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Forty Days in the Wilderness: Lessons from Jesus’ Temptation

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Temptation is a familiar part of life for us all. If we’re honest, we can admit that it doesn’t take much to lead us astray when we let our guard down. Most of us give in far more easily than we’d like to admit. By nature, we’re more inclined to run in our own direction than to follow God’s lead. So what can we do to avoid temptation’s pitfalls and stay on the narrow path?

Just after warning his readers about the danger of drifting (Heb. 2:1–4), the writer of Hebrews answers this question by directing our gaze heavenward, encouraging us to reflect on Jesus’ own experience:

Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. (vv. 17–18)

One of the greatest examples we have of Jesus dealing with temptation is found in Luke 4:1–12, which chronicles Christ’s forty days in the wilderness and the accompanying temptations from the devil. When we read and study God’s Word, we should never dismiss Jesus as someone or something entirely otherworldly but instead learn from the one who is fully God and fully man.

The temptations Jesus faced are temptations we face. Yet He perfectly endured every temptation. He trusted God the Father unequivocally. He found the “way of escape” (1 Cor. 10:13). Although we can only strive toward, and not achieve, such perfection in this life, considering Jesus’ response to Satan in the wilderness can help us grow wiser and be better prepared when we face our own temptations.

When we read and study God’s Word, we should never dismiss Jesus as someone or something entirely otherworldly but instead learn from the one who is fully God and fully man.

When You Doubt God’s Provision

In Luke 3:22, at the moment of Jesus’ baptism, God’s voice came from heaven, declaring to Him, “You are my beloved Son.” In Luke 4, with Jesus now “led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days” (v. 1), we find the devil’s voice coming from hell, saying, “If you are the Son of God…” (v. 3, emphasis added). Calling God’s Word into question has long been Satan’s way: “Did God actually say…” (Gen. 3:1). It’s no surprise, then, that Satan begins his temptation of Jesus by insinuating that if God truly loved Him and was pleased with Him, things might be going a little better. His stomach might be a little fuller. Jesus should simply take matters into His own hands and make bread so He can eat.

Jesus answers Satan with a quote from the book of Deuteronomy: “Man shall not live by bread alone” (Luke 4:4; see also Deut. 8:3). In Deuteronomy, the manna God provided supernaturally was a reminder to Israel that they were ultimately dependent not on bread but on God, the Giver and Sustainer of life. Jesus therefore declares His dependence on His Father, who had promised to look after Him, even in the desolation of the Judean wilderness.

Scripture affirms God’s loving provision for us, too—but Satan calls God’s promises into question. Jesus, in His humanity, had to trust God’s provision rather than using His power to produce bread for Himself. He understood firsthand both the challenge and the comfort of what He’d soon teach in the Sermon on the Mount: “Do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. … Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all” (Matt. 6:25, 32). We can trust, then, that the solution He gives us when we are tempted to worry—“Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matt. 6:33)—is the same one He relied on.

When God’s Way Is Difficult

The devil knew that Jesus was seeking the kingdom of God on earth—so in his next attack, we seem him suggesting that Jesus should found the messianic kingdom by making a compromise with His tempter. Jesus knows the cost of mankind’s salvation will be high (Luke 12:50 ). Indeed, He will even plead with the Father to find another way, if possible (Matt. 26:39; Mark 14:36; Luke 22:42 ). By bowing down to Satan, Jesus (so the devil says) will be able to rule over the earth without the struggle and suffering of the cross (Luke 4:5–7).

But Jesus responds again with Scripture: “You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve” (Luke 4:8; see also Deut. 6:13). In serving God only, Jesus takes the way of self-denying love and sacrificial death. He takes the narrow road (Matt. 7:13–14). The power Satan offers Him is not the kingdom of God at all but the kingdom of Satan. God’s kingdom will only come through His self-giving love on the cross.

Jesus emerged victorious despite the strongest attempts of hell to overturn God’s plan of redemption. Because Jesus has secured this victory and we are in Christ, His victory is our victory, and we can call upon Him in times of temptation.

The devil says to us, too, You don’t have to believe this stuff about the narrow road. You don’t have to take up your cross every day and follow Christ. Don’t worry about all that! I’ve got a whole way of getting things done that’s much nicer and easier. We may be tempted to bring about heaven with the tools of hell, but it won’t work. God’s kingdom will only come in God’s way—and God’s way is the path to Calvary. As Jesus said to His disciples, “Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it” (Luke 9:24).

When You Question God’s Faithfulness

Finally, in one last attempt, the devil leads Jesus to the highest point of the Jerusalem temple and urges Him to throw Himself down (Luke 4:9–11). Taking a cue from Jesus, Satan now employs Scripture, quoting from Psalm 91 , which begins, “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High…” At the temple—the place that represented God’s protection and presence—he challenges Jesus to obtain a more definite proof of His Father’s care by forcing the Father to come to His Son’s aid. In doing so, Satan implies, Christ can show everyone how much He trusts in the promises of God’s Word.

God’s Word is perfect, but Satan likes to twist it so that it seems to say things it does not. Jesus knows and recognizes this, and so He quotes from Deuteronomy again, saying, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test” (Luke 4:12; see also Deut. 6:16). He doesn’t waver for a moment in His trust of God.

When we have Christ, when we have His Spirit indwelling and filling us, when we have His Word feeding and guiding us, then we have all that we need to face today’s temptations.

Just as he did with Jesus, the devil comes to us and asks, Why don’t you find out if God really is true to His promises? And we may meet people who are doing exactly that: ignoring God’s wisdom, spurning His commands, and expecting His promise of grace to spare them the consequences of their actions. They ask God to save them while neglecting the means of grace that He has so lovingly provided. That is putting God to the test. We ought to remember Jesus’ warning: “Everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand” (Matt. 7:26).

His Victory Is Ours

Jesus emerged victorious despite the strongest attempts of hell to overturn God’s plan of redemption. Because Jesus has secured this victory and we are in Christ, His victory is our victory, and we can call upon Him in times of temptation.

As Christ was full of the Spirit and full of the Word of God, so must we be. When we have Christ, when we have His Spirit indwelling and filling us, when we have His Word feeding and guiding us, then we have all that we need to face today’s temptations. May we resolve, then, to prepare ourselves for the temptations that lie ahead, that we might follow the example of Christ and arise victorious.


This article was adapted from the sermons “The Temptation of Jesus — Part One” and “The Temptation of Jesus — Part Two” by Alistair Begg.

Sermons on Temptation


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