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We focus our attention this morning on the temptation of Jesus recorded for us in Matthew 4 which is printed in your folders, or you may wish to follow along in your Bibles.
Shortly after Jesus’ baptism where it was made public that he was the Son of God who had come to save the world, He was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil. It was Game On. Satan’s time was short. Jesus was now a public figure. He would be preaching and teaching and working to destroy the devil’s power. It was a “game” of epic proportions, greater than the battle between David and Goliath which meant victory for the whole country of the victor and defeat for the whole country of the loser. The fate of the whole of mankind lay in the balance. Jesus had volunteered to be our David. He was going into the wilderness to be tempted as the representative of every person who ever was or ever will be born. If he were to give in to just one temptation we would all be Satan’s slaves, suffering the torments of Hell for all eternity. It was time for Jesus to do battle with Satan head on, one on one.
Did you notice that the first temptation that Matthew mentions has to do with food? That’s interesting because the fall into sin had to do with food. Adam and Eve had plenty of food. Everything in the garden was theirs to eat, provided for them for free by God, except for the one tree. It’s interesting that God used hunger and the provision of Manna as a way to test his people in the desert to see if they would trust him and his word. Both Adam and Eve and Israel in the desert failed to trust God and his word. Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit even though they certainly weren’t hungry. Israel complained that they were hungry and when God provided perfect food for free they ignored his instructions not to hoard it, and later complained that it was boring food. Now Jesus, our hero who went out to battle the Devil in our place, feels the pangs of hunger more than any of us ever have. And, as he usually does, Satan attacks at the weakest point.
Food, trusting God to provide our daily bread, is still a weak point for us. We may give in to the temptation to hoard it, or the money to buy it. We may give in to the temptation to gorge ourselves on it, or to waste it, or complain about what we have. So often we fail the test; we fail to just do our work faithfully and trust God’s promise to provide; we fail to give thanks to him and appreciate the daily bread that he does provide; we often make food and striving to earn our daily bread more important than God and his word.
How did Jesus fare as our substitute who had not eaten for 40 days – imagine that, 40 days of fasting! And it wasn’t just the hunger. Did you hear the challenge? If you really are the son of God prove it! That’s always a difficult temptation to resist for us- How many of us have given in to the challenge to prove something because we don’t want to be called a chicken, or to look foolish? “And what would be so bad about satisfying your hunger, Jesus? Isn’t that reason God gives food, to satisfy our hunger? God certainly doesn’t want you to starve to death.”
How did Jesus fare? Jesus answered, “It is written: Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes out of the mouth of God.” He quoted what God said he wanted Israel to learn when he let them grow hungry and then provided them with Manna one day at a time. He showed that he intended to do the opposite of Adam and Eve, to obey the Father regardless of what might be gained by eating.
Game On. Round 1, Jesus is victorious in our place resisting the desire to satisfy his physical needs at the expense of God’s commands. But Satan is not easily defeated. He is immediately ready with the next round of temptation. He says, “Ok, Jesus. You want to quote the Scriptures? I can do that too. You say that you are going to trust the Father and live by the words that come from him? Well, doesn’t he say 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? So, if you trust him and his promises, take a dive off of this tower and nothing bad should happen to you. Let’s see if the Father comes through on his promise.”
Satan sure lives up to his reputation as a deceiver. He is ever so skillful at twisting things that God has said. God says “all your sins are already paid for in Jesus.” And Satan says, “so sin all you want.” God says “I will provide for all your needs.” And Satan says, “so why work, just let God find a way to provide.” God says that he is love and we are to love our neighbor. Satan says, therefore you can never call anything sinful, and you can love whomever you want. God says his angels are watching over you. Satan says drive as fast as you want, ignore the weather or the speed limit, trust that God won’t let anything bad happen as a result.
How often we fall for Satan’s tricks, deceptions and half-truths like Adam and Eve in the garden. When they ate the forbidden fruit they came to know good and evil, but that was not the good thing that Satan pictured it to be. It didn’t make them like God. They became their own god. It made them like him.
How did Jesus fare? Jesus said to him, Again, it is written: You shall not test the Lord your God. Jesus teaches us how to see through and to resist Satan’s twisting of Scripture. We have summarized what Jesus teaches us here with the principle, “Let Scripture interpret Scripture.” God does promise to give his angels charge over us and they are constantly protecting us from many dangers seen and unseen. But God also warns us against testing him; purposely putting ourselves in danger to see if he will keep his promise. When people responded to Paul’s gospel proclamation that Jesus has already paid for every sin by saying, then we can sin all we want, Paul said, “God forbid that you would think that way and use God’s grace as an excuse to sin. In your baptism you were united with Jesus in his death, you died to sin, how could you even think of continuing to live in sin?” God is love and we are to love our neighbor, but Scripture says that one of the most loving things you can do is to use the law and the gospel to turn someone away from doing what God says is sinful and rescue them from spending an eternity with Satan.
Game on. Jesus, continuing to live by EVERY word the comes from the mouth of God, not just picking and choosing, is victorious for us when Satan tries to twist God’s word. But Satan continues to fight.
“So, Jesus, you are the son of God, the one who has come to earth to establish the kingdom of God. I can help you with that. I can make it real easy for you, no suffering, no cross, no beating, no pain. Just bow down and worship me and I will convince every king and every nation to accept you and shower you with riches and glory the likes of which no other human has ever known. Then you will be able to make all nations bow before you. Isn’t that what you came for anyway?”
We might not think that this is a very strong temptation until we look in the mirror. How often aren’t we theologians of glory instead of theologians of the cross? How often don’t we think that if we just would have this program, or if we just didn’t talk so much about the Commandments of God, then our churches would grow. Isn’t that a good thing? Wouldn’t more people be saved then? Or, how many haven’t been misled to think that if only we could get the right politicians in power and pass the right laws then God’s kingdom would grow and we would be a Christian nation again. Don’t you hear Satan suggesting that the end justifies the means? The way of establishing God’s kingdom was the way of the cross and suffering for Jesus. The means that God has given to continue to establish his kingdom is not political power or compromising his commands. The means that God has given are the Gospel in his word and sacraments. It is through these that he works in hearts which often doesn’t seem to us to be working because we grow impatient as we focus on the outward instead of the inward. But the Kingdom of God is within you, Jesus says. His kingdom is not of this world. Success in his eyes is not measured by how big your building is, or how closely your laws reflect the Commandments. Success in his eyes is how many are brought to trust in him alone for salvation. Laws can’t ever create faith, only the Gospel can. And where there is faith, fruits of faith will follow.
Game on. How did Jesus fare against this temptation to take the easy road and let the end justify the means? Jesus said, it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’ And the devil left him and the angels did come and minister to his needs.
Jesus was victorious over these temptations, not just for himself, but as our substitute. But Satan wasn’t finished tempting Jesus. He would continue to tempt Jesus through the opposition of the Religious leaders, through questions cleverly devised to trap him, through betrayal and denial by his closest friends, through mocking and pain and suffering beyond what we can imagine. But the writer to the Hebrews declares that he remained without sin. And if we want absolute proof, look to Easter. He rose from the dead to declare his victory over sin, death and Satan. He won the victory not for himself, but for you and for me.
Game On. In Jesus, Game Won.