journey through the gospels: Matthew 4

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What is temptation...and how do you handle it? Our perception of "being tempted" differs depending on what stage of life we are in. If you are a child, the temptation might be the desire to eat an extra snack or watching a TV show your parents don't approve of. If you are a teenager, the temptation might be to steal something or lie to someone for your own gain. If you are an adult, the temptation might be to cheat on your spouse or make false claims when filing your taxes. It is easy for us to try and ignore or reason away the things that we are tempted by. Google defines the word temptation as, "the desire to do something, especially something wrong or unwise."


Jesus was also tempted. It is hard for me to fathom this. Honestly, I used to roll my eyes when people talked about Jesus's time in the wilderness. Sure he was tempted but he is also God. The things he was tempted with seemed so unappealing on the surface. It wasn't until I looked a little deeper into Matthew chapter 4 that I realized the story is more meaningful than it appears. Jesus was not merely fighting against the urge to eat some food or claim a kingdom for himself- Jesus was tackling the very root issues of human weakness: Power, Popularity, and Pain. Not only are these the issues that lead us to do bad things, but they are also the issues that pull us away from believing in God.


Power

From the moment we go to school people start to ask us, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" We are told to work hard, earn money, and fight for the best in every situation we find ourselves in. Why? Because we want to be in control! We want to have the ability to make ourselves happy! Our whole existence is centered around having the ability to achieve a better life- and often this means we need to be powerful. Why do we love celebrities? What is so appealing about being a millionaire? It is the power that those roles bring. There is a phrase that says, "money talks". It is true. If you have the money you can buy your way to the top. Even right now in the United States of America some of the people we see running for president only became candidates because they had enough money to get themselves there.


This is the first of the three core issues of human weakness. If we are powerful on our own, then we don't need a God. In Matthew 4:5, Satan tells Jesus to throw himself off a cliff. Satan states that Jesus is powerful enough to command angels to catch him when he falls. We face the same issue. We tell ourselves we don't need God because we have enough money or status to survive on our own. Many people today view God as something that weak people embrace stating that truly powerful people are self-made. This is an argument I have heard many times from individuals who claim atheism. They cannot give up their desire to be powerful and so they cannot believe in a God who is more powerful than they are. They state they could never accept that any being is supposed to be, "Lording over them". They want their own power.


Popularity

Loneliness is one of the greatest personal issues people face in the world today. On average, people claim that they only have one or two friends who they really trust or can even call "friend". Social media has quickly grown popular because people view it as a way to find friendship and meaning for their lives. We think to ourselves: if I post this photo people will like me more. We become addicted to who follows us and how many likes we get because we want to be popular. In Matthew 4:8 Satan offers to give Jesus kingdoms of people. The idea is that Jesus will not only be powerful, but he will also have all those people looking up to him and thinking he is great.


One of the biggest struggles a follower of Jesus will ever have to wrestle with is being able to stand up for his or her faith when no one else is. It is easy to say you love Jesus or follow what the Bible says when you are surrounded by people who think and act like you. It is not so easy when you are with people who don't believe as you do. It is even harder when people are making fun of you for it.


Here is a quick test: when you are in a public place, do you pray for your food? If so, do you rush through the prayer so that the waiter doesn't walk up in the middle of it? Do you keep your eyes open so the customers next to you can't tell you are praying? It sounds silly, but even a little moment like that is very revealing. We don't want people to think are weird. We are afraid of being alone and so we do everything we can to make people like us. We want to fit in. Many people are not able to follow Jesus to the fullest of their ability because they are scared of what others will think. Being into religion is not considered cool or trendy. Some people can't bear to be looked down on like that. They want to be popular.


Pain

Perhaps you don't find yourself wrestling with power and you don't feel a need for a lot of people to like you. If the first two issues didn't throw you off track... it is likely this one will. Pain is a real game-changer. It is easy to do the right thing when the right thing has positive effects on your life. It is easy to follow God when you have a job, food, a family, and a nice house. It is much harder when you are unemployed, homeless, diagnosed with cancer, and your wife just died. Let's be honest- that is a recipe for suicide. The number one reason people do not believe in God is because of all the pain and suffering in the world today. We all face the age-old question of, "Why do bad things happen to good people?" and for many people, it remains unanswered.


Jesus was in pain when he was being tested by the devil. He hadn't eaten or had anything to drink for 40 days. Have you ever experienced true hunger? Do your friends call you "hangry" when it is a couple of hours past mealtime? Not only was Jesus physically starving and exhausted, but he was also separated from God- his father. Jesus was in a new world all alone and he was feeling the weight of what people experience every day- earthly pain. Many people are full of bitterness and hurt. They refuse to accept that there is a loving God when bad things continue to happen in their lives. They cannot bear the pain.


What is it that keeps you from developing a deeper relationship with God? Where does your greatest temptation lie? Just as Jesus overcame the three issues of human weakness, we too can overcome. How do we do this? By accepting Jesus Christ as our savior and reading our Bible every day. When we accept Jesus into our lives we are giving up our desire to tackle power, popularity, and pain on our own. Instead we are allowing Jesus to take on our burdens. We are giving up our worry. We choose to tell ourselves that God is in control and he will help us fight our battles.


As Michael W Smith says:


This is how I fight my battles...

It may look like I'm surrounded

But I'm surrounded by You


Mandisa sings:


Everybody's been down Hit the bottom, hit the ground Ooh, You're not alone Just take a breath, don't forget Hang on to his promises He wants you to know

You're an overcomer Stay in the fight 'til the final round You're not going under 'Cause God is holding you right now



 

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