(A) Introduction. (Read the passage.)

Jesus was probably led by the Spirit into the desert for a period of reflection on his mission. He needed to prepare for it mentally. It is very unwise to commence a special ministry before careful preparation. The survival chances of many of our airmen in the last world war were jeopardised by the limited training they received.

At the very outset of his public campaign Jesus was tempted by the devil to transgress the will of his father. Satan knew he was playing for high stakes.

Jesus' period of meditation and mental sparring with Satan was an intense experience. He was so preoccupied that he went 40 days without a proper meal. I think that the battle took place mainly in the thoughts and imagination of Jesus.

Christians have desert experiences - times of crisis - when they need to ponder their options. Examples include: giving up a secular job for full time Christian service, taking a new job and maybe moving to a new area, taking up or resigning an office in the church, choosing a new church to attend or leaving an old one and the resolution of family problems. I thought long and hard about resigning from my teaching post to care for my sick father. There is no doubt that at such times Satan is especially active. He tries his hardest to keep us out of the will of God.

(B) The first temptation: An appetite to assuage.

The first temptation is one we can all understand. Jesus was tempted to:

(1) Doubt his status.

Jesus had just heard the voice from heaven say: "You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased." Lk3v22. Now he hears another voice - a sneering, mocking voice - saying, "If (since) you are the Son of God ... ." Satan superciliously invites Jesus to show him what he is made of: "Since you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread." v3.

Jesus in his hunger and weakness was being tempted to doubt the Father's provision. We know that at the end of the 40 days God did provide for him: Angels came and attended him. Mt4v11. That was better than turning a stone into bread. I expect the angels prepared a meal that consisted of rather more than bread.

Satan is quick to cast doubts upon our status in Christ - especially when things are not going well. He says in his habitual hurtful way: "If you are a child of God why are you in bad health? Why are you so poor? Why haven't you found love? Why does your family cause such problems? Why do you lack success and recognition?" Many a pastor has questioned his calling for lack of conversions and stagnant church growth. Even Elijah was tempted to give up when Jezebel threatened his life after his triumph on Mt Carmel. He sat down under a broom tree and prayed that he might die. "I have had enough, LORD. Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors." Kings19v4.

(2) Take advantage of his privileged position.

Satan said to Jesus, "Since you are the Son of God - in view of your exalted status - surely you are entitled to do a little miracle on your own behalf - "Tell this stone to become bread." The devil is suggesting that the normal rules did not apply to Jesus. He must enjoy some perks as the Son of God. If he couldn't indulge himself who could!

This is a temptation repeated even more forcefully at the Calvary. One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: "Aren't you the Christ? Save yourself and us!" Luke23v39.

Satan has had a lot of success with this temptation:

    (a) Politicians are tempted to use their position for their own ends. David Blunkett had to resign as Britain's Home Secretary because he fast tracked a visa for his ex-lover's nanny.

    (b) Great men are led to believe that they are above the rules that govern decent behaviour for ordinary mortals. Amnon thought he could have sex with whoever he wished including his own sister, Tamar, because he was a prince in Israel. Ahab considered that as king of Israel he was entitled to possess Naboth's vineyard by fair means or foul. Modern celebrities - like the Hollywood rat pack - glory in self-indulgent, boorish, graceless behaviour. I read in today's Daily Telegraph (Wednesday, November 14th 2007) a vitriolic item by Jan Moir on Norman Mailer:

    The muscular eulogising of that old fraud Norman Mailer has been hard to bear. Too many menopausal male writers lionise Mailer to a degree that is uncomfortable, brushing that nasty little wife-stabbing incident right under the carpet as they do so. Yes, he produced some works of genius, but in later decades increasingly seemed like some woman-hating old dinosaur from a darker age. He despised hairy-legged femocrats and did not respect women. Even in his last decade, crippled with illness, he was still cheating on his sixth wife by begging sexual favours of British journalists who came to interview him. Some of whom were so desperate to sleep with someone famous, they even obliged. The naked and the half-dead! I can hardly bear to think about it.

    (c) Christians are not immune from falling into this trap. There was a group in Corinth who believed they had reached the heights of spirituality - so much so that: "Everything is permissible ... ." 1Cor6v12. See exposition on 1Cor6v12to20. Cult leaders, tele-evangelists and some eminent Christian leaders have relied on their celebrity to get away with unacceptable conduct. I am sorry that the inspirational civil rights activist Dr Martin Luther King was promiscuous.

(3) Put bodily needs before spiritual.

Satan was in effect saying to Jesus, "In your situation, faint with hunger, your bodily welfare must take priority." After all a man must live!

This is the temptation Esau succumbed to. He sold his birthright for a bowl of stew. See Gen25v29to34. It is the temptation the Israelite rabble gave into when they tired of manna and wailed: "If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost - also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. Nu11v4. In all probability it is the temptation that David yielded to when he took the consecrated bread from the priests at Nob and endangered their lives. See 1Sam15v1to9.

    (a) Christians are tempted to make bodily comfort and physical well being their chief priority. Tremendous effort is made not, just to live but, to live well, indeed, very well. Satan also tempts us to avoid risks and to play safe - especially where our health is concerned. I know Christians who will not pay visits to people sick in hospital for fear of picking up an infection. I would think twice before undertaking a preaching tour to a country where I might contract a tropical disease like malaria.

    It is as well for us that Jesus didn't play safe! Or Paul! Thank God that for 2000 years missionaries have obeyed Jesus and undertaken the great commission even at the expense of their health.

    (b) The church is tempted to put men's bodily needs first. Such policy is popular with the world. Jesus' popularity peaked after the feeding of the five thousand. The people clamoured after him - not because of the miracle he performed - but, because they enjoyed a free meal. So some missions, like the Salvation Army, that once put man's spiritual needs first end up as welfare organisations.

    When Jesus saw the crowds flocking to him for another good feed he said to them: "I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty. John6v35.

JESUS RESISTS TEMPTATION BY QUOTING Dt8v6: "It is written: 'Man does not live on bread alone, (but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'") Lk4v4 and Mt5v4. The Israelites learned a vital truth in the wilderness, namely, that their well being was guaranteed if only they would observe the commands of the Lord. Dt8v6.

A Christian's main priority should be to obey God's word and do his will. The Sermon on the Mount leaves us in no doubt about this. We should not be anxious about food, drink or clothes - the very necessities of life. Instead we should: Seek first the kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to (us) as well. See Mt6v25to34.

(C) The second temptation: an ambition to achieve.

Jesus desired to establish the kingdom of God - a kingdom of righteousness. Satan showed Jesus the kingdoms of the world. They were by no means righteous! There were two routes to a new kingdom: God's way and Satan's way. Satan's way was:

(1) Easier.

Jesus was tempted to gratify ambition by the cheapest route. Satan said: "I will give you .... ." v5. Satan promised to give Jesus the kingdoms of the world on a plate. Think for a moment what Jesus could have avoided if he had accepted Satan's offer: the devil's virulent opposition, the antagonism of men, the pain of rejection, the disappointment of his followers, the agony of Gethsemane and the shame of the cross.

Christians are tempted to go the easy way:

    (a) To dodge difficulties. Christian in Bunyan's, 'Pilgrim's Progress', struggled up the hill called, 'Difficulty', because that is where the narrow way led. But Formalist and Hypocrisy took easy paths that seemed to lead around the mountain - and were lost. Timorous and Mistrust got to the top of Mt Difficulty but then turned about and tumbled down it because they had seen lions in the way. Christian was frightened of the lions but pressed on to discover that the lions were chained!

    Many Christians prefer the easy road: they leave a church rather than work for reconciliation, they write a letter about a problem rather than have a face to face conversation, they say a prayer instead of paying a visit, they leave someone to sulk in preference to reaching out and putting things right, they let matters drift instead of exerting discipline, they ignore problems when they should resolve them. One only has to read Paul's epistles to the Corinthians to see what it costs to take the hard road. He tackled the issues that were ruining the church in that wicked city.

    (b) To ignore instructions. This is the easy way. I am inclined to throw away the book of instructions when I purchase a new piece of equipment. I read just enough of my mobile phone manual to be able to dial a number - and that is all. As a consequence I do not get the best out of my phone - texting is beyond me!

    Our entry into God's kingdom comes with a book of instructions. Jesus left his subjects a code of conduct. We bin it at our peril. Jesus told a story to illustrate the fate of a person who reads the instructions and then ignores them. He said: "But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash." Mt7v26and27. The easy way was to build on the sand!!

(2) Grander.

Satan promised Jesus: "I will give you all their authority and splendour.... ." v6. He would ensure that Jesus became a great earthly monarch with all the trappings of absolute power. Men would acclaim Jesus for his wisdom, justice and wealth. He could do so much good by ruling in righteousness.

God's way was very different. It was God's will for Jesus to be the servant king, meek and lowly of heart, despised and rejected of men, the Passover Lamb slain for us. Jesus, by going God's way, would not conquer kingdoms but he would conquer men's hearts.

Satan tempts individual Christians to go his way. It is so easy to be seduced by the devil into serving the church for earthly glory. We can aim for recognition and praise as great preachers, teachers, musicians, writers, organisers, fund raisers and so on.

Satan has successfully persuaded the church to ape the world. Nowhere is this more evident than in denominations with a heirarchical structure. In the Roman Catholic Church the authority and splendour of pope, cardinal and bishop - the very things Satan promised Jesus - are of the world. The Church of England is not immune from this criticism. I do not think it is appropriate for Christian leaders to be Lords and Princes and to live in palaces. How can it be right when the founder of the church rejected this way? "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head." Lk9v58. The little apostle to the Gentiles wrote to the Corinthians: We are weak, but you are strong! You are honoured, we are dishonoured! To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. We work hard with our own hands. 1Cor4v10to12. There is one phrase there that hits me with peculiar force - we are in rags. Would those rags diminish Paul in our society - even in our churches? They would! But did those rags diminish Paul in God's eyes. I don't think so!

(3) Conditional.

Satan said: "I will give you ... for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. So if you worship me, it will be yours." v6and7.

What an infernal cheek! Satan has no shame! He also rather over does it as he tries to establish his authority. Satan is addressing God incarnate - the beloved Son of whom John wrote: Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. John1v3. Jesus made the universe - and here Satan is promising to give him authority over his own creation! What brazen impudence to ask Jesus to worship him!

Satan's way involved compromise. Jesus would have to adopt some of Satan's methods and values. He would become an autocratic ruler and go in for ostentatious displays of opulence. Righteousness would be imposed - by force if necessary. Subjects would receive the order, "Be good or else.... ."

Now strangely this model appeals strongly to some Christians. They long for political power and the ability to impose Christian values - as the Puritans did in the rule of Cromwell. The evangelical right is moving in this direction in the U.S.A.. I consider it no accident that many Christian fundamentalists of this ilk strongly believe that Jesus will reign on earth for 1000 years during which time righteousness will be imposed on reluctant subjects. Jesus was tempted to go this way by the devil in the desert 2000 years ago. He is never, ever going to go down that road!

God's way is very different. I love the passage in Luke17v20and21: Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, "The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, 'Here it is,' or 'There it is,' because the kingdom of God is among you." Jesus and his disciples, a shabby rustic group, were the kingdom of God and right there among the sceptical Pharisees. The kingdom of Heaven has been established and extended. The process has been slow, inefficient, messy and perplexing but in the words of the hymn:

            God is working His purpose out,
            As year succeeds to year;
            God is working his purpose out,
            And the time is drawing near;
            Nearer and nearer draws the time,
            The time that shall surely be,
            When the earth shall be filled
            With the glory of God,
            As the waters cover the sea.

For 2000 years the gospel of redeeming love has been disseminated. Men and women have responded to it and entered the kingdom. God's kingdom consists of all those who love Jesus and serve him. It is a kingdom of life and liberty and love. The world does not recognise it. Satan hates it and would do all in his power to turn it into something else.

Individual Christians should never compromise by:

    (a) Toning down the gospel message to make it more acceptable to the world.

    (b) Ignoring Christ's teaching in the work place to: do what is expedient, get on, advance ambition or to become wealthy and powerful.

JESUS RESISTS TEMPTATION BY QUOTING Dt6v13: Jesus answered, "It is written, 'Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.'" v8.

    (a) God is the one to worship - not the modern idols of power, fame and fortune.

    (b) God's service comes first. We cannot compromise on this without falling short of what God requires. God's way is the way of sacrifice. We are called to take up our cross, deny ourselves and follow Jesus. The Christian's highest ambition is to be of some use to God.

We will be saved from succumbing to many temptations by keeping these two objectives in the forefront of our minds.

(D) The third temptation: Acclamation to aim at.

Satan's third temptation, like the first, is very understandable. It is, however, a very powerful temptation because it operates on more than one level.

Satan tempted Jesus to:

(1) Guilty haste.

Satan proposes a short cut to fame: The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. "If you are the Son of God," he said, "throw yourself down from here."

Satan suggested a very easy way to impress the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to instant celebrity. I am reminded of those awful TV shows - 'Big Brother' and the like. Contestants are prepared to endure public humiliation in the hope of a rapid rise to fame and fortune.

Jesus was tempted throughout his mission to perform signs and wonders. See Mt16v1 and John4v43to48.

Christians are tempted to adopt methods designed to impress. I fail to understand why the testimony of a famous person is of more significance than the testimony of the least in the kingdom. Why do churches put on entertainment to attract people to their meetings? Are stunts and bizarre initiatives any better than the signs and wonders Jesus was tempted to perform? Recently, a great English cathedral attracted national publicity for replacing evensong with a service dedicated to Elvis Presley. The Anglicans at Blandford Forum thought there was some merit in putting up a big screen to show world cup football matches live in the church.

The apostle Paul, in one of the most wicked cities in the Roman Empire, had a simple strategy. He preached Christ and him crucified. If the people of Britain don't want to hear about Jesus' saving work it is quite pointless offering them anything else.

(2) Show off his faith

Satan tempted Jesus to throw himself down from a high tower of the temple to show that he believed the Scripture, Ps91v11and12: "'He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully, they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.'" v10and11. Satan is adept at quoting Scripture for his own ends!

If Jesus hurled himself from a soaring pinnacle of the temple down into the Kidron valley it would be an ostentatious display of faith. Jesus would be little better than the Pharisees who made certain everyone knew how devoted to the Law they were.

We can succumb to the temptation to show off our faith to different degrees. I am of the opinion, although most Christians disagree, that Elijah was guilty of this on Mt Carmel. God never told Elijah to arrange a contest with the prophets of Baal. God had to teach his prophet the importance of the still small voice. The snakes and poisons Christians of Southern U.S.A. show off their faith by passing round rattlesnakes during their services and drinking water laced with strychnine thereby demonstrating how seriously they take Mark16v16to18. It has to be said that people who go to observe these meetings find them exhilarating - just like the spectators on Mt Carmel found Elijah's triumph exhilarating. Finally there are the Christians who make a song and dance about starting a new project in faith. I know a man who decided to set up a Christian cafe and drop in centre on a busy arterial road - in faith. But in the end he could not sustain his commitment.