Sermon for Lent I (Invocavit) - Matthew 4:1-11 - February 22, 2015
1) Jesus’ temptations are our temptations. Don’t you see the resemblance? Can you hear the serpent’s hiss? The Devil approaches Jesus and slyly suggests, “If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.” (Matthew 4:3) Externally, the temptation is to listen to your gurgling belly and fill it, obey your body’s desires. But it is a far more insidious than that. The Devil knows where Jesus had been forty days ago. He had heard the words of God the Father Almighty from heaven as Jesus emerged from baptismal water, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17) His temptation is to doubt that publically spoken word of God given in baptism. “Why are you here, Jesus, in the middle of the desert, if you are God’s son? If your Father truly loves you and holds you dear why are you hungry? If your Father is really well pleased with you then why are you suffering so? Perhaps it is not true that you are the Father’s beloved son. Perhaps it is not true that you are well pleasing to him? He doesn’t seem to be providing for you so you ought to provide for yourself. He has allowed this terrible suffering to come upon you but you can end it, can’t you?” The temptation is to reject God’s Word given in baptism. That word gave an identity, Son of God, beloved, well pleasing. The Devil wants Jesus to forsake His identity so that He might fill His belly and satisfy the desires of the flesh.
2) Jesus rebuffs the temptation to disbelieve the Word of the Lord with another word of the Lord. “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’” (Matthew 4:4) For the beloved, well-pleasing Son of God, life is more than food and having plenty. True life comes from the Word of God. God can nourish His sons without physical bread and keep them alive solely by His Word since His word is our true source of life. So it for you. The baptized son of God will live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. But so often you want bread. And not just bread, but everything that has to do with this body and life. If you feel that you don’t have these things in abundance then God must really be angry with you, that He is holding out on you, and that you are most certainly not His son through baptism. These are the Devil’s ideas. He wants you to doubt God’s provision. Satan wants you to see only inedible rocks all around you in your life. He wants you to disbelieve that God is your true Father and that the Word spoken over you at your baptism is a lie, that you are not a son of God, that you are not beloved, and that you are not well pleasing to Him by faith in Christ. But the promise remains. The Father takes care of His children. We see in Christ that God the Father allows His Only-Begotten Son to suffer but that suffering makes Him no less a Son of God, neither does any suffering mean that God has taken back His word of promise. You do not live by what goes into your belly. You live by what goes into your ears and heart in God’s Word.
3) In the second temptation we see the Devil tempting Jesus with a false religiosity. Jesus is taken to the pinnacle of the temple, the most holy spot in on the earth. The Devil suggests that the Lord throw Himself down, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down. For it is written: 'He shall give His angels charge over you,' and, 'In their hands they shall bear you up, Lest you dash your foot against a stone.'” (Matthew 4:6) In the temptation to turn stones into bread, the Devil tempted Jesus to despise the spoken word of God given to Him in baptism. Here at the pinnacle of the temple Jesus is tempted to twist God’s written word to prove that He loves Him. It is, in effect, the same temptation with which Satan attacked Eve in the Garden. “Did God really say?” “Didn’t He say, dear Jesus, that He would protect you with His holy angels? Did God really promise that He would care for you in any circumstance? Then prove it by throwing yourself down from this high place.” Satan wants Jesus to overstep the bounds of Scripture, to do something that God has not commanded to prove God’s favor.
4) This is a very tricky temptation because it is a spiritual temptation. The Devil comes to you as well, tempting you to tempt God. He whispers into your ear, “Does God really have good things for you? Is He really for you rather than against you? Have Him prove it to you.” Then he fills your mind with the desire for signs and wonders that will demonstrate God’s goodness to you. When we succumb to this temptation we are looking past the promises God makes to us in the Word, neglecting them, and thinking of more lavish ways for God to show us His favor. The Lord does promise to send His angels concerning you to protect you if you live according to His ways. This is what the entirety of Psalm 90:11 says, “For He shall give His angels charge over you, To keep you in all your ways.” The devil leaves out the final phrase, “to keep you in thy ways” because he is a liar and distorter of Scripture. Jesus was to walk the ways of God, which at this point was for Him to suffer for our sakes. But with this temptation the Devil wants Jesus, and all of us, to forsake the way of the Lord, test His promises, and fall to the ground broken.
5) In the third temptation the Devil tempts Jesus with flagrant wealth, honor and power. Showing Jesus all the kingdoms of the this world, the Devil tempts, “All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me.” (Matthew 4:9) Whether these kingdoms are the Devil’s to give or not is beside the point. It is not just the temptation to honor, wealth, and glory. It is the temptation to embrace these so that Jesus leave behind the shame, poverty, and suffering for which God the Father had sent Him. This is the Devil’s temptation for Jesus to give up the cross. There is no, “If you are the son of God” at the beginning of this temptation but it is most certainly implied. “If you are the Son of God, why are you suffering for the sins of the world? If you are the Son of God, where is your honor, your wealth, and your glory? If you are the Son of God, where is your majestic kingdom?” This is the temptation to shun suffering and forsake the world for which He suffers and dies.
6) To this temptation Jesus simply says, “Away with you, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only you shall serve.’” (Matthew 4:10) The true worship of God is to look to the Father in faith, seeking only good from Him, which He will give in His own time and in His own ways. And for Jesus, the good and gracious will of the Father is that He live His life under the Law of Moses perfectly, that He suffer at the hands of sinful men, die and be buried to atone for the sins of the world. You are often tempted with wealth, honor, and glory. These are not evil things in and of themselves. But the temptation is to worship them. So you are tempted to serve mammon rather than God when the offering plate comes by. So you are tempted to rely upon temporal things for your security rather than God’s promised provision. The Devil promises you that all these things will alleviate suffering, misfortune, and pain. But to embrace them and serve these things will only take your soul further and further from the Lord.
7) The temptations of Jesus are our temptations. We are tempted to doubt God’s provision for us. We are tempted to doubt His true and efficacious Word and walk in ways outside that word. We are tempted to place our trust in temporal things rather than in the merits and death of Jesus. These are our temptations just as they have been every man’s temptations since the serpent first slithered into the Garden of Eden. For there our first parents were tempted in the same manner, with the fruit of the tree, to doubt God’s provision, His Word, and to worship their own honor rather than guard their Lord’s honor. But where Adam failed in paradise, surrounded by plenty, Jesus succeeds, surrounded by lack. Jesus assumes our temptations so that He might destroy the power of the tempter over us. He endures the temptations of Satan so that He might be victorious over temptation in every respect and give that victory to us by faith. We strive against temptation on a daily basis. In every temptation we are victorious not by trying harder, not by beating the temptation at that moment, but by clinging to Christ’s victory over Satan, that since Christ was victorious, that means that I am victorious and will be forever so on the Last Day. Do not listen to His temptations but fill your ears and hearts with the pure promises of God that He has defeated Satan. Do not listen to Satan’s accusations against you when you do fall to His cunning and fail in the hour of temptation. Listen instead to the Word of God given to you at your baptism, that you are God’s beloved son whom He promises to always forgive. Do not hear the word of the Devil that wants to drive you to trust in anything other than the merits of Christ. Jesus’ temptations are your temptations so that Jesus’ victory over Satan can be your victory by faith in Jesus. Amen.