It often happens in the Christian life, that after the blessing comes the battle. After the mountain top comes the valley. After feeling so close to God, there comes a time when you feel so very far away from God. The greatest temptations follows the greatest victories. The greatest trials follow the biggest triumphs.
Remember Elijah in the Old Testament? He went to Mt. Carmel to have a contest of Gods between him and the 450 prophets of Baal. And if you have read the story in 1 Kings 18, you remember that it was a great victory and a great display of power for the Only True God in Heaven, and Elijah was so excited that, on his way back to town, he was able to outrun the horses pulling the chariot. But then, only one chapter later, in 1 Kings 19, we see Elijah as low as he has ever been. He’s hiding out in the desert wishing he could die.
After the blessing comes the battle. After the mountaintop comes the valley. After the victory comes the test.
And we see this happen with Jesus in Luke 4.
The first four chapters of the book of Luke are all about Jesus’ preparation for ministry. In chapter 2, we saw his birth and His preparation during His childhood. In chapter 3, we saw his preparation through the ministry of John the Baptist by being baptized.
And his baptism was the mountaintop. He came up out of the water after being baptized by John, and God thundered out of heaven, “You is my beloved Son; in You I am well pleased.”
How is that for a mountain top experience? But Luke 4 immediately begins with the valley. Jesus goes from the heights to the depths. From the blessing to the battle.
Luke 4:1-2 set the scene as Jesus is led into the wilderness.
1. Into the Wilderness (Luke 4:1-2a)
Luke 4:1. Then Jesus, being filled with the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness,
Jesus has just been baptized by John in the Jordan River. The Holy Spirit descended upon him like a dove, and now He is filled with the Holy Spirit, that means He is controlled by the Holy Spirit. And what does the Holy Spirit do?
Leads Him into the wilderness. The wilderness was part of Judea about 35 miles long by 15 miles wide. It was called Jeshimmon, which means “The Devastation.” The hills are like dust heaps; the limestone looked blistered and peeling; the rocks were bare and jagged. It was in this terrible devastation that Jesus was tempted. Jesus was in the wilderness.
I think all of us have experienced such periods of devastation, of times in the wilderness in our own life. Times when the spiritual and ministry landscape around us is hot, barren and dry. Sometimes, it lasts a day or two, sometimes it lasts a month or more. Sometimes it lasts years. As an example of someone for whom this time of wilderness lasted years, take the apostle Paul. He received a revelation from God on the road to Damascus and believed in Jesus for eternal life.
According to Acts 9:20, tried to start a ministry to his Jewish brethren there. It says he was winning arguments and debates with them. He had studied well. He knew his Bible. But all that happened was that he almost got killed. So he went to Jerusalem, and the apostles there wouldn’t trust him either. But he went out and again tried to start a ministry to the Hellenistic Jews in Jerusalem, but again, the only thing that happened was that he kept making people mad. So finally, the apostles had to get rid of him, and they sent him off to Tarsus.
And I think the account is Acts 9 is very humorous. It is after they sent Paul away that the church began to prosper (9:31).
You can imagine what Paul is feeling. Jesus Christ told him on the road to Damascus that he was going to be used greatly by God, but every time Paul tried to be used by God, all he did was cause problems and so was sent away. And so what did Paul do? Well, he served, quietly, in a church, in the boondocks of Tarsus. For 14 years he was there. He was unknown. He was unrecognized. People forgot about him. He probably began to think that God had forgotten about him too.
But God had not forgotten. God sent Paul to Tarsus, I am convinced, to teach him humility. To teach him how to get victory over his temptation of pride. That is why he writes in 1 Corinthians 8:1 that knowledge puffs up. In Damascus and Jerusalem, he had all the knowledge, but he had not learned love. His knowledge had made him proud, but God wanted him to learn love also. Now Paul would never, ever say that knowledge is unimportant. His writings and letters clearly indicate that we should all get as much knowledge as we can. But arrogant knowledge, prideful knowledge, knowledge without love is a dangerous thing.
And so God put Paul on the back burner for 17 years in order to teach Paul how to speak the truth in love. And when, after 17 years, Paul had learned this lesson in the wilderness of Arabia and backwaters of Tarsus, God said to Paul, “Okay, now you are ready to be used.” And Paul did turn the world upside down for God. But he had to spend time in the wilderness learning to overcome temptation.
This is similar to what happens to Jesus here. He has prepared himself for ministry, and the final step for that is learning to overcome temptation. Spending time in the wilderness, learning to stand on the Word of God against the devil. This is what Luke 4:2 says he did.
Luke 4:2. …being tempted for forty days by the devil.
He was in the wilderness for forty days. Luke’s reference here to forty days would ring a bell with his Jewish audience. Christ’s 40 days are like Moses’ 40 days spent on Mt. Sinai (Exod 34:28), or Elijah’s 40 day journey to Mt. Horeb (1 Kings 19:48).
You could even equate Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness with Israel’s 40 years in the wilderness.
In fact, there are many similarities between Israel’s early history and Jesus’ first 30 years. Abraham spent some time in the Promised Land, then in a time of famine, moved to Egypt. Similarly, Jesus was born in Bethlehem, then when his life was threatened by king Herod, they moved to Egypt. After quite a while in Egypt, the Israelites came back to Canaan, but before they entered, they crossed through the Red Sea and spent 40 years in the desert. So also with Jesus. He grew up, was baptized in the Jordan River, and before he can begin his ministry, he spends 40 days in the wilderness.
And just as the Israelites were tempted in the wilderness, so also Jesus is tempted. This is what we see next in Luke 4:2. It says he was severely tempted by the devil.
We will see in Luke 4:1-13 that Jesus was tempted in three ways, which are similar to the ways the Israelites were tempted in the wilderness, and similar to the way Adam and Eve were tempted in the garden of Eden, and which are similar to the way all of us are tempted today.
You see, Satan is not real creative. He has only three basic temptations, and only one tactic. These three temptations are summarized in 1 John 2:16. Satan’s only three temptations are the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. No matter what temptation you are dealing with, it falls into one of these three categories. The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.
From Genesis 3:6, we see Satan use these same three on Eve. She saw that the tree was good for food (that’s the lust of the flesh), that it was pleasing to the eyes (that’s the lust of the eyes), and that it was desirable to make one wise (that’s the pride of life).
Similarly, Jesus was tempted in three ways . Satan wanted Jesus to turn stone into bread (the lust of the flesh), the devil showed him all the kingdoms of the world (the lust of the eyes), and tempted Jesus to throw himself down from the pinnacle of the temple in order to easily declare himself as the Messiah and prove that God was working for him (the pride of life).
Those are Satan’s only three temptations.
And Satan’s only tactic in these three categories of temptation is to raise doubt in our minds about the Word of God . He twists the Word of God. He makes subtle changes to the Word of God. He adds to the Word of God, or subtracts from the Word of God. He rips verses out of context from the Word of God.
All of Satan’s temptations revolve around misusing or abusing the Word of God. That is how he tempted Eve in Genesis 3, the way he tempted the Israelites in the wilderness, the way he tempted the kings of Israel, and that is the way he tempts Jesus here.
And this is the way he temps you. He twists the Word of God, and raises doubt about what God has said. This is why it is so vitally important to know the Word of God. That is why it is so important to be studying the Word daily, to attend a church where the Word is faithfully taught from the pulpit, and to attend Bible studies and learn good Bible study methods.
If you don’t know the Word of God, and you don’t know how to correctly handle the Word of God, you will be easy prey for the devil. Because I guarantee you, he is a student of the Word. Not so that he can obey it, but so that he can twist it. The Word of God is the Sword of the Spirit which is used to stand against the devil. And if you are not proficient with the Word, well, Satan will use his twisted version of God’s Word against you.
Eve was ignorant of the Word, and so she was deceived and fell into sin. Jesus Christ is the Master Swordsman with the Word of God, and that is one of the reasons He was able to fend off the devil. We will see this as we go through each temptation. So Satan only has three temptations, and only one tactic. Let’s turn now, in the second half of Luke 4:2 to see the first temptation, which is,
2. The Lust of the Flesh (Luke 4:2b-4)
Luke 4:2b. And in those days He ate nothing, and afterward, when they had ended, He was hungry.
I believe this is quite an understatement. If you didn’t eat anything for forty days, how hungry would you be? But the hunger of Jesus sets up the next verse and the first temptation. And by the way, before we look at Luke 4:3, it is an age old theological question whether Jesus could have sinned or not. Well, I have read all the books, and studied all the arguments, and my current opinion is… “I don’t know.”
I know that in His deity, He could not have sinned, for God cannot sin, nor is tempted by anything (Jas 1:13). But Christ was certainly tempted in His humanity, and probably to a much greater degree than we are, because He was tempted by Satan.
Think about it this way: How much temptation does it take for you to sin? For most of us, it doesn’t take much at all. We have a sinful flesh that will lead us off into temptation every chance it gets. And so Satan doesn’t have to come and tempt us, or even send some of His minions to do the job. Our flesh causes us to sin at the drop of hat, and so he doesn’t have to expend any energy tempting us.
This is so true that probably not a single one of us will ever, in our entire lives, be directly tempted by Satan himself. He is not like God who can be everywhere at once. He can only be in once place at one time, and with over six billion people on the planet, he probably has more important things to take care of than tempting you to cheat on your taxes or watch that dirty movie. Your flesh will lead you off into those temptations all by itself, no help from Satan required.
But Jesus was tempted directly by Satan because Jesus was without sinful flesh. This is what Hebrews 4:15 means when it says that He was tempted in all ways as we are, but without sin. He had no sinful flesh to tempt Him like we do, and so was tempted directly by Satan, just as Eve (and Adam, if he was by her side) in the garden.
With this in mind, let’s turn to look at the first temptation in verse 3.
Luke 4:3. And the devil said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.”
Satan is saying, “Since you are the Son of God, use your divine gifts to satisfy your own fleshly desires.” There is a sense of the devil mocking Jesus here. Satan is saying, “How pathetic. The Son of God is struggling with hunger. That’s so human. Come on, you’re better than this. You deserve more. Go ahead, make some bread for yourself. You know you want it.”
This is kind of a “bread from heaven” idea that Satan tempts Jesus with. The Israelites got to eat bread when they were hungry and in the wilderness. It came down in the form of manna from heaven. Satan is saying, “Jesus, you are hungry too, and you are in the wilderness, just like they were. God gave bread to them. He’ll let you use your power to make bread for yourself. Go on. It’s okay. God won’t mind.”
The error, the lie, the Scripture twisting of Satan, however, is that the Israelites were relying upon God for provision. “Though the manna was on the ground, it was still a test of faith for the people. They had to believe that God’s Word was trustworthy” and that if they did things God’s way, He would provide for them daily.
But do you remember? Some of the Israelites tried to store up the manna for the future. Some of them tried to do things their own way, instead of God’s way. They were only supposed to collect what they needed for one day, but some of them collected enough for two or three days. But the next day, when they woke up, the extra they had collected was rotting and was full of maggots. If they wanted daily sustenance, they had to daily trust in God to provide it. But the temptation was to attempt to provide for themselves.
This is the same temptation Jesus faces here. If Jesus made bread for Himself, He would be relying on Himself rather than on God. Satan wants Jesus to selfishly use His abilities to meet His own desires. That’s the lust of the flesh. This is the “If-it-feels-good-do-it” philosophy.
Now, don’t misunderstand, there’s nothing wrong with having our needs met. There’s nothing wrong with eating when we’re hungry. There’s nothing wrong with resting when we’re tired. There’s nothing wrong with working hard to provide for ourselves and our family. But there is something wrong when we take the gifts God has given us, and use them to meet our own personal desires. Jesus had the ability to make bread from stones. He could have done that if He wanted. But that would not be a proper use of His ability. That power, that ability was for the purpose of serving others, not for serving himself.
This is a common temptation among us all. God has given to each of you Spiritual gifts which are to be used for spiritual purposes. But frequently, we use these spiritual gifts to make ourselves rich, and make ourselves popular, and get glory for ourselves. If you know what your spiritual gifts are, make sure you are not using them to fulfill your own personal desires. Make sure you are using them as God intended, to edify other believers or evangelize the world.
Those are the only two purposes for spiritual gifts: evangelism and edification of the church. This is true even of the gift of tongues. Although the Bible indicates that tongues can be used for personal edification (1 Cor 14:4), Paul says in 1 Corinthians 14:14-19, that unless the tongues are interpreted, nobody is edified, not even the one speaking in tongues. That is why Paul says that he would rather speak five words with understanding than 10,000 words in a tongue.
But even gifts that are used to edify others can be used selfishly. Some people with the gift of mercy and service only serve others in the hopes that they will get public recognition. Some pastors and teachers hope that by teaching, everybody will tell them what a great preacher they are. I will admit, it is nice to get praise and encouragement, but that should not be the motive for our service. Our spiritual gifts should never be used for selfish reasons.
This is what Satan tempted Jesus to do with his power: to use it to feed himself. Jesus’ answer is in Luke 4:4.
Luke 4:4. But Jesus answered him, saying, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God.'”
Jesus’ answer is that the Spiritual is more important than the physical. Jesus is quoting from Deuteronomy 8:3, in which Moses reminds the Israelites of the manna which God had given them, and that manna was not enough to support them, but they must rely solely and completely on the Word of God. God promised to bring them into their own land, and if he helped them escape Egypt, and delivered them through the Red Sea, he would certainly make sure they didn’t starve in the desert. Moses is reminding the people to simply trust in God’s Word.
So also, Jesus must know that God would not send Him to this earth, protect him as He was growing up, promise that He would be the Messiah, and then allow Him to starve in the wilderness. No, Jesus knew that God’s Word can be trusted. And that is what he says in Luke 44. Jesus is not telling Satan that he doesn’t need bread. He does. He is hungry. He is probably literally starving to death at this point. His body does need bread.
But Jesus’ answer is that the spiritual is more important than the physical, and that God’s gifts should not be used to satisfy our fleshly desires. Do not give in to the lusts of the flesh. Instead, feed on the Word of God, and submit your life to it. Jesus completely, 100% submitted Himself to God as revealed in the Word of God.
We do not live a good life by feeding all of our fleshly desires, and giving ourselves everything we want. We live the good life by feeding on the Word of God. I fear that too many Christians today are suffering from spiritual malnutrition. Too many Christians today are spiritually famished. This is because too many churches today are offering only cotton candy and kool-aid to the people in their church. It tastes good, it looks good, but it has no substance. No meat. It’s just sugar and fluff and air. Nobody can live on that for long. Some pastors are preaching to people’s “felt needs” rather than meeting their true spiritual needs.
We are living in a day and age like in the days of Amos. Amos 8:11 says, “‘Behold, the days are coming,’ says the Lord God, ‘That I will send a famine on the land, Not a famine of bread, Nor a thirst for water, But of hearing the Words of the Lord. They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; They shall run to and fro, seeking the Word of the Lord, But shall not find it.'”
Have you ever wondered why there is so much church hopping going on today? Because people are seeking the Word of the Lord, but not finding it. Oh, they think they want good contemporary music, and children’s programs, and a huge youth group, and all those things are good to have, but what they are really searching for, and just don’t know it, is the Word of God. People are hungering for the meat of the Word and when they find it, they never want to go back to cotton candy and kool-aid. But it is also because these are the churches that are faithfully following the directions God has laid out in his Word, and so God is blessing them for their obedience.
God tells us to preach the Word, to feed people with the Word, and He blesses those churches that obey.
God also blesses individuals who feed on the Word. Just from our text this morning, feeding on the Word is a key ingredient to overcoming temptation in your own life. Whether you’re struggling with lusts of the flesh like overeating, pornography, tobacco, drugs, alcohol or whatever, the solution is always the same: feed on the Word of God instead of whatever you are lusting for. Submit yourself to God instead of whatever has you in bondage.
I began this message by saying that frequently, in the Christian life, battles often follow blessings. Times in the wilderness, times in the desert, often follow times on the mountaintop. God allows you to go throughtimes of testing so that you will be better prepared for greater ministry and greater effectiveness in the near future. Even Jesus had to go through spiritual temptation before he began his ministry.
But be warned, if you want to move on in your spiritual life, you must make it through the trial. God will not let us move on until we have passed the test.
I have seen so many Christians over the years who want to be used by God, but who are flying in a holding pattern. They keep flying around, and around, and around in circles because they keep making the same mistakes over and over and over.
When airline pilots are trained, they are first put in a flight simulator. The simulator is designed to present the pilot with a variety of potential problems so that he will be able to handle any emergency situation in the future. First, the pilot is tested with simple challenges, which eventually lead up to catastrophic situations. The pilots are given more difficult problems only after they have mastered the previous ones. They are not allowed to move on until they have learned to deal with the test.
So it is with God. He says in 1 Corinthians 10:13 that we will never be tempted above what we can bear. This means that until we pass a certain temptation level, he will not let us move on to a higher ministry level either. Each level has it’s own privileges and temptations. God will not move you up, until you pass the test.
Don’t get stuck in a holding pattern. Like Jesus, Feed on the Word, study the Manual, pass the test, move on to the next thing God has for you.
 Barclay, 43.
 Somewhere in here he spent three years in Arabia (Gal 1:17).
 This is a first class conditional phrase in the Greek, meaning “since you are the Son of God.” Satan is not questioning Christ’s divinity, he is wanting Christ to misuse His divinity.
 Bible Knowledge Commentary, 213.
 Edersheim, 292.