Invocabit (Lent I) - Matthew 4:1-11 - February 14, 2016
Order of Service - Pg. 15
Hymn #290 We Have a Sure Prophetic Word
Hymn #262 A Mighty Fortress
Hymn #446 Rise, My Soul, To Watch and Pray
2 Corinthians 6:1-10
Collect for Invocabit
O Lord, mercifully hear our prayer and stretch forth the right hand of Thy majesty to defend us from them that rise up against us; through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.Sermon on the Holy Gospel
Grace and Peace be unto you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
1) “Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” This is the first act of Jesus’ public ministry. He had just been baptized by John in the River Jordan. God the Father had just opened heaven and declared Jesus to be His beloved Son in whom He is well pleased. God the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus in the form of a dove. Then that same Holy Spirit led Jesus to the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. It’s worth noting that was deliberate. It wasn’t as if Jesus went for a stroll and the devil happened to find him. God the Father puts His Only-Begotten Son in Satan’s crosshairs. God the Holy Ghost leads Him to the wilderness for that specific purpose. St. Mark, in his brief account of this event, describes it more forcefully. In Mark’s gospel “the Spirit drove Him into the wilderness” (Mark 1:12). The Spirit threw Him there. The Spirit compelled Christ to face Satan. But it’s understandable. This is the reason Jesus has assumed human flesh. This contest has been fermenting since the Garden of Eden. Temptation comes to Adam in Paradise and he succumbs to the temptation to live by His own word and imagination instead of God’s word. The serpent is cursed first. “On your belly you shall go, and you shall eat dust all the days of your life” (Genesis 3:14). He then looks at Adam, curses the ground, and concludes, “For dust you are and to dust you shall return.” Since that moment the Devil, that ancient serpent, has spent every moment crawling on his belly devouring men with deception about the Divine, leading men to Hell with lies about God, and murdering their souls with mendacities. In between the curse of the serpent and the curse of Adam lies the promise of which we hear the fulfillment today. The Lord says to the Serpent, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and hers Seed; He shall bruise your head and you shall bruise His heel” (Genesis 3:15). In the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness we hear how the Lord God begins to fulfill that ancient promise, the first Gospel given to sinful man. Jesus is led, driven, compelled and shoved into the desert by the Spirit because God the Father wants Jesus to be tempted.
2) And this should be a great comfort to us, that it is the Father’s will to drive His Son into temptation. This happens not only to fulfill sacred Scripture but to show you that just as Christ was not abandoned during His temptation, so the Father does not abandon you in yours. It was God’s will that Christ be tempted by the devil, and it is God the Father’s will that you be tempted by the Devil as well. We must remember the words of St. James, who writes about this very thing. He writes, “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” (James 1:13). It is not God the Father tempting Jesus, nor is it God tempting you to sin in the moment of temptation, for God does not desire evil. David says of God in Psalm 5:4, “You are not a God who takes pleasure in wickedness, Nor shall evil dwell with You.” God allows Jesus to be tempted to break Satan’s power over sinners. He also shows in Christ’s temptation that He does not abandon those whom He places in the devil’s crosshairs, but rather strengthens them through His Word. When you are tempted you ought not to say, “God has abandoned me!” Nor should you think that if you feel temptation that you are no longer a Christian, for Christ Himself was tempted by the devil. Instead, God allows temptation to befall His Only-Begotten Son and His sons by the adoption of baptism in order to test them, exercising their faith so as to strengthen it by feeding it with the Word. Don’t think that God leaves you and that is when temptation arises. It is quite the opposite. In the moment of temptation God is allowing it and He wants to use this trial to exercise your faith in the Word. Do not be discouraged that you are tempted. Rather rejoice! If Satan was bold enough to tempt the incarnate Son of God, that you face temptation is confirmation that you belong to Christ and are being conformed into His likeness.
3) The next great comfort Jesus gives us in His temptation is that He shows us how we are to stand against the Devil. If we face temptation by ourselves we will fall. We often forget that our own flesh is tainted with sin and desires to sin. Satan’s temptations are always temptations to fulfill our own desires, to do what our flesh already wants to be doing. In fact, Luther wrote on many occasions that Satan’s temptations are most often in the realm of spiritual affairs and the conscience while it is our own flesh that seduces us to worldly sins. Luther writes in the Large Catechism, about the sixth petition of the Lord’s prayer, “For in the flesh we dwell and carry the old Adam about our neck, who exerts himself and incites us daily to inchastity, laziness, gluttony and drunkenness, avarice and deception, to defraud our neighbor and to overcharge him, and, in short, to all manner of evil lusts which cleave to us by nature, and to which we are incited by the society, example and what we hear and see of other people, which often wound and inflame even an innocent heart.” Being beset by the Devil, the world, and our flesh, we will succumb if we rely upon worldly weapons like will-power. Will power alone cannot fight temptation because the will is also tainted with sin and desires to sin. So we must look to Christ and see the weapons He uses against the devil. He not only shows us the weapons but He gives us the weapons by which we may defend ourselves and extinguish the fiery darts of the devil. Jesus does not engage in physical combat with the devil. Nor does He argue and banter with Satan. That is the quickest route to defeat. Satan has been tempting a lot longer than you’ve even been around. Jesus simply relies upon the Word of God. He uses the Word, not as a magic formula, not as a silver bullet. He uses it in faith, trusting that God’s Word means what it says and effects that which is says.
4) When Satan tempts Jesus to turn stones into bread Jesus rebuffs the temptation with the undiluted word. “If you are the Son of God, command that the stones become bread.” Jesus answers, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’” But Jesus is doing more here than saying the Father will provide for His hunger. Not that isn’t true, but there’s more to Jesus’ use of the Scripture from Deuteronomy 8:3. The devil is far too crafty to simply strike at Jesus’ empty stomach. The temptation isn’t about bread. The issue is bread, but the bread hides the true temptation. It is a temptation that is reminiscent of Adam and Eve’s temptation in the Garden. They were tempted with the words, “You will be like God” (Genesis 3:5). There the devil’s temptation was to doubt that God’s provision is good and to imagine what it would be like if they knew just as much as God did, the knowledge of good and evil. Eve’s temptation was, “Does God really favor you? If He does, why can’t you eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil? Why does God put a tree in the garden that you’re not supposed to eat? He’s hiding something from you. He’s holding back something that you don’t have, but should. You deserve to be like God and call your own shots, be like God, or be your own God.”
5) Satan’s temptation of Jesus is no different. “If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.” You can hear the serpent hiss in that conditional phrase, “If you are the Son of God.” It’s as if Satan had said, “God just called you His beloved Son in whom He is well pleased. I heard it there at the River Jordan. But now you languish from hunger? Is this the way the Father treats His Son? Perhaps you’re not as beloved as He says. Turn these stones to bread because God is holding out on you. He doesn’t really favor you as His Son. Turn these stones to bread. Be like God. Be your own God.” Jesus’ answer of Deuteronomy 8:3 is less about bread and more about faith that the Father gives only good things, even when it appears otherwise. Jesus trusts His Father’s Word more than the sensation in his stomach and more than the desires of His digestive tract. Jesus shows us that in temptation His weapon was the Word and the Word alone. He relies fully on the Word, so much that He sees past the carnal aspect of the temptation, bread, food, hunger, and sees what is truly at stake. Such is the case in your temptations. Every temptation is temptation to doubt God’s gracious provision for you so that you turn stones into bread, so that you find your own way of providing for your needs rather than trusting your Father in heaven who says to you in Holy Baptism, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased. Every temptation is a temptation to disbelieve God’s Word given at your baptism, and every promise given to you in the Scripture. To combat this you must immerse yourself in the Scriptures. You must read them, mark them, learn then, and inwardly digest them. In temptation you must use the Word and you must use it in faith, trusting it more than you feel your desire.
6) The last two temptations are similar. You see that the Devil is a master of a thousand arts, even twisting and maligning Scripture, quoting it, taking verses out of context, all in order to deceive Jesus, and His Christians, to doubt God’s Word and behavior as his own God. Finally the Devil offers Jesus a shortcut to circumvent the cross, offering Him the kingdoms of the world without having to suffer and die. At this most crass of the temptations Jesus commands the devil to leave. In this we see that at times, Satan’s temptations are sometimes subtle, at other times obvious and crass. In either situation we must do as Christ our Lord did, and stick with the Word, trusting it to be certain and true no matter what, and trusting that the Word is effective. Finally we see our Lord Jesus victorious over Satan, which comforts us by showing us that though we endure temptation in this life, and thought we daily fall into sin on account of Satan’s temptations and the weakness of our faith, we see that Christ destroys the works of the Devil. So He promises to give all His Christians a way of temptation, and that is not that the temptation ceases, but that He strengthen our faith and resolve though the Word so that we might stand firm against the Devil’s assaults, and though we fall, receive forgiveness by faith, and overcome on the Last Day. Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all human understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus Amen.