kiss the woman. You follow the crowd. You rationalize. You forget who you are. You walk into her room. You break your promise. You buy the magazine.You deny your Master.” We must keep this in mind. Satan always attacks us at our weakest point, so one key to winning over him is to know where the chinks are in our armor, know where and when we are weakest.

Now ask yourself do you go about your life dressed in the FULL armor of GOD? We studied about it recently a couple times so you should be familiar with each piece. So, is the “belt of truth” buckled firmly about your waist? Is your “breastplate of righteousness” in place? Are your feet fitted with a readiness to share the Gospel of Peace?  Is the “Helmet of salvation” on your head and the “shield of faith” in your hand? And do you know how to use the WEAPON God gave you? I’m talking about the “Sword of the Spirit” which is the Bible, the Word of God? Listen fellow soldier, you can be sure of this. Satan knows which part of your armor is weakest! That is where he will attack. And Satan’s principal weapon in this conflict is not TESTING but TEMPTATION. Now what exactly is TEMPTATION?

Well, at its core, TEMPTATION is a shortcut, a fast track to quick results. TEMPTATION masquerades as better, quicker, and easier, but in the end it is always the more expensive and painful way. From steroids, to premarital sex; from cheating on our taxes to cheating on Wall Street, TEMPTATION looks, sounds, and feels good on the surface. But beneath its facade, the reward is short-term and the consequence is long-term and painful or as Solomon put it “There is a way that SEEMS right to man, but in the end it leads to destruction.”

And ALL of us have taken these shortcuts, these ways that have seemed right and end up painfully wrong. When I was in High School I took a one, literally. I ran track, I may not look like it but I was a sprinter. I ran the 180 yard low hurdles and have the knee scars to prove it. But, like most sprinters I had a humility problem. You see, sprinters run the quick, flashy races, not the boring distance runs which only provide spectators a chance to head to the refreshment stand. And this sin of pride reared its ugly head one day at track practice when our coach commanded the entire team to go on a 4-mile run. This was unheard of. Only the distance runners on the team did this at practice, not the sprinters! I remember thinking, “I don’t NEED to do this. I’m a sprinter, not a jogger. I only have to cover 180 yards. Why is he making me run 4 miles!?” Well, the route we were to take was a huge rectangle: west a mile to the little town of Wyoming, Delaware, then north a mile to the neighborhood where my family lived, then east a mile to RT 13, and south a mile back to the High School. By the way, we had just been issued our brand new uniforms that day, sweat suits that were bright gold with blue piping, very flashy and I suppose very EXPENSIVE as well. Perhaps the coach had us run all over the community for a little track team publicity! Well, as we started off, I found a shot putter, a friend of mine named CELIO, who was as disgruntled as I was about this run and we came up with a plan. Our route surrounded a huge forested area where I played as a kid. Since I was so familiar with that terrain I suggested that we run at the back of the group, let them pull ahead and then take a short cut through the woods, cutting about 2.5 miles off the route. We would take our short cut, wait for the group to pass and then jog out of the woods back to our original rear position.  No one would know and we would be spared the majority of what we felt was a pointless run. Well it worked, at first. We waited until the group rounded a corner and then CELIO and I took a hard right turn into the woods. But we hadn’t gone too far until we came upon a muddy stream. And in trying to cross the stream by tightrope-walking across a fallen tree, we both fell in, turning our brand-new gold uniforms a deep chocolate color. When we finally got back to the school our crime was of course obvious to the coach who responded by throwing us both off the team. After receiving additional discipline at the hands of my parents that night, the following day I apologized to my coach and he eventually let me back on the team.

That’s the way it is with temptation. It looks good in the beginning but always ends up bad. And of course my high school experience was painless compared to the agony of other shortcuts Satan tempts us to take. For yielding to temptation pushes us away from God’s best will for our lives and in so doing bars us from the rich and lasting rewards that come from doing things His way. Plus we miss out on what we want and need most in life, fellowship with our Creator.

And when you think about it, Satan often offers us things that are already ours if we are willing to forget the shortcuts and trust God’s perfect timing. We see this principle in Jesus’ battle with our adversary. For example, in the wilderness Satan challenged Jesus to prove His power, yet as the Creator of the universe, He had all power! Satan offered Jesus prominence, yet He was already the King of kings and Lord of lords.

By the way, we’ve seen lots of sinful “short-cuts” in our reading of The Story.  For example, Adam and Eve were blessed with authority, position, and power. God had glorious plans for their lives!  But they took a deadly shortcut and it cost them joy, their relationship with God and so much more. Mankind is still paying the unbelievable price of that shortcut. God promised Abraham a son from the union with his barren wife, Sarah. But then he took a shortcut with Sarah’s maid, Hagar. And this shortcut is the root cause for all the unrest in the middle east today. Esau took a shortcut to fill his belly and lost his birthright. I could go on and on citing examples because Satan is very effective at tempting us by saying, “Take it NOW, indulge yourself NOW, get your satisfaction NOW, make your big play NOW, grab your pleasure NOW.”

It’s like those TV commercials we see these days from some organization called Western Sky offering to loan vast amounts of money instantly so as to either help you out of a financial bind or enable you to buy something you want. A friendly, smiling female talking head urges listeners to accept their offer and make the call. They promise no penalty for early pay off and that no collateral is required. Sometimes she mentions the interest rate but only at the end of the commercial and she always downplays it but I looked it up. For a $2,600 loan, Western Sky Financial charges an annual interest rate of 139.22%. For this loan, you would make 47 payments of $294.46 for a total of $13,839.62.  For a $10,000 car loan you would make 47 payments of $1,166.17 for a total of $55,098. That would be the equivalent of paying for a brand new BMW X5 yet driving a stripped down Nissan Versa. Western Sky commercials never say  anything about the interest rate and neither does Satan but don’t kid yourself. It is extremely high.

It adds up quickly and compounds daily. Before you know it, he owns you. He whispers to you young people: “You want sex NOW? Why wait? Take it. I’ll advance you whatever you want. Enjoy yourself. Go for it. Do it NOW. Don’t worry about by fees. We’ll talk about that later.” And later the fees come due in the form of broken hearts and shame and guilt and unwanted pregnancies and STDs and a lifetime of plans and dreams that are forever destroyed.

While sex within marriage is a proper and wonderfully pleasurable experience, Satan offers to advance us the erotic pleasures at an improper time. When people follow this and all of Satan’s shortcuts they discover that they cheated themselves. They lost far more than they gained. And Satan’s main weapon in his war against God and His purposes is the shortcut known as TEMPTATION.

This was Satan’s suggestion to Jesus. He tempted Him to take a shortcut to found His kingdom. Look at the three ways Satan tempted Jesus.

(1) First of all, as it says in verse 3, he tempted our Lord to turn stones into bread.

Understand, this was not just a temptation to satisfy His hunger, which I am sure was on our Lord’s mind at this point after His 40 day fast. It was more than that. It was Satan’s way to pollute Jesus’ choice of methods to win men to God. How was He to persuade men and women to follow Him, to be a part of the kingdom of God? Why not bribe them by giving them bread and all manner of material possessions? But Jesus said “NO!” to this shortcut. Skillfully using the Sword of the Spirit, He quoted Deuteronomy 8:3 and pointed out that man’s problem was not hunger for material things, it was hunger for a relationship with God. He knew that “bread” is a dead end shortcut, material things will never satisfy the hunger in man, this will only come with a relationship with God in which we trust Him for our needs.

(2) This temptation didn’t bear any fruit so as it says in verse 4, Satan took Jesus to the pinnacle of the Temple.

This was probably the southeast side of the temple which was four hundred and fifty feet above the Kidron Valley. Tradition says that it was from this place that the martyr James, the half-brother of Jesus, was flung to his death in the valley below. And as Jesus stood here Satan offered Him another shortcut. Satan said, “Do you want people to follow You? Then amaze them with feats of power.” This was the very method that false messiahs of that day promised. For example a famous Egyptian messianic pretender referred to in Acts 21:38 had promised that with a word he would lay flat the walls of Jerusalem. Simon Magus, had promised to fly through the air and had perished in the attempt. These pretenders had offered sensations which they could not perform in attempts to get people to follow them. But Jesus had the power to perform anything He promised so Satan says in essence, “Why should He not do it? Why not take this shortcut?”

Well Jesus again used the Sword of the Spirit to fend off this attack and quoted Deuteronomy 6:16 which says that it is wrong to test God. God calls for us to have faith in His timing, not to try and force His hand so as to hurry things along to match our schedule. God invites us into a faith-relationship with Him in which we trust Him to provide for us. Faith that is dependent on signs and wonders is not faith. In fact, sight is the opposite of faith. Jesus also knew that enticing people to follow Him because of the sensations He could provide was a dead end. Sensations only make people want more. This year’s sensation is next year’s common place so a kingdom founded on sensation is doomed to eventual failure. The kingdom of God was not to be founded on RAZZLE DAZZLE. Men and women were to follow Him not for entertainment but for salvation.

(3) So the TEMPTER tried a final time. Verse 8 says that He took Jesus to a very high mountain and showed Him an image of all the kingdoms of the world.

He then perverted the words of Psalm 2:8 and promised to give Jesus all those kingdoms if He would only bow down and worship him. This whole exchange was sort of a Scriptural fencing match. Using the technique employed by many cult groups, Satan would attack by misquoting Scripture and Jesus would defend and counter attack by using Scripture properly. But in this third attack Satan was saying, “You want to save the world? You came for that purpose didn’t You? Well, then take a short cut! Compromise! Worship me and I will give You all the people of the world to rule.” Jesus’ response was to send Satan away by quoting Deuteronomy 6, saying that we are to worship God and God alone.

Before we conclude we should note one other thing, this was not the only time Satan attacked Jesus. In Luke’s account of this conversation, it says that after failing to lure Jesus into these shortcuts, “Satan withdrew until a more opportune time.” (Luke 4:13) And those opportune times came again and again. In Luke 22:28 Jesus thanks His followers for standing with Him in His “temptations. One attack came at Caesarea Philippi when Peter tried to talk Jesus out of taking the way of the cross. And when he did Jesus said the same thing to Peter that He had to Satan in the wilderness, “Satan begone!” I think we can infer from this that OUR struggle with Satan is continual. We never reach a stage in our Christian maturity where we are beyond the power of temptation. When it comes to being victorious in spiritual warfare “Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom.”

Jesus had to fight battles like this right up to the cross which is why He can help us to fight and win in our own battles with Satan. And this leads me to mention something VERY important. In all His battles with temptation, Jesus never lost, not once. He never sinned. He won every battle with temptation and these nonstop victories are what made it possible for Him to win the ultimate victory for us. Since He never lost a battle with temptation, since Jesus never sinned, He could pay our sin debt which is what He did on that cross. Since He never sinned and therefore had no death sentence hanging over His head, He could and did in our place. By the way, I hope you realize that Jesus must have been the source of this story.

He was alone in that wilderness so He must have told His disciples what had happened. He apparently thought it was important for us to know of this battle and by reading of His tactics, learn how to win in our own struggles with principalities and powers. He wanted us to know that like us, He had the possibility to yield to temptation but He also had the power not to which is why He can help us. We don’t have to be victims in our battles with Satan, we can be victors. As it says in Romans 8 “We are more than conquerors over all things, the devil  included, through Him Who loved us.”

I want to mention two quick things that help us in our struggles with temptation.

(1)   First, you and I don’t have to fight Satan without a WEAPON.

We have the Word of God, the Sword of the Spirit, TRUTH that will help us to recognize Satan’s promises as the lies they always are. The better we know God’s Story, the better we know the BIBLE, the better we will be able to fend off Satan’s attacks. As Lucado puts it, Load your pistol with Scriptures and keep your finger on the trigger.”

(2)   Second, we don’t have to fight Satan ALONE.

Hebrews 4:15-16 says“For our High Priest [JESUS] is able to understand our weaknesses. When He lived on earth, He was tempted in every way that we are, but He did not sin.Let us, then, feel very sure that we can come before God’s throne where there is grace. There we can receive mercy and grace to help us when we need it.”

Quick Greek lesson, the last two Greek words of this text are “eukairon boetheian.” “Eukairos” means “timely” or “seasonable” or “opportune.” “Boetheia” is a compound of “boe,” which means “to shout,” and “theo,” which means “to run.” This combination of words means, “We shout and God runs to help us at the right moment.” In other words, when Satan attacks, all we need to is ask for God to help and He will be there. The devil doesn’t want you to know these things because if you do, you can beat him every time.


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