Letters to the Family of God

by Joe Franzone | March 2, 2023 | Pastor's Blog

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March 2, 2023


Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting for forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”


Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”


Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:


“’He will command his angels concerning you,
and they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”


Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”


Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”


Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’”


Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.


Matthew 4:1-11

Dear Friends.


The story of Jesus' temptation in the wilderness has traditionally been part of those churches that observe Lent. Lent is the six-week season that leads up to Easter. One of its purposes is by dent of principle the same as Advent—inward preparation. Advent is preparation for Christmas. Lent is preparation for Easter. I’ve never walked through a season of Lent, but the order chosen for it is purposeful. For example, what proceeded the temptation of Christ was His baptism. It was here Jesus heard God’s voice from heaven saying, this is my Son, whom I love; with him, I am well pleased. (Matthew 3:17)


Immediately and in one sense violently (the word took, as in, the devil took Jesus, is a better translated dragged), Jesus is tested. There is no surprise here. As Christians, the letters of James and First Peter say at the beginning of both, Christians are not to be surprised when tested.


It's similar to our school days. We would learn a new lesson, and then the teacher would say, we will have a test on this at the end of the week to confirm you fully understood it. Jesus was to be tested. The test? Is He going to trust that He is, in fact, God's Son, God's beloved on whom His favor rests? Will He go the way of the cross, which God His Father is showing Him to bring in the Kingdom, rather than the way of the world and devil—no cross?


The testing comes first in the form of a challenge. If you are really God's Son, surely God doesn't want You to be underfed and hungry. You'd be much better off having something to eat.


Jesus replies to the temptation with words from Scripture—Deuteronomy chapter eight. And what Jesus did is parallel Himself with the story of Israel in the wilderness. Jesus is the one who embodies the new exodus. He is the one who will accomplish Salvation for the people of God. Therefore, Jesus spending 40 days in the wilderness is like Israel spending 40 years in the wilderness. The difference is during Israel's journey, they were constantly being taught to rely on God's provision but were also constantly grumbling because it wasn't going the way it seemed like it should have done.


Here, the biggest lesson is not what to do when temptation comes. Of course, Jesus' temptation is the blueprint for our resisting temptation. However, we know we do not always resist temptation. When we have failed, what do we do?


The evil one would do anything to keep our eyes off Jesus. Therefore, the biggest lesson is, Jesus is the only one who is succeeding where Israel failed, Adam failed, and where we have and will fail. A large piece of the message of Matthew's gospel, as with so much of the New Testament, bears this out.


Jesus' reply to the devil from Deuteronomy emphasizes His complete trust in God, His Father. A trust, which we see going all the way through His life, to the moment where, on the cross itself, He cries out in pain, My God, why did you abandon me? But He still cries to God! The God of Psalm 22. Jesus' whole life was utterly dependent on God, and that dependence was something that was tested to the limit in the wilderness.


So, as Christians, we read the story of Jesus' test in the wilderness and look to this as the standard for our own testing. There is an old Jewish saying, my child if you come to serve the Lord, prepare your soul for testing. In other words, do not think you can walk this Christian pilgrimage without any testing, without any difficulty, without any times when you find yourself saying, maybe I made a mistake. Maybe it's not true after all. Maybe there isn't a God. Maybe He doesn't love me? There are going to be times when, like Jesus, we face exactly that sort of test.


And if my own experience means anything, the testing often gets increasingly difficult as we go on. We meet one challenge, and as happened with Jesus, the reward for passing one test is you get another test and another. People shouted at Him, plotted against Him, and tested Him whenever He proclaimed the Kingdom of God. Until, as Matthew’s Gospel makes clear, all the testing converges as He hangs on the cross. There, the crowds mocked Jesus with the same words and intent as the devil. If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross, and then we will believe you.


Matthew’s answer is like thunder. It is because Jesus is the Son of God that He must stay on the cross and die.


I am fresh off my own moment of temptation. The root of it was, do I believe what Jesus said? Whether I passed or failed, please keep this in mind. Only one person was fully led by the Spirit and, at the same time, always fully pleasing to God. He took the worst temptation known and yet was without sin. This person is Jesus, and He is alive and stands before His Father’s throne on our/my behalf. He is presenting before Father His perfect record of obedience, His perfect trust in His Father, and His perfect record of never giving in to temptation as if it was ours.


Hallelujah what a Savior!

Father, thank You that the gospel is still true even when we have been tempted and failed. Pass or fail, our assurance is always rooted in Jesus' perfect obedience throughout every moment of our life.


Jesus, it is in Your obedience, death, and resurrection that You have won for us what we could never win for ourselves. We are overwhelmed by Your kindness.


Father helps us to guard the gospel well, for ourselves and for others. Teach us to treasure its truth in our own lives. When we sin against You repeatedly, remind us of the truth that we know, and help us to believe and experience its cleansing power. When others sin against us, help us to forgive them well for the gospel's sake. Teach us to communicate its truth joyfully to a lost and dying world around us, so that Christ will be worshipped, admired, and treasured for the great work He has done. We pray in Jesus' powerful name these things, amen.

May God give us grace to guard the Gospel well—to the praise of His glory.


Pastor Joe