There is both good and evil in the world. Which do you think is greater? Many by observing history determine that there is more evil than good in the world. One would think that the Second World War, which caused the death of over 60 million people yet saw to the collapse of perhaps the most evil, murderous governments in human history, would have put an end to mass murders. Yet, in the decades since nations from around the world have attempted genocides and performed mass murders on their people. Even in our country there is a silent mass killing of the unborn which has reached over 60 million victims since 1973. It certainly has become apparent that when evil is overcome in one place it pops up in another.
Evil is ubiquitous; it is everywhere. We see it even in our own hearts, as Jesus himself tells us. So, it appears that evil is greater than good and ultimately evil will triumph over good. Yet, in our Gospel lesson we learn the exact opposite. Good triumphs over evil. Christ Jesus is God. He is the source of all good. Satan is evil. He is the source of all wickedness. Satan tries to defeat Jesus by tempting him into sin, but Jesus overcomes Satan by withstanding temptation.
Jesus’ victory over Satan is significant for us in two ways. First and most importantly, Jesus is victorious in our stead. He is our substitute. God credits Jesus’ obedience as ours. Second, Jesus overcomes Satan’s temptations as our example. We learn from Jesus how to overcome temptation in our own day-to-day lives.
Jesus is our substitute. You must understand this if you are to understand that you are saved by grace. Many believe that when God saves by grace, he simply overlooks sin. If someone is confronted with breaking one of God’s commandments the response is often, “But God loves everyone.” or “Jesus says, don’t judge.” or “Everyone’s a sinner.” Yet, that God saves by grace does not mean that God simply overlooks sin or doesn’t care about sin. God is a righteous God. He hates sin and punishes it. Good must triumph over evil, not simply ignore it. Rather, that God saves by grace means that God saves us through Jesus apart from our works. Grace means that God saves us apart from our works, but not apart from Jesus’ works.
What does it mean that God saves us through Jesus? It means that Jesus fulfills all righteousness through his own obedience, so that we might be saved through faith. Sin is disobedience to God. We are disobedient to God. Jesus is obedient to God and God credits Jesus’ obedience to us through faith. We are sinners because our first father Adam was disobedient to God’s command. Christ comes to undo the sin of Adam through his own obedience, as St. Paul writes in Romans 5, “For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.” (vs. 19) God looks at you favorably, because of Jesus’ obedience.
Jesus’ obedience is divided into two parts: his active obedience and his passive obedience. Jesus’ active obedience is where he fulfills the obligations of the Law in our place. St. Paul speaks of this in Galatians 4, “But when the fulness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” (vss. 4-5) Jesus Christ, in human flesh, does what no human being from Adam to this generation, has been able to do; he obeys God’s law perfectly. He does not do this for his own sake, but for ours. God credits this active obedience to us by grace.
Christ’s passive obedience is his willing suffering and death for our sins. St. Paul speaks of this passive obedience in Galatians 3, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us--for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.’” (vs. 13) and again, in Philippians 2, “And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on the cross.” (vs. 8) This passive obedience is usually what we think of when we think of Jesus as our substitute. He suffered in our place. Yet, it is both his active and his passive obedience which saves us. If Christ had not been actively obedient in fulfilling the commands of God’s law, his passive obedience in suffering for our sins would not rescue us. Jesus needed to be perfect for his passion to save us. Christ redeems us with a great exchange: he exchanges his perfect obedience for our sin and the punishment we rightly deserve he bears on the cross and gives us full remission of sins and eternal life.
Christ’s victory when tempted was essential to his victory over the grave. And the ramifications for us cannot be overstated. In this episode we see a battle between the two greatest extremes: the greatest Good verses the greatest Evil. The victory of the Allied powers over the Axis of Evil is nothing in comparison. And what is truly remarkable is that Jesus does this in human flesh. He is our David, who slays our Goliath.
In each of Jesus’ three temptations from the devil, he does as a human what we humans fail to do. Yet, he endures temptation just like the rest of mankind and he overcomes the same temptations, which fell Adam and Eve, the children of Israel, and you and me. And he does this by using the same tool that is available to us: the word of God. This is how the author to the Hebrews is able to write, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15)
In the first temptation, Satan attempts to make Jesus commit the same sin he lured Adam and Eve to commit on that dreadful day. Turning stones into bread is eating the forbidden fruit, because it is doubting that God will provide for the body while neglecting God’s Word. God gave Adam and Eve more than enough food to satisfy their bodies, but Satan convinced them to be dissatisfied with what God had given them. The desire to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was an accusation that God withheld something good from them. Satan tempts us into this same sin today. He drives us to break the Third Commandment by despising God’s preaching and word, because we think God will let us starve or lose our house if we worship him instead of working. But Jesus, who hasn’t eaten in 40 days still trusts that God will provide for his body. “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Thus, it is written for us as well.
And so, the swing which fell our first parents, and which caused the children of Israel to grumble in the wilderness, and which leaves churches sparsely filled throughout the land, failed to fell Jesus, our champion.
In the second temptation Satan broke the Second Commandment by misusing God’s Word. He quoted Psalm 91, which we recited in our Gradual. Yet, Satan leaves out a very important line, so as to mislead Jesus. The text goes like this, “For He shall give His angels charge over you, to keep you in all your ways. In their hands they shall bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone.” (v. 11). Yet Satan takes out the line, “to keep you in all your ways” and thus totally changes the meaning of the text. The verse is meant to encourage you with the promise of guardian angels to keep you in the true way. Satan changes it into some warped prosperity Gospel, which promises the service of angels for your any whim.
And this is what Satan does today. He lures people, who are altogether too willing to be lured, to omit parts of Scripture that makes them uncomfortable. So, we have Christians who love to talk about how gracious and loving God is, but they deny the need for repentance, remorse over sin, or amendment of life. Yet, you cannot receive forgiveness of sins unless you repent of your sins. Just last month the United Methodist Church, America’s third largest “faith group” in the United States voted by a narrow 53% majority to maintain the church’s opposition to same-sex “marriage” and openly-practicing homosexual clergy. This means that nearly half of the delegates for that church body reject what the Bible teaches about homosexuality.
The Bible is clear that such behavior is sinful and that those who practice it will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9-10). And this is not just an outdated teaching of a bigoted St. Paul, who had never met a homosexual. Rather, St. Paul ministered to such sinners, confronted them with their sin, brought them to repentance, and comforted them with the sweet gospel of free forgiveness for Christ’s sake, as he himself writes after condemning homosexual activity, “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Corinthians 6:11)
Our church’s stance on homosexuality or fornication or any other now socially accepted sin is based solely on the Word of God, which our Lord Jesus teaches us to hold fast to when assaulted by the devil. The rejection of what the Bible teaches against sexual immorality shows an overall rejection of what the Bible teaches against sin as a whole. We are all sinners. And we all need to repent of all our sins, whatever our personal sins might be. Scripture is very clear that if you do not repent of your sins you cannot be saved. It is a lie of the same devil, who tempted our Lord Jesus in the wilderness, that we don’t need to turn from our sins and ask for forgiveness. Rather, God teaches us in Scripture that we must daily repent of our sinful desires and receive forgiveness for Christ’s sake. Picking and choosing what you want to believe from the Bible is putting God to the test, but trusting in God’s Word even when it is difficult will lead you out of temptation.
The final temptation might seem like the easiest one to resist. Who would bow down and worship Satan? Yet, Satan succeeds in this temptation most frequently. Because, whenever you fear, love, or trust in anything other than God, you are bowing down and worshiping a false god. False gods can be money, possessions, power, sex, sports, even your spouse or children. And behind every false god is a boastful Satan. Satan caused Adam and Eve to worship themselves instead of God in the Garden. He led the children of Israel to bow down to every god in heaven, earth and sea, made of stone, metal, and wood. And our generation is no better as people labor for the most unsatisfying gods imaginable. Yet, Jesus teaches us the most important commandment, “You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.”
Jesus loves the Lord God with all his heart, soul, and mind. He worships him perfectly. He is the only human being, who has ever done this. All of us have fallen short. Yet, through faith in Jesus God credits Jesus’ perfect obedience to us. Through your faith in Jesus Christ, God is pleased with you on account of Jesus’ obedience.
Yet, faith in Christ not only credits you with Jesus’ obedience like a transfer from one bank account to another. Faith in Christ changes you from a slave to your sinful desires to a child of God. As a child of God, you desire to imitate Christ, because you hate the evil, which Christ overcame for you. In Christ’s temptation you not only see the obedience, which saved you from hell. You also see Jesus demonstrate the weapon God has given you to overcome the devil every day. That weapon is the word of God, which reveals to you your Savior Jesus and guides you in the way of the LORD.
Christ Jesus overcame the greatest evil in the universe through his perfect obedience through life and his willing death for the sake of sinners. Good overcame evil. And through faith in Christ, God overcomes evil in you. Not only does he forgive the evil you have done, but he thwarts the plans of Satan through you. Let us ever walk with Jesus, so that we might trample Satan under our feet every day. Amen.