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02.26.2023 First Sunday of Lent

The Temptation of Christ

Ary Scheffer


National Gallery of Victoria



Matthew 4: 1-11

1 “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tested by the devil. 2 He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterward he was famished. 3 The tempter came and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread’. 4 But he answered, ‘It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God’’. 5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6 saying to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you’, and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone’’. 7 Jesus said to him, ‘Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test’’. 8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory, 9 and he said to him, ‘All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me’. 10 Then Jesus said to him, ‘Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him’’. 11 Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him”.


Chapter 3 of the Gospel of Matthew ends with the Holy Spirit coming to rest on Jesus and the voice of God the Father declaring that Jesus is His Son. That moment of confirmation and acknowledgement by God is immediately followed by a time of testing.

This testing was not a sign that the Holy Spirit had left Jesus, on the contrary it is the Spirit, acting after the Baptism of Jesus, leading him into the wilderness where He will be tempted. It was God's will that Jesus should endure this time of testing.

There is one thing which we must carefully note, and that is the meaning of the word to tempt. The Greek word is peirazein. In English the word tempt means to entice a person to do wrong, to try to persuade her to take the wrong way. But peirazein means to test far more than it means to tempt in our sense of the word.

This test took place in the wilderness. The wilderness stretches between Jerusalem, on the Central Plateau which is the backbone of Palestine, and the Dead Sea. It is an area of yellow sand, of crumbling limestone, and of scattered shingle. It is an area of contorted strata. The hills are like dust heaps. It runs out and then drops twelve hundred feet down to the Dead Sea. Jesus went into the wilderness to be alone.

It seems to be the law of life that just after our resistance power has been highest it nose-dives until it is at its lowest. The tempter carefully and skilfully chose his time to attack Jesus, but Jesus conquered him. It is through our inmost thoughts and desires that the tempter comes to us.

We must not think that in one campaign Jesus conquered the tempter for ever and that the tempter never came to him again. The tempter spoke again to Jesus when Peter tried to dissuade him from taking the way to the Cross, and when He had to say to Peter the very same words He had said to the tempter in the wilderness, ‘begone Satan’. And never in all history was there such a fight with temptation as Jesus waged in Gethsemane when the tempter sought to deflect him from the Cross.

Jesus was alone in the wilderness. No one was with him when this struggle was being fought out, and we know about it only because Jesus himself must have told his Disciples about it. It is Jesus telling us his own spiritual autobiography.

We must always approach this story with a unique and special reverence, for in it Jesus is laying bare his inmost heart and soul. He is telling us what He went through. It is the most sacred of all stories, for in it Jesus is telling us that He can help us who are tempted because He himself was tempted. He draws the veil from his own struggles to help us in our struggle.

The Attack of the Tempter

The tempter launched his attack against Jesus along three lines:

1. The temptation to turn stones into bread.

This was a double temptation. It was a temptation to use his powers selfishly, and for

his own use.

Jesus answered the tempter in the very words God spoke to his people in the

wilderness: “Man does not live by bread alone but by everything that comes out of the

mouth of the Lord”. Jesus refuses in the desert to turn stones into bread to ease his

own hunger. However, before long He will feed thousands in the wilderness with

just a few loaves and some fish[1], and He will teach his Disciples to pray to God for

their “daily bread”[2].

2. The tempter renewed his attack from another angle.

There was one corner at Solomon’s porch, and at that corner there was a sheer

drop of four hundred and fifty feet into the valley of the Kedron below. Why should

not Jesus stand on that pinnacle, and leap down, and land unharmed in the valley

beneath? Jesus said it was “Not put the Lord your God to the test”. He refuses to take

advantage of his relationship with God. However, at the end of his earthly ministry

Jesus endured the taunts of others[3] while trusting God[4].

3. The tempter tried his third attack.

It was the world that Jesus came to save, and into his mind there came a picture of

the world. The tempting voice said: “Fall down and worship me, and I will give you all

the kingdoms of this world”. In Psalm 2, God himself said to his chosen one. “Ask of

me and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your

possession[5]. It was the temptation to try to change the world by becoming like

the world. Jesus replied “You shall fear the Lord your God: you shall serve and swear

by his name”. Jesus was certain that we can never defeat evil by compromising with

evil. Christianity cannot stoop to the level of the world, it must lift the world to its

own level. Nothing less will do. He turns down the offer of political leadership over

the kingdoms of the world, and instead offers the kingdom of the heavens to all

those who follow him in the way of righteousness.

“Behold, angels came and ministered to him

Angels seem to come to Jesus in a visible, human form, after the temptation was over. They “ministered to him” that is, they brought him food as they formerly did to Elijah[6], to satisfy his hunger, and refresh his spirits; which had underwent a very great fatigue during this length of time, in which he fasted, and was tempted. Thus, as the angels are ministering spirits to the heirs of salvation, both in a temporal and in a spiritual sense[7], so they were to Christ.

Jesus decided that there could be no compromise in the message He preached and in the faith He demanded. That choice inevitably meant the Cross, and the Cross meant the final victory.

As we once again commence the penitential Season of Lent, it is good to get back to basics. We journey with Jesus into the desert, and with him, we confront the three basic temptations: sensual pleasure, power, and glory. By overcoming these three temptations we are free to serve the Lord.


Psalms 51

“Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness;

in the greatness of your compassion wipe out my offense.

Thoroughly wash me from my guilt and of my sin cleanse me.

For I acknowledge my offense, and my sin is before me always:

‘Against you only have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight’.

A clean heart create for me, O God, and a steadfast spirit renew within me.

Cast me not out from your presence, and your Holy Spirit take not from me.

Give me back the joy of your salvation, and a willing spirit sustain in me.

O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall proclaim your praise”.

Come Holy Spirit, Come.


  • In looking through the Gospels and witnessing the life of Jesus, we see all the incredible miracles, healings and things He taught and how He just gave his love away, setting people free. Yet all that began in a ‘SILENCE’, in a desert.

    • Can we imagine a fast for 40 days in the scorching desert?

    • Why was it necessary for Jesus to fast?

  • For Jesus: He became “Like us”, fully human, yet also fully God. He learned discipline and utter reliance on God. That reliance of God, come about through LISTENING and KNOWING the WORD of God.

    • See how Jesus “took on the temptation” of the devil with KNOWING Scripture. He found strength in the WORD of life. We too can have that strength.

  • For us: We learn from this passage:

    • That the devil is real.

    • That God is about our “character development too”.

    • God was with Jesus all the time, yet only at the end of that time with the devil, did the angels come and tend to Jesus.

  • Was God present ? YES!!

  • Jesus became strong in his Spirit in the desert, in that time of fasting.

  • How could a fast be useful to us?

    • Character Development: God wants to strengthen us as his disciples.

    • Knowing the Word: God wants to reveal and teach us new things from Scripture.

    • Reliance on God: God wants us to rely on him.

    • Listening: In a place away from distractions, God wants us to LISTEN.

The idea of Lent is for us to focus on God. Those 40 days were very quiet. We all need some quiet to get rid of distractions and just listen to God.


[1] Matthew 14: 17-21; 15: 33-38 [2] Matthew 6: 11: “Give us this day our daily bread”. [3]Matthew 27: 40: “You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross”. [4]Matthew 27: 46: “About three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’” [5] Psalm 2: 8 [6] 1 Kings 19: 5-8: “‘Get up and eat’. He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again. The angel of the Lord came a second time, touched him, and said, ‘Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you’. He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God”. [7]Hebrews 1: 14: “Are not all angels spirits in the divine service, sent to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?”

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