“It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” Matthew 4:4
If we take a moment to contemplate the degree of self control that was required for Christ to overcome in this intensely painful, severe trial, we would better understand the magnitude of His sacrifice at Calvary. This temptation brought Him face to face with the enemy of our souls and signalled the start of His ministry on earth. At this stage the cup - that bitter cup that He later talked to the disciples James and John about in Mark 10:38 was being filled with the very substance of His purpose on earth to become “the Lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the world” (John 1:29).
The temptation itself would have been bad enough but the conditions of extreme weakness, hunger, thirst resulting from a 40 day fast and exposure to scorching desert heat; compounded His anguish. Can you imagine experiencing a knotted stomach, a parched tongue, pores caked with sweat and dust, a mind befuddled with hunger and exhaustion; at the same time of meeting your worst nightmare? Christ suffered this for us, and this was only the beginning. You can see why he has won the right to “succour them that are tempted” (Hebrews 2:18) He knows what it is like so if He can do it, so can we.
At His weakest point our Lord was tempted by the devil to use His divine power to make bread from stones (he knew He was hungry); throw himself from the pinnacle of the temple (he knew He was weak); and to worship him in exchange for the kingdom of the world (he knew that He was under pressure to suppress His divinity).
Christ overcame for us to reclaim the rights that were relinquished by Adam and Eve when they were tempted to eat the fruit from the Tree of Life. This loss resulted from the “lust of the flesh” (greed), “the lust of the eyes” (covetousness) and the “pride of life” (worship of self) as referred to in 1 John 2:16. In the account of the fall of man recorded in Genesis 3:6, Eve “saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.”
Whilst the devil was increasing the depth of his depravity and sin to overcome Christ, Christ was increasing in weakness and humility to resist him. This is a powerful lesson in how we need to exercise self-control in order to overcome our trials and temptations. We are commanded to receive our Lord’s grace which is works at its best, when we are at our weakest (2 Corinthians 12:9).
We must go lower and lower into our nothingness, seeking not to exist – though painful and counter-intuitive it may be- in order for God to be everything in us. “The pride of life”, as demonstrated by the devil leading Christ to the highest pinnacle of the holy city, seeks to worship itself and to revel in its own self-importance.
What can we learn from Christ’s temptation? That God, who is our Creator, must be first and foremost in our lives. Despite what we think, He alone provides our food, sustains us with life and protects us and is therefore worthy of our worship and thanksgiving. At His lowest ebb, Christ revealed His deepest humility, choosing to honour God rather than to rely on Himself, that is true godliness. Where God is everything and He was nothing.
By contrast the enemy wants us to think that we are everything so that God has no value in our lives, this is mere deception, remember he is after all “the father of lies.”
Pride is the height of his power and the depth of his depravity. There are no halfway houses, God has to be all, the bible reminds us that we cannot serve two masters we will love one and hate the other (Luke 16:13).
At the end of the temptation the angels minister to Christ. We have to realise that even at our lowest point, we too must give God our greatest honour and He will send His angels to minister to us. Through Christ’s example we are shown that when we humble ourselves and do not retaliate, we are in effect presenting “our body as a living, sacrifice holy and acceptable to God, which is our reasonable act of service” (Romans 12:1). This is true obedience to our Creator.