Matthew 4:1-11

17 February 2005

Woodley Baptist Church

Thursday lunchtime service


I'm delighted to report to you that my car passed its MOT last week. I'm sure you are very pleased for me, but what's that got to do with our reading?

Well, as you know, we are now in the church's season of Lent. Most people I know have either given up chocolate or beer for Lent. Is that what it's all about? I'd like to suggest not, but that, rather, it is a good time for us to put ourselves through a kind of spiritual MOT test.

I'm sure you know that Lent has its origins in the forty days Jesus spent fasting in the wilderness at the very start of his ministry.

The devil tested Jesus during that time in three particular ways, and I'd like to suggest that these three areas would make good tests for our own spiritual MOTs. If we test ourselves regularly, we are more likely to be devil-proof when he comes to test us.

The three areas in which Jesus was tested in the wilderness were his desire—was it for God or for the world?—his assurance—was he secure in his relationship with God?—and his perseverance—was he prepared to see his ministry through to the end?

Jesus' desire

The first test Jesus faced was of his desires.

Verse 2 of our passage contains my favourite understatement in the Bible. After fasting for forty days and forty nights, he was hungryref. Of course he was hungry! He was starving! He was famished! He was ravenous!

So the devil suggests that Jesus might like to make himself a bit of food, If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become breadref.

We might ask ourselves, would it really have been so bad for Jesus to do that? After all, in just a few days time Jesus will be turning water into wine at the wedding in Cana, and he will later turn five loaves and two fish into enough food to feed five thousand people! What harm would it do to turn one stone into a loaf of bread?

To understand Jesus' purpose we need to look at his reply, It is written: 'Man does not live on bread alone.'ref This is taken from Deuteronomy chapter 8, and some context is helpful. It says in verses 2 and 3 of that chapter,

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. 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.ref

The point is that God led the Israelites in the desert to test their hearts: which did they love more, the comforts of this world, or the Lord God and his word?

It seems that Jesus, led by the Spirit, had decided to submit himself to his Father's discipline as well: not for forty years, but for forty days so that God could test his heart, humbling him and teaching him.

If Jesus had given in to the devil here he would have abandoned that discipline, and therefore turned away from God, just as the Israelites repeatedly turned away from God during their time in the desert.

For Jesus, making and eating the bread would not have been wrong in itself, but it would have dulled his desire for God.

In our own walk with God, our own discipleship, like Jesus, we too will be wanting to submit ourselves to disciplines and self-denial. Not to earn favour with God, as if we could, but to fight things that dull our desire for God.

In his book, A Hunger for God, John Piper writes,

The greatest enemy of hunger for God is not poison but apple pie. It is not the banquet of the wicked that dulls our appetite for heaven but endless nibbling at the table of the world. It is not the X-rated video, but the prime-time dribble of triviality we drink in every night... The most deadly appetites are not for the poison of evil, but for the simple pleasures of earth. For when these replace an appetite for God himself, the idolatry is scarcely recognisable, and almost incurable.

Lent is a good time to evaluate ourselves. Is our discipleship helping us: does it increase our desire for God? What is there in my life that dulls my desire for him? How can I put it aside?

So, The first test Jesus faced was of his desire: did he really desire to love God with all his heart, soul, mind and strength? Yes, he did!

Jesus' assurance

The second test Jesus faced was of his assurance.

Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. "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.'"ref

Notice the snide way that the devil addresses Jesus. If you are the Son of Godref, he says. Just a few weeks earlier God's voice had thundered from heaven This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleasedref, but now the devil is seeking to plant the seeds of doubt in Jesus' mind.

"Did God really say you were his son? What does that mean anyway? How about a little test just to make sure? Just throw yourself from this tower; God has promised he'll protect you. Don't you believe it?"

However, Jesus knows that he needs prove nothing to the devil. He again answers from scripture, Do not put the Lord your God to the testref. Jesus trusts in God's word so that he does not need constantly to test God's faithfulness. He was perfectly assured of his relationship with God.

You can imagine how destructive it would be to a marriage if one partner were always saying to the other, "Do you love me? Go on prove it to me. Show me you love me" . I'm sure a lot of this goes on around Valentine's day which passed this week. And perhaps that explains why relationships are five times more likely to break up in February than in other months. Well, it's the same with us and God: if we have trusted Christ we are children of God; we don't need to keep asking God to prove it.

Lent is a good time to examine our assurance. What is our faith founded on? It is a time of preparation for Easter where we find the only true grounds of our assurance. God has saved us by his initiative alone. We are saved only by trusting in Jesus' death, not anything that we have done. Until we understand this, we will never have the true assurance that God has made us his child.

So, The second test Jesus faced was of his assurance: did he really believe that he was the Son of God? Yes, he did!

Jesus' perseverance

The third test Jesus faced was of his perseverance.

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour. All this I will give you, he said, if you will bow down and worship me.ref

What a temptation this must have been! The short-cut to kingship. The gain without the pain. The attack is again at a point of vulnerability: Jesus already knows what lies ahead, the rejection, the persecution, the loneliness, the humiliation, the agony, the desolation of being cut off from his Father on the cross. Of course he knows that after all that he will again sit as Lord at the right hand of God, but it must have been an incredible temptation to take the short-cut to kingship.

But Jesus knows that there is no shortcut. The devil only has the kingdoms of the world on loan, the eternal kingdom is not his to give.

There is only one path to glory. And Jesus knows it: Worship the Lord your God, and serve him onlyref, whatever the cost may be.

When you go to visit your doctor you can be confident that he or she has studied long and hard for at least seven years, and has passed exams and gained experience in all sorts of settings. Becoming a GP is a hard slog.

I have precisely no medical training. I'd quite like to be a doctor, but I don't fancy all the hard work, so I'm planning to go out and buy a medical degree—yes, it's possible to do that— and set myself up a surgery. Which of you will be coming to see me for treatment? (Incredibly, this is exactly what was reported in the news recently. A minicab driver bought a medical degree, and set himself up in the NHS where he saw over 2000 patients and did some of them great harm.)

The point is that sometimes there are no shortcuts. If Jesus had taken the shortcut to glory he would have been no good to anyone. He knew that he had to take the hard way if he was to save the world.

In our Christian lives we too will sometimes be presented with choices: the godly way will seem hard, and the worldly way will seem much easier. It's the choice between the narrow way and the broad way, isn't it?

The season of Lent is a good time to build our resolve to persevere. It is as we deepen our desire for God through our self-discipline, and as we become more assured in our relationship with God through our meditation on the death of Jesus, that we will find the will to persevere to the end in our Christian lives.

The third test Jesus faced was of his perseverance: Was he prepared to do what it took to finish his ministry? Yes, he was!


So those are my three suggestions of areas for our spiritual MOT. Where is my desire? How is my assurance? Will I persevere?

Unlike my car, of course we are all bound to fail. Which of us could pass when faced with what Jesus was faced with?

But God has given us the same helps Jesus had: the Spirit and the Word. It was God's Spirit who propelled Jesus into the desert, and it was his word that sustained him. It's interesting to note that all three of Jesus' answers to the devil were from a couple of chapters in Deuteronomy. Perhaps they had been his reading in Every Day with Moses that morning. In any case he had clearly been spending his time meditating deeply on the word of God.

And this is how we can make sure we do better this at this year's Lent MOT than we did at last year's. Let's make it our practical resolve to spend more time this Lent looking deeply into the word of God.