Gospel: Matthew 4:1-11

The Temptation

What little delights in life tempt you? Are they hard to resist? Why?

Diet or indulgence. Exercise or relaxation. Fiscal management or a little extravagance. Luxury tempts us to give in and enjoy life. Every small temptation, however, exposes the means (the "how") of a larger temptation. Jesus' encounter with Satan details means and substance of temptation.

Popular Translation

Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan River. 1 Then, God's Spirit led Jesus into the back country, so the devil could test him. 2 Jesus lived on little food for forty days. After that, Jesus was very hungry.

3 The devil came to tempt Jesus. "If you're really God's Son, just say the word. And these stones will turn into bread," the devil told Jesus.

4 "The Bible says: 'People need more than bread to really live. They need every word God speaks!'" Jesus replied.

5 Next, the devil took Jesus into Jerusalem and stood him on the top of the Temple. 6 "If you're really God's Son, jump," the devil challenged Jesus. "The Bible says: 'God will command his angels to take care of you.' It also says: 'His angels will take you by their hands so you won't even stub your toe as you land.'"

7 "The Bible also says, 'All of you! Do not test your God!'" Jesus replied.

8 Finally, the devil took him onto to a very high mountain top. The devil showed him the riches and power of every country on earth. 9 "I will give you all this, if you fall on your knees and worship me," the devil told Jesus.

10 "Go away, Satan!" Jesus replied. "The Bible says, 'Worship the Lord your God! Only serve him!"

11 At this point, the devil left Jesus. Then God's angels came to take care of him.

Like Luke, Matthew presented the temptation of Jesus in three areas: food, mighty deeds, and power. Each represent a style of Messiahship that Jesus rejected. In his denial of each, Jesus defined what sort of Messiah he would be.

Literal Translation

(Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan River.) 1 Then, JESUS was led into the wilderness by the Spirit to be tested by the devil. 2 Having fasted forty days and forty nights, HE was hungry afterwards. 3 Approaching, the tempting one said, "If you are the Son of God, speak, so these stones might become bread." 4 But HE, answering, said, "It has been written: 'Man will not live only on bread, but on every word proceeding from the mouth of God.'" 5 Then, the devil took HIM into the (Jerusalem,) the Holy City, stood HIM on the highest point of the Temple, 6 and said to HIM, "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. For it is written: 'He will give charge to his angels about you,' and 'They will bear you on their hands lest you strike your foot against a stone." 7 JESUS said to him, "Again, it is written: 'You (people) will not test the Lord your God!'" 8 Again, the devil took HIM onto a very high mountain, showed HIM all the lands of the world and their glory, 9 and said to HIM, "I will give all these things to you, if, bowing to the ground, you worship me." 10 Then, Jesus said to him, "Go (away), Satan! For it has been written, 'You WILL worship the Lord your God! Only him WILL you serve!'" 11 Then, the devil left HIM and Look! angels came and served HIM.

4:1 After the public declaration of John's baptism and the revelation of God, the Spirit led Jesus into the desert to answer a question: "What kind of Messiah will you be?" By enabling Jesus to define his public identity, the devil cooperated with God's will.

Such a retreat after a public declaration was not unknown in the New Testament. After Paul declared his faith in Christ at Damascus, he withdrew from view in Asia Minor for three years (see Galatians 1:11-22).

4:3 Providing bread for the masses echoed God's gift of manna to the people in the Exodus. And the multiplication of the loaves, especially in John 6. Notice how the people misunderstand the gift God gave them in bread. Appreciation became expectation, which could be manipulated and manipulating. Expectation is not faith.

4:4 Deuteronomy 8:3 from the Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Old Testament that the early Church used.

4:5 "...the highest point..." is literally "little wing." We do not know what this phrase meant, since the Temple no longer exists. But, the context seemed to indicate a high point on the building. Matthew may have been influenced by Psalm 91:4:

He will cover you with his pinions,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness is a shield and buckler. (RSV)

This was the same Psalm the devil quoted from in the next verse.

4:6 Psalm 91:11a, 12. The two verses are quoted separately because Psalm 91:11b ("to guard you in all your ways") is missing.

4:7 Deuteronomy 6:16 from the Septuagint. The original context of the verse referred to the people, not to the devil. In this case, Jesus pointed his comment to the people below, not to the devil himself, who would not willingly worship the Lord.

4:8 "lands" is literally "kingdoms." The verse stressed every area of the known world, not just formal kingdoms.

4:10 "WILL worship...serve!" The force of the future tense is so immediate, it is like a command. So the verse can be translated : "Worship God! Only serve him!"

Before we look at the Temptation itself, we must answer the question: why are we tempted? To test our true character. Sometimes we need testing even after a life changing experience of God. After such a blinding revelation, we might seek a retreat to place that insight into the context of life. The retreat would provide us a time of testing, a time to find our personal resolve. After Spirit came upon Jesus in his baptism, the Spirit led (literally "drove") Jesus into a desert retreat so he could, indeed, measure his own resolve. [4:1-2]

There, Satan tested Jesus not only with food, mighty deeds, and power. Satan tempted the Lord with three popular views of the Messiah: care-giver, wonder-worker, and source of power. In the first scenario, Satan challenged Jesus with his baptismal title (And a voice came from the heavens, saying, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased." Matthew 3:17). If Jesus was truly God's Son, Satan declared, then he could provide food for himself and all the people. He could become the Savior of material needs, like the State under communism. But, Jesus responded with Scripture (Deuteronomy 8:3). Salvation can not be found in materials goods (food, clothing, shelter); it can only be found in a faith relationship with God. [4:3-4] The Messiah would not provide a social "safety net."

"Alright," the devil seemed to say, "prove your Father is worthy of trust. Throw yourself down from the highest point of the Temple. If you are truly God's Son, your Father should save you" Satan not only challenged Jesus' title, he tested the trust relationship the title implied. The Son would not merely place himself in the hands of the Father, as a private matter. The way he placed that trust would show others the way to the Father. Proof of trust must then be public. Using the same mode of arguing Jesus employed in the first temptation, Satan even quoted Scripture to make his point (Psalm 91:11-12). [4:5-6]

Satan was half-right. Jesus would prove his trust of the Father in public. But, Satan wanted a great sign of wonder that would lead people only to Jesus. Amazed, the people would praise the Wonder-Worker. Then, Jesus' pride would swell and the Father would be trapped doing the Son's bidding. In the end, Satan would have conquered the power of the Father through his Son. And, he would have used pride to drive a wedge between them. The ministry of the Son would end even before it began.

Of course, Jesus saw through the ruse. God cannot be tempted, otherwise he would not be GOD! Using Scripture (Deuteronomy 6:16), Jesus stated this obvious fact. [4:7]

Finally, Satan tempted Jesus on the top of a mountain, a symbol of close contact with God. The devil had the audacity to tempt Jesus in the presence of his Father not by pointing up (to God) but by pointing down (to the world). Even within the so close a proximity to God, Satan tried to usurp His place. "Worship me," the devil seemed to say, "and be the source of all worldly power. Be my son, not His." [4:8-9]

Again, Jesus rejected Satan's advance through Scripture (Deuteronomy 6:13). [4:10] In the end, Satan could not use physical cravings, pride, or lust for power to turn Jesus from his Father and his mission.

Catechism Themes: Jesus' Temptation and the Tenth Commandment (CCC 538-540, 2535-2550)

At the root of all temptation lies the so-called capital sins: pride, greed, envy, wrath, lust, gluttony, and laziness. More than mere attitudes, these vices replace the vision of the good with illusions of self-fulfillment, self-power, and self-advancement. When we prefer only ourselves, we reject others and God.

The Tenth Commandment rules directly against two capital sins: greed and envy. Greed desires the excessive amassing of material goods. Envy saddens us at the sight of another's gain and greater desires gain for ourselves. In both cases, others lose as we win. With winning comes pride, a third capital sin. With pride comes lust for power, a fourth capital sin. Coveting, then, begins with things and ends with people.

Jesus fought against greed and envy (the first temptation), pride (the second temptation), and lust for power (the third temptation) through a poverty of the heart and a desire to see God. A poverty of the heart means a certain spiritual detachment from material goods. Poverty of the heart helps us consider others' needs along side our own.

A desire to see God flows from the heart's poverty. From humility, we can see the end point of our true desire: life with God.

As the true Son, Christ endured the tempter in the desert and, ultimately, on the cross to show us the way to the Father. Jesus showed us the way (endurance through the humility) to overcome temptation and the end result (revelation of the Father) of conquering temptation. More important, Jesus showed us the reason he endured temptation and eventually death: to destroy evil for our sake. We might be tempted, but he has been tempted before; as he overcame the evil one, so can we with his help.

This is the reason we enter into the Forty Days of Lent. We enter the desert with Jesus, not only knowing we will be tested, but also assured he has gone before us, he walks with us, and he has guaranteed the outcome. At the end of Lent comes Resurrection and victory over evil!

What are the great personal temptations people face? What lies or illusions convince people to give into temptation?

In the same way he tempted Jesus, Satan tempts us with hunger, pride, and a lust for power to turn away from God. He appeals to the ego, paints false mental images of a glorified self, and twists logic to gain his way. Evil uses evil means to gain an evil end. God challenges us to see evil as it truly is, not as the illusion it pretends to be.

Some temptations are harmless, others are truly perverse. If we know the true nature of our character, the means with which we are tempted, and the assistance God offers us, we can, with God's help, battle personal temptation.

What are my personal temptations? How has God helped me in the past to battle these temptations? How can he help me in the future?