On December 22, 1944, the 101st airborne division which had distinguished itself when it dropped behind German lines to help secure the beaches of Normandy found itself once again surrounded by its foes. Five days earlier, the battle worn soldiers had rushed to the front lines to support their fellow Americans. But as they secured the town of Bastogne, the Americans on their left and right flank stumbled backwards under the weight of the German panzer tanks. The 101st airborne was now an island located in sea of Nazi grey.
Wanting to avoid a drawn-out siege that would claim the lives of countless soldiers, the German commander in the area requested a ceasefire. He handed the Americans a letter that asked for their surrender. The note declared, “The fortune of war is changing…The battalions are ready to annihilate the U.S.A. troops in and near Bastogne.” When the American commander, general McAuliffe, saw the note, he laughed, exclaiming “Aw nuts.” For the next several minutes, McAuliffe and his staff discussed the possibility of surrender. But the commanders could not reconcile themselves to the idea. They knew the mighty American War machine lay only miles away. Patton’s 9th army had already begun to mobilize. Though their situation remained dire, victory also seemed sure. The question for McAuliffe and his staff was this: “What do we tell the Germans?” They discussed their options. McAuliffe then scribbled his message down on a piece of paper and sent it back to the Germans. When they opened the envelope, they found only one word: “Nuts.”
When Christians awake to find their souls surrounded by temptations, they too can resist the call to surrender to sin and death for they serve a God far mightier than Patton’s 9th army. Because Jesus has triumphed over Satan in Matthew 4:1-11, all who follow Jesus should expect to gain victory over their temptations.
Why Matthew’s Not a How-To-Guide
At times, Christians have treated Matthew 4:1-11 as a how-to-guide for overcoming temptation. This advice turns the quotation of Scripture and the declaration, “Be Gone Satan” into a one size fits all solution for all temptations. However, a quick scan of the Bible reveals this understanding of temptation to be incomplete. Joseph ran from Potiphar’s wife when she propositioned him. In Ephesians 4, Paul instructs those who are tempted to steal to work with their hands. We should reference and quote Scripture when Satan comes knocking. But we do not have to stop here. We should go beyond these steps and make use of all of Scripture when battling temptation.
Matthew is not providing us with the exclusive guide to overcoming temptation. He is showing us that Jesus is the new Adam and the new Israel who will finally defeat sin and death. Because Jesus resisted the devil in the wilderness and then died and rose again, his people can resist the Devil as well by through Jesus. Our savior gloriously declared, “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” Those who have been made righteous by the blood of Christ no longer have to surrender when Satan calls them to lust after the flesh, to test God, and to worship that which is not God.
Jesus’s and Our Victory Over Temptations
After living forty days without food, Jesus had become well acquainted with hunger pains. Seizing upon this moment of human frailty, Satan strikes, calling Jesus to “command these stones to become loaves of bread.” Satan implores Jesus to find fulfillment in doing that which comes naturally and easily. He had already snagged Adam and Eve with appeals to their fleshly lusts. Genesis 6:6 reports that Eve ate the fruit in part because it was “a delight to the eyes.” The nation of Israel repeatedly surrendered to Satan’s demands and rebelled against God when they lacked food and water.
But Jesus does not fall. He reminds Satan that “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God (Matt 4:4).” Jesus resists the urge to just do it, to be himself, and to surrender to the needs of the moment because he knows that life comes not through self-fulfillment but through obedience to the Word of God. Because Jesus resisted Satan, those who follow the Christ no longer must surrender to the flesh. Jesus will provide a way of escape (1 Cor. 10:13).
But Satan is not easily put off. He regroups and challenges Jesus to prove his divinity by throwing himself off the temple mount. Jesus should be able to survive the five plus story fall because God had promised to protect him. Historians believe Satan is tapping into the culture of Jesus’s day. Supposedly, Simeon the Magician and others who had claimed to be the Messiah had thrown themselves off the temple to prove their divinity. Suffice it to say, their movements ended the moment these men hit the ground.
But Jesus does not test God. He rebukes Satan declaring: “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test (Matt. 4:7).” Because Jesus refuses to put test God, his children also do not have to test their Father. We do not have to buy a house that we cannot afford and then challenge God to increase our paycheck. We do not have to quit our job to pursue the mission field apart from the blessing of our church and wise counsel, challenging God to get us to Africa. We do not have to divorce our spouse to follow our true love, demanding that God shepherd our kids and bank accounts through the process. Jesus refused to test God. We too can resist this temptation.
Lastly, Satan asks Jesus to worship him. Satan knows something of what the cross will cost Jesus. He offers another way, a plan B. In Matthew 26:42, Jesus prays, “My father, if it is possible let this cup pass from Me. Yet not as I will but as you will.” In exchange for worship, Satan will give Jesus his kingdom. Jesus once again defeats Satan. He declares, “You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve (Matt 4:10).” Though his adherence to the Father will cost Jesus everything, he still worships the Father for he is God.
Though Jesus resisted the Devil, he still repeatedly calls the people of God to worship that which is not God. He calls them to the occult and to witchcraft. But more importantly, he calls them to worship that which is not God: good grades, wealth, popularity, sex, children, work, and a host of other things which are not inherently bad. He encourages us to set aside God and to worship that which will really make us happy. And at times, the offer does come with benefits. The greatest threat to the church member’s faith is not that he or she will worship sports or their career and find financial. The great danger is that false worship will lead to earthly success. Satan can hand out gifts to those who turn their back on God. But such presents always lead to death. As Jesus notes in Matthew 16:26:
For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?
Life exists not in things or experiences. It exists in Jesus. Resist the temptation to worship that which is not God.
Jesus vanquished the Devil. If we stand with our savior, we too can resist the devil and will watch him flee. We do not have to surrender.
We should not despair when we awake to find ourselves surrounded by temptation. Jesus will rescue his people like the 9th Army came to the 82nd Airborne’s aid. Paul says it this way in 1 Corinthians 10:13,
No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.
When Satan calls us to surrender to temptation, we should take our cue from the 101st Airborne and respond, “Nuts.”
The victory is ours!