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Edward F. Markquart

Series B

Gospel Analysis: The Temptation

Matthew 4:1-11, Mark 1:9-13, Luke 4:1-13

Pastor Edward F. Markquart
Grace Lutheran Church
Des Moines, Washington 98198

The following Bible study is from a larger course entitled, THE LIFE OF CHRIST: A Study in the Four Gospels. This 54 week course for the laity will be available for congregations in 2006.

Basic text for the course: SYNOPSIS OF THE FOUR GOSPELS, Kurt Aland, English Edition, P. 220. 

#20 THE TEMPTATION     Matthew 4:1-11, Mark 1:12-12, Luke 4:1-13

On the First Sunday of Lent, the focus of the three year lectionary is the temptation of Jesus.

Mark’s temptation story, which is the story for Lent 1, Series B, is the shortest of the three versions of the temptation story. Matthew and Luke's temptation story (Lent 1, Series A and C) have the longer temptation story. This longer temptation story is the one that most Christians remember

Notice that Mark’s account of the temptation is not nearly as detailed as the somewhat parallel accounts in Matthew and Luke. It almost seems that Matthew and Luke have a common source that they are using for this story. According to many scholars, that common source of Matthew and Luke was the document Q. Whenever Matthew and Luke are parallel but there is no parallels in Mark, that common source may be the document, Q.

It seems that when preaching on the Marcan text in Series B, it may be wise for the pastor to supplement Mark's text with the accounts in Matthew or Luke.

There were three tests or temptations in the accounts by Matthew and Luke:

  • stone into bread;
  • a miraculous rescue if Jesus would throw himself from the pinnacle of the temple;
  • Jesus enticed to pursue glory and authority through political power.

These temptations are still common to the human race.

1) People still want free food when hungry. Bread is symbolic of food and money.

2) People still want God to do “magical miracles” and rescue us from our fooish decisions.

3) People still want the glory, recognition, and authority of political power. 

Jesus answered those temptations with a quotation from the Old Testament. We need resources to fight the testings and temptations in our lives. We know from experience that it is helpful to have the inner Presence and Power of God within.

In the Scriptures, we hear that God’s Word and Wisdom strengthen us. Phrases from the Bible, lines from the Bible and verses from the Bible live in us and shape our inner values and attitudes. Sometimes, without even realizing it, the way we handle situations is affected by the inner Word of God living within.

We, as Christians, often ask the question: “What would Jesus do?” Christians wear bracelets with those initials imprinted on the bracelet: WWJD? WWJD, if not imprinted on a bracelet that we wear, is often deeply imprinted in our hearts. We are forever asking what would Jesus do in this situation.

Rather that quote the Scripture, today we Christians often quote the life of Christ as our primary resource for handling inner temptations.

Jesus faced a time of testing and we Christians inevitably face times of testing. Evil things happen to good people, and we all face times of testing.

The power of evil is forever testing us to draw us away from God. The power of evil wants to destroy and kill us physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Evil wants to destroy our faith in God, our faith in each other, our good values, our good marriages, good families, our good communities, our good nations and any goodness of God living inside of us.

The power of evil tests us in order to see what quality of genuine faith lives inside of our hearts.

We all the know the numerous tests of life: a sudden battle with cancer, a heart attack, a loss of our child, war, starvation, hunger, financial collapse, marital collapse. The list goes on and on.

We as Christians are always faced with the power of evil testing us to see if we will crumble and curse God, forget God, not draw on God, and gradually let go of God. That is what the story of Job was about in the Old Testament.

The devil was and is representative of the whispering power of temptation that lives in all human beings.

God allows us to be tested. God allows us to be tempted. That is the way life is. We know from our real life experiences that we face testing and temptation every day.

The power of evil also tempts us. The power of evil knows where we are most vulnerable and “weakest” and often tempts us at those points of our personal life.  The Apostle Paul refers to these weaknesses as “the flesh.”  Greed, money, success, sex, pride, gluttony, self- righteousness, complacency. The list is endless.

The Bible also teaches that the power of God is much stronger than the power of evil in our lives. Sometimes, we human beings overly emphasize how strong the power of evil is. We Christians sometimes forget that God’s power is much stronger than the power of evil in our personal lives or national lives. (Romans 5).

The following Scripture is from the Gospel of Luke (Lent 1, Series C):

-Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, Luke’s uniqueness: Jesus was full of the Holy Spirit. We see this theme persistently in the Gospel of Luke. Luke wants our lives to be full of the Holy Spirit which means to be filled with the Spirit of Jesus’ love and power. When a person believes in Christ, the Spirit of Jesus comes into our lives and his love (for God and others) begins to grow in us.  So does his power, strength and resilience.

Jesus was full of the Holy Spirit when he faced the inner temptations of the power of evil. Jesus wants us to be full of the Spirit as we face our inner temptations and testings.

-returned from the Jordan The Jordan is where Jesus was baptized and filled with the Holy Spirit. In his baptism, Jesus was filled with the Spirit of God. Jesus was filled with the power of God’s love and strength. That God-given power (in his baptism) was to become important to Jesus as he faced the powers of temptation.

Immediately after his baptism, Jesus was sent into the wilderness to begin his battle with the demonic and evil power called the devil. There was no waiting around period for Jesus, a moment or two of basking in the pleasure of being filled with the Holy Spirit. Not at all. Immediately after being baptized and being filled with the Holy Spirit and power, Jesus went immediately into the wilderness for battle. That is the way it is for our lives as well. When we are filled with the Spirit of God’s power, we immediately go into the battles of life. We immediately begin battling  our inner imaginations and inner seductions.

 and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. This seems to be parallel to the Old Testament story when the people of God were tested in the wilderness for forty years. We recall also that it rained for forty days and nights in the story of Noah and this was a time of testing for Noah’s faith. We recall also that Moses was on Mount Sinai for forty days and nights, and this was a time of testing for the people below Mount Sinai who wondered what had happened to their religious leader. They thought, “Maybe Moses is not such a great leader after all.” We also recall that Elijah was on Mount Horeb (same as Mount Sinai) for forty days and nights.

The number “forty” seems to symbolize times of great testing.

Focus on the phrase, “in the wilderness.” All human beings experience “the wilderness” during our lives. “The wilderness” symbolizes those times when we feel alone, when we feel that we may not be up to the challenge, when we feel the challenges before us are greater than our resources to overcome.

All of us human beings experience times of great testing, times when the tests of life are more intense than at other times. For me personally, my time of great testing was the six weeks I was in the hospital and almost died. Those were forty days of intense testing of the quality of the resilience of my mind, emotions and spirit.

Focus on the word, “tested.” The word, “tested,” has the connotation of being both tested and tempted. We human beings are tested and tempted often in life. We are forever tested to see what kind of metal that we are made up of. We are forever tempted by temptations within us and around us.

Focus on the word, “the devil.” Jesus was tested by the same reality with three different names: “tempter,” “satan,” “devil.” The primary word used in Matthew and Luke is “devil.” Matthew uses the word, “devil,” four times in this story and Luke uses the word, “devil,” six times. In confirmation classes here at Grace Lutheran Church, we teach the students to take the letter, d, off the word, “devil,” and you get the word, “evil.” Evil is part of our lives and we face evil every day.

The devil was and is representative of the whispering power of temptation that lives in all human beings. The whispering power of temptation and seduction lives in the corners and shadows of all of our minds.

-He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. Circle the word, “famished,” and write in the words, “ravishing hungry.” After forty days, Jesus would have been famished and enormously hungry. Hunger for food would have become a craving for him, an obsession.

-The devil said to him, "If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread." Jesus answered him, "It is written, "One does not live by bread alone.' " The first temptation was to meet an inner craving for food.

We recall the story about Jesus feeding the 5,000 and how the crowds wanted to make Jesus a “bread king.” The crowds were following Jesus for the wrong reasons. They wanted a “Houdini from the holy land” who would pull loaves of bread out of the hat, rather than rabbits.

Bread symbolizes food; bread also symbolizes money. When Americans think of “bread,” we often think of money. Sometimes, we would like to be able to touch the infinite number of stones of a beach and those stones would all become one hundred dollar bills. Some people become consumed by their passion to accumulate material resources such as food, money, houses, etc.

The “it is written” means that Jesus was quoting a passage from the Old Testament. We also know that bread as food and bread as money does not solely meet the needs of people. That is, human beings need food and money to live and survive in this world, but food and money are not the ONLY things necessary to live. Not at all. Jesus did not say that bread was not important. Jesus said that a person cannot find life simply by the accumulation of wealth and food.

-Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. This is the second temptation of the inner whispering voice of enticement. The next temptation was for political power and its attendant glory and public recognition.

And the devil said to him, "To you I will give their glory and all this authority; We also recall that the crowds wanted Jesus to be a political messiah and throw off the Roman oppressors. Successful political leaders often have glory and authority to get things done. Think of the President of the United States or any other nation. Within that nation, the president/premier/prime minister is the most powerful and well recognized person of that nation.

The devil, of course, was a liar through and through and pretended that he had the power to give such glory and authority. 

for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. Again, the devil is the personification of lies, deceptions, and trickery.

If you, then, will worship me, Yes, this is the issue. The devil wants to be worshipped. People often become addicted to wanting to be worshipped, glorified, and become “Number One.” For human beings, it is relatively easy to become seduced into worshipping the inner temptation of personal glory, fame, and recognition.

it will all be yours." Again, the devil is a liar. The inner voice of temptation pretends that it is in its power to grant glory, fame, recognition and all the power and authority that go with glory, fame and recognition.

Jesus answered him, "It is written, "Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.' " Jesus is smart and wise. Jesus knew his Old Testament Bible and quoted the right verse for this temptation. We human beings are not to seek our own glory, fame and recognition but we are to worship the Lord our God and serve only the Lord.

-Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, The third temptation given to Jesus by this inner voice of temptation that spoke to Jesus and still lives in all human beings. The temptation was to do something stupid like throw yourself off of a tall building and expect the Lord God will come and rescue you. People still make foolish decisons and plead with God to come and rescue them from the consequences of their foolishness and thereby prove that there is a God.

 for it is written, "He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,' and "On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.' " The inner voice of temptation even quotes the Scripture that the Lord God will intervene and protect us from stupid decisions like jumping off a tall building.

By such actions, Jesus would have been putting God to the test. We expect God's messengers to rescue us and protect us after we have made some terrible decisions. In doing so, we are putting God to the test. We are foolishly testing God to see whether or not God will intervene and protect us from the consequences of foolish decisions and actions.

Jesus answered him, "It is said, "Do not put the Lord your God to the test.' And for the third time, Jesus found within himself the appropriate Scripture from the Old Testament.

-When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.The devil departed from Jesus until a more opportune time. We know that the power of evil tests us and tempts us, and we are always aware that the power of evil will come back again, often at a more opportune time.

 I personally find that there are certain times in my life that are “opportune for evil to get a hold of me.” When I am exhausted, tired by life and depressed, or when I am short of time and frazzled by tight schedules, or when a sudden catastrophe happens to my family or me, or when I am momentarily rich materially. Each person has points of vulnerability to the power of evil. 


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