1st Sunday in Lent (C)
February 14, 2016
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The text that I have chosen for this morning’s sermon is the Gospel reading, which was read a few minutes ago.
A common theme American movies is the battle pitting good versus evil. John Wayne battling the Japanese, Rocky taking on the Russian Ivan Drago, Obi-Wan fighting Darth Vader, the Avengers defending Earth from Loki and his alien allies. As we watch the scenes unfold, we can find ourselves swept up in the action. We cheer when the good guys are winning and we get anxious when evil looks like it’s going to triumph. The movies are nothing more than entertainment and yet we get so invested in these stories. They don’t impact us at all, and yet we get drawn into them, hoping the good guys will win. In the movies the good guys don’t always win, but when it comes to the ultimate battle of Good versus Evil, the battle between Jesus and Satan, the victor is clear – it’s you.
Luke writes, “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness”. Jesus is baptized and immediately He is led into the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil. The next forty days would be crucial for us because how Jesus responds to Satan’s temptations will determine whether Jesus is our Savior or not. For forty days and nights He ate nothing while Satan was there the entire time enticing Him with every conceivable temptation. Because He hadn’t eaten in almost six weeks, the Devil first appeals to Jesus’ human needs. “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” This doesn’t sound like that big of deal; what’s the harm in making some food to take away His hunger? Jesus resists though because to make the stones into bread would’ve been saying that He didn’t trust His Father. Sure it looked like His Father was letting Him starve, but that wasn’t the case at all. And even if the Father was starving Him, Jesus would still trust Him unequivocally, because the Word of God says that God will not forsake His children. Jesus tells the Devil, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone.’” Obviously food and water are important, but they’re not as important as God’s Word. Food and water will disappear, and there will be times of want that aren’t met, but God’s Word will always be there for His people, and that’s His promise.
In the second temptation Satan tries we see him living up to his alias, the Deceiver. He says to Jesus, “Just bow down to me and I’ll give you everything! You’ll have the power and glory that are rightfully yours, and all you have to do is worship me.” He’s lying because the kingdoms of the world aren’t his to give. He has no power to dictate what belongs to whom. But His temptation is more devious than an offer of power because he’s tempting Jesus to avoid suffering and the cross. Jesus can be King now without all that bad stuff. Jesus responds with basically the First Commandment, you shall have no other gods. Jesus would worship His Father alone because as the Almighty Creator and the One who gives all things, He’s the only one worthy of worship. He’s the One who set the path before Jesus, the path of suffering and death, and Jesus would not deviate from it for earthly power.
For the third temptation, the Devil tries to turn the tables on Jesus. If Jesus is going to quote the Bible, then that Devil is going to turn it around on Him. So the Devil says, “It’s written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you…and on their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’” That sounds reasonable right? God will protect Jesus, it’s clear, it’s right there in the Introit for today. He wants Jesus to jump off the Temple to prove to Himself that God loves Him and will protect Him. If Jesus jumps off and God saves Him, all is good. And if not, then God obviously doesn’t love Him. The thing is that the Devil leaves out an important part of Psalm 91. What the Psalm really says is the God will protect His people as they walk in His ways. And that’s exactly what Jesus is going to do. He’s not going to call into question God’s care and protection, He trusts that God will act when it’s time, and He’s not going to try to force His Father’s hand in an act of testing Him.
Now it is easy to listen to this account and not realize what’s really going on. You have to remember that this isn’t just another story of the good guy winning, of Jesus sending the Devil away with his tail between his legs. This is Jesus locked in a life and death struggle. Jesus’ battle with the Devil has eternal consequences because it determines whether you are saved or not, whether you go to Heaven or Hell.
James 2:10 says, “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.” This means simply that anyone who breaks a commandment or commits a sin, no matter how small, are just as guilty as if they broke all the commandments, and anyone who breaks God’s Law is going to be punished. So for Jesus to save us, He had to be absolutely perfect. If He had fallen for just one of the Devil’s temptations, He would have failed as the Savior, and we would be eternally damned.
Now in case you think that it was easy for Jesus to resist the Devil because He’s the Son of God, it wasn’t at all. Jesus is true God, but He is also He is true man, and as a man He was just as susceptible to the Devil’s temptations as we are. Hebrews 4 says, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.”
So are you tempted to not trust God to keep His promises? Are you tempted to focus only on earthly bread and not the Word of God? Do you get plenty of food, but no nourishment from the Bible? Jesus knows exactly what’s going on, because this is what the Devil tempted Him with.
Do you doubt God’s existence, or His love, because He won’t show you what you want to see or do what you want Him to do? Do you demand that God prove His love for you? Jesus knows this feeling too! He knows what it’s like to be tempted to not believe God when He says that He cares for us and loves us more than anything.
Do you worship Satan? Well, okay, I doubt any of you are Satanists, but we don’t worship our Father in Heaven alone, do we? We worship the things that make us happy. We worship ourselves and our own good works. We worship idols like free time, fun, family, and sleep. God’s people have been tempted to worship false gods this way since virtually Day One. And Jesus too was tempted to worship the Devil to have everything that the Devil thought Jesus would want to have.
And you know all the other temptations that come your way that we haven’t mentioned. The Gospels only record three temptations, but I imagine that over the course of forty days, Jesus pretty much saw them all. He saw anger and violence, pride and jealousy, laziness and lust. You name it, the Devil threw it at Him. And it doesn’t matter that Jesus lived 2,000 years ago. He knows the temptations of today just as much as those of His childhood. He knows the temptations of the internet and cell phones. He knows the temptations that come from families being so busy they don’t have time to connect. He knows the temptations that come to those with financial, social, or family problems. He knows the temptations of a thirteen-year-old junior high kid just as much as He knows the temptations of the one-hundred-year old in the nursing home. He knows them all.
And since He knows what it means to be tempted in a thousand different ways, He is going to be with you to help you withstand the Devil. Hebrews 4 says, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” He wants you to come to Him because He will help you. He will arm you for your daily battles. He gives you His Word to cut the temptations down. He gives you His promises to send the Devil running. As James says, “Resist the Devil, and he will flee from you”. He flees because you who resist him are standing firm in Jesus who fights for you. He’ll come back though, so keep yourself in the Bible, come to Church, be fed through the Lord’s Supper, and remember your Baptism. It is these powerful weapons that you’ll find God’s strength, mercy, and help.
What I want you to really remember though is that Christ’s defeat of Satan is more than just an example for you as to how to resist temptation. He’s the perfect example, but you are far from perfect, and yet you win. You don’t win because you follow Jesus’ example, you win because Jesus is the perfectly faithful Son of God. Where you fail, He succeeds. Where you sin, He wins. Where you are faithless, He was faithful unto death. He is the Valiant One who fought for us and still fights for us. You win, because He won. You are forgiven, because He won, and that’s what this is all about. As Paul says, “For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.”
You are righteous because Jesus withstood Satan’s first temptations, and He withstood Satan’s last. You see, Satan never gave up trying to get Jesus to Sin. The Devil was there in the Garden of Gethsemane telling Jesus that He shouldn’t die, that it would be too awful. And He was at the foot of the cross speaking through the Jews and the soldiers who mockingly cried out, “If you’re the Chosen One save yourself! If you’re the Son of God, come down off the cross and then we’ll believe in you!” He could’ve come down. He could’ve come down and destroyed them all with His holy wrath. But even as He died He was faithful. As Paul says, “He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” He remained faithful because this is how He saved you, and this is what today’s account is all about. It’s what His Passion was all about. It’s about how He beat the Devil and made you the victor.
Now the peace which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen