The Cross We Cannot Ignore

Title: The Cross We Cannot Ignore

Bible Book: Matthew 4 : 1-11

Author: Johnny L. Sanders

Subject: Cross; Christian Living; Satan; Temptation



You know the account of the baptism of Jesus, but I would like for us to read it together:

Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him. And John tried to prevent Him, saying, "I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?" But Jesus answered and said to him, "Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness." Then he allowed Him. When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him. And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased" (Matthew 3:13-17).

The Son was baptized, the Spirit descended, and the Father spoke. One God, three Persons; One in essence, three in persononalitiy. This was a holy hour, an awesome moment, both in history and in eternity. We can only imagine the joy that flooded His soul at the moment. Immediately after this great spiritual experience, "...Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil. After He had fasted 40 days and 40 nights, He was hungry" (Matt 4:1-2, HCSB).

You may wonder why the Spirit would have led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. Does this mean that, even though God wants us to avoid temptation, He would lead Jesus into temptation? Let me offer my thoughts on the question. Jesus came into this world facing the Cross. When He baffled the scholars and religious leaders at the temple in Jerusalem as a twelve year old, it is possible that He already understood the issue of the Cross. When He launched His public ministry with at the wedding feast in Cana of Galilee, He most definitely did know He would die on the Cross. When He called His first disciples he was already on the way to the Cross.

When He was baptized, He came up out of the water with His eyes focused on the Cross. Some decisions, however had to be made as He began His ministry. What would His approach be? Upon what region would He focus His teaching, preaching, and miraculous signs? How would he manifest His power? How much time would he spend with the multitudes? Jesus often withdrew from the crowds to be alone with the Father. I do not think we would do the Scripture an injustice here if we assume that Jesus was led of the Spirit into the wilderness to be alone with the Father, but with full knowledge that Satan would do everything within his power to get Jesus to compromise or to redirect His focus. Jesus had some serious decisions to make as to His approach, but the big decision had already been made. He knew He was facing the Cross. Satan is going to try to get Him to compromise at every turn.

We may observe several points of interest in this account. First, there is the timing: (1) Jesus had just been baptized; (2) He was "led up by the Spirit..."; (3) He had been fasting 40 days; and He was hungry. The devil knew better than to tempt Him until he thought the time was right. During the 40 days of fasting He would have been communicating with the Father. That would not have been the time when He was most vulnerable. This was, spiritually speaking, a mountain peak experience and Satan knows very well that the best time to tempt a person is when he has just come down from such an experience. Further more, Jesus was very hungry. Satan obviously concluded that the time was right.

It is also interesting that Satan was not afraid to come into the presence of Jesus, nor was he afraid to tempt him. He had just come from a high spiritual experience with the Father and now his mind was on temporal needs, the needs of the flesh. He was hungry. Satan is very subtle in dealing with us, often coming to us when we are most vulnerable. You can be sure that if Satan was not afraid to tempt Jesus he is not afraid of you and me. Satan may find individuals or churches most vulnerable immediately after a revival when some people let their guard down. Jesus is our best example in dealing with the devil. Let’s see what we can glean from the way Jesus dealt with the temptations.


A. Satan said, "If You are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread" (Matt 4:3).

1) The "If" should be "since", because Satan knew who He was. He not only knew who Jesus was, he knew why He was on earth.

2) Jesus was hungry but this temptation strikes closer to the issue of the Cross. Satan was not concerned with His physical hunger. He could not have cared less. What he did care about was the ministry to which Jesus was committed, and the ultimate victory Satan had been trying to avoid since the Garden of Eden when God announced that the Seed of the woman would crush his head.

3) The people were ready for a Messiah who could turn stones into bread. At this time Jesus had not yet performed signs and wonders before the people of Galilee and Judea. He had not yet fed the 5,000 men plus women and children. That would come later, but Satan knew the people of the land. He knew that if Jesus would just forget about the Cross and concentrate on marketing His many gifts He would have a following. Let me stress this again: Satan knew what the people wanted, and he had the power to draw them to Jesus, if only He would forget about the Cross and focus on living a nice comfortable life. They wanted a Messiah who would help them feel good, not charge them with sin and demand their repentance.

Jesus was not deceived in any way by Satan. Nor, was He deceived by the people. What Satan knew, Jesus knew. In the sixth chapter of the John, we have the account of the feeding of the multitude. John writes that Jesus crossed the Sea of Galilee by boat and that "a huge crowd was following Him because they saw the signs that He was performing on the sick. So Jesus went up a mountain and sat down there with His disciples" (John 6:1-3). The excited crowd followed him without thinking about food. You know the story. John tells us that Andrew brought to Him a little boy who had five barley loaves and two fish. Andrew reasoned, "—but what are they for so many?" (6:9).

The men numbered about 5,000. Then Jesus took the loaves, and after giving thanks He distributed them to those who were seated—so also with the fish, as much as they wanted. When they were full, He told His disciples, "Collect the leftovers so that nothing is wasted." So they collected them and filled 12 baskets with the pieces from the five barley loaves that were left over by those who had eaten (John 6:10-13).

John now tells us what happened, and it was what Satan knew would happen. If Jesus would become a bread king instead of a sacrifice on a cross people would follow Him. They would follow a living miracle worker, especially one who could and would give them bread to eat. What they did not want was a prophet who was nailed to a cross, not demand that they take up their cross and follow Him. Note the reaction of the people:

When the people saw the sign He had done, they said, "This really is the Prophet who was to come into the world!" Therefore, when Jesus knew that they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king, He withdrew again to the mountain by Himself (John 6:14-15).

There is more to this story. The next day, the crowd followed Jesus back to Capernaum. When He saw them He knew exactly why they had followed Him: "Jesus answered, ‘I assure you: You are looking for Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate the loaves and were filled...." Jesus added"For the bread of God is the One who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world" (John 6:26-33).

4. People praying for their daily bread would follow One who could turn stones to bread. The multitude that followed Jesus back to Capernaum missed the point and asked Him, "Sir, give us this bread always!"

"I am the bread of life," Jesus told them. "No one who comes to Me will ever be hungry, and no one who believes in Me will ever be thirsty again (John 6:34-35).

They wanted bread to eat. Jesus offered Himself. What did the people do? The scripture tells us they began complaining. Believe me, today Satan knows how to get people to gripe and complain, and he can get a lot of mileage out of griping, complaining, bickering church members today.

B. Jesus Was Tempted to Change His Focus From the Spiritual to the Physical.

Jesus had just gone through a spiritual experience I cannot possibly imagine, and now He was hungry. This does not mean that the only hope He had for food to satisfy His hunger was in turning those stones to bread. He obviously did not turn the stones to bread, and He did not starve, so He found the bread He need to restore His strength. Why, then, did Satan come up with the idea of turning stones to bread?

Satan was trying to tempt Jesus to change the focus of His ministry from the eternal to the temporal. Many of the people of that day lived, not from paycheck to paycheck, but from meal to meal. When Jesus taught the disciples to pray, "Give us this day our daily bread," He was not promising rib-eyes, baked potatoes and desert. Many were challenged to come up with resources to buy bread or meal for bread from day to day. Jesus miraculously fed 5,000 men plus women and children, so He was certainly capable of turning stones to bread. He knew that, and Satan knew it. What happened after He fed the 5,000? The people were back the next day for more bread. They did not want Jesus, they wanted bread. He assured them that He is the Bread of Life, but that is not what they wanted. They wanted Him to give them bread for the day.

C. Jesus Met This Temptation With Scripture.

Jesus answered Satan, "It is written: Man must not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God" (Matt 4:4). His response would have been appropriate if the only issue had been His own hunger, but there is more here. These were a conquered, defeated, oppressed people. They had been paying heavy taxes to Rome for many years, and they had not known independence for centuries. They longed for a political/military Messiah who would overthrow Rome and reestablish the kingdom of David. They loathed the Romans so much that they were ready to follow anyone who could deliver them from foreign control.


A. The Devil Tempted Jesus to Do the Sensational.

Then the Devil took Him to the holy city, had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple (4:5).

1) Satan is using all his wiles on Jesus. He knows he will not persuade Jesus to rebel against the Father’s will, nor will he persuade Him to return to heaven to avoid the suffering and death that awaited Him. What could he do? You do not have to turn one 180 degrees from the truth to lead him astray. All you have to do is to get him to veer off at a slight angle. Draw two lines, one absolutely straight, and the other only a few degrees to the left or right. Continue that line across a large sheet of construction paper. What do you discover? They never come back together. Now picture that line going out into infinity. That angle might seem very slight at first but the separation continues to grow as the line continue into the distance. It is the same in the spiritual realm. At the moment of decision, the divergence is slight, but within a few years that variation will become significant. Satan would never persuade Jesus to give up His mission, but if he could get him to compromise just a little at the beginning of His ministry, maybe he could take other steps along the way to get him to evade the issue of the Cross. Do you remember what He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane?

2) You would think the last place Satan would want to go was the temple. Believe me, he had been there before. And he would be there when Jesus, moved with indignation, cleansed the temple. Somewhere back there, Satan had persuaded religious leaders to veer off just a little and now they had made the house of God a den of thieves.

My younger brother Mike once told me he had heard an expression in court several years ago that would remind me of a neighbor of ours when we were growing up in the Green River Community, seven miles west of Sledge, Mississippi. Another attorney asked a witness, "What happened when the wheel came off the car?" The witness said, "It just went of anigodlin across the road." The lawyer asked him to repeat what he said and when he did, the attorney was speechless for a moment. Mike spoke up and offered a definition, not from a dictionary but from an old neighbor. Mike said, "Excuse me. Maybe I can help. By anigodlin, he means that the wheel veered off across the road at an indefinite angle." The best Satan could ever hope to do was to get Jesus to veer off just a little at the beginning and maybe he could cause Him to miss the Cross all together. Jesus would not fall for that.

3) The devil may be at his evil best at church. He came into the presence of God when he challenged Him concerning Job. He entered the hearts of Ananias and Saphira to persuade them to lie to the Holy Spirit. When you get to church next Sunday, no matter how early you are, the devil will already be there, calling your attention to any small slight you think you detect in another member; pointing out how another parent is promoting her child at the expense of yours; calling attention to how many times the lady in front of you has worn that dress: or maybe he is calling your attention to something the pastor says that you didn’t want to hear.

B. Satan Suggests a Way Jesus Could Get the People to Follow Him.

"And said to Him, "If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down. For it is written: He will give His angels orders concerning you and, they will support you with their hands so that you will not strike your foot against a stone" (Matt 4:6).

1) Satan knows how much people love that which is novel and that which is sensational. He wanted Jesus to put on a show to attract people unto Him.

2) Satan will not only go to church, he will quote Scripture. He will always quote it to serve his purpose and it will always be corrupted, to confuse people or mislead them.

3) He knew the kind of Messiah for which the people hoped. They wanted a Davidic Messiah who would lead a revolution against Rome and reestablish the Kingdom of David and Solomon at it zenith of glory. Jesus came to seek and save the lost and Satan had a plan to help him reach them. He has plans today that will split churches, weaken ministries, and see a false gospel preached from the pulpit. Satan has a plan for church growth! Do something sensational. Work miracles. As long as He was showing them signs and wonders they followed Him. When they discovered what His message was they turned and followed Him no more.

C. Satan Tried to Get Jesus to Adapt His Ministry to Meet Current Expectations.

1) The people would respond to one who would perform great feats. Satan knew the people would follow anyone who performed sensational miracles. If they wouldn’t follow Jesus because of the attraction of the world and the flesh, Satan could encourage them on spiritual grounds. There have been churches throughout history that have adopted Satan’s plan for preaching, teachings, ministry, and outreach. He can produce results. Oh, what bitter results! He can fill your church. He can pack the pew. One lost young man attended an worship service because he knew it would please his mother. After the service, he said, "I can take my guitar and draw a bigger crowd at the bar around the curve than you had in church!" One of the big attraction since the dawn of the TV age has been faith-healers. I believer very strongly in faith healing but I am very skeptical of faith-healers.

When I was about fifteen years old, we began hearing about this miracle-worker who was holding revival services in a tent in Memphis. He was healing people with all sorts of illnesses, or so they reports said. There are a lot of people who would never miss out on anything that sensational. If something miraculous was happening they wanted to see it. Many others were there nightly because they were seeking healing from some infirmity.

Everyone, it seemed, had a story to tell. So do I. At one point Oral Roberts stopped the line and told us he was about to cast demons out of a woman and when the came out they would be looking for a place to go, and if we were not all holding onto the back of the chair in front of us they would enter us. I’m serious! That is what he said.

At the end of the service, a long line of people filed by Oral Roberts, seeking healing. One reason we were so interested was that Virginia, a lady from our community who could neither speak not hear, had an appointment to get in the line on that particular night. Oral Roberts pronounced her "HEALED!!!" She was not healed and when her family wrote to Oral Roberts, someone answered the letter: "She probably got out of her place I line!"

2) Jesus demonstrated His power through signs and wonders but never just to put on a show. He wanted to help but He did not want to make a show of healing. In fact, He often urged people who were healed not to tell anyone. No, that was not a psychological ploy in which He was thinking, "If you want them to tell it, tell them not to tell."

D. Jesus Answered Satan with Scripture Again.

1) Satan quoted Scripture, but Jesus understood the Scripture. Jesus told him, "It is also written: Do not test the Lord your God" (Matt 4:7). Jesus was not deceived. He knew all these temptations were temptations to evade the issue of the Cross.

2) Jesus responded with Scripture: "Do not test the Lord your God as you tested Him at Massah" (Deut. 6:16). There is a lesson here for you and me. The best way to respond to temptations from the devil is to quote or read from the Word of God. There are two things in the Lord’s response that demand our attention.

3) The Scripture uses the word "tested" rather than "tempted" because that is exactly what Satan is doing. He knows he is not going to get Jesus to sin, but he would like to put him to the test.

4) Jesus quoted the applicable part from Deuteronomy, but left off the word "Massah." Massah is where the Israelites put God to the test in the wilderness: "He named the place Massah and Meribah because the Israelites complained, and because they tested the Lord, saying, "Is the Lord among us or not?" (Ex 17:7). It is interesting that God did not condemn them for putting Him to the test at Massah, but in Deuteronomy 6:16, He commands them never to do it again. What was the difference?

5) After Massah, God had entered a covenant relationship with Israel. Once they had entered a covenant relationship with Him, they are commanded never to put Him to the test again.

6) Knowledge of Scripture is essential in meeting tests and temptations from Satan. The better we know the Word of God the better prepared we are to resist the devil.


A. Satan Makes a Third Attempt to Get Jesus to Evade the Issue of the Cross.

"Again, the Devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. And he said to Him, "I will give You all these things if You will fall down and worship me" (Matt 4:8-9).

The Lord’s mind was on the people of the world, so Satan shows Him a way to reach them. You would think the devil would have been trying to turn people away from Jesus, not drawing them to Him. In reality, all Satan wants to do is to get Jesus to veer off from the path that led to the Cross. That is not as far fetched as it may seem at first glance. The Gnostic heresy that plagued the early church proclaimed a Jesus, but the Jesus the Gnostics proclaimed was not the Jesus of the Gospels. The Mormon Jesus is not the Jesus of the New Testament. The New Age Jesus is not the Jesus of the Bible. If you want to be sure you do not worship the wrong Jesus, look to the Jesus of the Bible.

B. The Devil Had the Audacity to Try to Get Jesus to Worship Him.

And he said to Him, "I will give You all these things if You will fall down and worship me" (Matt 4:9).

1) Satan promised the Creator the world He had created. Can you imagine anything more ludicrous? In fact, it so preposterous that one wonders if there is any way Satan could have believed Jesus would have worshiped him. Does he think he has worn Jesus down to the point that He would worship the enemy? I have a feeling that he believes he can lead Jesus to focus on the promise and not the condition. He knows what Jesus wants, so he offers that to Him and then adds the condition: "I will give You all these things," he promises. He must have thought it was a deal too good to be true. It was. The condition, "if You will fall down and worship me," really is ludicrous. Think about it: Satan, the prince of the world is the bitter enemy of the world’s Creator.

2) You may wonder if Satan could have delivered on this promise. I believe we must consider the possibility that, at least in Satan’s mind, he could have delivered on the this promise, but only if he could persuade Jesus to evade the issue of the Cross. Satan did not know everything God knew, but he did know one thing: The judgement God passed on him in Genesis 3:15 would find fulfillment in the Cross. He had to persuade Jesus to avoid the Cross!

3) Satan is not afraid of a crucifix on a chain, but he is horrified by Christ on the Cross. The world may place more value on symbol than substance but Satan knows the difference.

4) Satan could survive the virgin birth, the miracles, and even the parables of Christ. What he could not survive was the crucifixion, for it was on the Cross that Jesus crushed the head of the serpent. He is writhing from the blow at Calvary but he is still striking out as a serpent will, but he has received a blow that will prove fatal.

C. Satan Tried to Get Jesus to Do God’s Work the Wrong Way.

He promised Him the kingdoms of the world and he could have given him the political, cultural, and social order. After all, he is the prince of the world, the fallen world that operates in opposition to God. Jesus and Satan are thinking on two different planes. Satan can accept a reformed life but he cannot bear a redeemed life. The real issue is the Cross - anything to keep Jesus away from the Cross. Why? Because on the Cross "God was in Jesus reconciling the world unto Himself."


A. He Will Try to Persuade Us That Our Cross Should Focus on Temporal Needs.

Satan would have us to believe that anything we do that is good and beneficial to mankind is taking up our cross and following Jesus. He would have us substitute that which is good for that which is excellent. He would have us to do fun things instead of doing godly things. He would have us to concentrate on pleasant things rather than that which is holy. He had rather have us praising God than repenting of sin. He would have us focus on the social gospel rather than the saving Gospel.

B. Satan Will Tempt Us to Try to Fit the Image of a Religious Person.

Satan is the prince of the world and his role is not threatened by social activities, beautiful buildings, and sophisticated programs. What he hates is the Cross, for in the Cross there is nothing but defeat and humility for him. The world hates the Cross and will do anything possible to distract the lost person from coming to the Cross for God’s salvation. Satan’s world will do anything possible to keep a Christian from taking up his cross and following Jesus. He will try to convince you that you are a good Christians when you are compromising at ever turn. Satan would prefer to see us wear a little gold cross on a chain to bearing the cross Jesus commands us to take up and follow Him.

Have you ever heard a person brag on his church in such a way as to convince you that he feels that his church is superior to yours because it is bigger than yours! I have. Have you ever heard a person speak of his denomination in a manner that led you to infer that he felt that his denomination is superior to yours because (a) It is older than yours; (b) it is larger than yours; ( c) it is more liberal than yours; of (d) it is more conservative than yours? You may well have seen Satan redirecting the focus of a Christian, or a church member.

C. Satan Promises Success and Glory to Those Who Do Gods Work the Wrong Way.

We saw the sad spectacle of the fall of a number of tel-evangelists during the eighties and nineties. It really was a sad spectacle. We had church members who were sending their tithes and offerings to these television ministries rather than supporting their local church. People were in awe of the testimonies, the faith healing, missions, and the glorious facilities these people were building. If you tried to talk with some of those who saw these tel-evangelists as super saints, they would attack you. They judged local pastors by what Jim Bakker or Oral Roberts said, not by the Word of God.


A. The Temptations Are Different for Christians and Non-Christians.

1) Lost people are spiritually dead. They are already in bondage to sin, slaves to the devil and his wiles. There are three sources of temptation: The world, the flesh, and the devil. There are enough temptations coming from the world and the flesh to keep one in sin without Satan getting too deeply involved. That does not mean that Satan does not tempt lost people, it just means that they will keep on sinning because they are slaves to sin.

2) Satan gives Christians a lot of attention. Lost people do not glorify Jesus, spirit-filled Christians do. That is reason enough for him to try to seduce believers. Jesus commands all believers to take up their cross and follow Him. Just as Satan did all he could to persuade Jesus to evade the issue of the Cross, he will do everything in his power to keep us from bearing our cross for Him.

The devil tries to get people to worship false gods. He will try to involve believers in the false worship of the true God. In his book AMERICAN IDOL, The Worship of the American Dream, Bob Hostetler discusses a whole pantheon of false gods Americans worship, none of which require one to bow before an idol or image of some false god. Christians may well worship everything from the "American dream", to recreation, to privacy, to material possessions, to a career.

B. Satan Is at His Deceptive Best When He Tempts Us to Evade the Issue of the Cross.

1) He will tell you to serve yourself - get what you can out of it. A politician may be tempted to serve himself, just as a business man will.

2) He will try to get you to serve him - do it my way and I can get you the approval you want. We could point to any number of illustrations, but just think about all those entertainers who glorify the Satan and the world, but when asked, they tell you they got their church singing in church when they were teenagers.

3) He will even try to convince you to let him serve you. He will try to find a place in your heart, in your home, and in your church. He is not afraid to invade your home. He is not the least bit timid about going to church with you.

4) Satan deceives individuals and the masses. A few years ago, Howard Dean was a candidate for the highest office in the land. His people came up with a strategy for him: As he moved to the south he would begin talking more like a Christian. When a reporter asked Dr. Dean his favorite book in the New Testament, he said, "The Book of Job." John Kerry had the same strategy. He found an open door in many Black churches in the south, knowing that only Black pastors can politicize their churches and get away with it. Thank God for those who do not want their churches polluted by ungodly politicians. When Fidel Castro came to America several years ago, he was invited to speak on a Baptist church in Harlem!

Milton Kornegay is an African American pastor of a Southern Baptist church in New York. That’s right, a Southern Baptist church in New York. Milton and I serve on the board of trustees for LifeWay Christian Resources. If fact, I am chairman of the Broadman and Holman Committee and he is the vice-chairman. Milton has told us that there is a growing number of African American pastors who are going deeper into the Word of God and preaching it from the pulpit. Satan will attack them, but greater is He who is in them than he who is in the world.

C. You Can Resist the Devil.

(1) "Draw near to God" (James 4:7a).

(2) "Resist the Devil, and he will flee from you.

(3) "Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you" (James 4:8a).

You cannot resist the devil in your own power, but the Holy Spirit will empower you and guide you in spiritual warfare. The Lord will protect you, but you must not place yourself in the path of temptation. In each sermon on The Way of the Cross I have used one of the great hymns of the faith. This time I am going to do something a little different. Rather than use a hymn from the Baptist Hymnal I am going back to an older hymnal. See if you recognize this one:

How happy is the man

who does not follow the advice of the wicked,

or take the path of sinners,

or join a group of mockers!

Instead, his delight is in the Lord’s instruction,

and he meditates on it day and night.

He is like a tree planted beside streams of water

that bears its fruit in season

and whose leaf does not wither.

Whatever he does prospers.

The wicked are not like this;

instead, they are like chaff that the wind blows away.

Therefore the wicked will not survive the judgment,

and sinners will not be in the community of the righteous.

For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,

but the way of the wicked leads to ruin.

[Psalms 1:1-6 (HCSB)]


Jesus was tempted to evade the issue of the Cross. You and I are, too. Jesus "was tempted in all points like as we, yet without sin." He resisted all temptations. You and I don’t, but when we fail to do so we can confess our sin and receive forgiveness. Trust the Holy Spirit to empower you and guide you. Use the Word of God, and pray, "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil." Remember, greater is He who is in you than he that is in the world.

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