The Wilderness – A Sign of Jesus’ Victory Matthew 4:1-11

Introduction – The Real Deal

Illustration – Facebook poll – Generic vs. The Real Deal

1:1-17 – The Son of David
1:18-25 – The Son of God
Chapter 2 – The Fulfillment of Prophecy
3:1-12 – The Herald of Jesus
3:13-17 – Divine Approval of Jesus (Baptism)
4:1-11 – Jesus, the True Israel (the Real Deal – through whom God’s redemptive purposes will reach fulfillment)

In order to understand today’s passage, we have to remember two things, first, Matthew is writing to a Jewish audience and second, as Matthew teaches them about Jesus, he is trying to show them that Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s covenant with Israel. Remember, the entire Old Testament is about God’s relationship with His chosen people – the nation of Israel. God’s relationship with the nation of Israel meant everything to the Jewish people because God had made a covenant with them and this was where they found their identity as a people. However, while God kept His side of the covenant by redeeming Israel from slavery and delivering them into the Promised Land, Israel had often failed in their obedience to God. Because of their continual sin, they had an imperfect relationship with God which had to be constantly mended through the sacrificial system.

Today we will see that as Matthew continues his introduction of Jesus to this Jewish audience, he is continuing to present Jesus as the True Israel – the greater and perfect fulfillment of God’s covenant. In today’s passage, the last of Matthew’s introductory material regarding Jesus, the implication that Jesus is the True Israel is made very clear. While we might not have picked up on it, what Matthew explains in 4:1-11 points very clearly to one of the most famous passages in the Old Testament for the Jewish people – Deuteronomy 6-8. In Deuteronomy 6-8 Moses is preparing the people to enter the Promised Land and one of the primary ways he does so is by recounting their journey through the wilderness for the past 40 years and pleading with them to learn from these lessons and act differently in the future. In his speech, we hear Moses say things like this:

  • Deuteronomy 5:32-33 – So be careful to do what the LORD your God has commanded you; do not turn aside to the right or to the left. 33 Walk in all the way that the LORD your God has commanded you, so that you may live and prosper and prolong your days in the land that you will possess.
  • Deuteronomy 6:20-25 – In the future, when your son asks you, “What is the meaning of the stipulations, decrees and laws the LORD our God has commanded you?” 21 tell him: “We were slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt, but the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. 22 Before our eyes the LORD sent miraculous signs and wonders—great and terrible—upon Egypt and Pharaoh and his whole household. 23 But he brought us out from there to bring us in and give us the land that he promised on oath to our forefathers. 24 The LORD commanded us to obey all these decrees and to fear the LORD our God, so that we might always prosper and be kept alive, as is the case today. 25 And if we are careful to obey all this law before the LORD our God, as he has commanded us, that will be our righteousness.”
  • Deuteronomy 7:12-13If you pay attention to these laws and are careful to follow them, then the LORD your God will keep his covenant of love with you, as he swore to your forefathers. 13 He will love you and bless you and increase your numbers. He will bless the fruit of your womb, the crops of your land—your grain, new wine and oil—the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks in the land that he swore to your forefathers to give you.
  • Deuteronomy 8:10-14 – When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the LORD your God for the good land he has given you. 11 Be careful that you do not forget the LORD your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. 12 Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, 13 and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, 14 then your heart will become proud and you will forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

This is the background that Matthew’s Jewish audience was very familiar with – it was their story. Israel was chosen by God, they were rescued from slavery by God, they wandered in the wilderness for forty years, and then they were finally delivered into the Promised Land. Today we will find Jesus in the wilderness. We will find that He is there not forty years, but forty days. And we will find that He is tested, just like Israel was, but how will He respond? Let’s find out!

Jesus Trusted God to Provide – Matthew 4:1-4
“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.’”
Immediately after Jesus was baptized and blessed in front of others by the Father and the Holy Spirit’s approval, we are told that He was “led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.” Why would God do this? Why would God lead Him into a difficult place and why would God allow Him to be tempted by Satan? We need to understand that when God tests us, He is doing a valuable thing. David sought God’s testing, asking Him to examine his heart and mind and see that they were true to Him (Psalm 26:2; 139:23). When Abram was tested by God in the matter of sacrificing Isaac, he obeyed (Hebrews 11:17–19) and showed to all the world that he was the father of faith (Romans 4:16). In both the Old and New Testaments, the words translated “test” mean “to prove by trial.” So when God tests us, His purpose is to prove that our faith is real. Not that God needs to prove it to Himself since He knows all things, but He is proving to us that our faith is real, that we are truly His children, and that no trial will overcome our faith. In Jesus’ case, God didn’t need to know if His faith was real, but He wanted us to see how Jesus would respond.

We saw in Deuteronomy how Israel responded to temptation in the wilderness, now we get to see Jesus’ response to some of the very same tests. The first test we see here in verses 1-4 has to do with God’s provision. Jesus has been fasting for 40 days and Satan (referred to as “the tempter”) shows up and challenges Jesus to turn some stones into bread. What was the temptation here? Satan was tempting Jesus to take matters into His own hands and provide for Himself rather than trusting God to provide for Him.

How does Jesus respond? He quotes a verse from the Scripture we looked at earlier, Deuteronomy 8:3, and I want to read to you the verses before that verse as well. Deuteronomy 8:2-3 says, “Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. 3 He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.” Jesus references Israel’s time of testing in the desert and He applies the lesson that they should have learned when God provided manna for them by telling Satan that His food was the Word of God, not just bread. In other words, Jesus was telling Satan that He trusted God to provided food when He needed it. He was not going to take matters into His own hands and work outside of God’s guidance, He didn’t doubt God’s goodness or provision, He trusted that God was faithful.

Jesus Would Not Put God to the Test – Matthew 4:5-7
“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.’”
Now Satan steps it up a notch, he tries to twist Scripture to tempt Jesus. Whereas the first time Satan tempted Jesus to take matters into His own hands and provide for Himself, this time he challenges Jesus to put God to the test. It’s as if Satan was saying, “God said He would command the angels to protect you. Let’s see if that’s true.” But of course, this scheme didn’t work either because as Jesus noted with His first response, He was a man of the Word. He knew Satan was twisting God’s words so He corrected Satan’s twisted theology and where does He turn in Scripture to correct Satan? Back to Deuteronomy. Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 6:16 which says, “Do not test the LORD your God as you did at Massah.” Jesus points to how Israel tested God at Massah by complaining to Moses about the lack of water, accusing God of bringing them out to the wilderness just to kill them, and questioning if God was even among them. Jesus would not doubt God like Israel did, and He wouldn’t act in such a way as to force God’s hand to prove Himself faithful. Jesus trusted God’s Word and His faithfulness.

Jesus Worshipped God Alone – Matthew 4:8-11

 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 will 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.
Although Jesus had withstood Satan two times now, the enemy didn’t give up. Matthew tells us that Satan took Jesus to a very high mountain where He could see all the kingdoms of the world. We know that this is more of a vision experience than reality because there are no mountains in that region that would have been high enough to see all the kingdoms of the world. Satan offers Jesus all the kingdoms in the world and we can assume that as part of this offer Jesus was being offered power and glory over these kingdoms as well, but there was a catch. While this offer would allow Jesus to forego the suffering and death that He knew awaited Him, He would have to worship Satan. Satan attempted to offer Jesus an easy way out, but Jesus knew His purpose on earth so it was an easy decision for Him. Once again He quotes Deuteronomy, this time 6:13 referencing Moses’ command to worship God alone – a lesson the Israelites learned the hard way after they made a golden calf.

So, we find in the story of the Israelites an elaborate typological presentation of Jesus as the True Israel, the “Son of God” through whom God’s redemptive purposes for His people will at last reach their fulfillment. With this last picture of Jesus, Matthew has completed a profound and powerful picture of Jesus the Messiah for his Jewish audience. Where Israel failed, Jesus will prevail. The wilderness journey at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry is a sign that Jesus can and will bring about the kingdom of heaven that John preached about.

How Can We Follow Jesus’ Example to Withstand the Enemy?
Jesus set an incredible example for how we can stand strong in the face of temptation. Obviously, He is holier and smarter and stronger than us, but I want you to see that everything He did in this situation is possible for us.

  1. He was led by the Spirit through His time in prayer and the Word

It is easy to miss, but notice that Jesus was led into this wilderness time by the Spirit. This wasn’t a magical or ethereal thing, Jesus, through time in prayer and communion with God was led by the Spirit in the same way we are. This is why Jesus commands us in John 15 to abide in Him. When we spend time in God’s Word and in prayer and we make room for stillness and silence and meditation on the Word of God, He will lead us. We often struggle to hear God because we stay too busy or we neglect spending time with Him. Jesus, on the other hand, was nourished by every word that came from the mouth of God. His focus, His worship, His service was on God alone, so He was in touch with God’s leading and God’s priorities in such a way that when Satan tempted Him, He was able to see reality and not give in to Satan’s deception.

  1. He recognized the temptation

Jesus’ intimacy with God led Him to recognize how Satan’s propositions departed from God’s will. Often we give in to temptation because we don’t even see the temptation as something wrong. Satan is so crafty and subtle that before we know it we are gossiping or lusting or exploding with anger. Jesus recognized that Satan was tempting Him to do things His own way instead of God’s way. He recognized that intentionally putting Himself in danger would be testing God. He recognized that taking a shortcut to receive glory was not God’s plan. Often we fall into these traps because Satan makes sin seem good.

Consider how Eve fell into sin. Satan used the same tactics he uses here with Jesus. First he had her take a look at the fruit and see that it looked good. It was pleasing to the eye. It didn’t seem inherently bad. Then Satan made her question God’s Word saying, “Did God really say ‘Don’t eat from any tree in the garden?’” Lastly, he flat out lied saying, “You will not surely die, God just doesn’t want you to be like him.” Satan tempted her to do things her own way, to be her own God. His methods haven’t changed, yet because we are not consumed with the Word of God and the wisdom it offers, we often fall for the same old tricks.

  1. He resisted Satan

The third thing we see Jesus do is to simply resist Satan. He stood firm. He said no. He told Satan to go away, and it worked! Two of Jesus’ closest friends saw this in Jesus’ life and gave the same advice. Jesus’ brother James said in James 4:7, “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” Jesus’ best friend Peter said in 1 Peter 5:8-9, “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 9 Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.”

I want you to recognize something that you know, but maybe haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about. Satan wants to destroy you. First he entices you, then he accuses you for that very thing. He is the enemy of your soul. His goal is your destruction. This is not something to flirt with. There is one being in the universe whose sole purpose of being is to wreck you eternally. We must never forget that and we must never fail to be dependent on the Lord and pray as Jesus taught us to pray, “Father, deliver us from the evil one.” Our problem is not that our desires are too strong, rather, our desires are too weak! We take little trinkets of pleasure or comfort instead of holding out for the eternal blessings of God.

  1. He sought the glory of God above all else

Lastly, but most importantly, Jesus lived for one purpose – He lived for the glory of God. As He said in John 4:34 – ““My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.” He was nourished, fulfilled by doing the work of the Lord. Jesus told us in Matthew 6:33 to “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and (everything else) will be given to you as well.” In John 17:1-4 as Jesus prays to the Father he says, “Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. 2 For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. 3 Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. 4 I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do.” This was the aim of Jesus’ life, and I believe, the key to His focus and success as our Savior. If you will make bringing glory to God your number one priority in life, all of your other priorities will fall into place. Don’t seek your glory or your comfort. Don’t seek the approval of man, seek God’s glory and God’s kingdom – or His purposes – and you will find the abundant life you were made for. Satan’s temptations will cease to be tempting because your desire will be for things so much greater than anything he could offer and you will find success in facing temptation and be able to move on from the idea of sin management to living on mission.

One last thought: I want you to see that this time in the wilderness for Jesus was not the story of His life. Sure, He would be tempted by Satan throughout His life. Sure, He would suffer often. But His focus wasn’t on trying not to sin. His focus wasn’t on just being a good person. That is not the purpose of the Christian life. Our hope as a church is not to produce nice, polite people. Jesus’s purpose, and our purpose as the church, is to advance the kingdom of heaven. Our desire is to pierce the darkness with God’s light. Our mission is to save the lost, make disciples who will make disciples, and bring glory to God. After Jesus’ time in the wilderness He began His ministry and you must do the same. Your mission once you become a Christian is not just to live a better, more moral life, it is to begin your ministry of advancing the kingdom of heaven.

You were saved to serve, so consider today if your life is advancing the kingdom, and if not, do whatever is necessary to live with that one purpose in mind. Do not waste this brief life you have been given.


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