5 March 2017 – The First Sunday in Lent
Sermon on Matthew 4:1–11 The First Sunday in Lent, 5 March 2017
Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The Gospel text today, Matthew chapter four, records the account of Jesus being lead into the wilderness to have a great confrontation with Satan; and Satan vexed Jesus with three great temptations. This text teaches us what we can expect to face in the Christian life: trials, temptations, and the devil himself pulling all the stops to make us deny God and His word. Most importantly, and thankfully for us, this text also teaches us that Jesus in perfect obedience resisted temptation: and this friends, is our salvation.
Let us pray, “Graciously Father in heaven, Grant us faith to believe that we must face many trials and temptations in the Christian life. Grant us the gift of repentance when we fail. And so grant us, through faith, the victories, eternal life, the forgiveness of sins, that Jesus won for us through his defeat of Satan. Amen”
Histories of conflict abound in Scripture, beginning in Genesis all the way through to Revelation. Consider our Old Testament lesson today from Genesis chapter three. Here, Adam and Eve are up against the Serpent, Satan. Satan tempted Eve to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Unfortunately in that conflict Adam and Eve lost, they fell into temptation and sinned, bringing condemnation and misery upon mankind. Another well known history of conflict was the Israelites against Pharoah and the Egyptians. Pharaoh cruelly oppressed the Hebrews and enslaved them. But God intervened and rescued the Israelites with signs and wonders and Pharaoh and his army were drowned in the sea. And when we get to the New Testament there are numerous conflicts: Herod versus the wisemen, Paul versus the Jews, and so on. But the greatest conflict story in Scripture which really provides the background to all the other conflicts is the conflict between Jesus and Satan. In fact, you cannot tell the Good News in all its sweetness without at some point explaining the conflict between Jesus and Satan and how it plays out. This makes our Gospel lesson very important because here recorded for us is Jesus’ great victory over our great enemy Satan. This is good news for you! Because you fail and succumb to temptation and have earned God’s wrath because of it, but there is someone who did not sucuumb, and his name is Jesus, and his victory is yours through faith. Indeed friends, let us pay attention as we go through this text that we might truly repent of our failures to resist temptation and cling to Christ who has triumphed over Satan on our behalf.
The first two verses in our Gospel lesson reveal some important details about Jesus’ clash with Satan in the wilderness. First, our text says that “Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” Did you notice that Jesus did not go into the wilderness on his own? He was led there! By whom? God, the Holy Spirit in order to be tempted by Satan. That is interesting. Why did God want Jesus to go through this trial and be tempted by the devil? Here is the answer: God the Father wanted Jesus to be tempted by the devil so that Jesus could reveal himself to us as the battle-tested and perfectly obedient son of God, who never fell into temptation and never sinned. And because Jesus withstood the very best Satan could throw at him, it means we have a perfect savior, a perfect champion.
After Jesus was led into the desert wilderness he began to fast and after forty days and forty nights he was very hungry. It was at that point that Satan showed up and gave Jesus the first of three temptations, a temptation to please the flesh. And it went like this: “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” The sneakiness of this temptation is that Satan doesn’t deny that Jesus is the son of God, he assumes it. But then he challenges Jesus to misuse his power as the Son of God, for his own selfish reasons, to please his flesh. Oh Satan is sneaky - He will assume the Word of God is true for a moment, and they twist it that we might rebel against God and sin. But Jesus succeeded over Satan’s temptation to please the flesh, Jesus responded with this text from Deuteronomy, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” What good news that Jesus succeeded against Satan in this regard, because how many times have we failed when tempted to rebel against God and please our flesh? Too many times, thank you Jesus for being perfect for us, thank you for not falling into the temptation to please the flesh, but succeeding against Satan for us.
Right after this encounter the devil took Jesus to the holy city, Jerusalem, to the pinnacle of the temple and said to Jesus, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up…’” Did you notice how sinister the devil is? Here he quotes Scripture. And that is an important lesson to learn. Just because a book or a song or a preacher quotes Scripture doesn’t mean that it is being used correctly. Scripture can be twisted and used for devilish ends, and it is done all the time. With this temptation Satan is challenging Jesus to rebel against God’s authority. Indeed God has promised to use his angels to protect his children, as Satan quoted. But to challenge God, to force his hand, if you will, and try to manipulate him to follow through with what he has said is rebellion, its telling God what he has to do, a grievous sin indeed. But Jesus succeeded over Satan’s temptation to rebel against God’s authority, and He responded with this text, again from Deuteronomy, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.” What good news that Jesus succeeded against Satan in this regard, because how many times have we rebelled against God and expect him to change our circumstances? How he ought to give us this or that comfort because we are decent people? How many times have we tested him? Too many times, thank you Jesus for being perfect for us, thank you for not falling into temptation to rebel against authority, but succeeding against Satan for us.
By the way, have you ever wondered how it was that Satan could just bring Jesus to the pinnacle of the temple? Was Satan in charge? No, God was always in charge, and only allowed Satan to do so much. Now, it would seem that Satan left his most sinister and powerful temptation for last. After being on the pinnacle of the temple in Jerusalem, Satan then took Jesus to a very high mountain and showed him the kingdoms of the world and their glory, and said, “All these I will give you if you will fall down and worship me.” Friends let us remember something: God is omnipotent, and is sovereign over all his creation. But He has allowed Satan to have some, in fact a lot, of dominion on this earth and Satan rules his rather powerful kingdom through greed and government. Satan is offering Jesus glory, power, riches—something that all rulers seem to like—but the cost is that Jesus must fall down and worship Satan. What is at stake is the first and greatest commandment, “You shall have no other gods.” Praise be to God, Jesus didn’t bite, he succeeded over this climactic temptation of Satan and said, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’” What good news that Jesus succeeded for us here, because how many times have we cast aside the first commandment to fear, love, and trust in God above all things and followed some other god, money, education, friends, because of our love of glory and comfort. Too many times, thank you Jesus for being perfect for us, thank you for not falling into temptation to break the first commandment and bring selfish glory to yourself. And thank you Jesus for saying to Satan, “Be gone” Because we know that you have power over the evil one and you will protect us.
Friends, take note that that Jesus’ victory against Satan in the wilderness was correcting a history of wrongs. And this, too, is wonderful news for you today. Let me explain. When God put Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden all was bliss: perfect and wonderful communion with each other, with nature, with God. But the human race, Adam and Eve, were to be tested, so God allowed the serpent to come along and do his best at beguiling and tricking Eve into doing what they were not supposed to, eat the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. We all know what happened, you heard about it in our Old Testament lesson today. Eve failed the test, so did Adam. When confronted with temptation from the devil, they capitulated, they gave in (something that we can all relate to, since we have capitulated, too, in various ways) and it was a costly because it meant sin and death entered the world, and separation from God for everyone else who followed them. But you see Jesus Christ has righted that wrong. Jesus succeeded where Adam and Eve failed. Whereas they gave into the devil, Jesus did not. And whereas Adam and Eve’s sin meant condemnation, Jesus’ victory means eternal life and the forgiveness of sins! And the righting of Adam’s wrong will come in its full completeness on the Last Day when the Holy Spirit will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life (Edenic paradise) to me and all believers in Christ (as we confess in the catechism)
Most importantly Jesus succeeded where we have failed. We have all been tested, and we have all failed miserably. We have all broken God’s holy Ten Commandments. We have sinned just as grievously as Adam and all the Israelites. But Jesus has succeeded for us, where we failed. The conflict between Jesus and Satan is at the center of the Good News. You can explain it like this: we are sinners, who have capitulated to Satan and his temptations not just in the distant past, but this past week. Idolatry? Check. Rebellious dishonoring of God and his appointed authorities? Check. Rejection of God’s Word and a pleasing of the flesh? Check. We deserve everlasting condemnation and death for these; but the Good News is this! Jesus is our champion, as we sang in our sermon hymn “A Mighty Fortress” Jesus resisted all that Satan could throw at him and to top it all off, the great blow to Satan, came when Christ hung on the cross: where death became the death of death our foe. Repent and live friends! Jesus has defeated the one who is too strong and sneaky for us. This also means, friends, that even though you are constantly hounded by Satan while you wait for the Last Day (and any Christian who denies that is a liar) it means that through repentance, and especially in the Holy Supper, there is daily and weekly victory over the devil, because it is through the Word and the sacraments that Jesus’ merits and victory over Satan are passed on to us: His righteousness and holiness. Praise be to God the Father for our Lord Jesus Christ. SDG.