Bible Focus: Temptation of Christ; meaning and importance of Lent
Target Age Group: Older elementary/middle school students
Student application: Jesus suffered in order to prepare for His ministry; although we can never comprehend what He did for us, we celebrate that He overcame temptation and clung to God’s Word in the face of it.
Lesson Opener: It is so tempting…start off the lesson with an example in the natural enticement of forbidden items…bring an unassuming box filled with donuts, and place in the center of the group. First, tell students to make sure that whatever they do, they must not look at the box. Don’t think about it or talk about it. Begin to discuss Lent and the reasons we celebrate it. Throughout the discussion, glance back at the box or walk near it, but scold anyone looking towards it. Then at last, tell students they may look in it, but they cannot touch what is inside. Pass the box around, sniff deeply of the tempting sugary goodness, but do not pick up or eat the donuts. Suffer through the temptation a bit before allowing students a donut (or perhaps wait until the end of the lesson just to up the patience factor…). Explain that today’s lesson is about the temptation of Jesus, which is essentially what we commemorate when we celebrate the practice of Lent.
Lesson and Verses: Throughout the church year, we honor and celebrate different times of the life of Jesus. At Christmas, we celebrate His birthday. Easter, of course, surrounds His resurrection. And as we prepare for Easter, we observe a time of reflection through the season of Lent. During Lent we can examine ourselves and consider what Christ did for us, how He suffered and sacrificed. We remember at this time the struggle and preparation our Lord endured…
Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted[a] by the devil. 2 After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” -Matthew 4:1-3
Note that this passage states Jesus was LED to be tempted. It was no accident that He wandered into the desert. After His baptism, the Spirit led Him into a period of trial. This time was by no means easy for Jesus as a human, but it was further proof of His oneness with the Father and confirmation that He could withstand the Devil. It is certainly no joke that just as the Holy Spirit is present, Satan is a real force and will try his best to thwart God’s plan. He does this in part by tempting God’s people to sin. This he did it in the Garden of Eden and succeeded. With Jesus, though, we have opportunity for a new story. “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22). Adam and Eve had all they could possibly ask for and yet it somehow was not enough. They were created to be perfect but fell to the idea that they could somehow be God. They sinned and destroyed opportunity for complete communion. On the other hand, Jesus was also born perfect, blameless. He was, in fact, God, yet “did not consider equality with God something to be grasped” (Philippians 2:6) and came to earth in order to undo the effects of the fall. In the desert, we see Jesus lacking in everything a human needs for survival, yet successfully enduring and resisting Satan’s attacks, on three distinct accounts.
The devil tried to prey upon Christ’s humanity by first appealing to his natural physical needs. In some ways, verse two of this passage is almost laughable. After forty days of fasting he was hungry…DUH! What human wouldn’t be? In fact Jesus could not have survived without being God. Satan first attacks His physical weakness, inviting Him to just eat something. Look at how Jesus responds in verse 4…
4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’
Jesus uses Scripture, the words of His father, to stand up against the devil. He knows that food is not the only thing that sustains life and that it is more important for Him to be one with the Father. So Satan tries another approach…he uses a quote right back at the Messiah, asking Him to prove His God-hood:
5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. 6 “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:
“‘He will command his angels concerning you,
and they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’[c]”
7 Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’[d]” Matthew 4:5-7
Once again, Jesus uses scripture to repel temptation, directly asserting that He is not going to provide tricks to show who He is. He knows He does not need to. So in one last effort, the devil tries to convince him to just give up and switch teams. He advises Him to take the easy way out. He doesn’t have to go through with the horrible gruesome death awaiting Him; just bow to the devil…
8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 9 “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”
10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’[e]”
11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.
Satan is a trickster. Throughout the Bible we witness His ability to influence and infect people (Eve, Jezebel, Herod, Saul, Ananias and Sapphira, Judas…just to name a few). But he cannot overcome the power of God. Jesus, being Himself God, passed the test. He knew what He came to do and withstood Satan’s schemes and lies. Now, since Christ took on flesh, this temptation (just as His violent crucifixion later) doubtless was no easy task. This makes it all the more significant. Jesus can comprehend our difficulty and aid us when tempted. We know He is reliable because He suffered, as well.
15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. -Hebrews 4:15
Ever have the feeling that teachers should do their own assignments so they understand the torture they put their students through? Well, Jesus did the ultimate assignment first. He has been there. He knows and understands and is ready when we need Him. And because Christ overcame temptation, we can take comfort even when we fail.
No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:13).
Yes, God provides a way out but as fallen creatures we do not always take it. We still fall to temptation, but our Savior did not. His defeat of Satan is the reason we can take hope and relief in what He did.
- Why is it important that Jesus was tempted? It is significant that Jesus was tempted because we see a reversal from the original story of the fall. He clung to God and overcame Satan, which solidified His role as Savior and ability to take our place and take on our sins. Jesus came to make right what humans mess up. He did not give in and can provide us a way out of bondage to temptation.
- What kinds of things are tempting to us? Pride, vanity, selfish ambition, worldly pleasures, success, distraction…just to start.
- Is temptation a sin? When does it become one? Temptation itself is not a sin, as we know that Jesus did not sin and yet was tempted. When we make the choice to act upon temptation and follow through with what we know is not in God’s plan, temptation is realized and becomes sin.
- When have you felt like you were in a “desert” period? How did God guide you through? Answers may vary according to personal experience. Emphasis ought to point to God’s ability to uphold us as we trust in His unfailing love and power.
- Is hardship necessary to Godly living? Challenge and difficulty are part of living in a fallen world. We need not seek them out but neither can we avoid suffering. However, we “glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5)
Weekly Challenge: Adding on. A lot of times, and especially in light of the wilderness temptation, we think of Lent as a time of sacrifice, which it can be. However, giving things up is not the only way to honor God and celebrate His actions. This week, instead of concentrating on what you want to give up, identify something (or some things) you can add to your spiritual life. Maybe you need to spend more time in prayer. Maybe you can add a few minutes to your Bible study. Perhaps you want to start a journal. Or you could sign up for a service activity. One meaningful discipline in particular involves reflecting on the Gospels. There is nothing wrong with giving up chocolate for forty days. But perhaps a more meaningful act would be reading through Christ’s life in order to notice new things. Keep track of things you may not have realized or recognized previously, as well as questions about His character. Pay special attention to how the life of Jesus ultimately points to the cross and facilitates our salvation.
For even more ideas, don’t miss these related lessons from our website:
- Lesson: Jesus Battles The Devil and Temptation (Matthew 4:1-11)
- Making Lent a Meaningful Season
- Lesson: Jesus Dedication in the Temple – Luke 2:22-40
- Lord’s Prayer Lesson #9 – Guard Us From Temptation & The Devil
- “Jesus In the Wilderness” Lectionary Lesson from Mark 1:9-15