By Nathan Washburn
Pastor, First Baptist Church, Greenbrier
Jesus can sympathize with us. He’s been in similar situations that we have, faced similar temptations, and felt similar heaviness of heart. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect had been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). When we read the account of His temptation in Matthew 4, we see some rich truths.
We failed in the garden and Jesus succeeded in the wilderness. The contexts couldn’t be more different. The temptation of Adam and Eve in Genesis 3 was in the midst of a garden where they had everything they could ever need, including food, freedom with one another, and perfect fellowship with God. Jesus, on the other hand, was in a desolate wilderness with no food, an all-out assault on Him from His enemy, and no small amount of pressure to cave at any moment. One more piece of fruit in a full garden wasn’t even that appealing, and yet we all, in Adam, fell for it. A warm loaf of bread for an empty stomach in an empty wilderness, however, was all but irresistible, and yet Christ brilliantly succeeded in denying it for Himself.
Jesus did it for us. We have to be careful how we interpret and apply this episode of Jesus’ temptation. If we’re not careful, we can use it only as an example and not as an actual act of substitution. He is much more than a perfect example for us here. He is our substitute — fulfilling the law and resisting every temptation for us, in our place. We couldn’t resist even the smallest and lightest temptation, but Jesus would resist every single one, in every context, at every moment. He then takes His perfect righteousness and spreads it over us to cover us in a way fig leaves never could (Genesis 3:21, II Corinthians 5:21).
We battle against the enemy (and our own flesh) in a similar way. At the same time, we don’t neglect the fact that in this passage we see exactly how we will both be tempted and overcome temptation. Satan’s ultimate goal is to be God. In the wilderness, the one who is the most hungry is Satan, not Jesus. He’s hungry for power, for glory, and for others to find their desires met in him, so he will always try to undercut our satisfaction in God by offering a convenient off-ramp of sin.
Knowing this, we can approach temptation the same way Jesus did. (1) Trust our Father to provide what we need, (2) fight temptation by quoting the Word of God, and (3) resist (and watch the devil flee (James 4:7, Matthew 4:11).
This is congruent with the will of God and works to sanctify us. How did Jesus find Himself in the wilderness in the path of this intense temptation? The Spirit led Him there. Similarly, God ordains situations for us that work to test us, teach us to depend fully on Him, and grow us in our sanctification. We dare not despise the wildernesses He takes us through, for they’re often the places we hunger and thirst for Him most — and find that He satisfies every time.
Our accuser is not ultimate, and we shouldn’t fear him as such. He is just an old serpent as good as dead, head crushed by a resurrected heel, body flailing about, and forked tongue still whispering lies and temptations until he’s silenced once and for all when Jesus returns. Our hope is Christ — our perfect, sympathetic high priest.