The Temptation of Christ (4:1–11)
The first event in our Lord’s ministry which St. Matthew records after his baptism is his temptation. This is a deep and mysterious subject. There are many things about these temptations which we cannot explain; but in them there are plain practical lessons, which we do well to learn.
1. A Real and Powerful Enemy
First, let us learn what a real and powerful enemy we have in the devil. He is not afraid to assault even the Lord Jesus himself. Three times he attacks God’s own Son: our Saviour was “tempted by the devil” (verse 1).
It was the devil who brought sin into the world at the beginning. He vexed Job, deceived David, and caused Peter to fall heavily; the Bible calls him a “murderer” and a “liar” (John 8:44) and a “roaring lion” (1 Peter 5:8). His enmity to our souls neither slumbers nor sleeps. For nearly 6,000 years he has been doing the same work, ruining men and women and drawing them to hell. His cunning and subtlety pass human understanding, and he often “masquerades as an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14).
Let us keep alert and pray daily against his schemes. There is no enemy worse than an enemy who is never seen and never dies, who is near us wherever we live, and goes with us wherever we go. Not least, we must beware of that habit of foolish talking and jesting about the devil which is unhappily so common. Let us remember that if we want to be saved we must not only crucify the flesh and overcome the world, but also “resist the devil” (James 4:7).
2. No Strange Thing
Second, let us learn that we must not think temptation a strange thing. “No servant is greater than his master” (John 13:16). If Satan came to Christ, he will also come to Christians.
It would be good for believers if they would remember this. They are too apt to forget it. They often find evil thoughts arising in their minds, which they can truly say they hate. Doubts, questions, and sinful thoughts are suggested to them, against which their whole inner being revolts; but let not these things destroy their peace and rob them of their comfort. Let them remember there is a devil, and so not be surprised to find him near them. To be tempted is in itself no sin: it is the yielding to temptation, and the giving it a place in our hearts, which we must fear.
3. The Chief Weapon
Third, let us learn that the chief weapon we ought to use in resisting Satan is the Bible. Three times the great enemy offered temptations to our Lord. Three times his offer was refused with a text of Scripture as the reason: “It is written …” (verses 6, 7 and 10).
Here is one among many reasons why we ought to be diligent readers of our Bibles: the Word is the “sword of the Spirit” (Ephesians 6:17); we shall never fight a good fight if we do not use it as our principal weapon. The Word is the “lamp” for our feet (Psalm 119:105); we shall never keep the King’s highway to heaven if we do not journey by its light. It may well be feared that there is not enough Bible-reading among us. It is not sufficient to have the book; we must actually read it, and pray over it ourselves. It will do us no good if it only lies still in our houses. We must be actually familiar with its contents, and have its texts stored in our memories and minds. Knowledge of the Bible never comes by intuition; it can only be got by hard, regular, daily, attentive, wakeful reading. Do we grudge the time and trouble this will cost us? If we do we are not yet fit for the kingdom of God.
4. A Sympathizing Saviour
Fourth, let us learn what a sympathizing Saviour the Lord Jesus Christ is. “Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted” (Hebrews 2:18).
The sympathy of Jesus is a truth which ought to be especially dear to believers. They will find in it a mine of strong consolation. They should never forget that they have a mighty Friend in heaven, who feels for them in all their temptations and can enter into all their spiritual anxieties. Are they ever tempted by Satan to distrust God’s care and goodness? So was Jesus. Are they ever tempted to presume on God’s mercy, and to run into danger without warrant? So also was Jesus. Are they ever tempted to commit a private sin for the sake of some great apparent advantage? So also was Jesus. Are they ever tempted to listen to some misapplication of Scripture, as an excuse for doing wrong? So also was Jesus. He is just the Saviour that tempted people require. Let them flee to him for help, and spread before him all their troubles. They will find his ear always ready to hear, and his heart always ready to feel. He can understand their sorrows.
May we all know the value of a sympathizing Saviour by experience! There is nothing to be compared to it in this cold and deceitful world. Those who seek their happiness in this life only, and despise the religion of the Bible, have no idea what true comfort they are missing.