As the fourth chapter of Matthew opens, we see Jesus being led into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit so that he can be tempted / tested by Satan. This poses a ton of questions for us, not all of which we have answers for. Nevertheless, we can draw some conclusions from this fact alone. First, this process was something that Jesus had to go through, and it would not be easy. He doesn’t just get a free pass because he is Jesus. Second, when we experience tests and temptations and trials, God may not be causing them, but he is allowing them. (See James 1:2,3). Just as Jesus was able to resist temptation, so too are we. We are provided, by God, an escape, if we look for it (See James 1:13). Another interesting point is that the word used here (4:1) for tempt, which appears 39 times in the new testament is more commonly translated to test, such as when the Pharisees asked Jesus a question “testing” him and a related word is used in James 1:2 as “trial.”
Through these temptations Jesus is given an option of demonstrating just what type of Messiah he is going to be and if he is going to follow the way of the Father or the way of the world. Each test presents a different challenge and how both Jesus and Satan respond to each tells us much about both. It’s also to be remembered that this testing follows 40 days of fasting on the part of Jesus. Whether this was a literal 40-day period or a phrase meaning a given length of time, the result is the same. Jesus had spent a length of time alone in the wilderness with his Father preparing for his public ministry. While there would be times when Jesus would go out by himself, never again are we told in the gospels about such a time as this. By the end he was physically weak due to the fasting, as we are reminded of his humanity, and it is no wonder that Satan would choose a time such as this to try Jesus. It is often when we find ourselves at a low point that the Devil will come at us, hoping to exploit our frailty. Jesus had spent this time in perfect communion with the Father and thus they were linked, as only the Father and Son could be in the God head. It is another point that Satan will often try to disrupt that link we have between ourselves and God, and the closer we move toward God, the more Satan will try and pull or push us away.
The first test…. turn the stone into bread. Not much of a test, Jesus is hungry, and Jesus can command nature and we know that later he will supernaturally feed the multitude with fish and bread. So why would Jesus not do this and why is it a test at all? First, because it would be selfish and based on personal gain and benefit. Jesus is alone. This isn’t about having compassion on the multitude which have gathered. This isn’t about providing for starving persons as God did in the wilderness with manna, but about satisfying personal want. Secondly, it points to the idea of impressing people by giving them stuff – buying their vote, if you will. Sure, Jesus could get people to rally to his side if he gave them free food, or free stuff to meet their material needs, but that doesn’t do anything for their heart. After all, what we have in this world is not permanent and Jesus is looking to give people eternity. We are also reminded that even though God did feed the Israelite’s in the wilderness, it did not build faith. They ultimately wanted more and grumbled over their meager provisions, forgetting that they were previously worried about starving. Jesus reminds the Devil that people need more than bread, they need God. Let us remember the same when we are tempted to give up on God because we don’t have all we “want” or think we need, rather that God has given us far more in his son who died for us. God wants us to love him because he is (just as he loves us) not because of what he can do for us (give us bread, grant wishes). Jesus as a messiah was going to meet peoples’ deepest need for a restored relationship with God, not simply buy their affection. Don’t let Satan fool us into believing material prosperity equals happiness, fulfillment, or joy. All the world has to offer will be left behind one day. As Jesus would later say, what good does it do to gain the world but lose your soul?