Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.
Our text is today’s Gospel (Matthew 4:1–11): 1 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4 But he answered, “It is written, “ ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ ”
5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple 6 and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, “ ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and “ ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’ ”
7 Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ” 8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. 9 And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10 Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “ ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’”
11 Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him. (ESV)
Our Lord Jesus is led there by the Spirit to be tempted by the devil. Freshly baptized, Jesus has His Father’s own word: This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased. Jesus knows who He is in relation to His Father. He knows that He is the eternal Son of God, who has been sent from the Father to fulfill all righteousness, that is, to suffer and die as our Saviour.
Satan questions that relationship, not once, but three times. Temptation comes from three sources: the world, the flesh, and the devil. Ultimately, all temptation comes from the father of lies, the prince of hell. God is never the author of temptation. St. James tells us, 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 (1:13). Satan is the author of temptation and his target is always the First Commandment: You shall have no other gods.
Our Lord’s first temptation in the wilderness is a temptation of the flesh. Jesus had fasted forty days and nights and He was hungry. In such a state, the tempter comes to Him saying: If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread. Jesus is tempted to take for Himself the bread which the Father has not given. The temptation here is to doubt the goodness of God the Father, who has promised to open His hand and satisfy the desires of every living creature. Jesus is tempted to not be the obedient Son who does His Father’s will even when that will includes suffering. Jesus is tempted to use His divine sonship to serve Himself, to change rocks into loaves of bread.
But the Lord Jesus Christ does not give into the devil’s enticement. He answers Satan with His Father’s words: It is written, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God”.
Satan is not finished with Jesus. If he cannot break Jesus at the point of His fleshly hunger, then perhaps he can subdue Jesus by a temptation to worldly honour and success. Satan’s proposition is simple. “Jesus, if You are the Son of God, jump off the pinnacle of the temple and the angels will swoop down, pick you up, and carry you to safety.” Satan is tempting Jesus to put on a show, to demonstrate and prove to the world that He really is God’s Son. Again, Satan’s aim is to get Jesus to deny who He is in relationship to the Father. The Father sent His Son into the world not to dazzle the world with a display of God’s almighty power, but to take on the form of a servant and go to the cross as the sin-bearing Lamb of God. Jesus will not let go of that identity and the mission it entails. He answers Satan from the Word of God: Again it is written, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test”.
Satan then shows Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and their glory, and says, All these things I will give You if You fall down and worship me. Satan is saying to Jesus, “Take the easy way out. You want a kingdom? Don’t bother with establishing God’s kingdom through suffering and dying on the cross; just fall on your knees and acknowledge me as your lord, and I will hand over all the kingdoms of this world to you.” But Jesus will not give to Satan what belongs to God alone. He says: Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve”.
Then the devil left [Jesus], and behold, angels came and were ministering to him. Satan’s game plan was to get Jesus to choose some path other than the road that led to the cross. But Satan failed. Our Lord Jesus was victorious over Satan. He strove with Satan, and He won; His faithfulness endured.
Jesus, the Son of God, is the High Priest of our salvation, Who is able to sympathize with our weaknesses, for in every respect [He] has been tempted as we are, yet without sin (adapted from Hebrews 4:14-15). Where we stumble and fall, Jesus stood firm. Thus, in times of temptation, we look not to ourselves but to Jesus. Yes, in Jesus, we come boldly to [God’s] throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need (adapted from Hebrews 4:16). God sets that throne of grace before us today at the altar as He gives us the food that Satan cannot stomach—the Body and Blood of our Saviour. This is the food and drink that delivers the Lord’s victory to those who eat and drink in faith. And God also mercies and graces us through His Word—His Gospel promise—that for the sake of Jesus He forgives the iniquity of our sin.
At Jesus’ baptism, the Father and the Spirit confirm that Jesus is the beloved, eternal Son of God. Then in the desert, the devil tempts Jesus to deny who He is in relation to His Father and to live contrary to who He is as God’s Son. In our baptism, God made us His children. But the devil is ever tempting us to abandon the God who loves us and to live contrary to who we are as God’s holy children. The devil tempts us to live lives of unbelief and idolatry. And we often fall for the temptation; we don’t do the good we want to do and we do the evil we don’t want to do. How many times have you abandoned the God who loves you, instead making idols out of money, possessions, and earthly pleasures and neglecting God’s Word and Supper and His call to repentance? How many times have you denied being a baptized child of God by your thinking and behaving no differently than an unbeliever? We all have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God. That is why God calls us to repent daily, that we may be renewed daily in the true faith that trusts alone in the Lord’s victory over Satan. Confessing our sins and trusting God to forgive us for the sake of His victorious Son Jesus, we live as God’s dearly-loved children in holy confidence that our Lord’s victory over the devil, sin, and death is now our own victory.
And yet, until we die, we will find ourselves engaged in daily battles and struggles against the world, our sinful flesh, and the devil. The battles are not easy. The struggles are real and painful. But we do not fight in our own strength and we are never alone. For we are baptized into Jesus, our Champion who has won the victory for us. And through His Gospel and His Holy Supper, our Lord Jesus graces and strengthens us to fear, love, and trust God above all things and to live as His redeemed, forgiven children.
And so when we do sin, let us not persist in or despair over our sins, as great and grievous as they are. Rather, with repentant hearts, let us look to Christ alone. Let us remember how our Lord Jesus won the victory for us. Jesus did what we could never do. He lived a perfect life of love, resisting the devil’s temptations every time. And on the cross Jesus stretched out His loving arms to embrace the whole world in His holy death. Jesus, the eternal Son of God, died for sinners. And in dying for us, He has set us free from Satan’s bondage. He has won for us forgiveness for all our failures to love God and to live as God’s children. And He now calls us to hold fast to our confession of faith in Christ. “O Lord, only in You can we hold fast to a true confession; in You, then, we approach Your throne of grace with holy confidence, that we may receive Your mercy and grace to help us in our need. We thank You that through Your Holy Word and Supper, You keep us our whole lives, even unto death, in Your victory of salvation! Amen.”