Matthew 4:1-11 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil...
The British cavalrymen mounted their horses and made ready to charge. The field was wide open ahead of them. At the edge of the field, lay the German Army’s camp, and behind the camp, a dark forest. Everything was going according to plan. In the late August sunshine the charge was sounded, and off they ran to enter the fray. As the cavalry reached the camp, the Germans seemed to be caught by surprise. The mounted soldiers believed they were on their way to an easy victory. But then from the dark forest came the flashes and the noise of death itself. German machine guns mowed down everything in their path, soldier and horse alike, leaving few survivors.
In 1914 as Britain declared war on Germany, it was still believed that cavalry regiments with horses could still be effective in frontal attacks. Sadly, the planners and the strategists were mistaken. When you go off to war, you have to match your strategy to the strategy of your enemy. It’s a lesson we find ourselves having to repeat time and again.
The same is true of spiritual warfare. When he was kicked out of heaven, the devil declared war on humanity. And when we engaged him as our enemy for the first time, like the British cavalry—as good and as perfect as we were—we just were not prepared for his attacks, his lies, his twisting of the truth. Adam—and everyone who came after him are the casualties of that war, including you and me.
But the war didn’t end there. We had an ally who came to our rescue: Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Empowered by His baptism and led by the Spirit, The Son of God Goes Forth to War! As the second Adam—as our substitute—Jesus takes the fight into the wilderness. (I) To do battle with Satan, and (II) to win the victory.
- To do battle with Satan.
The Son of God goes forth to war to do battle with Satan. That’s who the enemy was. And when it comes to Satan’s attacks, he usually never engages in a frontal assault. The devil, the father of lies, likes to hide his true intentions. He even is capable of making himself appear as an “angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14). Even here with Jesus—even though he appeared to Jesus directly in the desert, his attack was disguised to look like something good.
So, if you’re the devil, how do you make your temptation look good to the Son of God? Make it look like you’re trying to help Him. So it was that after forty days and nights in the desert, at Jesus’ weakest physical moment, Satan tempted Jesus by offering Him shortcuts in completing His mission. How? By using the greatest weapons at Jesus’ disposal, His divine attributes. The author Dostoevsky in The Brothers Karamazov outlines these divine attributes—these weapons the devil wanted Jesus to use.
The first weapon Jesus is tempted to use is the miracle. “If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread” (v. 3). It was as if Satan were saying, “Jesus if only You’d turn those stones into bread, then You’d be doing a miracle that would convince the whole world to follow You. You wouldn’t have to struggle at all to gain followers.”
The second weapon mystery—of being able to do things that no human being can do. Then the devil took Jesus to the top of the Temple and said, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down” (v. 6). This is what Dostoevsky characterized as “mystery.” “Jesus, if only You’d throw yourself down from the temple in front of everybody and survive. Then the clout that you’d have because of what You were able to do would have made You a person that folks actually listened to and obeyed.” And to sweeten the deal, the devil even quotes a couple of Scripture passages out of context to make it sound God-pleasing.
The third weapon the devil tempts Jesus with is authority. He takes Jesus to the highest point overlooking the whole earth, “all the kingdoms and their glory” (v. 8), and tells him, “All these things I will give you if you will fall down and worship me” (v. 9). Oh, Jesus, there’s so much disunity in the world, but if you bow down to me, you’d instantly be able to unite the entire planet—the whole human race—under Your authority.
Satan presented all his temptations to Jesus as shortcuts He could use to finish His mission now. But they weren’t really shortcuts; they were ways to short-circuit Christ’s mission for good. Why? Because remember what Jesus actually came to do: it wasn’t about uniting all people under Himself; it wasn’t about getting people to follow Him; it wasn’t about taking care of their earthly needs. It was bigger than that; it was about gaining back everything that Adam lost. It was about regaining righteousness before God—not for Himself, but for all people. That meant living in a perfect relationship with the Father, in perfect harmony with God’s Word. It was about regaining life itself—the life that Adam lost for all of us—by taking His own innocent life to the cross, where He would pay for the sins of all with His own suffering and death, while at the same time defeating death for us all.
Getting Jesus to fall into any of those temptations would have put an end to His mission once and for all. No more would Jesus have been our sinless substitute, keeping His perfect, obedient relationship with the Father in our place. No more would Jesus have gone to the cross to pay for all of our sins. We all would still be in Satan’s clutches.
And that’s what the devil’s temptations are to this day. He wants us in his clutches; and so the devil is constantly trying to sever your connection to your heavenly Father—the connection you have received by grace through Jesus Christ. And so the devil still comes to us in our weakest moments and presents “shortcuts” to the good life: health, wealth, a life without pain, a way to get rid of your sorrow, a way to feel good—at least for a while; you want these things? All you have to do is just commit this single, tiny act of disobedience against God. In the devil’s eyes, if he can take one believer and separate him from the body of Christ, then he has won a tiny victory!
But thankfully we know that victory does not belong to the devil, the father of lies, but to our heavenly Father and to His Son Jesus Christ our Lord. The Son of God goes forth to war to do battle with the devil and
- To win the victory.
Jesus won this battle with the devil. He defeated all of Satan’s temptations. And He did it without relying on His own divine reasoning or power. Instead, Jesus did what Adam should have done when the serpent came-a-calling. He used the very Word of God. Each time the devil comes, how does Jesus respond? He doesn’t say, “I think” or “I feel” or “I believe.” He doesn’t say, “Well everybody else says this.” What does He say? “It is written.” He quotes clear passages from the Bible every time. “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God’” (v. 4). When the devil tries to use the Bible to convince Jesus to it’s okay to jump off the temple Jesus says, “It is written again, ‘You shall not tempt the LORD your God.’” (v. 7). And finally, in the end Jesus says, “Away with you, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only you shall serve’” (v. 10).
Jesus sent the devil packing with the Word of God. He won this battle, just as He won every battle with the devil. He continued on in His mission, healing the sick, driving out demons, and raising the dead—doing it all in perfect righteousness and holiness. He kept on going until He reached the finish at the cross. And when that last nail was pounded into Jesus’ body, in reality it was the last nail in the coffin for all of Satan’s tricks and schemes. There by His suffering and death, Jesus paid for every last sin that separated us from our heavenly Father. And there, by His own death, Jesus defeated the devil for all eternity. We know it’s true because on that third day Jesus was raised to life bodily in all glory and exaltation.
And with Jesus’ victory we are winners too—winners in the battle against Satan. With every sin paid for, our relationship with God is restored; every sin is forgiven. No longer are we condemned to eternal suffering in hell, but we look forward to an eternal life in heaven through faith in Jesus.
Even now, in our own everyday battles with temptation, we know that through Jesus, we already have the victory. As far as the devil goes, “one little word can fell him.” We know the effectiveness of God’s Word in doing battle with Satan. As the old saying goes, “A chapter a day keeps the devil away.” And we also know that on those occasions when we do sin, when Satan comes a-calling to rub our noses in it and to try to convince us that God could never love lousy sinners like us, we still have one word that silences the devil’s accusations and sends him packing. And that word is: “Jesus.”
The war still rages; tough battles lie ahead. But it’s a war where the victory is already won and the evil forces of darkness are in retreat. They may lash out at us, but really—they can’t hurt us anymore. It was a war we couldn’t win for ourselves. So the Son of God fought it in our place. “For us fights the Valiant One, whom God Himself elected… He holds the field forever.” Amen.