When we really take the time to think about temptation, it can be most simply defined as something that we think will be good for us, but typically are not. To put an even deeper focus on that definition, it is typically something that seems to be in OUR best interests to benefit US. The problem is, when we make decision based on an inward focus, we are moving against God instead of with God. Jesus illustrates this point in Luke 9:25 when He says, “What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?” That’s not to say that we should specifically do things that are a disadvantage or hindrance to us, but we need to be sure that we are not thinking of ourselves at the expense of others.
This is what was at stake when Jesus arrived on the scene 2,000 years ago. Jesus arrived in a world that’s entire foundation was built on the belief that everything you do must benefit you the most. You either owned the land or you worked the ones who owned the land, you either had power and influence or you were influenced by those who had power. Sounds a little familiar, doesn’t it? But that’s why Matthew chapter 4 (or Luke chapter 4) are so important to the story. If Jesus was going to save the world, if He was going to turn it all upside down, then He would have to do things different from the world by saying “no” to the world.
That’s the temptations the Devil throws at Him in the wilderness. “Turn the rocks into bread,” he says, “Use your power, satisfy your needs.” And though there is nothing with getting our needs met, Jesus was here for more than just magic tricks and He wasn’t about to subject His power in such a trivial way.
Then they walked to the edge of the Temple mount, to the southeast corner that overlooked at 450 ft. drop. That’s the size of the Great Pyramid in Egypt or 1 ½ football fields high. The Devil then turns to Jesus saying, “The Bible says that God would never let any harm come to you, so jump off. Then everyone will bear witness as angels catch you and carry you safely to the ground. If you want to get a following, if you want people to believe in you, if you want to get this mission started with a bang and show the world you are the Messiah, this is it, Buddy.” But again, this was not the movement that Jesus needed to start. This could bring fame, power, success. He could have overthrown Rome and saved all of Israel. But Jesus came for more. Jesus didn’t come for freedom from Rome, Jesus came for freedom from sin, and not just Israel, but the whole world.
Finally, the Devil took Jesus to the top of a mountain to see the Kingdoms of the world in all their splendor. So, this was possibly a mountain outside of Israel where they could see for miles around. Maybe it was at night so they could see all the kingdoms lit up in “all their splendor.” Then the Devil turns to Jesus and says, “All of that was just warm up, but I know what you came here for. Look around. All of this, every kingdom of this world, every single person that inhabits the earth, I will give it all to you. We can skip that whole death on the cross thing, all that pain and suffering. I’ll just give it to you, no questions asked. All you must do is worship me. Look! There’s nobody here. Nobody will know. Just a quick little tiny whisper. Do this one thing and we can end this whole thing right now.”
If I’m going to be honest, I would have had a hard time saying no. The Devil made a very tempting offer. And, I mean, if the ends justify the means, right? And that’s the world speaking and that’s what Jesus came to reverse, to turn upside down. “Just think of all the good you could do if you were in that spot. Think of all the people you could help if you just had a little bit more money, power, influence. Does it matter how you get there if you’re going to do so much good?” The problem is, once we give into that little bit, we typically start giving into so much more and more and more.
Now, as Christians, we are called to obedience to Christ, and Jesus came to remove all the old covenant rules and regulations to give us this one, simple command: “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” So, that’s our calling, or means to judge our thoughts and actions by. Is what I’m doing going to help me love someone (other than me)? Is what I’m going to do going to tell others that I am a disciple of Christ?
Questions to Ponder: (I encourage you to talk to your child about these)
- Have you ever noticed that our temptations are things that benefit us usually at the cost of others? Why do you think that is?
- In what ways are you tempted to put yourself ahead of others? What does it take for you to resist those temptations?
- Read through Matthew 4:1–10. What stands out to you in this story of Jesus resisting temptation? What details are surprising or new to you?
- Do you believe what Jesus said in Luke 9:25? What are things that you might be striving to gain that may cause you to lose yourself?
- How does Jesus’ upside down mindset change the way we do things?