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Lent 1 – Matthew 4:1-11

by pastorjuhl ~ March 10th, 2011

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit

Luther’s explanation of the Sixth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer begins with perhaps the four most unbelievable words in his Small Catechism: God tempts no one. If God tempts no one, then why are we tempted? Holy Scripture gives us two answers.

First, God allows our faith to be tested in order to bring us closer to Him. In four weeks’ time, God willing, we will hear the Lord’s testing of Abraham by commanding him to sacrifice Isaac. Next Sunday, God willing, we will hear Jesus testing the faith of the Canaanite woman.

Second, temptation comes from our spiritual enemies in order to lure us away from God and His ways. Why would God want to test our faith? Surely, this sounds like a game of schadenfreude on our Lord’s part. Schadenfreude is a German word that doesn’t really have a good translation to English. The closest we get is “taking pleasure in someone else’s pain.” God testing our faith seems to us like a cruel game. It’s as if God is thinking, “Let me stir things up in your life to see you squirm. You’re a sinner. You can’t help but succumb to My little game. You need a reminder that I am God and you are not God. So I bring trouble into your life in order to give me something to smile about.”

Not so. The apostle James writes, my brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience…. Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. What’s so joyful about our faith being tested? Testing produces patience. Patience in trials and temptations is a handy thing to have, especially when we’re being attacked by the devil, the world, and our sinful nature.

Jesus was patient for forty days and nights in the wilderness, neither eating nor drinking. At the end of forty days, the devil comes looking for Him with many temptations. Three of them are highlighted in Matthew chapter four. Satan goes after three things that easily ensnare us: hunger, protection, and power. All these are our desires that we sometimes think God withholds from us for His pleasure and our pain.

One look at the expanding waistlines of Americans shows how we crave food. The Corinthians had the same problem. Saint Paul writes in 1 Corinthians: All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any. Foods for the stomach and the stomach for foods, but God will destroy both it and them. Just because we can eat doesn’t necessarily mean we should eat.

Just because Jesus can make stones become bread doesn’t mean that He should, especially when Satan is the one giving orders. Our Lord’s response to Satan’s request is written in Deuteronomy: Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. Repent of eating bread that doesn’t satisfy, while fasting from the Living Bread that comes from heaven.

Luther’s Small Catechism teaches us to pray each morning and evening: let your holy angels be with me, that the evil foe may have no power over me. Legions of angels watch over God’s precious children. Yet we think we are abandoned by God when Satan tempts us or when God allows our faith to be tested. We ask, “Where in the world is God? Where are those holy angels I pray about every day?”

When we pray lead us not into temptation, we are not praying for temptation in order that God might  rescue us from being tied on the railroad tracks of life while the steam engine bears down upon us at breakneck speed. Jesus answers our foolish thoughts and desires the same way He answers Satan’s foolish request for Him to throw Himself off the high point of the Temple: You shall not tempt the LORD your God. Repent of believing God wants you to fall prey to temptation.

The explanation to the First Commandment teaches us we should fear, love, and trust in God above all things. Satan claims a kingdom that is not his. God created the heavens and earth, and everything in them. Satan took mankind into slavery by making Adam and Eve believe a lie. Jesus tells the Pharisees: When [Satan] speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it. We do not pray “Satan’s kingdom come”. Satan thinks everything is his because all he knows is lying.

We want the world, and we want it now. We have no patience. Satan has taught us well. Jesus answers Satan’s foolish request, Away with you, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only you shall serve.’ Repent from making yourself the center of the universe, with Satan whispering what you should do next in your ear.

When we hear Jesus rebuff Satan three times under extreme duress after fasting for forty days and nights, we rightly believe that we couldn’t do as He does. Repentance and self-denial begin with confessing that we are not the Christ, the Son of God. Nevertheless, as Luther writes in the Chief Hymn:

With might of ours can naught be done,
Soon were our loss effected;
But for us fights the valiant One,
Whom God Himself elected.
Ask ye, Who is this?
Jesus Christ it is,
Of Sabaoth Lord,
And there’s none other God;
He holds the field forever.

If we want to be eternally blessed by the battle of our Savior over Satan, nothing more is demanded of us than that we play the part of a believing spectator. The main thing we learn from today’s Gospel is to believe that Jesus Christ battled for us, in our place, for our freedom from sin and salvation from the devil. When we know and feel our sins weighing down upon us, we look to our Savior, the Champion from the stem of David, the Lion from the tribe of Judah. He holds the field forever. He has conquered in the strife between death and life. [1] Who is on the Lord’s side? asks Moses after the Israelites were caught in their sin of making the golden calf. We are on the Lord’s side when we believe He has won the battle over sin, death, and hell for us.

With the victor go the spoils. The battle spoils are here before your eyes in the Means of Grace. Here is nourishment for your starving soul. Here is Christ’s authority in Word, water, wine, and bread to take away your sins and give you His forgiveness and joy. From these Holy Things we are empowered to give attention to our protection from future temptations. Psalm 91 says, He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty…under His wings you will find refuge. INPFSS


[1] Adapted from C.F.W. Walther.

1 Response to Lent 1 – Matthew 4:1-11

  1. Edward Steeh

    Sehr schoen, Pr. Juhl!

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