(I apologize for the length of this article. It is an adaptation of my sermon for Sunday, March 5. Thank you for your patience and indulgence.)
According to Owen Bourgaize, on May 11, 2000 an unsuspecting lady found a new e-mail message on her computer, which said three familiar words, “I love you”. It looked innocent enough. She thought it might even be a romantic message. Like most people would, she clicked to open the message, In that instant, the so-called “Love Bug” was unleashed. With lightning speed, it raced around the world bringing business, banks, politics, and communications to a halt. It was a deadly computer virus that caused millions of computer software programs to crash. It was only one virus, but it caused wide spread contamination. You know that was not the first time that a single virus has caused so much grief to mankind. In fact, a much deadlier sickness infested all of creation at the beginning of time. Despite God’s warning not to “click” on Satan’s seductive message, Adam and Eve did just that with appalling consequences for them and for all of mankind. That virus, if you will, is called “Sin”.
Read Romans 5:12-19
In our Epistle reading from Romans 5, Paul tells us that because of Adam’s sin, condemnation and death came to all humankind because all of us sin!! We are sinful by nature and by choice. As we move from the Garden with Adam and Eve, and to the Wilderness with Jesus, we will make a critical discovery. Satan employs a three-step temptation strategy. As you’ll see, this is the same scheme he used to tempt: Adam and Eve, Jesus, and us!
Before we go any farther, let’s examine 1 John 2:15-17. This is where we find Satan’s three step plan of temptation.
1 John 2:15-17
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world.
First: the desires of the flesh – that’s an appeal for pleasure. This is a disordered desire for experience. It could be something like: gluttony, hoarding or a sexual addiction. Second: the desires of the eyes – that’s an appeal to acquire possessions. It often leads to covetousness and stealing. Third: the pride of life – that’s an appeal to be prideful. It is a disordered sense of self-importance and leads to dominating others. I had a pastor friend who used to say, “Satan attacks us at our point of greatest weakness.” Those three temptations are our weaknesses – pleasure, possessions and pride.
Read Genesis 2:7-9, 3:1-7
Adam and Eve both disobeyed God – they sinned blatantly! How did it all go wrong? They had it all, from living in paradise, to dominion over creation. They had only one prohibition. They couldn’t eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. THAT WAS THEIR WEAKNESS. And where did Satan attack? Hey, Adam and Eve – have you seen this tree over here! Satan pulled out his insidious seductive strategy. To get started, he undermined God’s credibility. Did God say the day eat of it you will die? You won’t die! God knows, when you eat this – you will be like Him!! With God’s authority removed, why, here comes the three stage seduction.
First he employs, “The Desire of the flesh. So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food… The desire of the flesh is seeking pleasure. She saw that the fruit looked delicious. Eve just had to taste it – she had to have a bite of it. As a father of three boys, I see the results of this sin at my house on birthdays. When it comes time to blow out the candles, there is almost always a finger swipe in the icing of the cake! Eve was seduced by the desire of the flesh. “I have to experience that for myself!”
Step two, The Desire of the eyes. So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, …and that it was a delight to the eyes… This was no ordinary piece of fruit. Eve saw it and was delighted by it. It captivated her eyes and she wanted to have it. Bob James noted that this temptation is not reserved for humans. Bob laid a small circle of poison around a hill of stinging ants. Thinking the tiny granules of poison were food, the ants began to pick them up and carry them throughout the colony. He said, “I returned later to see how well the poison was working. Hundreds of the stinging ants were carrying the poison down into their hill. Then I noticed a something strange. Some of the poison was moving the opposite way, away from the hill. Some smaller, nonstinging ants had found this “food,” and they were stealing it from their ant neighbors. Thinking they were getting the other ants’ treasure, they unwittingly poisoned themselves. Eve saw it and wanted it – she just had to have it.
Then came the third stage, The Pride of life. So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, …and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise… Oh, this is the big one…Satan’s secret weapon. He is great at this temptation because he knows all about it! Before the devil was cast out of heaven he thought he, too, could be like God! Now, Eve believes Satan’s lie, that, if they eat of the fruit, they will be wise – they’ll be like God. What a hideous temptation this is, to be superior to all other human beings! Alan Carr tells a story about a man who was tired of his friends owning nicer homes than his. It made him feel inferior. But, he would show them! The prideful man went to see a realtor to put his home on the market. He began to search for a house that would blow his friends away. One day as he was reading the paper he came across a listing for a home that was just exactly what he was looking for. “This will impress everyone,” he thought to himself. He called the realtor and said he wanted to schedule a walk-through. The realtor replied, “Sir, I have to tell you something about that house!” With anger he barked, “One of my friends bought it, didn’t they?” “No sir,” said the realtor. “The house you want to see, well, that’s your house.” Pride makes us do bizarre things!
Verse 6 tell us…she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. What was the result? In the instant they ate their eyes WERE opened. But, they were not like God! In fact, they were suddenly ashamed of themselves. Verse 7 says, Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. In that moment they died spiritually. What’s worse, all of creation was corrupted by their sin. Romans 5:12 says, Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men. From that day in the garden until now, all humankind is by nature, “in Adam.” 1 Corinthians 15:22 says, “in Adam, all die!!” We have all fallen prey to Satan’s seductive scheme: Pleasure, Possessions and Pride. Just like Adam – the representative head of all mankind, we have all collapsed into corruption. What we desperately needed was for a New Adam to come along. We need a hero to undo the mess that Adam and eve made.
Read Matthew 4:1-11
Adam and Eve were in the Garden. The Greek word for garden also means paradise. Why is Jesus led out into the wilderness? Because of Adam’s sin, paradise became a wasteland. Spiritually speaking, the Garden became the wilderness.
This passage also tells us Jesus was in the wilderness for 40 days.All through the Scriptures 40 days stood for a period of testing and purification. Jesus goes into the wilderness to fast, pray and be tested. It was there that Jesus – fully God, but also fully man, had to be hungry. Remember, Satan will always attack at our weakest point.
Look at verse 2
2 And after fasting forty days and forty nights he was hungry. 3 And 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, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
Satan is using the same playbook that he used on Adam. He pulls out the Desire of the flesh. The devil knew that Jesus was hungry, so he says, “If you are the son of God just, tell these stones to become bread!” Oh how good a nice piece of bread would have tasted! I get tickled at my boys. We will have just stopped at Cracker Barrel for the Hearty Country Boy Platter Deluxe. As soon as we get home they are pillaging through the pantry. I will ask them, “Are you hungry?” The answer is, “I’m starving!!” At times, they are like locusts coming through every 17 minutes. Can you imagine how tempting food would be after a 40 day fast? How does Jesus respond? He combats the desire of the flesh with Scripture. “Man does not live by bread alone but on every Word that comes from the mouth of God”
That didn’t work – but Satan doesn’t give up. He moves on to tactic two. He plays, The Desire of the eyes.
Look at Matthew 4:8
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, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’”
Here, Satan, the prince of this world shows Jesus all the kingdom of the world. And, what does he say? Look and see – I will give all of this to you. All you have to do is bow down and worship me! How could this be tempting to Jesus? Well, consider for a moment why Jesus had come to earth. His mission was to seek and to save the lost. The only avenue to do this meant death on the Old Rugged Cross. Satan’s offer meant no suffering and no crucifixion. It’s a shortcut around Calvary. Jesus could see it all before him – He could possess it all! How does Jesus respond? With Scripture, of course. You shall love the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve!
So much for pleasure and possessions. How about Satan’s trump card, The Pride of life? Surely this will work
Look at verse 5
5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple 6 and said 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, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’” 7 Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
Satan cuts right to the chase. Jesus, I can offer you, in one fell swoop, a way for everyone to know you are the Son of God. Just throw yourself down off the temple. By misinterpreting Psalm 91, the devil tells Jesus that the angels will catch Him and raise Him up! In that moment, everyone would know that Jesus is the Messiah! By this demonstration of power – His greatness would be established. Appealing to Pride – Pride – and more Pride!! But, Jesus’ ministry was not about showing off. He didn’t demonstrate his power by grand spectacles. His was not about commanding allegiance by miraculous displays. Jesus’ ministry featured acts of humility not hubris. In fact, His greatest feat would not be mounting a throne, but rather being nailed to the cross. By his love and His passion – Jesus shows us the path of humility. This was God’s plan, and Jesus wasn’t about to take a shortcut. No, Satan – you shall not put the Lord to the Test!
Strike Three!!! – Satan, you are OUT!
What was the result? Look at verse 11. 11 Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him.
Jesus went into the desert for 40 days. We are roughly 40 days from Holy Week as we progress on the Pathway to the Passion. May I suggest that we spend this time as Jesus commended to His followers in Matthew 6. The Lord Jesus said not if, but, “When you fast.” He said not if, but, “When you give to the poor.” He said not if, but, “When you pray.” As Jesus fasted and prayed in the wilderness, may we also spend these days preparing our hearts. May we ponder how to avoid the mistakes of Adam and Eve, and instead, follow the Path of Jesus. Eve knew the Word, but was not under it’s authority. Jesus stood on God’s Word and the devil fled from Him. There is a great lesson for us.
Finally, consider this: by fasting, we are saying no to pleasure and the desires of the flesh. By giving alms – giving to meet the needs of others – we are saying no to possessions and the desires of the eyes. By praying, we go to our knees and humble ourselves before the Lord. In this we are saying no to the pride of life. I am confident if we follow Jesus into the wilderness, he will take make our desert into a garden – and give us a glimpse of paradise.