I want to take this issue of having to pass a test before you can proceed with your career goal, and this matter of being tested both on your attitude and your aptitude, and apply all of that to Jesus as he is being tested by Satan in Matthew 4:1-11. This story occurs at a critical moment in the life of Jesus, immediately after his baptism by John the Baptist in the River Jordan and immediately before he begins his ministry of preaching and healing.

Jesus has just experienced the exultant moment when the voice of God declared, “This is my Son in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). Jesus had just seen the heavens open and he saw a dove descend from heaven and rest upon him as a sign of his ordination and consecration for ministry. But he did not move from that moment directly into his ministry in Galilee. First he “was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan” (Matthew 4:1). It was as if the Holy Spirit was saying to Jesus that even he could not proceed with his career, his calling, his ministry until he took and passed a test of both his aptitude and his attitude, of how much he knew and of what kind of person he really was.

Let me begin by talking about the attitude test that Jesus had to pass, or about Satan’s attempt to find out what kind of person Jesus really was. After having fasted, or gone without food and probably without much water for a period of forty (40) days Satan tests the character of Jesus in three ways. First he tests Jesus with meeting a physical need that was hunger; turn these stones into bread. Second, he tests Jesus with a psychological challenge that involves humility; jump from the temple and make God dispatch angels to catch you before you fall and kill yourself on the rocks below. Finally, Satan tests Jesus over proper religious practice that involved honoring nothing more than you honor God. The very first of the commandments given by God to Moses says, “You shall have no other gods before me.” That was the test Jesus faced when Satan said to him “Bow down and worship me and I will give you all the wealth of the world.”

Consider these three areas of testing in the life of Jesus and recognize that when Satan comes to test you and me, and he surely will, it will occur within one or more of these three areas. You and I will be tested by Satan to find out what kind of people and what kind of Christians we really are. The first test will involve what you and I are willing to do to satisfy some physical need that we experience. Would we be willing to steal, or lie, or cheat or practice some form of discrimination or persecution if we thought it would help us meet some urgent physical need?

One clear test of our character as human beings and especially as followers of Jesus Christ involves the things we will not do no matter how much it might benefit us if we did. Character involves the restraints and the restrictions that we impose on our own behavior as we seek to be faithful to God. We will not steal in order to get ahead, because the Bible says, “You shall not steal.” We will not condone discrimination or bigotry or exploitation of any kind, because the Bible says, “You shall love your neighbor as you love yourself.” We will not engage in adultery or any other form of illicit sexual activity in order to satisfy some burning, lustful passion within us because the Bible clear speaks against such conduct no matter how “good” it may feel or how “satisfying” it may seem. The devil wants to test us at the level of our hungering for the pleasures of this world, because he wants to find out what kind of people we are. It is an attitude test.