Lent 1 – February 29th and March 1st, 2020 – Matthew 4:1-11
In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
If you want to have a good story, a good action adventure, you've got to have a strong villain. I mean, what would Star Wars be without Darth Vader, or what would would a Western be with out the desperado in his black hat. That's what makes the story a story – where there's a strong, powerful villain, and somehow, someway, the hero just barely manages to save the day by the skin of his teeth. That's how we like our adventure stories. Or even think about David and Goliath – there's a contest with a mighty villain. That's part of the reason why that story is still told and known even by people who couldn't care two licks about the Church. We love battles against mighty villains. And as such, our Gospel Lesson, the temptation of Jesus, is an utterly boring and disappointing story. If you want action and drama and tension, our Gospel lesson is an utter snooze fest. I mean, don't get me wrong – you can indeed look at this text like it is a battle, but it's never a battle in doubt. It's not a fair fight between equals. There stands Jesus, God Almighty, the Word of God by whom all things were made – and against Him stands merely Satan. Sure, Satan is strong by our standards, but all of his might, all his fierce scowling is as absolutely nothing compared to Jesus. Listen.
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. First things first – did you note that this confrontation is something that God seeks out? The Son of God goes forth to war. He goes to seek out Satan. But Satan knows he cannot stand against God Himself, so Jesus lures the devil out. Normally, one would expect an army going to battle to be well prepared – supply lines are vital, and as a former Army cook loved to tell me, an Army fights on its stomach. Jesus tosses that out the window. He goes out into the wilderness, to the dried out ruins of what should have been garden except for sin, and Jesus goes as a Man. He hungers. He suffers. He is physically weak – as weak as a kitten. It is as though Jesus is saying, “Here Devil, Devil, Devil, come out and play.” A tempting target for the Tempter.
Satan takes the bait. While the Devil may be stronger than any of us in this room, while he may be cunning and crafty, his rebellion against God is utterly doomed. He should have left Jesus alone, but instead, Satan makes his first attack. “And the Tempter came and said to Him, 'If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become bread.'” Now, Satan's attack here is a cunning one, and one that we can mishear. We hear “If you are the Son of God” as a call to prove it – like a put up or shut up sort of challenge. Let's see some power, let's see you flex your muscles. No – that's not the point here. We might hear this better this way – Since you are the Son of God. Jesus, you're standing there hungry and suffering. That's just silly – since you are the Son of God, go make some bread. You can, so go do it. And there, my friends, is a temptation that is so familiar to us. Now, none of us are the Word of God incarnate – but how often does temptation come at you this way? You don't deserve this – don't these people know who you are? Don't you know the power that you have, the opportunities that you could take advantage of? Why should you put up with all this stuff – why should you just let this stuff happen? Do you hear the temptation now? If you can, you ought! Jesus – you have power, use it. Use it to do whatever you think is best and make yourself happy. Not do what is right, or good – but just make yourself happy.
Jesus casually bats Satan's temptation aside. But He answered, “It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every Word that comes from the mouth of God.'” Around 1500 years earlier, Jesus had spoken these very words through Moses in this very same wilderness to the children of Israel just before they were to enter the land of Canaan. The temptation to serve yourself is not where there is life, Satan. Oh, sure, you tell sinful man that there's all sorts of things that they need to really have life – but there's only one thing that actually gives life. Me. The Word. And that's what I'm doing Satan, I'm here to rescue these people out of sin and death and give them life. And you still don't realize the world of hurt that you're in.
Satan tries again. Then the Devil took Him to the holy city and set Him on the pinnacle of the temple 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 their will bear you up lest you strike your foot against a stone.'” Oh, there's another good one from Satan. Twisting scripture to make it serve yourself – why that's a common one that He lays upon us all the time. You know, where we cherry-pick the Scriptures and try to use God's Word against Him? Where we think we can go before God and act as though He owes us something, trying to catch God in some verbal trap? Oh, we do this one all the time – this is the one that Satan uses all the time to trip up the pious, church going folks.
Again, Jesus casually bats it aside. Jesus said to him, “Again, it is written, 'You shall not put the LORD your God to the test.'” Yeah, no – that's not how the Bible works, Satan. That's not how God works. You don't presume upon God, you don't try to force God's hand. You don't need to, for God will give what is good. Okay – pause for a moment. Do you see what is going on? Satan is giving a good temptation here – I mean, this is a strong move... and Jesus just blows it off. Like it's nothing. Do you see how lopsided this is? Jesus isn't hard in thought, trying to find a way out of Satan's traps – Jesus is basically facepalming at how wrong Satan is. And this is a starved, worn out, and tied Jesus. This isn't a fair fight.
One last toss for Satan. Satan knows that he has met his match, more than his match. So what do you do when you are facing an enemy who is more powerful that you? You try to cut a deal. Again the Devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to Him, “All these I will give you, if you fall down and worship me.” So there's the deal. There's the offer. And understand, my friends, it is a serious offer. There's a reason we just called Satan “This world's prince” in the hymn we just sang. The true reality of sin is this – that we are born in bondage to sin and Satan and death. That's just how it is. That's how every life since Adam had gone – all those genealogies in the Old Testament that you don't like to read – well, part of the point to all of them is that they all died. My wife does stuff on Ancestry.com – and not a one of my Great-great-grandparents is running around alive. That's the power of sin and death and the Devil. And so Satan decides to cut a deal – let's not fight over mankind Jesus, because that will be uncomfortable. You can take them, just let me be in charge. Understand that it is a perfectly valid offer.
So there's Jesus – and there's the offer. He could have you without going to the cross, without suffering and dying, without Good Friday. Such an offer might give us something to ponder – but not Christ Jesus, God of Power and Might! 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.'” We know how this plays out, Satan. I've already said so. Oh, you'll bruise My heel, but I will crush your head underneath My heal – and I will give My people life everlasting and they shall worship Me alone for all eternity in the new heavens and the new earth that I shall make. You don't get to keep a thing, Satan.
And Satan has no choice but to flee. It's not even close. Jesus at His weakest still has power leaps and bounds beyond Satan, This isn't some epic contest of good versus evil – this is a heavyweight champ boxing an unruly toddler, this is shooting fish in a barrel. This is no contest. And not because Satan is weak, but because Jesus is God Almighty come to win your salvation, and nothing is going to stop Him.
You and I, we feel Satan's temptations all too often. You can I, we give in. You and I, we feel that bondage to sin still, we know that fear of death still, and it drives us. And when we see that, and know that, and it can cause us to despair. With might of ours could naught be done, soon were our loss effected. But for us fights the Valiant One, whom God Himself elected. Jesus does with ease what you cannot – and He does so for your good. Nothing is going to stop Jesus from being your Savior. Not even Satan – look, even with one arm and a forty day fast tied behind His back, Jesus doesn't even break a sweat against Satan. And this is what we will see Jesus do this Lent – we will see Him just tear apart the power of sin and death and Satan – it may be hard on Jesus, but it is never in doubt. And Jesus will go to the Cross, and He will die, He will dive on into Satan's kingdom and rip it apart from the inside, and He Himself will care for you, and forgive you and He will give you Bread with His Word to forgive you your sins and Him Himself will raise you up even after you're six feet under the ground. Because He said so. Because it is written. Because He has promised. And we don't need to haggle with Him, we don't need to try to find loopholes to make sure we make it. Christ Jesus has claimed you in the waters of Holy Baptism, and He has given you all that is His, His life and Salvation. And there's not a stinking thing Satan can do about it. The temptation shows you just how weak Satan is compared to Jesus, and Jesus always acts for your good. In the Name of Christ the Crucified +