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Blessed Johann Gerhard on Lent 1 – Matthew 4:1-11

by pastorjuhl ~ March 9th, 2011

For just as skirmishes usually precede the arrival of the actual massive slaughter [of the battle], so also Christ – before He wanted to deliver the death blow, slaughtering the devil with His suffering, death, descent into hell, and resurrection – first wanted to attack him with a routine, initial strike, as we see in this Gospel lesson.

Just as Christ wanted to begin His office of ministry with temptation, so He also wanted to continue it. As Luke 4:13 records, Thus the devil departed from Him for a while, so also he came back again later on. He also wanted to conclude His ministry with temptation. For just as He had to hear from the devil: If you are God’s Son, then tell these stones to become bread, so He also had to later on hear upon the cross: If you are God’s Son, then step down from the cross, Mat. 27:40. Thus the entire life of Christ was one of contesting against temptation.

Christ wanted to teach true fasting with His example: It does not consist of a person refraining from certain foods at certain times and regarding that as being meritorious and as a satisfaction for sin. Instead, the following is a true, God-pleasing fast, namely, “The primary, great universal fast,” as Augustine calls it, is a person abstains from the lusts of the flesh which strive against the soul, 1 Pet. 2:11, where a person then does not fulfill the lusts of the flesh, Gal. 5:16. Also, all members con fast in this manner if they do not give in to the servitude of impurity, but instead to the weapons of righteousness, Rom. 6:13, 19.

Following this there is a daily fast: moderation. With it is observed an appropriate restraint in eating and drinking in order that one becomes adept at praying, skillful at his calling, and in the exercise of godliness. Also, this is of such a vital, essential necessity that Christ speaks with words worthy of reflection and contemplation: However, you be on guard so that your hearts do not become burdened with gobbling food and boozing, lest this final day comes upon you like an ensnaring trap, Luke 21:34-35. If it were not of the utmost importance, Christ never would have used such stern words.

Finally, there is a mourning and prayer fast, especially for when a person amidst general or specific misfortunes – or also when confronted with imminent common need – initiates a fast so that he may all the more be humbly devoted to prayer in acknowledgment of his sin. So also it was a fine practice with the ancient fathers that prior to the high Festivals and prior to the observance of the most worthy Lord’s Supper they would abstain from food and drink on the day before, or only ate one meal. They did this in order to become all the more adroit at prayer, at repenting and pondering the divine Word. Yet, here one dare never prescribe any specific, general rule, nor designate any specific times. Each person has to examine himself and thereby see to it that he also attend to the body so that he does not become lascivious, cf. Rom. 13 and 14.

During times of such temptations we should by true faith encase and surround ourselves with the divine promises of the Word; and we should realize that it is not because of temporal fortune or misfortune that one determines who is a child of God. Instead, we should all the more realize and know that God chastises His most beloved before others, Heb. 12:6.

Also with this little verse Christ wants to show us that trusting in God’s goodness and omnipotence shall not fail us, even though natural means do fail and are not at hand. For God’s Word is far more powerful than all natural means, because it also gives the natural means their power, and without the Word they are unable to be powerful. Bread in and of itself does not nourish us. Instead, it is the mighty Word of God in the bread which sustains us. Medicine in and of itself does not make one well; rather, it is the mighty Word of God in the medicine.

What the devil had omitted here [in the second temptation], we should add on from Psalm 91; namely, that God wants to protect us with His angels if we live according to His ways. That is to say, we have no cause to trust in divine support and angelic protection unless we walk according to God’s way and remain within the confines of His Word and our calling.

The devil so beautifully portrays before the eyes of many the glory of this world, and its riches, glory, power, and voluptuousness so that they cling to it with their whole heart. They waver from God and His truth; and, for the sake of such worthless, fleeting, miserable things, they forsake the highest Good. For no temporal, earthly thing is able to establish and instill rest and peace into the heart of man. Only God – the only, highest true Good – is able to do it.

That’s why if glory, riches, power and other great gifts are present, then of course the heart must not rely on them, Ps. 62:10, much less should God’s Word be set aside from the heart and eye in order to obtain the temporal.

As our poor human nature was conquered through Adam by the devil as he actually besieged Adam with such temptations, so also our human nature has once more become victorious through the Second Adam – through Christ. St. Jerome comments concerning Psalm 44 that “that the victory of the LORD is the servants’ triumph.” This is not only in regard to merit, but also as to results. He wants to fight within us and conquer; His strength is to become mighty amidst our weakness, 2 Cor. 12:9.

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