1st Sunday in Lent
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, In the chapel at the Seminary in Wisconsin there is a beautiful, large organ. The room itself isn’t all that large, perhaps about as large as our sanctuary here, but the organ is quite large especially for that room. It’s a pipe organ and it takes up an entire wall of the chapel with large metal pipes. Well, often times throughout the school year many different WELS members and many children from different WELS grade schools and high schools will come to the campus for a tour. The first stop on the tour is the chapel with the organ. Well, on the pipes of this organ there is a fairly prominent sign that reads, “Do not touch.” Whenever I walked by those organ pipes it always amazed me just how many fingerprints were all around that sign! It’s almost as if something was just screaming out from that sign, begging to be touched. That same thing happens all the time with kids, doesn’t it? “There was a sign that told you not to, so why did you do it?” “I don’t know, it just looked like fun.”
Behind every trial and temptation there is a test, isn’t there? Finally it comes down to a matter of trust. Who are you going to trust? And our response to the trial or temptation is what reveals what is in our hearts. In the case of the sign on the organ pipes the real question was: Are you going to trust the authority who put that sign up there or are you going to trust yourself? Are you going to trust the person who determined touching those pipes was a bad idea or are you going to trust yourself and consider it no big deal? Finally, God knows us through and through and yet He uses times of testing, trials, and temptations to reveal both to Him and to us what is in our hearts, do we trust Him?
The devil, however, has a totally different purpose when it comes to temptations. Who is the devil? Originally the devil was an obedient angel of God. However, sometime between the 7th day of creation and the Fall of Adam and Eve, the devil rebelled against God, in a sense he wanted to be god himself. Well, he was cast out of heaven and with God’s permission he is allowed to roam the earth and test the faith of believers. But his goal is not to refine faith or foster a greater relationship with God; he wants to take people down. He wants to lead people into sin because he knows that sin leads away from God and destroys faith, robbing people of eternal life.
Well, now put yourself in the devil’s shoes. What better way to accomplish your goal of bringing humans down to suffer with you in hell than to bring their Savior down and destroy their chances of eternal life with one shot. I don’t know what was at stake if people kept touching those organ pipes- perhaps the metal would eventually discolor, maybe the pipes would eventually need to be replaced, but the stakes in the devil’s temptations are much higher. If he can get you to sin or think lightly about sin, he’s well on his way to bringing you down. But there’s a bit of me that shudders at this account in our text this morning. So much is at stake here. The whole fate of humankind is hanging in the balance. If Jesus bowed down, if Jesus jumped, if Jesus just made some bread everything, everything would have been lost! This isn’t just a trivial story; this is a matter of eternal life and eternal death. There’s so much of hell that we can’t comprehend- the scorching fire, the unbearable heat, the worm that does not die! If Jesus just slipped a little bit, that would be our fate.
So what do we learn about temptation from the temptations our Savior went through?
Following the Holy Spirit’s direction Jesus was led out into the wilderness and for 40 days he was tempted by the devil. During this time he also didn’t eat anything. You can imagine not eating anything for 40 days would leave a person physically weak. And it was at this point when as to Jesus’ human nature he was the weakest when the devil lodges this temptation, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.” What is Satan doing? He’s trying to raise a cloud of doubt. He wants to break Jesus’ perfect trust in God the Father. Think about it, “IF you are the Son of God” is a direct contradiction to what happened at Jesus’ baptism when heavens opened and God said, “You are my Son, whom I love.” “But maybe you aren’t. Finally, isn’t it beneath the Son of God to be hungry like a beggar? Prove you are the Son of God and use your divine power to escape human suffering.” The devil is trying to insert doubt, maybe God won’t take care of you and sustain you, maybe you should do something for yourself apart from the Father’s will.
Now he does the same thing to us, doesn’t he? He tries to lead us to doubt God, to have a lack of trust in God above all things. “If God really loved you, then…” “If God really cared about you, don’t you think you’d have…” “If God was really in control, would this really be happening?” And just like the kid touching the organ pipes, so often we give in, don’t we? “Apparently God isn’t going to help me here, so I better take matters into my own hands.”
But notice how our Lord Jesus responds, “It is written: Man does not live on bread alone (but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord).” The devil focused attention on the bread alone; Jesus directs the attention to the one who stands behind the bread. Here Jesus showed perfect trust in God and reliance on him. You see, bread would have no value to anyone, it would not satisfy anyone, without God’s command and His provision that baked grain should fill someone and satisfy hunger. Jesus had total trust in God to take care of Him no matter what the situation.
Next, the devil came to Him and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and said, “I will give you all their authority and splendor, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. So if you worship me, it will be yours.” Satan is a master liar. Here he promises something that he cannot give. “Surely the Father wants you to have authority, Jesus, just give me your allegiance and all will be yours. No need to go through all that suffering, that bitter journey to the cross, bow down to me and it will be a short step to the crown.” But Satan doesn’t own the world, rather he is a usurper of authority. The only authority he has is when people place themselves under his authority by rejecting God. If Jesus bowed down to him, He wouldn’t have gained anything, but would have become Satan’s slave, doing his bidding.
He tempts us in a similar way, doesn’t he? “Getting power, getting ahead in life is the main thing. It doesn’t matter how you do it, it doesn’t matter how many people you use or step on to do it. It doesn’t matter how many compromises to your faith it takes, a little lying here, a little cheating there, a little greed here, the main thing is getting ahead.”
But notice Jesus’ response: “It is written: Worship the Lord your God and serve him alone.” Jesus didn’t come to bow to the devil, but to conquer him. Jesus came not to side-step his Father’s will but to do what God wanted, not to lord power over people, but to serve God all the time by suffering on the cross to serve mankind in the greatest way.
Finally, the devil led Jesus to a high point of the temple in Jerusalem. Some say 600 feet high and said, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, he will command his angels concerning you to guard you…so you won’t even strike your foot.” Now he has him, “If you’re so confident in God then why don’t you throw yourself down from here and trust in his care. And look! It’s even in the bible! He’ll command angels to care for you! (never mind my twisting and taking it out of context) The real way to prove your trust is to do something outrageous and test a promise of God to the limit! Jump!” The devil is an expert in handling Scripture. But he twists it.
He does this today by putting up scenarios: If God really cared about you, then you should be able to do this. We show a lack of trust in God when we try to “force” him to act on our behalf. We want to see if God is for us or against us. Perhaps it’s not jumping off buildings, but it’s walking into a situation where we say, “If you are for me God then this situation will turn out this way.” We test God’s “emergency broadcast system” and set ourselves up for failure because what is in our best interests might not be what we plan!
But Jesus answered: “It says: Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” If Jesus had jumped he would be deliberately asking God to do a miracle to prove that he had not forsaken him. Jesus used the written word to defeat the devil’s temptations. Then the devil left him. He had nothing left to tempt him with.
So, why did Jesus do this? Three reasons:
First, Jesus did so to show us how the devil’s temptations are defeated. Notice Jesus said, “It is written.” The devil can’t stand up to God’s Word. Remember what we just sang? “One little word can fell him.” Maybe it’s Bible passages posted around places you frequently are, maybe it’s one in your car if you’re tempted to lose your temper while driving, maybe it’s on your computer screen if you’re tempted to waste time or look at things you shouldn’t, maybe it’s wherever the devil tempts you to distrust God. But perhaps even better is knowing what God’s word says so well in your head, like the Savior, that you can recall His Word whenever the devil attacks.
Second, Jesus went through this all, letting the devil try all his cunning and trickery on him, in order that we might have a Savior, who was tempted in all points like we are, and to whom we might go for strength with confidence in His ability to understand our temptations and help us overcome them.
And finally, I know who I am, I know my past history, I know my limitations, if I was there I would have made an utter mess of this and I think you would have too. You and I have made a mess of the devil’s temptations in our lives. Thank the Lord that we weren’t there. Thank the Lord that our perfect substitute was there. What incredible love of our God that Jesus subjected himself to the full force of Satan’s temptations. Why? In order to win the battle for us, in order to be perfect for us for all the times we’ve failed to fight the foe’s temptations. That’s the most important.
Jesus’ victory over Satan here culminated with his victory over Satan on the cross. Although we at times give in to the devil’s lies, Christ never did. He is our Champion. By faith in Him we are assured of our final victory. Trusting in God and empowered by Christ come what may, cling to Christ your Champion. Amen.