Conversations: Dialogue with the Devil
Text: Matthew 3:13-4:11; Deuteronomy 8:1-10
Speaker: Pastor Paul McPheeters
Title: “Dialogue With The Devil”
We are continuing in a series of sermons for this new year called, “Conversations With Jesus.” We will be looking together at a whole variety of conversations Jesus had with different individuals all through the gospels; seeing how Jesus spoke to them, and the way he imparted truth and grace to them. But we’re also inviting Jesus to speak to us. We want to learn to hear his voice, and to receive the grace and truth He wants to impart to us. We want to learn to discern His voice in the midst of all the other voices that are constantly seeking to grab our attention in this world.
Now in that vein, it might interest you to know that the very first actual conversation of Jesus recorded in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, is the conversation Jesus had with the devil in the wilderness. And it’s this “dialogue with the devil” that I want us to reflect on this morning. Because when we invite Jesus to initiate a conversation with us, we want to make sure we know whose voice it is that we start listening to.
Listen now to Jesus’ conversation with the devil in Matthew 4:1-11, but I am going to begin the story in Matthew 3:13 at Jesus’ baptism.
So I began the reading here at the end of Matthew 3, because I want us to see that the conversation Jesus has with the devil in the wilderness is closely connected to what happened at Jesus’ baptism at the Jordan River. And I want us to see that the conversation is actually initiated by God.
First, at Jesus’ baptism it is God the Father who speaks, and names Jesus as His beloved Son, in whom the Father is well pleased. And then the Holy Spirit descends upon this beloved Son in the form of a dove and anoints Jesus for the ministry which He is now about to embark upon.
Then the very first step the Holy Spirit directs Jesus to take is to go out into the wilderness for this conversation with Satan. So this dialogue with the devil is part of God’s plan for Jesus. Right off the bat, Jesus is being trained to be able to discern the difference between the voice which spoke to him at his baptism and named him the beloved Son, and this other voice which will now be coming at him from the world which will try and make him doubt that identity. This other voice will try to distract him from the calling God has placed upon his life, and will try and derail the ministry he is setting about to accomplish.
Jesus is being tested right off the bat to see if he is able to discern the voice of His Father from that of the devil, and consistently choose to follow the will of the Father, and not that of the enemy.
And my friends, you know that this is the same pattern that we see lived out by Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden right off the bat at the beginning of the Bible at Creation. They, too, were God’s beloved son and daughter, and they too were tested by the devil in the form of a snake in the garden. But they actually failed the test, and chose to listen to the voice of the snake and to doubt what they knew of the voice of God.
And as we read in the Book of Deuteronomy a few minutes ago, this is also the pattern we see lived out by God’s people as a whole at the time of the Exodus. They, too, were God’s chosen sons and daughters. They were God’s people as a whole community. And after he had saved them from slavery in Egypt and brought them together as his people and made a covenant with them at Mt. Sinai, the first thing God does is call them to go out into the wilderness to be tested.
And in Deuteronomy at the end of their 40 years in the wilderness, Moses speaks to them and reminds them of what that time in the wilderness has been all about, and he says, “And remember that the whole way the Lord your God led you these 40 years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commandments.” (Dt. 8:2)
You see, Jesus 40 days of testing in the wilderness is modeled on the experience of his people, the Israelites, and their 40 years of testing in the wilderness. God initiates this test in order to see what is in our hearts, whether we can discern his voice and will choose to follow it.
And if you read the story of the Israelites 40 years in the wilderness, you will see that they were no more successful at passing the test than Adam and Eve were in the Garden of Eden. What the Israelites’ “testing in the wilderness” exposed in their hearts was the same sin Adam and Eve had handed down to all of us: They doubted God constantly. They groaned and complained against God and against Moses constantly.
They bickered amongst themselves. They got tired of eating manna from heaven. They wanted to go back to Egypt where the food was better. They were a mess for 40 years in the wilderness.
The amazing thing is how faithful God was to them all through the journey, and how brought them to the land of promise in spite of themselves, because He loved them, and still called them His own.
But now we come to Jesus. God’s own Son, whom the Father has sent to save us from the sins of Adam and Eve and all the rest of the generations since. And he, too, is sent into the wilderness to be tested. And what we see in this conversation with the devil today, is Jesus passing the test.
But pay attention to the pattern laid out for us here:
Again, the conversation is initiated by God when the Father speaks from heaven and declares Jesus to be His beloved Son in whom He is well pleased. That conversation between the Father and his beloved Son is then joined out in the wilderness by another voice, the voice of the devil. And the devil challenges Jesus about his newly stated identity, this new anointing by the Spirit, this new calling to leave the carpentry shop and enter into ministry. And he is challenging Jesus about what kind of a “son of God” and “Messiah” or “Anointed One” he’s going to be in this world.
The devil says, “IF you are the Son of God command these stones to become loaves of bread.” In other words, “Use your new identity and the powers now bestowed on you as the Son of God and the Anointed One, to feed yourself because you’re hungry after 40 days of fasting. Or to feed the poor and hungry of the world, who are ever with us. Do something with your power to take care of your own problems and the problems of the world.”
But Jesus discerns quite clearly that this is not the voice of the Father that he heard at his baptism. It is the voice of the world, the flesh, and the devil. And he quotes Deuteronomy 8:3, the very passage we read a moment ago, and says to the devil,
“It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”
You see what is exposed in Jesus’ heart: a desire to listen to His Father, and only do what the Father calls Him to do.
So the devil takes him to the Capital City of Jerusalem, and to the top of the Temple of God right there in the Holy City, and says, “Well then, IF you are the Son of God, and you will rely on God alone, then throw yourself down from the top of the Temple here, and see if the angels will catch you, because it is written in God’s Word that “He will command His angels concerning you, and that they will bear you up so you will not strike your foot against a stone.”
It's a temptation inviting Jesus to be the kind of Messiah who will go to Jerusalem and “wow the crowds” of religious people who gather there at the Temple. Show them who He is. Show them a miracle they can believe in. Strut his stuff as Messiah and be a religious success. But Jesus will not go there either. He goes right back to Deuteronomy and says, “It is also written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.”
So the devil takes him to a high mountain top where they can see a panoramic view of the wider world all around. And the devil says, “All of this and all the nations of the world I will give you if you will bow down and worship me.”
And here’s the temptation to be the kind of Messiah who will take power over the nations and use it to rule. But once again, Jesus knows this is not the voice of His Father in heaven, and not the calling on his life, and not what he was sent and anointed to do. And so he quotes Deuteronomy one last time saying, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’”
And the devil leaves him. Jesus passes the test.
Now I asked you a minute ago to pay attention to the pattern laid out for us here. And the reason is that this is the same pattern we can expect to take place in our own lives when God makes Himself known to us initiates a conversation with us.
And many of you know this as I do from personal experience. When God first makes Himself known to us, in whatever way that happens, He does so because He is calling us into relationship with himself. He is claiming us as His own children. He is adopting us in Christ, and naming us His daughters and sons. He is saying to us, “You are my child, and I am making you a son or daughter in my own family, a sheep of my own flock, a citizen of my own Kingdom, a sinner of my own redeeming. That is who you are now.”
And by His Spirit, God opens our hearts and minds to the gospel, the good news of what Christ has done to cleanse us of the sin that separated us from God. And by His Spirit, we are drawn to receive that good news as the best news ever and to embrace it in faith and in thanksgiving. And then the Holy Spirit in a sense “descends on us like a dove” and takes up residence in us as the indwelling presence of God Himself.
So what happens to Jesus at his baptism, is what we are drawn into ourselves when we come to have faith in Jesus. He is the firstborn of many sons and daughters of God. We are the 500th generation sons and daughters.
But then the pattern continues in our lives. That conversation God initiates with us at our conversion when we first heard His voice and responded, it gets joined by this other voice pretty soon thereafter. It’s the voice of the world, the flesh, and the devil that comes into our minds, too. It’s the voice that makes us question what it is we have experienced of God, to doubt that it was really true, to doubt that God could love us and make us His child. It’s the voice that challenges us and says, “IF you are really now a child of God, why haven’t you started seeing a greater things happening in your life? Why don’t you feel more “spiritual” than you do? Why aren’t you living a more godly life than you are? Why do you still get angry at people? Why do you still have problems? God doesn’t love you. If He did, your life would be much better than it is. You’d be a much more successful Christian than you are.
But this is not the voice of the Father in heaven who loves you and names you as His own, is it? No, this is the voice of the Accuser who wants to make you doubt the Father, and doubt His love for you, and doubt yourself. It’s the voice of the one who wants to derail God’s plan for your life, and beckons you to walk in the way of the world, the flesh, and the devil.
My friends, this pattern of the interior conversation is what happens in us when God makes Himself known to us. It is the pattern all God’s people have experienced since Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. And Jesus experienced just like all the rest of us.
And you know what? This is not a one and done kind of conversation. It’s an on-going conversation that’s part of every life of discipleship. I mean, it says here at the end of the passage that Jesus told the devil to be gone, and that “the devil left him.” But that doesn’t mean the devil left him for good. Because for the rest of Jesus’ earthly life and ministry, the devil’s voice, and these exact same earthly testings would come at him every day from all angles.
Everyone around Jesus, including his own disciples, had their own opinions of what kind of a Messiah they wanted Jesus to be, and what they wanted him to do. James and John had their hearts set on earthly empire, and the overthrow of Roman domination. They wanted Jesus to set up the Kingdom of God on earth, just like the devil had tempted Jesus with! James and John wanted to sit at his right and left hand as rulers of that Kingdom.
And Peter wanted this same thing, so when Jesus told his disciples that he was instead going to be the suffering servant who would go to Jerusalem and die, Peter said, “I will never let that happen.” Jesus rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me Satan.” He wasn’t calling Peter Satan. But he did hear in Peter’s words the devils voice beckoning him to give up God’s plan and go after worldly success.
Everyday Jesus had people trying to talk him into being the kind of Messiah they wanted him to be. The Pharisees thought he should be more like them. The Saducees and priests wanted Jesus to be more like what they expected of the Messiah. The common people wanted Jesus to be a healer, and take care of all their woes. They loved the idea that maybe Jesus could turn stones into loaves of bread.
Remember when he fed the 5000 with a few loaves of bread and couple of fish? It says that after seeing that miracle, the people wanted to take Jesus and go to Jerusalem and make him king by force. Jesus told his disciples to dismiss the crowd and get out of there, and he went off by himself and climbed a mountain to spend time alone with His Father in prayer. Maybe you can see why Jesus had to take time each day and at critical moments of his life to get away for prayer in order to listen for the voice of the Father. He was committed to being what the Father had anointed him to be, and to doing only what He heard the Father asking him to do, but the world around him constantly wanted their will to be done, not the Father’s will.
So you see, the testing of that commitment wasn’t just a one-time test that took place in one dialogue with the devil in the wilderness. It was a daily test throughout his life and ministry. Thankfully for all of us, Jesus passed that test again and again and again. Again and again he said, “Father, not my will, and not all of their wills, but Your will be done.”
In my life and in yours, we are none of us much better at doing this in our testings than any of our human forebears were. But the good news, is that Jesus wasn’t just passing the test for himself. He was actually representing all of us in his human life.
He was passing the test for us. In our place. On our behalf. If you trust in Christ, then He has credited his passing grade to your permanent record. In being Himself the perfect Son of Man and the perfect Son of God, He has enabled us to be God’s sons and daughters, too. That’s the good news of the gospel.
But know that when you receive that good news, and God welcomes you into His family as one of His own in Christ, there is another voice that will start speaking in your other ear pretty soon thereafter. God wants all of us to learn to discern between these two voices: Between His voice that speaks to us of the good news of our salvation, and calls us His own; and the devil’s voice that causes us to doubt and despair, and wallow in our unworthiness.
I think most of you know what I am talking about. I believe you know these voices from your own experience. Here’s the thing: Pay attention to both of them, but take care to discern the difference between them. And trust the voice of the Father. Trust that Christ has already passed the test for you. Trust that the Holy Spirit is already working out your sanctification in His own timing. And learn to put the devil in his place. Quote simple Scriptures to the devil just like Jesus did. And tell Him to be gone, just like Jesus did. When you recognize his voice, tell the devil to “shut up,” just like Jesus did.
Listen for the voice of the Father, who loves you. He wants to engage you in an on-going conversation which will last the rest of your life. That conversation is what we call the life of discipleship.