Tim Riordan, pastor
SonRise Baptist Church, Newnan
“When you least expect it, expect it.” My brother teased me with that line when we were kids. It is actually a truism for life. When you least expect a special blessing, one shows up at your front door. When you least expect a doctor’s bad report, the nurse calls to ask you to make an appointment for a follow-up.
As likely as an unexpected compliment or a surprise increase on a utility bill, you can expect an attack by the spiritual enemy of your soul. Satan is a destroyer of life, a thief of joy, and a hater of all things good. His strategy is to kill, steal, and destroy, and his methods are legion.
We can expect spiritual attacks.
Although this passage focuses upon Christ’s temptation, it reminds us that spiritual attacks come upon us in all forms. First Peter 4:12 calls us not to be surprised by the fiery ordeal we may face, and Jesus warned us that we will face persecution (Jn 15:18-20). Spiritual attacks should be as expected as the morning dew.
This passage indicates that while God does not tempt us to sin, He uses temptation for His purposes. The word translated “tempted” can also be translated “tested.” The context leads us to understand this as Christ’s temptations, but His testing proved His nature and mission to Satan.
When you test a rope, you are proving its ability to hold a certain weight. In this case, Jesus’ faithfulness to the Father was proven for the benefit of the hosts of hell. You can see the temptation of Christ as putting Satan on notice that Satan was, and is, a defeated foe.
The first temptation related to Jesus’ physical need. We are prone to spiritual attack at our points of physical weakness. Just as Satan thought he could cause Jesus to fail in response to physical hunger, he attacks us in response to our own physical weaknesses. We should anticipate these kinds of assaults and prepare to stand firm.
Spiritual attacks give us the opportunity to prove ourselves and define our mission. Just like Christ, we will face temptations, and Satan’s purpose is to destroy our lives and testimonies. We can turn our attacks into triumphs and our woes into a witness through the power and presence of Christ in our lives.
Spiritual attacks are often cloaked in deception.
The second temptation came masked in Scripture. Satan knows how to twist the word of God to meet his destructive desires. He quoted from Psalm 91:11-12 to tempt Jesus to leap from the pinnacle of the temple.
Our enemy is called the devil, which literally means “slanderer” and points to the fact that he is our adversary. As our adversary, his goal is to make us fall. He readily takes the Bible and uses it creatively for his purposes.
How many times have we seen Christians led to use the Scripture inappropriately to support prejudice, social injustice, or a myriad of other missteps? John Piper once wrote, “Satan does not always try to ruin faith by saying, ‘The Bible isn’t true.’ He often tries to destroy our faith by affirming some passage and using it to lead us into disobedience.”
We must recognize Satan as the deceiver and pick up on his attempt to veil disobedience to the Father’s will with an offer that seems irresistible. The word of God warns us of our enemy’s treacherous methods. Second Corinthians 11:14 states that Satan even disguises himself as an angel of light. Sin looks good and even right or Christians would not give in to temptation. The consequence for a fall, however, can be catastrophic.
We conquer deception with truth.
The word of God is sharper than a two-edged sword (Heb. 4:12). God gave us His word to be used as a weapon in spiritual conflict, and Jesus modeled this practice with each rebuke of Satan.
Jesus quoted scriptural passages that related to the challenge. In using this method in our own spiritual attacks, we must be able to connect truth to a particular situation. This practice involves knowing and listening. We know the Scripture through regular reading, memorizing, and study. Listening requires us to be tuned in to God’s voice.
In the midst of a spiritual attack, God is always speaking his truth to our hearts, and we are prone to obedience through an ongoing relationship with him (John 15:5). Our spiritual victory does not come from merely speaking words, as if we wield some personal power through our spiritual incantations. Jesus is truth embodied (John 14:6), so God’s word carries the power of the King of kings.
Because of Satan’s use of Scripture, Christ’s second temptation involved greater spiritual discernment than the first and last experience. We need this kind of discernment. God has given us his Holy Spirit to guide us into truth (John 16:13). Part of the Spirit’s ministry is to help us read through the physical words of Bible verses to perceive the truth of God those words communicate.
Satan can manipulate words, even the words of the Bible. God’s Spirit guides us to connect to the whole truth of God on a matter and not be tripped up by Satan’s clever use of the terms that make up God’s word.
We should live in daily expectation of attacks from our enemy and not be surprised by his crafty methods. With God’s help and with the power of God’s word, we can conquer our adversary’s maneuvers (Rom. 8:37). Do not be surprised, but rather be alert (1 Cor. 16:13). When you least expect it, expect it, and when you face your next spiritual attack, conquer it through Jesus Christ.