Sermon: The Temptation of Hunger

I invite you to open your Bibles with me to Matthew, chapter 4. Matthew 4, beginning in verse 1. Matthew is in the New Testament – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. At the beginning of his public ministry, Jesus faced three temptations. These temptations are, at the same time, unique and universal. They are unique because they are temptations that touch at the very heart of Jesus’ mission and identity. But these temptations are also universal because they are similar to temptations we all face in life. So for the next couple weeks, we will be listening to Jesus face and overcome temptation in order to be better equipped for the temptations we face in our lives. But before we hear God’s word, please take a moment to pray with me.

Father, may your Word be our rule, Your Holy Spirit our teacher, and the glory of Jesus Christ our single concern. Amen.

If you are able, I invite you to stand to hear God’s Word.

Listen closely and listen well, for these are the very words of God.

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: Man shall not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

As we look at the life of Jesus and this first of three temptations, we will see that temptation is deeply connected with hunger. It is deeply connected with the strongest and most powerful desires of our hearts. Temptation is connected to hunger.

So this morning, we will notice when Jesus is hungry, what Satan offers to satisfy it, and what Jesus says truly satisfies our hunger.

When Jesus is hungry

What Satan offers to satisfy it

What truly satisfies our hunger

The story begins in verse 1: Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.

We were made to hunger. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. At first glance, it looks like Matthew is telling us something obvious. Of course Jesus was hungry. How could you not be after forty days? But there is something deeper going on. At the core of our being, we were made to hunger. We are longing and desiring beings. We were made to desire and to be fed and nourished. Hunger is a good thing. When we feel hungry, our bodies are telling us that we are in need. We need food. But we also have different hungers – for approval, for affection, for joy, for love, for safety. Hunger is part of the good gifts of creation, whereby God tells us that we are in need.

And Jesus is just like us. He hungered.

But hunger can go wrong.

Just ask your doctor. I was reading the other day about how hunger is both natural and created. We each get hungry for food, but what food we crave is shaped by our habits. For example, I love Ramen, but I have largely cut it out of my diet. I did this because not only is Ramen unhealthy for me, but by eating it I am training my body to hunger for things like it. It is doubly damaging, because I start eating all sorts of other unhealthy things as well.

Hunger can go wrong. We can trade what is good, what is best for us for something less. We crave cake more than kale and brownies more than broccoli. But this also happens when we trade the fullness of a marriage relationship for a cheap hook-up or the deep joy of friendship for the shallow praise of popularity. Hunger can go wrong. We long for good things like joy and love and safety, but we can easily settle for cheap imitations that leave us empty.

Hunger goes wrong when we trade what is best for what satisfies us in the moment.

We know this in our bodies – we were made to hunger, but that doesn’t mean we always hunger for the right things. In fact, it is often the opposite. This is not just true when it comes to food, but also in matters of the heart and soul.

Jesus hungered. He is just like the rest of us. He experienced a temptation that each of us faces consistently. What is that temptation? To cash in our calling and identity for the sake of immediate needs. To trade our birthright for a pot of stew.

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”

Let me tell you a story of two twin brothers: Jacob and Esau. Esau was the older of the two by a few minutes and therefore was first in line to inherit from his father, in particular to inherit the promises of God.

Once when Jacob was cooking some stew, Esau came in from the open country, famished. He said to Jacob, “Quick, let me have some of that red stew! I’m famished!” (That is why he was also called Edom.)

Jacob replied, “First sell me your birthright.”

“Look, I am about to die,” Esau said. “What good is the birthright to me?”

But Jacob said, “Swear to me first.” So he swore an oath to him, selling his birthright to Jacob.

Then Jacob gave Esau some bread and some lentil stew. He ate and drank, and then got up and left.

So Esau despised his birthright.

If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread. Jesus and Esau face the same temptation, the same temptation each of us faces – to trade what is best for what is immediate. To sacrifice what is most important for what will satisfy us in the moment.

Esau was hungry. He came in and smelled the stew his brother was making. And he wanted it. Jacob offers him a trade – his birthright – his inheritance and place within the covenant of God for salvation – for a pot of stew. The stew is right in front of him, he can smell it, but the birthright… “Look, I am about to die,” Esau said. “What good is the birthright to me?” The Bible tells us Esau despised his birthright. So he traded it for a pot of stew. His stomach was full for the moment, but he lost out on something far greater.

He sacrifices what was most significant to satisfy himself in the moment.

Jesus was hungry too. Esau may have been gone for a few days, but Jesus had fasted – gone without food – for forty days and forty nights. He was hungry. Then the tempter comes and whispers in his ear, If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread. We should not draw the connection too closely, for Jacob is not Satan. In fact, by the grace and providence of God, Jacob is the one chosen by God and gives birth to the people of Israel. But the whispered temptation is the same: to sacrifice what is most significant for what will satisfy him in the moment.

If you are the Son of God – right before this, Jesus was baptized and proclaimed as the Son of God. Satan is not trying to make Jesus doubt this, but to use his power and status for his own needs.

Hunger goes wrong when we trade what is best for what will satisfy us in the moment.

We were made to hunger and Jesus was hungry. But Satan offered to satisfy that hunger with some immediately satisfying, but at the cost of his calling. If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.

Jesus, like Esau, is hungry and the possibility of food is right in front of him. Jesus could turn the stones into bread. He could speak a word and manna would rain down from heaven, rivers gush forth from the earth, or stones turn to bread. But unlike Esau, Jesus doesn’t give in. He doesn’t trade on his birthright, use his power and status, to satisfy his hunger with what he needs just right now.

There is nothing wrong with food. In fact, changing stones to bread is a good thing. Jesus could have solved world hunger with one word and filled his own stomach. The fact that what he is being tempted to do is, in some sense, a good thing, only makes the temptation worse. For what feels good right now, in this moment, he is ask to sacrifice what matters most – his mission – his life, death, and resurrection.

The challenge of each of these temptations Jesus faces in the desert is to bypass the cross. Instead of taking the hard road, the road that involves hunger and eventual pain and death, Satan offers an easier path. A path of full stomachs, of good times, and even meeting the immediate needs of others. But the cost is to bypass the cross and the very mission and heart of God.

This is the temptation each of us faces – to trade deep joy, the challenging and beautiful calling of God for immediate gratification. We trade deep joy for immediate gratification. We are like the kid who passes on filet mignon to down a bunch of pixie sticks. We trade what is good and nourishing for what satisfies us in the moment. Our birthright for a pot of stew.

I see this temptation played out every day with a toddler around our house. They have no impulse control. Elijah wants what he wants, especially if it is right in front of him. The restraint that comes with maturity is just not there. We tell him ‘No’ when he wants to take his sister’s toy because loving his sister is a greater joy than that toy he wants. We tell him no when he wants to eat cookies because the dinner we are making is better. But he wants what is right in front of him.

And it’s not just little children. The epidemic of sexting is a horrendous distortion of our hungers. When a guy texts a girl twenty, thirty times asking for an explicit photo – he wants what is right in front of him. And he wants and he wants and he wants. And when the girl finally gives in, she sells her birthright for a pot of stew.

And it’s not only the young. We see baseball players taking steroids as a quick fix or quick boost. We see businesses that trade integrity for cash.

If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread. Jesus is tempted to trade in the mission, trade in the calling of God, trade in what is best in order to satisfy the hunger right in front of him. To trade in deep joy for immediate gratification.

This is the struggle we all face. We are made to hunger, but we often hunger for the wrong things. Or we try to fill ourselves with things that will never truly satisfy.

How does Jesus respond? Jesus answered, “It is written: Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

When Jesus was hungry, satan offered to satisfy that hunger, but Jesus knew what our hearts truly hunger for.

He said, “man shall not live on bread alone…’

Bread is good, but it is not enough. Many of the things we long for in our lives can be good – acceptance, love, safety, food, sex, fun. All these things were created by God and are good, but they are not what truly satisfies us. When we seek to fill our hearts with created things when they were meant to be filled by the Creator, we have a recipe for pain and destruction. You see that thing you think you want, that is right in front of you and you hunger for it, it won’t satisfy you. It won’t bring you true joy. It won’t bring you life.

Man shall not live on bread alone

How often have we given in and felt empty afterwards? How many people who have climbed over others to get to the top find themselves feeling empty inside? Take a look at some of the most powerful people on the plant and notice how they speak and act – just how insecure they can be, how fragile even all the success and wealth is. Do we really want that?

Man shall not live on bread alone…

Neither food, nor sex, nor success, nor the acceptance of all your friends, nor money, nor land, nor a fantastic reputation will bring peace to your soul. They cannot bring you lasting joy. They cannot bring you live.

Man shall not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.

Jesus knew that true joy, true contentment, true satisfaction comes from God – from the word of God.

Happy – blessed, joyful, content – are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked or take the paths that sinners tread or sit in the seat of scoffers, but their delight is in the law of the Lord and on his law they meditate day and night.

Only when our satisfaction is in Jesus will we be able to resist the temptation of immediate desires and set our sights on the things of God – the ways that are truly best for us and for our neighbors.

Resisting temptation is not simply about saying ‘no’ to the bad desires, but about replacing them with better. We are made to hunger. Hunger is good. But hunger can go wrongAnd the devil used it to ensnare Esau and tries to use it to ensnare Jesus. But the solution to hungering after the wrong things is not to stop being hungry, but to hunger and thirst for righteousness. It is to have the right kind of hunger, to long for the good and best things God has for us.

The solution to gluttony is not simply to limit your food, but to find contentment in Christ. The solution to greed is not simply to give, but to recognize the generosity of God. The solution to hungering for approval is not simply to reign in our tongues, but to rest in the love of Christ for us.

The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’

Jesus was tempted to trade in his mission for what was easier. But because he didn’t, because he didn’t turn stones to bread, but trusting in his heavenly Father and went to the cross and rose from the grave, because Jesus found satisfaction in his Father, we can find our satisfaction in him.

Only then are we free to say ‘no’ to all the lesser hungers and yes to what God truly wants for our lives.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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