Matthew 4:1-11
March 1, 2020
Village Chapel Presbyterian Church
Dr. Todd R. Wright

Matthew says that Jesus was “led by the Spirit into the wilderness …”
a land of scrub brush and sharp stones,
a land where the wind whispered and the silence taunted,
a land far from home, but in Israel’s experience, close to God.
He was still dripping from his baptism and full of God’s words claiming him publicly as “my son, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
And before he can drip dry in the parched dessert heat, Satan casts that moment into doubt, snarling, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”

I wonder if the mention of bread made Jesus’ mouth water and his stomach growl,
or if he was daydreaming of fish stew or a juicy cluster of grapes.
I wonder if 40 days of fasting left him weak with hunger or just weary and hollowed out.
I wonder if he was remembering his mother mixing flour and water and yeast
and kneading the dough and carrying it to the community oven to bake.
I wonder if he had spent 40 days dreading this confrontation, or if it was a surprise.

Matthew does not pursue any of my queries. Instead he records that Jesus was quick to answer Satan, drawing on the experience of Israel in the wilderness, quoting Deuteronomy:
“One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”
There will be more temptations; more taunting and more quoting of scripture.
The Tempter is relentless, ruthless, and reliably reptilian.
But Jesus will remain calm; he will speak with courage and conviction.
He does not waver or need to wrestle with the possibility of giving in.
Instead, he draws on his knowledge of scripture and his trust in God.
So his answers are short and sure and to the point.
He does not doubt that he is the Son of God.
He is not unsure about his mission (neither the goal nor the demanding nature of it).
He is prepared to obey his Father and do all that is required.

We should all be grateful for that, but we should not take this scene as a template for our own temptations in whatever our wilderness may be! Here’s why:
Like Jesus we are beloved children of God.
Unlike him, we give in to temptations all the time – hot bread, chocolate, snooze buttons.
Worse we doubt God’s love and watch-care and seek substitutes that do not satisfy;
we compromise our identity and chase power, often in harmful and unhealthy ways;
and we act like we are out in the wilderness alone.
We aren’t. You know that, right?
Matthew does. He ends his account with the devil slithering off in defeat and immediately angels take his place on the stage … as if they had been waiting in the wings all along.
Scholar Melinda Quivik writes, “I imagine [the angels] doting on him as does a parent when a child recovers from a dangerous illness or has been lost and is suddenly found. They wait on him, which, in the parlance of a fine restaurant, means they have an eye for his needs and are ready to provide whatever that is.”1

So two questions:
What do you need during a struggle with temptation?
What do you need after that struggle is over?
One answer to the first question is that you need someone to stand with you, to help you resist, to remember who you are and what you claim is of highest importance for you – an angel.
Every Friday night people gather at our church for an N.A. meeting. Each person has a sponsor, someone they can call when they are wrestling with temptation. A sponsor has experience; they know temptation; they know where giving in leads; they know how to encourage and argue, how to plead and praise. They are like angels in waiting.2
I wonder, who would you call at 3 AM when temptation is barking non-stop?
Do you have someone who can be your angel? Look around. You are not alone!
I said earlier that our struggle usually ends with us failing the test by giving in to temptation.
So if you fail, if you fall, if your resistance gives out and you give in, what then?
Know that you have a Savior who understands what it is like to be tempted;
know that you have a Savior who hears your cries;
know that you have a Savior who forgives.
So come to the table today. Eat of the bread and drink of the cup.
While the bread is fresh and warm and tempting, this is not a test.
It is an answer to prayer … and a reminder that you are a forgiven child of God. Amen

1 from her post on the text on 3/1/20
This idea is drawn from “Struggling with temptation” by Edwin Searcy in the Christian Century, 2/2/08