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Our first reading today presents an unusual situation. There were two armies lined up on hills opposite each other, the Philistines on one and the Israelites on the other. But neither army was willing to make the first move, to charge down into the valley and up the opposite hill to attack. So, the Philistines proposed an alternative. They would send out their best and biggest warrior, Goliath, and Israel would choose their best warrior. The two warriors would fight each other and whoever won, their army would be considered the winner. We know what happened. David took up the challenge, trusting that the Lord would defend his name which Goliath had mocked, and David was victorious, even though it didn’t seem that he had a chance against the bigger, stronger, more experienced warrior, Goliath.
When Jesus entered the world and took on flesh and blood, he entered into a similar situation. The Father sent him into the world to take on a Goliath, Satan. He arranged that it would be a one-on-one battle and whoever emerged victorious would win the victory for all humans. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work. He came into this world to take on the devil as our representative and defeat him, to CRUSH his head for us.
The whole time that Jesus lived on earth he was at war with Satan. Every war is made up of many individual battles. In a war against a powerful enemy, an army may win some of those individual battles, it may lose some, or it may retreat to fight another day. But that was not the case with Jesus.
God’s standard for winning the war against Satan wasn’t “just win more battles than you lose.” His standard for winning the war was “be perfect.” Never lose a single battle. For, as James says, whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. To brag that you have won more battles with Satan than others is like bragging that, in a contest to try to jump across the Grand Canyon, you made it farther than everyone else. Maybe so, but you still ended up in the same place. Like Wylie Coyote, you went splat on the canyon floor. In order to be our Savior Jesus had to resist every temptation. He had to win every battle.
The writer to the Hebrews reminds us that Jesus experienced the same things we do. While he lived on earth, he had daily battles in his war with Satan. How did he fare? Let’s look at the result of some of the battles Scripture records for us.
After Jesus had fasted in the wilderness for forty days and forty nights, Satan initiated a battle. He came to Jesus and suggested that he could use his power as the Son of God to turn stones into bread and satisfy his hunger.
Isn’t it interesting that the first temptation of Jesus that is recorded for us has to do with food? Remember that the first temptation ever, the temptation of Eve in the Garden of Eden, had to do with food, the eating of the forbidden fruit.
Food can be a powerful temptation. It’s a basic human need. We have to eat in order to live. But, how often aren’t we tempted not just to eat to live, but to live to eat. We are tempted by Satan to make food more important than God and his word. We are tempted to over-eat. We are tempted to eat things we know are harmful to the bodies God gave us. We fail to be faithful stewards of our bodies.
But Satan’s temptation of Eve in the Garden and of Jesus in the wilderness was not just about satisfying hunger. Did the forbidden fruit look delicious? Yes! Was Jesus starving after fasting for forty days? You Bet! But when Satan suggested that he satisfy his hunger by turning stones into bread, Jesus knew that more was at stake. His response to Satan shows it. Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.
Jesus is quoting these words from Deuteronomy. Moses told Israel that the reason God let them experience hunger in the wilderness before he gave them Manna, and then only enough for each day, was so that they would learn to trust him to provide. Satan was trying to get Jesus to listen to him and to create food for himself rather than to listen to God and trust God to provide.
How do you fare in your battle with Satan regarding food? Unlike Jesus, we don’t have the power to turn stones into bread. But, like Israel, we easily give in to complaining about the food we do have, or we complain that we don’t have enough. We often fail to trust God to provide us with the food we need in normal ways. When Satan tempted Jesus with food and trusting God to provide, Jesus crushed that temptation for us. He came out victorious.
Another battle we often have with Satan has to do with determining where the line is between trusting God and testing God.
God has given us wonderful promises. He promises that he will never leave us or forsake us. He promises that he is with us always to the very end of the age. He promises that he sends his angels, we often call them guardian angels, to watch over us and protect us. On one occasion he even allowed Elisha’s servant to see angels, the horses and chariots of fire that were protecting them. He tells us that with every temptation he provides a way out. He wants us to trust him no matter what.
So, what does Satan do? He says to Jesus, “Let’s see if God is worthy of trust.” He took Jesus to the pinnacle of the temple and quoted one of God’s promises. He will give his angels charge concerning you… to lift you up so that you will not strike your food against a stone. So, if you jump off shouldn’t the angels catch you?
We are probably not tempted to jump off the top of a tall building to see if God’s angels will catch us, but we have all done things that put God to the test. Maybe driving too fast, or in dangerous conditions, or when we know we are too tired, or buzzed. I’m sure you can all think of times when you were young and thought you were indestructible. Later, you look back and think, “wow, I must have kept those angels busy!” There are many times in our lives when we either failed to trust God as we should, or when we did some foolish, dangerous things that put God to the test.
When Satan challenged Jesus to jump because God promised to send angels to protect him, Jesus saw that would be crossing the line between trusting God and testing God. He won the battle. He trusted God’s ability to do anything, but he refused to put God to the test. He crushed temptation for us.
Perhaps the biggest battle we have with Satan is in regard to mammon, stuff. Whether we are rich or poor, or somewhere in between, Satan knows how to fan the flames of jealousy and greed in our hearts and minds. He tempts us to think that more stuff is the answer to every problem. “If only I had _____, then I would be satisfied.” He tells us, “You work hard, you deserve to have some nice things, even if you have to neglect your family responsibilities, or to lie or cheat a little to get them.” All too often our words and actions show that we love mammon, created things more than the creator.
When Satan, the Prince of this World, offered Jesus all the kingdoms of the world – Power; and all the splendor of those kingdoms – Riches; and all he had to do to get those things was bow down and worship him, just once; Jesus refused. He won the battle. He crushed temptation for us.
When Satan tempts us to lie, or to run to avoid suffering, or to cover things up to get out of a punishment we deserve, we often listen to him. When Satan tempted Jesus to avoid suffering he didn’t deserve, Jesus answered, “Not my will Lord, but thy will be done.” He got up from prayer and went to meet his betrayer. Temptation crushed.
When Satan used those mocking Jesus as he hung on the cross to tempt him to prove that he was the Son of God by coming down from the cross, Jesus thought of us and refused to come down. Temptation crushed.
Jesus was tempted in every way, just as we are. He had body and soul, flesh and blood just like us. Every temptation was just as real for him as it is for us. The only difference is, he never lost a single battle with Satan. He never committed a single sin. He lived a perfect life. And the best thing about that is, God credits his perfect life, his victory over temptation, to us.
The writer to the Hebrews also reminds us that because Jesus was tempted just as we are, he is able to sympathize with us. He has faced pain, betrayal, injustice, hunger, and thirst. Whatever Satan might use to try to get us to forsake God, to put him to the test, to love our stuff more than the one who created and gave it to us to use while we are here on earth, Jesus has experienced it. He’s eager to have us talk to him about the temptations we face, to come boldly before his throne of grace, and to ask for his help and guidance so that, through the word he can show us the way out that he has provided.
But even more comforting than knowing that Jesus sympathizes with us is knowing He crushed temptation for us. His perfect life isn’t just his victory, it’s our victory. Whenever we give in to temptation God credits Jesus’ victory to us. He reminds us that Jesus took on himself the punishment we deserve for every sin, for every failure to resist temptation. Jesus paid for the sins of the world, and since we are part of the world, he paid for our sins.
Whenever you are facing temptation, look to Jesus. Come to the throne of grace with confidence, knowing that he understands your struggle and promises that you will find grace to help at just the right time. When you lose a battle with Satan, look to Jesus, knowing that you will receive mercy; knowing he crushed temptation and his victory is credited to you by God’s grace.