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Lent 1 – Matthew 4:1-11

by pastorjuhl ~ February 27th, 2013

I am indebted to Rev. W.M. Cwirla for some thoughts on this text. Soli Deo Gloria!

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

            Most dangerous things have a fail-safe device. A fail-safe device responds in a way that will cause no harm, or at least a minimum of harm, to other devices or danger to people. Contrary to popular belief, a fail-safe device does not mean that failure is impossible. If a fail-safe device fails, it is “safe” or at least no less safe than when it is correctly operating.

Christians have a fail-safe device that never fails. There is zero probability of harm when you use this fail-safe device called God’s Word. The Word never fails, especially when Satan comes with temptations meant to point you away from salvation in Jesus Christ alone and toward the devil’s false security.

Jesus was hungry, having fasted forty days and nights. He is vulnerable, empty, weak, isolated in a way that Adam and Eve weren’t. This temptation is uniquely His. The devil waits for the opportune moment. Not at the beginning of Jesus’ fast, but at the end, at His weakest, His stomach screaming for a crumb of bread. If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread. He is the Son of God, the Word through whom all things, including the stones, were made and in whom they have their existence. What’s the big deal? Who would miss a few stones in the desert? Who would even know or care?

This is the temptation of the flesh and the appetites. We will do most anything for bread, if we are hungry enough. Human history teaches that quite well. We will sacrifice our freedom to one who promises bread for our tables. We will sacrifice even our unborn children for the sake of bread. But to live this way is not to live by every Word that comes from the mouth of God. The Word gives seed to the sower and bread to the eater. To have bread without the Word is to have a bread-god, an idol. Jesus, the Bread of Life, resists the temptation of the flesh in our flesh.

When Jesus needs bread in the wilderness, He multiplies it; He does not “transubstantiate” stones. That would be most un-Creatorlike, to destroy one thing to make another. He does not use His divine power to serve Himself and His needs, for He came not to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for the many.

Again, the devil comes to Him and takes Him to the holy city and the top of the temple. How this happened, we do not know, and it is none of our business. If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. And here the pious devil quotes a bit of Scripture, a snippet of a psalm – For He will command His angels concerning you, and on their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone. This is the temptation of faith. Does the Word in the flesh trust the Word of His Father? Or will He put it to the test?

Did God really say? Is God’s Word really true? Can it be that this Baptism is the water of rebirth and renewal? Can it be that this word is the Word of forgiveness? Can it be that this bread is the Body of Christ and this wine His blood? The psalm promises the protection of the angels to the one who trusts God. Surely Jesus had the angels on His side, didn’t He, if He was the Son of God? Angels would come and minister to Him, but not now and not here. He did not come to be lifted up on the temple, but on the cross, and there would be no angels to catch Him. He goes to death with nothing but trust in His Father, and He does it for us all.

How sneaky the devil is, to quote a psalm to Jesus. The devil is the chief distorter of the Scripture. The psalm goes on to say, You will tread upon the lion and the cobra; you will trample the great lion and the serpent. The devil left that part out. That’s about him. He knows what Jesus is there for, to crush his head with a cross-bruised heel. Jesus matches Scripture for Scripture faithfully – You shall not put the Lord your God to the test. To test the Word is to tempt God.

Again, the devil takes Jesus up to a very high mountain and shows Him all the kingdoms of the world in their glory. How this happened, we are not told, for it is none of our business. That it happened is what matters to us. The prince of this world versus the King of kings. All these I will give to you, if you will fall down and worship me. He tempted Jesus in His flesh and in His faith. Now the temptation is to His fidelity. Will He remain faithful and true to His Father?

This is a temptation unique to Jesus, and yet it is the temptation of every Christian and of the Church as well. To have a kingdom without a cross. The devil proposes a shortcut – a simple act of homage, bow down and worship, in exchange for all the glory of the kingdoms of this world. We exchange our worship for considerably less. For Jesus it was a way around Calvary, a way around the torment of crucifixion, an easy way to an end. But the end does not justify the means. You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only shall you serve.

The temptation of Christ was greater than the temptation of Adam. Where Adam fell, Christ stood. Where Adam yielded, Christ conquered. Where Adam hearkened to the Lie, Christ remained faithful to the truth. Where Adam betrayed himself and God, Christ remained true. In Adam, all became sinners and all die; in Christ, all are justified and all are raised to life.

Jesus conquered every human temptation with nothing but the Word and promise of God. And because He was tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin, we are able to pray, “Lead us not into temptation.” We will be tempted in the weakness of the flesh, in our faith, in our fidelity to the Word and the worship of God in Spirit and Truth. But know this, as baptized believers in Christ: Christ has conquered every temptation in the flesh, and in Him you conquer and He conquers the same in you. There will be times when we will be driven into the wilderness, left with nothing but the Word and promise of God. We will have come to the end of our prayers, our pieties, and our religion. We will hear nothing but silence from God. No miracles, no displays of power, no religious ecstasies. Only the devil whispering, “Are you a child of God? You are, aren’t you?” He failed with Jesus, but he’ll try it with you, like a roaring lion, looking from someone to swallow.

Resist him; stand firm in the faith. Shake your fist at him. Throw an inkbottle at him, if you’re so inclined, as Luther once did. Say, “I am baptized. I am a child of God, an heir of life, embraced by the death of Jesus my Lord and covered by the blood of Him who has you firmly under His foot. Christ defeated you in the wilderness and on the cross. You have nothing to say to me. As Christ my Lord said to you, so I say, Be gone, Satan! I belong to Christ and you cannot harm me. His Word is more than fail-safe. His Word never fails.”

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

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