Matthew 4:1-11 - Hope for failures

Sun, 26/02/2012 - 10:30 -- James Oakley

This is not the full text of a sermon, but notes and an outline of what was said:

Failure crushes. “I’m not a very good Christian”. Despite our best intentions – we let God down. I’ve had periods of life (as I’m sure every Christian here has) when we’ve made the same mistakes over and over again. We just never seem to get on top of them.

Read this passage, can make us feel worse. Read Jesus being tempted. Here we see the sins we commit. Most of the ways we fail are captured here.

Our needs are more important than God’s commands

Jesus didn’t need to be hungry in the desert. He had the power to produce bread for himself.

But there’s more to life than bread. If God didn’t decide that the bread we eat would give us energy, it wouldn’t. What God wants is at least as important – more so – than the bread we eat.

So there’s the temptation. To think that the thinks we think we need are more important than what God has to say about how we go through life.

Isn’t this what we do? What is it that would make someone drive inconsiderately between Kemsing and Wrotham, too fast, not pulling in or slowing down for other cars? Various reasons. Amongst them: Late for something important. Me being there on time matters more than how God says we should treat others in the car.

What we see is more important than God’s promises

God did promise in Psalm 91 that there is no scrape his people would get themselves into that he would not look after them in.

But that’s not the same thing as promising that if we deliberately put ourselves in harm’s way God will get us out.

The answer Jesus gives gets us to the heart of the problem: To throw himself off on purpose would be to test God.

God has promised to keep him safe. What he’s being tempted to do is to prove it by trying it out. To create a situation where he can see God’s promise, rather than just trusting it.

Isn’t this what we do? What reasons might we give for why we don’t pray? Various. Among them: A lack of confidence that God answers prayer, even though he’s specifically promised he will. Why’s that? We can all think of prayers we’ve prayed that God has not answered in the way we think he should. Look more at whether we’ve seen God answer prayer than we do at his promises to do so.

Our ends are more important than the right God

All the kingdoms of the world. That’s a good thing for Jesus.

But to get them by worshipping Satan is not a good thing, because only God should be worshipped.

Of course, we know the end of the story. He got them anyway. But how tempting: If I cut this corner on which God I worship, I can achieve this really good thing – all the kingdoms of the world.

Isn’t this what we do? Quite common for employees to claim more expenses than they’re entitled to. What would prompt that? Sometimes, it’s that they feel employer has been squeezing everything they can. Their turn to get something back.


… All of our failings – we see Jesus tempted to make them here… and not do so. Perhaps he can give us the key to not doing so.

Note how he quotes Scripture – perhaps that’s the key. Know our Bibles.

Trouble is: That’s not our problem. Sure we could know our Bibles better, but we don’t fail because we don’t know what’s right. We know that should help us – and it doesn’t solve the problem – we still fail.

New Israel

But those Bible references are the key, if we look at them more closely. Where do they come from? Deut 8, Deut 6, Deut 6. Deut written for Israel after 40 years in the desert for failing to trust and obey God when it came to it. Jesus doesn’t turn to any bit of the Bible. He applies the lessons that Israel should have learnt in the wilderness, only he learns the lessons. Specific: Doesn’t make Israel’s mistakes.

Already seen Jesus is the new Israel when he fled Egypt.

At his baptism – the Lord’s servant. We said that came from Isaiah. Israel had failed to be God’s servant in the world, so the job focuses down in Isaiah onto one individual servant who will be everything they should have been.

God’s people had let him down. We still do. Jesus is the people of God getting it right.

Moving to Application

We’re not meant to look at Jesus and say: “He managed to avoid failing in exactly the ways I do. Perhaps I can learn from him and next time I’ll get it right.”

We’re meant to look at Jesus and say: “He managed to avoid failing in exactly the ways I do. Thank God that being one of God’s family is now about belonging to him rather than about having to do it on my own.”

If this passage gave us the secret to stopping making all those mistakes, we’d just feel more crushed the next time we let God down.

But this passage instead tells us that what matters is knowing the one who did not make the mistakes we make. So the next time we let God down, we can turn to him. Say sorry. Trust him. We remember that its relationship to him that matters not our ability to avoid tripping over.

Yes – we feel crushed and fed up with ourselves when we fail. Knowing that Jesus did not do that is the key to not being crushed by it, and to keeping moving forwards and growing as we live for him.

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