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This is the first Sunday in the Lenten season, and the preaching text that is often used for this Sunday is the text from Matthew 4:1-11.  This is the story of Jesus versus Satan in the wilderness for 40 days.  Matthew tells us that Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.

Before Jesus began His earthly ministry, He was going to battle the devil.  Before He ever did a miracle or preached a message, He was going to undergo some battle training.  The devil showed up at the beginning at Creation. He tempted what Scripture calls “the first Adam,” and here in Matthew 4, he tries to tempt, to trick, to try, to test Jesus, the One the Bible sometimes refers to as “the second Adam.”

This was a first-things-first, round one fight, one that set the stage for the rest of the times Satan would seek to take Jesus down.  Satan tried, through King Herod, to eliminate Jesus from the get-go. Do you remember?  Through King Herod, using King Herod’s thirst for power, Satan tried to take Jesus out when Herod ordered that the Hebrew boys who were ages 2 and under to be slaughtered.  He was obviously unsuccessful, but we know Satan isn’t easily deterred.  He is actually pretty patient and waits for the right moments to attack. Seeing Jesus, alone in the wilderness, left him wide-open shot, at least in Satan’s estimation, it left Jesus vulnerable for an attack. But Satan greatly underestimated many things, namely, that where Jesus was, was a place where the Holy Spirit had led Him to be.

If you want to develop a winning strategy to beat Satan in the battles he wants to wage in your life, you must be led by the Holy Spirit. If the Holy Spirit leads you to a situation, no matter who or what awaits you when you get there, it will become a place of victory.  The Holy Spirit will not only lead you into the battle, but the Holy Spirit will lead you into the victory. Let me say it this way:  You will never lose the battle when the Holy Spirit leads your life. 

Notice, I didn’t say you won’t ever feel alone or feel weak or feel hungry or be attacked, but I said when the Holy Spirit is leading your life the victory is assured.  Some of you are in a battle right now. The only way to victory is to be led by the Holy Spirit.  Maybe the battle you are facing is the result of the fact that you hadn’t been letting the Holy Spirit lead you, and you have led yourself into the middle of a battle that God never intended for you to fight.  Take heart, friends.  Even if the battle you are fighting isn’t one God led you to, it is one He can bring you through.  I Corinthians 10:13 calls it the “way of escape.” God will provide the way of escape, but no escape will come without a battle.    

Are you letting the Holy Spirit lead your life right now?

In this wilderness battle, Jesus was physically and emotionally weak.  Wouldn’t you say we often rely on our physical well-being to dictate what we can and cannot do?  When an ache or pain or sickness begins to dominate our lives, when it begins to have the upper hand, it is easy to let it rule in a situation and sideline us. When we are emotionally weak, when our thought life is distracted or our hearts are broken, when we have poured ourselves out because of situations that demanded us to be super present, when obligations have kept us on the go, and we are depleted, it is easy to conclude that we have “nothing left to give.” That we aren’t up to a battle or challenge.  So, often when we are physically and emotionally weak, we retreat.  We surrender.What Jesus is teaching us, at the onset of His ministry, is that we can be spiritually strong even when we are physically and emotionally weak. I feel like we talk about this with some consistency, but at the beginning of this Lenten season, I want to emphasize and reinforce the reality that whether you are up to the task or not, Christ in you, will win against Satan every time.  You don’t have to be on top the world, having everything going your way, and firing on all cylinders to take authority over the devil.  You just have to let Christ be Christ in you.  Jesus is always at His best, so whether you feel tired and drained or beaten down by life’s circumstances, you can wage war against Satan and win.  Why? Because the battle is won and fought on a spiritual plane; not an emotional or physical one.

So, point one in our training for battle against Satan is that we need to be led by the Holy Spirit.  Pray to be led by the Holy Spirit.  I would suggest secondly that we need to become savvy to the devil’s schemes. The Apostle Paul said in II Corinthians 2:11 that he had learned some things about warfare, about standing against the devil, and he determined he wasn’t going to be outsmarted by Satan. He said he was not going to live unaware or unwise to Satan’s schemes.

When he came at Jesus in the wilderness, he came at him with three temptations. There were really three battles in this one 40-day battle against Satan. Jesus fasted for 40 days during this battle. He was obviously hungry and physically weak.  The devil urged Jesus to turn stones into bread. Jesus responded by saying spiritual nourishment was more important than tending to physical desires.  Jesus knew that he was in a spiritual battle. Physical strength wasn’t going to win the battle for Him. Having physical desires met wasn’t going to gain the victory.

One of Satan’s schemes is to get us focused on the physical. Our desires. Our needs. Our wants. Our flesh. Of course, Jesus was hungry, but He didn’t fall for the scheme that involved getting Him focused on His flesh.  Satan wants you focused on your flesh.  That is one of his schemes. What do I mean by “the flesh?” They are the tendencies, the propensities, the inclinations, that are driven by our sinful nature.  Paul unpacks the deeds of the flesh in Galatians 5:19-21-19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.

You know why he ended with “and the like?” He did because we are good at looking for loopholes. We’ll say, “Technically, my sin isn’t on the list, so it must be Ok.” He said “and the like” to include anything that is part of our lustful, prideful, selfish sinful nature.  And you know what? We know what those things are. In our hearts, whether they are on the list or not, we know what doesn’t please God.  Paul says here in Galatians 5 that the acts of the flesh are obvious. 

Take note of what Paul says in Galatians 5:16-18 16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. Paul is emphasizing what I have already said.  If you want to stay ahead of the devil and to be able to defeat him at his schemes, you have to be led by the Holy Spirit.  Walk by the Spirit.  Get radically focused on the Holy Spirit.

Paul goes on to help us understand what the problem is with the flesh: 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever[c] you want.  Do you see the problem? The flesh takes you in the opposite direction of where the Spirit wants you to go.  The Spirit and the flesh are contrary to each other. They are in conflict.  They have opposite outcomes for us. The outcome of the fleshly, sinful path is death and destruction. The outcome of the Spirit’s path is life and peace and every spiritual blessing that comes from being in a relationship with God.  It’s a no-brainer, friends, that life with the Spirit is the life to pursue.  I also want to say if Jesus had given in to His flesh in the wilderness, He would have compromised where God was ultimately leading Him which was to the cross.  I’m so thankful He didn’t compromise! Where would we be without the cross?    

The problem is, too many people just give in when the flesh calls instead of battling the flesh in the power of the Spirit. Jesus has secured your victory, but you still have battles to fight.  You don’t have to obey your flesh. When your flesh starts talking, you don’t have to listen. You can count your flesh as crucified with Christ.  Your flesh is those desires that exceed God’s desires for you.  Of course, we need to eat when we are hungry, but eating to excess is a problem. Eating to soothe ourselves and eating to escape dealing with hurt or stress in a biblical way is a problem. Eating nothing but junk food isn’t the way to take care of the temple God has given to us.  Sexual desires are to be satisfied inside the boundaries of a biblical marriage between a man and a woman, but when sexual urges are pursued that are outside of marriage like pornography or some kind of perversion, it is a problem. We aren’t supposed to be led by the flesh, but by the Spirit.  We aren’t supposed to count on the flesh to satisfy us, but on God Himself. Who or what is leading your life right now?

Satan didn’t show up and try to talk Jesus into stealing or murdering someone. That would have been too blatant, too obvious. He simply tempted Jesus in an area that is common to humanity. The things of the flesh are common to all of us. Because we all have to eat, and Jesus hadn’t eaten in a long while, Satan thought he could easily convince Jesus that turning those stones into bread would be a logical idea. Jesus deserved to eat. On the temptation spectrum it seems pretty benign, right?  You are hungry, just eat.  But there was a reason Jesus was fasting. There was a reason Jesus put Himself in that condition.  God had purposely called Him into the wilderness. God was sustaining Him. Jesus was fully depending on the Heavenly Father, and in the power of the Spirit Jesus defeated Satan’s first attempt to derail Him.

In the second temptation, Satan urged Jesus to jump from the highest point of the temple and to test God’s protection by relying on a miraculous intervention from God.  Jesus rejected it. He didn’t need to put God in a situation where He had to prove His protection over Jesus. Jesus knew He could trust His Heavenly Father without putting Him to the test. Do you know what God wants from us? Get ready to write this down. He wants us to simply trust and obey Him. Listen, we don’t demand for God to jump through our hoops. We can’t manipulate Him, and we dare not try. God has promised His protection over our lives, and instead of being tempted to test any of that, we need to learn to trust Him fully.

In the third and final temptation, Satan offered Jesus the kingdoms of the world if Jesus would just bow down and worship Him. The allure of worldly power is a trap for many people.  Jesus didn’t bite. Rejecting the pursuit of worldly power, Jesus reserved His worship for God alone. Jesus wasn’t going to compromise His Divine mission or His simple allegiance to God to chase earthly power. He had come to usher in a Kingdom much larger than any earthly kingdom anyway.  As Jesus trusted the Spirit of God who led Him into the wilderness in the first place, He would trust God to sustain Him, He would trust God to protect Him, and He would stay bowed down to His Heavenly Father regardless of what was offered, promised, or might seem good to Him in a moment. 

As Jesus underwent each of these temptations, He was helping us become wise to the devil’s schemes. Satan thought he was going into the wilderness to compromise Jesus while all the while Jesus was exposing how Satan operates so that we would know how to deal with him. Satan’s strategies include getting us focused on the desires of the flesh and the things of the world, to get us to trust him instead of trusting God, and to get us to worship Him instead of worshiping God by getting us to pursue earthly power and control.

In this message, I want to help expose Satan and his strategies because I don’t want you to live unwise to the devil’s schemes.  You need to know who you are up against.  If the Spirit is leading your life, as the Spirit was leading Jesus’ life, Satan will be after you just like he came after Jesus.  That is why you need to be wise to the devil’s schemes.

Satan is a predator. I Peter 5:8-9-Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him…

Satan is on the prowl. If you encountered a lion out in the wild, you wouldn’t taunt the lion. You wouldn’t tell the lion to come and get some fresh meat. You wouldn’t lay down and wait for him to chomp off your leg. You would do whatever you could to escape being eaten! Just know that Satan is on the prowl.  He is looking for an area of weakness, an area of compromise. He is looking to get you isolated from your spiritual support system so that he can have his way with you. When you feel an attack coming on, when something doesn’t seem right, when you are being tempted to sin, don’t give up and give in, but submit yourself to God, stand firm and resist the devil, and the Bible says he will have to flee from you, James 4:7.

Satan is a liar.  John 8:44- He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.

The first lie in history came out of his mouth. It was in the Garden of Eden when he twisted the Word of God to try to get Eve to doubt God.  With that lie, Satan led Adam and Eve to disobey God and the consequences were steep. Spiritual and physical death.  Thank God that through Christ we overcome both!

Lying may be Satan’s primary weapon against people. He lies to get people to believe there is no God, that God doesn’t care about us, that the Bible can’t be trusted, that good works are enough to get us into Heaven, that we deserve to be happy which puts us on the throne of our lives instead of God.  Do you know what Satan’s success depends on? It depends on us believing his lies. If we stop believing him and believe only what God has said, we could literally shut him down! 

Those three wilderness temptations were fought and won by Jesus because Jesus knew the truth that was in the Word of God and when He spoke the truth back to Satan, the lies were exposed, the temptation was over, the case was closed!  That is why it is critical that we know the Word! The Word is truth, John 17:17. God cannot lie, Hebrews 6:18. It is impossible for God to lie! So, when you stick to what is said in Scripture, you won’t fall into Satan’s trap.  

Satan is a thief and murderer.  John 10:10, “The thief (Satan) comes to steal, kill and destroy.  He wants to steal you away from church.  He wants to steal you away from God. He wants to steal you away from your purpose.  He doesn’t want you accomplishing anything God has planned for you. He wants to steal quality of life from you. The end of John 10:10 says that Jesus wants to give you abundant life or life to the full.  Satan wants to steal that from you.  He wants to steal the peace God gives.  He wants you anxious and afraid, messed up in your thinking so that you think the thoughts he wants you to think instead of the thoughts God thinks about you. He wants to steal the joy that comes from enjoying life with Jesus. Satan wants to strip you of God’s blessings.    

He is an assassin who wants to bring death to your relationships, your finances, your future.  He wants to obliterate your hope.

Satan is a masquerader and deceiver.  II Corinthians 11:14, “Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light.”  What I mean here is that Satan is always working undercover.  Sadly, he has infiltrated many churches with false doctrines and cheap grace.  He talks a good talk. He has a smooth tongue. He makes sin seem innocent and appealing. Many preachers in many places now hold up evil as good and good as evil.  It is all a front for the work of the devil!  All of this was predicted, of course, in the Bible because God is not unwise to the devil’s schemes!    

Satan is the Author of Confusion.  I Corinthians 14:33 tells us that God isn’t the author of confusion, so we can use our reasoning skills to conclude who is.  Satan creates chaos, disorder, and disunity. Satan hates unity. Satan loves to stir the pot. He wants to create dissension. He wants you to think things that aren’t true about people and situations. If he can get Sally mad at Susie, then Sally and Susie will be divided. If they are divided, they can’t join forces and work together for Kingdom purposes. 

He wants to appeal to our desire to be liked, to be in the “in crowd,” to be well thought of, to pull us into drama, into misunderstandings, into gossip and lies.  He wants you to think everyone is talking about you, that people are against you, or whatever other bologna he can muster.  He wants you fighting with people because arguments are a distraction from your purpose and keep you living on an emotional and physical plane rather than a spiritual one.  He knows he will win the battles over you if he keeps you focused on fighting with people. 

Your fight isn’t with people, people! It is with your adversary, the devil.  Don’t draw a sword against a brother or sister, but take the Sword of the Spirit and wield it at the devil who is behind it all.  Satan is gaining too much ground in our homes, in our workplaces, in our neighborhoods, on our sports team, and in the halls of our schools because he has convinced far too many people that their enemy is a person. Yes, he wants you to believe that because he wants you separated from people to weaken the Kingdom impact you could have together. Listen, if Satan can get you to be offended, he can wound you. If he can wound you, he can wield power over you.  

It is time for God’s people to stand up and tell the devil to back up and shut up because we aren’t going to put up with his schemes anymore.

Are you following the flesh or the Spirit of the living God?  Some of you may be battle weary this morning. In your physical body, you are tired. In your emotional capacities, you are spent. I am telling you, that you can gain the victory if you move out into the realm of the Spirit and get out of the realm of your flesh and your feelings. 

Jesus has shown us how to deal with temptation. We need to shut it down by standing on the Word of God.  He has exposed the enemy for us. We know who Satan is. He is a predator, a liar, a thief, a murderer, a masquerader, a deceiver, and is the creator of chaos and confusion.  It’s time to stand up to Him by standing in Christ. Armor up, Church. Let’s declare war on the enemy during the 40 days of Lent. Let’s not only shut Satan down, but let’s take back what he has stolen from us!  Enough is enough. 

Let’s put down the flesh. Let’s trust in the Lord with all of our heart and lean not on our own understanding. Let’s bow daily before the Lord of Heaven and fix our eyes on Jesus, the One who knows the way through the wilderness.  As we do, we will be kept by Heaven’s hands! Jesus battled. Jesus won. There’s victory in Jesus!

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