1st Sunday in Lent (A)
March 5, 2017
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, which was read a few minutes ago.
A common mistake Christians make when it comes to today’s Gospel from Saint Matthew is that they make it all about them. They listen to the account of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness and what they take from it is that Jesus is a good example. Jesus was tempted by the Devil and what He did was this, this, and this and He came out on top. So now, whenever we’re tempted by the Devil, all we have to do is this, this, and this, and we’ll come out on top as well.
So, let me ask you. How often does this work? Not very often, right? Satan called Jesus’ status as the Son of God into question with his temptations, “If you are the Son of God…” But we know Jesus is the Son of God, so of course, He can handle any temptations that come His way. For us, it’s harder. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak, and Satan loves this about us and so he comes after us just like he did Jesus.
Jesus had been fasting for 40 days and nights. He’s hungry, thirsty, tired and that’s when Satan makes his first appearance in our Gospel, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” In other words, “You don’t need God. He probably forgot about you anyway. Don’t trust Him, do it yourself.” You and I can’t make stones into loaves of bread, but it’s a constant temptation for us to not fully rely on God. It’s tempting to think He’s forgotten about us, that we don’t need Him because we’re doing just fine on our own, that we can handle problems our way and not His. In each and every case, we’re succumbing to Satan’s temptations.
Satan didn’t give up with Jesus though, did he? “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down off the temple.” And then to make it better, the Devil quotes Scripture, “He will command his angels concerning you and on their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.” He challenges Jesus with a Bible verse, but what you may not know is that Satan left part of the verse out. He left out where the Psalm says “in all your ways”. God will send His angels to bear up His people when they walk, not just in any way, but in His holy ways.
The Devil does the same thing to you. He twists God’s Word to cause you to doubt and to question God. “You’re sick? Well, you must be a heck of a sinner. You’re having family troubles? You must not be praying hard enough or believing with your whole heart.” Are any of these statements true? No! Satan’s a liar and he wants you to question God’s Word. We’re all sinners, nobody isn’t a sinner. But your illness or your troubles aren’t because you’re not a very good Christian, it’s because Satan lied to Eve. It’s his fault.
What Satan is really up to with all his temptations is to get you to question God’s plans for you. He comes to Jesus and he says, “All these [kingdoms of the world] I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” He’s saying that Jesus doesn’t have to live a hard life. He doesn’t have to wander around looking for disciples. He can have all the glory and power He deserves, right now. All Jesus has to do is worship him. I hope, I really hope, that none of you are Devil worshippers, but you don’t have to be to fall for this temptation. The Devil wants you to question God’s plans and will for your life. He wants you to go for the quick and easy, avoid the struggle that comes from being a Christian, chase after material things and then you’ll be happy. You’ll have everything you could possibly want. It’s tempting, isn’t it?
Luke’s Gospel hints that Jesus was tempted for the entire forty days, so He wasn’t tempted just three times but repeatedly. We just have three instances in the Gospel to show us the battle that Jesus fought with the Devil. It shows our lives too because Satan is going to tempt you your entire life. Never let you guard down, because he’s sneaky, and he’s constantly coming up with something new. And you know what, you’re going to fall for them.
Sometimes, you’ll do well and sometimes not so well. Sometimes you’ll be strong enough to tell Satan to buzz off and to go back to Hell, where he belongs. Other times, you’ll fall for his temptations, you’re going to buy what he says hook, line, and sinker. Now keep in mind, not every temptation that Satan comes at us with is “You should rob that bank” or “You should cheat on the test.” Sometimes, it’s just a whisper that you should doubt God’s love. Sometimes it is a cloud of despair, a fleeting moment of jealousy or rage, a quick thought of something unkind.
It doesn’t matter what temptation trips you up, it doesn’t matter if it’s a “big” one or a “little” one, you’ve sinned. And by doing so, you’ve been unfaithful to God, and this is what Satan wants. He wants you to sin. Any sin, it doesn’t matter to him. So how do you beat him? How do you defend yourself in all of this? You can’t. You need a Defender, and that’s what this story is all about.
It’s about the Champion who fights for you. It’s about the perfect David who slayed the Satanic Goliath for you. It’s about the perfect Adam who ignored the lies of the Serpent for you. You needed someone to fight for you, and it was Christ who stepped up. This is why He was led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness. He went into the wilderness to be tempted. You live in the wilderness of this world, constantly assailed by the Devil, so Jesus went into the wilderness to face the Devil for you. He was tempted, just as you are, and remained faithful. As the author of Hebrews 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.”
He was tempted to satisfy His earthly needs, but He trusted His Father. He was tempted to manipulate His Father, but He turned to the Word. He was tempted to pass by the cross entirely and to take up the glory and honor that were rightfully His, but He worshipped His Father alone. In the end, He said, “Be gone Satan!”, for He was victorious.
Satan didn’t give up, though. He came back in the form of demons who tried to thwart Jesus. He came back in the form of Pharisees who tried to kill him or to trip Him up or to scare Him off. Finally, he came back with the same words that were spoken in the wilderness, “If you are the Son of God, come off the cross.”
This last temptation had to be hard. It would’ve been easy to hop off the cross and prove to everyone that He was the Son of God. Yet, Christ remained faithful and in His death, most of all, He serves as our Champion. He never sinned, but He took on Sin and the Devil, He took Sin onto and into His body, for us. That’s how we are saved! On that cross, it looked to everyone that He had lost. But He didn’t! For it was there, on the cross, that He fought for us and was victorious for us. We now have the spoils of His victory; forgiveness, peace with God, strength in the face of temptation, and hope. From the waters of the Jordan River to the wilderness to the cross to the tomb, He fought for us every step of the way, and He’ll never stop, for He is our Champion.
Remember your Champion and Defender because you are in the midst of a battle right now. You were baptized and sent out into the wilderness and Satan’s going to attack you, torment you, tempt you, and try to hurt you. You can’t go blindly or naively, open your eyes, see His attacks and your sins as what they are. And then fight with Christ, for through Him you can wield His Word. You can rely on Christ, and trust His promises, and this means that even if you fall for Satan’s temptations, you’re still victorious. You may feel like you’ve lost at times, but you haven’t, for the victory is already yours because you are forgiven. And that’s what this story is about – your Champion who has given you total victory over the Devil.
Now the peace which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen