“It is written…”
Sermon, Invocabit, Lent I, Gospel, Matthew 4:1-11, February 22, 2015
A few weeks ago we heard the Gospel reading about Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan by John. We saw how Jesus is the true Israel, who is to be perfectly obedient to the Father, as the nation of Israel was not. And just as Israel was brought through the waters of the Red Sea and sent into the desert where God humbled them and tested them for forty years to know what was in their hearts, and to see whether they would keep the commandments” (Deut. 8:2), Jesus is sent by the Holy Spirit for forty days into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He has been without food or water for almost six weeks when the devil presents Him with three temptations. The first temptation for Jesus involved food and doubt concerning God’s Word, just as the first temptation in the Garden of Eden for Eve involved food and doubt concerning God’s Word. The serpent noticed that the fruit on the tree which has been declared by God to be off limits appealed to Eve. So he tempts her to eat it by first confusing her about God’s word. “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?”, he asks? From there the serpent, the devil, works to insinuate that God’s words are not what they seem, maybe He didn’t mean what He said. Satan tells Eve that she will not die, but she will become wise like God.” He appeals to her reason. God wouldn’t want her and Adam to be ignorant, would he? He wouldn’t give us a desire to eat something that is forbidden would He? My God wouldn’t do that. “This serpent makes a lot of sense”, Eve might have thought.
And she would have been partially right. for the devil often uses sensible, plausible arguments. Satan has nothing to offer us of his own. He never created anything. He is not a creator, but a destroyer. And what he likes to do most is use God’s good gifts, like reason and common sense, and use them as they were not meant to be used, as judges of God’s Word, so as to destroy the faith, health, joy, and lives of God’s children, so that he might make us slaves to pleasure, sex, wealth, health, prosperity, and reason.
But Jesus won’t play the devil’s game. When the devil invites Him to turn the stones to bread He doesn’t reason to Himself, “I am the Son of God. My Father said so at the Jordan river a short while ago. The earth and everything in it is therefore mine by inheritance. I have the power to change these stones to bread. I will need my strength for the difficult road ahead. If anybody deserves to eat, it is I.” To human reason and to demonic reason as well, it must have seemed ridiculous for God to anoint His Son and immediately send Him without food and water into the desert for forty days and nights. Jesus was not training to be a Green Beret or a Navy Seal. But Jesus doesn’t go there. Instead He says, “It is written….”. He quotes Deuteronomy 8:3, where Moses explains that God gave the complaining Israelites manna to show them that man doesn’t live on bread alone, but by every word of God that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” Jesus doesn’t argue with the devil. He will not reason with him or match wits with him. There would be no point in it… Jesus will not disobey His Father, nor disregard His written Word. He will obey Him and trust in what was written.
So the devil tries another tack, turning Jesus sword of the Word on Him. If Jesus is going to use scripture against me, I’ll use that against him, he thinks. So he takes Jesus up to a high spot on the temple and asks Him to throw Himself off. The devil quotes Psalm 91, prefacing his quote cleverly with, “For is is written”, ‘He will command his angels concerning you. On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’” (Psalm 91: 11-12). The devil wants a little show, a miracle, for Jesus to “step out in faith”. But Jesus doesn’t do miracles on demand. He won’t test God to prove that He can be trusted. Instead of stepping off the pinnacle, as Peter would likely have done, Jesus says, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put your Lord God to the test.”
You may have been tempted or will be tempted to say at some point in your life, “I’m going to pray to God for a miracle– my health, the life of a loved one, my job, my marriage–and if God doesn’t give me what I want, when I want, I will not believe in Him.” But Jesus will not test His Father that way. He trusts His Father. He knows that His Father will guard Him in all His ways, and He shows that faith and trust by not testing His Father. He will ask His Father in Heaven for HIs daily bread, His daily needs, but He trusts that His Father will provide for Him in His own way, the best way. That is why He prays– and teaches us also to pray– that God’s will be done.
Back to the story. The devil was not through yet… He took Jesus up to a high mountain and showed Him all the Kingdoms of the earth in an instant. The cover of our worship folder depicts this. Immediately below Jesus you see Jerusalem with the Temple, and a little farther off, Rome and its palaces. The devil says all this will be yours if you bow down and worship me. Can you imagine the nerve of the devil? He is talking to the Son of God, through whom, for whom, and by whom the universe was created. And he’s offering Him these measly kingdoms. It seems the devil does not really understand to whom he is speaking. He may know that Jesus is someone special to God, even His Son, in some way, but the poor devil does not believe that this hungry and thirsty true man standing before Him is also true God. For he lacks faith. He lacks the Holy Spirit. He lacks the wisdom of God.
Jesus tells Satan to depart, for it is written, “You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve.” Jesus is not going to worship anybody but His Father in heaven, whose name He will keep holy.
We must be careful never to underestimate the power of the devil, his craftiness, his appeals to reason. But we should also never overestimate his power, either. For we–who have been given the Holy Spirit in our baptisms, we who have heard the Gospel preached to us, who receive the body and blood of Jesus Christ, the same body that was taken up to the pinnacle of the temple and the mountain peak and the cross, the same blood that sustained our Lord in His hunger and thirst in the desert and on Mount Calvary– we have been granted access to knowledge that the angels, good and bad, long to look into. (1 Peter 1:12) We know who Jesus is because we trust His Word, the Word of the prophets who pointed to Him, and the Word of the apostles who witnessed to Him. We know the beginning of the story and we know how the story ends. Our eyes have been opened to the Scriptures, like the disciples after Jesus’ resurrection. We see things that the devil does not see and will never see until the last day, when he will bend his knee and acknowledge Jesus as Lord of all the kingdoms of heaven and earth.
The devil has been defeated by the Lord Jesus on the cross. He saw the defeat looming when Jesus told His disciples that the Son of Man must go to Jerusalem and be betrayed and whipped, and crucified and killed, and on the third day rise again. So he tempted poor Peter to talk Jesus out of going there. Jesus, rebuked Peter, saying, “Get behind me Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” (Matthew 16:23) Later Satan entered into Judas to betray Jesus. His last hope was that Jesus would not be able to resist the temptation to avoid the agony of the cross. And, indeed, Jesus asked His Father that if it be possible, he might avoid drinking the cup of His wrath, but Jesus added, “Your will be done.” (Matt. 26:42). And He did His Father’s will. Jesus was led to a hill and lifted up on the cross to obey His Father, to pay the penalty for our sins. There he resisted the final temptation to step down from the cross. When He died, Satan’s head was bruised, fulfilling the promise to Adam and Eve after their fall. Then three days later, as Jesus promised, He rose again from the dead. He breathed the Holy Spirit on the disciples so that their eyes were opened to them, and from then on, by that same power of the Holy Spirit, for the rest of theirs lives they resisted the temptation to deny Jesus, even to a martyr’s death.
All the temptations of Jesus were about trust, trust in what was written, trust in God’s Word, His promises, His power. Jesus was tempted in the desert to doubt that God would take care of Him in His physical needs, in His promise to protect Him, and finally in HIs promise to give Him a Kingdom which would have no end, not earthly Kingdoms which come and go, no matter how powerful and glorious to the eye. The ways Satan tempted Jesus are the same ways the devil tempts us today. He wraps these temptations in different wrappers, but they are same old tired temptations:
• Look out for number one. If you don’t, no one else will.
• Test the Lord to see if He is for real. If He doesn’t answer your prayers the way you want, He must not be for real.
• Grab for all the gusto you can. You only go around once.
• The one with the most toys wins.
These things tempt us, even as Christians, because we carry around with us the body of sin, the infection of doubt inherited from our first parents. Who will deliver us from this body of sin? Jesus Christ, who will raise us with glorified resurrection bodies on the Last Day, sinless bodies and impervious to temptation forever. Until then, the devil’s lies, which, in the light of Scripture, look ridiculous, in the darkness of our sin-clouded mind, seem plausible.
Jesus Christ won His first battle with Satan at the beginning of His ministry by resisting the temptations to doubt what was written. Now, we who are joined to Christ, have Him as our champion. He fights our temptations for us with the same weapons He used in the desert, the Word of God. At any time in His life Jesus could have destroyed Satan with a brush of His hand, but He chose to use the Word, to show us that as He depended on His Father to care for Him, so we can depend on the Father, with whom Jesus intercedes for us. “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.” (Hebrews 4:15).
Our responsibility is simply to stay in the Word, trust in God’s promises, and go about doing what God has called us to do as parents, children, citizens, shepherds, stewards, and neighbors, and we will be given our daily bread, we will be lifted up when we fall, and we will inherit the Kingdom of God, the new heavens and earth when Jesus comes again.
When we give into temptation, and we will daily, if only in thought, we must remember that “it is written that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be preached in His Name.” (Luke 24:46-47) Christ forgives us when we come to Him in repentance for our weakness, our aversion to hearing the Word of God, our lax devotional life, our satisfaction with our current level of knowledge about the teachings of the Bible and doctrine, our lack of trust in His providence shown in our tithing, our placing reason over the Word of Scripture. He forgives and binds up the wounds of our distrust so that we may enter the battle against Satan’s temptations again, with Him leading in front, on the flanks and covering our backs. Jesus is our mighty fortress. He has already won the war. He has called us to battle Satan with him for the last mop up fight. He has handed us the sword, His Word of promise, to wield against Satan. Hold on tight, and trust in its power. Hear the Word and believe. Ame