To get a sense of what is happening to our Lord in Matthew chapter four, and to apply Christ’s antidote to temptation to ourselves today, let’s see how Paul prepares Timothy for ministry in Second Timothy chapter three.
Understand this, Paul begins, in the last days there will come times of difficulty. If you’re looking for a specific time, that time is now. It was now even at the time Paul wrote these words to Timothy. The last days begin when Jesus is raised from the dead and ascends to His Father in heaven. The more the Gospel is preached to the world, the more the world throws everything and the kitchen sink at Christians. Indeed, Paul continues, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.
You and I haven’t really suffered persecution like Paul and Timothy suffered persecution, not to say anything about Christians in certain portions of Asia and Africa today. Being called a “Christer” by people or suffering name-calling on social media isn’t true persecution. Nevertheless, it is a form of temptation. No one likes to be called names. It is true that “sticks and stones may break my bones by talk don’t bother me”, but when so many people talk the same way for a long time, you begin to wonder if there’s something to their words.
There is temptation to equate everything that the Grand Old Party does with being pleasing to God, just as there is temptation to equate everything the Democratic Party does as being anti-Christian. That is painting with a broad brush because members of both political parties are among those redeemed by Christ the crucified. It is also a means of temptation by the devil for you to believe it, just as it was a means of temptation for Satan to tell Jesus, All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.
The pleasure and glory of the world is bait with which the devil deceives and catches us. He has caught many Christians with it. The glory of the world glistens and tinkles so beautifully and lovely as if everything would be just fine if we could have control of everything at our disposal. How quickly we forget that the world is in a sorry state. The devil is the prince of this world. The entire world’s beauty is the devil’s pomp and pride. You serve the world, you serve the devil. You serve the devil, you don’t serve God. We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.
If the devil doesn’t get you there, he will dare you to do something you ought not to do. He will tell you God cares about you, but in the wrong way. That’s how He tries to trick Jesus. Throw Yourself down from the pinnacle of the temple! His angels will catch you. That’s what Psalm 91 says, right? Almost, Satan, but not quite. God does not promise that He will protect and preserve me and let me succeed if I dare something without need and without His command. I stay on the way the Lord has prepared for me and not play fast and loose with His kindness, faithfulness, and help.
One of the ways this happens is for us to set up our own self-chosen devotion and piety. For example, we shun baptism because it uses a created thing, water, to bestow heavenly things: forgiveness of sins and a new life in Christ Jesus. We think that God hates created things and would rather we focus on spiritual things. Even though Holy Scripture says baptism is a good thing, we interpret it the wrong way and make something good into something evil because we don’t like how God set it up in His kingdom.
Working backwards, we come to the first temptation of Jesus. Satan baits us like he baits our Lord. He makes us think God doesn’t care for us even though Holy Scripture is full of our Father in heaven providing good things for His children when they are in need. Satan starts in with making you doubt you are God’s child. Can’t you help yourself? Can’t Jesus show Himself in your home and zap some bread on your table? What use is all this faith and prayer? The more you bless God, the more He curses you, so keep on blessing God and die!
There’s an antidote to all these temptations. Here’s how Paul explains it to Timothy: continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from infancy you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
The way through temptation is to trust what God has written in His Word. When you understand the crafty language of the devil, and he knows how to misuse the Bible more than you know how properly to use the Bible, when you have ripped away the pious mask from the devil’s face, you have already won the victory. Satan talks a good game, but his words are all mist and vapor. He mutilates the Scriptures, tears them out of context, misapplies it, invalidates God’s promises and turns it all to ruin.
Jesus says to Satan over and over: It is written. Cling to what Scripture says about God’s promises to you. That’s the only weapon you have to fight the devil, the world, and your own sinful nature. You live by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God. When you walk in the way of trusting God above all things, He will protect and guide you on the path of life through the valley of the shadow of death. Trust that there is only one way, truth, and life for you: Jesus Christ, the Righteous One Who overcomes Satan’s temptations for you.
You will forget the way out of temptation. You will succumb to the devil’s lies. Jesus held fast against Satan for you. Jesus holds the field forever. Jesus is Your Champion. He is complete, equipped for every good work. In His completion you find your completion. In His goodness you find your goodness. In His obedience to His Father you find your obedience to your heavenly Father. Continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed. He who stands firm to the end shall be saved. Believe it for Jesus’ sake.