February 18, 2018
"Do you renounce the devil? Do you renounce all his works? Do you renounce all his ways?" These three questions have been asked of baptismal candidates at Baptism since ancient days. And for good reason. We are baptized into Jesus' Baptism. Immediately after Jesus was baptized at the end of chapter three in Matthew's Gospel he is led into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And so, we too, after being washed in Jesus' Baptism enter into battle with Satan.
Considering our track record and how our first parents so miserably failed in their first encounter with Satan, this probably seems like a daunting task. As Martin Luther describes the old evil foe in his hymn, "A Mighty Fortress," "on earth is not his equal." And so, how can we possibly be a match for this enemy we have renounced?
To find some comfort and hope we should look to a Bible story, which should be well known to all of you. Goliath of Gath was a Philistine warrior, who stood over nine feet tall! He stood between the Philistine and Israelite armies and proposed a wager. Set any Israelite soldier against him, and if the Israelite could kill Goliath, all the Philistine army would be their servants. But if Goliath killed the Israelite, then the Israelite army would be the Philistines' servants. Goliath was terrifying. And the stakes of his wager were incredibly high. So, the Israelite army remained in their camp afraid.
Yet, a young shepherd boy named David came. He did not arm himself with mail or even carry a sword. Rather, David came to slay the Philistine in the name of the LORD, the God of Israel. And he did. God guided the stone from his sling right into the Philistine's forehead and Goliath fell dead. And David took Goliath's sword and cut off his head. The Philistine army fled as the Israelite army recovered from their terror and chased after them and plundered their camp.
Shortly after Satan deceived Eve and led Adam into sin, God put an end to Satan's notion that he would continue to win the victory over Adam and Eve's children. God made a promise, "I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he will bruise your head and you shall bruise his heal." (Gen. 3:15) This was the first promise God made that Christ would be born of a woman to fight our battle against Satan. It is as Luther wrote in that same hymn,
With might of ours can naught be done,
Soon were our loss effected;
But for us fights the valiant One,
Whom God Himself elected.
Ask ye, Who is this? Jesus Christ it is,
Of Sabaoth Lord, And there's none other God;
He holds the field forever.
Jesus Christ is our shepherd boy, who goes and fights Goliath for us as we cower on the sidelines. Luther rightly says of him, "There is none other God," yet, this Jesus Christ is also true man. He became a human being, the offspring of Eve, so that he could fight Satan in our place. As St. Paul writes, "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." (Galatians 4:4-5) God is not under the law. But he became under the law in human flesh in order to battle Satan for us.
And so, after Jesus' Baptism the Spirit leads him out to the battle field to fight Satan. Yes, Jesus finally defeats Satan and crushes his head when he dies on the cross, but unless Jesus wins this battle against temptation, then the battle on the cross is lost before it begins. You need to know how important this temptation of Jesus is and how necessary it is for us that he wins. The stakes are too high for him to lose. If Satan wins and Jesus sins, then we all become servants of Satan and his angels forever. Yet, if Jesus wins, Satan and his demons become our servants.
Jesus won. Although Satan used his finest cunning and thousands of years of expertise to draw Jesus into sin, taking advantage of physical weakness, twisting God's Word, and offering great riches, Jesus defeated Satan.
Now, I have a question for you. When Goliath fell dead and David hewed off his head, did the Israelite army run away and hide? Did they surrender to the Philistine army? No! They chased the Philistines down like dogs hunting a fox and they plundered their goods! Now you have witnessed your champion Jesus make minced meat out of Satan. Should you now surrender yourself to this evil foe? No! Christ has given you the victory! When he wins, you win!
Satan doesn't only tempt you to sin. He also accuses you of sin. He's an insidious little creep. Not only does he try to get you to break God's commandments, but then he accuses you of being a law-breaker in hopes that you will despair of God's love for you. But in Christ's victory over Satan, you have a retort against the devil. "God has put on my flesh and blood and defeated you on my behalf, Satan! And in Baptism I have put on Christ! You can't accuse me, because I have a champion in heaven, who gives me victory over you!"
This must be the primary message you get from the temptation of Jesus. Jesus defeated Satan and gives you the victory. Now, his journey to the cross should make more sense. The sinless Son of God gives us the victory over Satan, and then he takes on our sins and goes to the cross to die for them. He can't die for his own sins, he has none, Satan failed to deceive him. He dies for your sins. Jesus can crush the head of Satan on the cross, because he defeated the tempter in the wilderness. And Jesus gives you the victory of both these battles.
Yet, the fact remains that we baptized victors in Christ must still walk through this world with an angry devil, who will try to lead you astray and destroy your faith, so that you lose your victory. As we sing,
I walk in danger all the way. The thought shall never leave me
That Satan, who has marked his prey, Is plotting to deceive me.
This foe with hidden snares
May seize me unawares
If ever I fail to watch and pray.
I walk in danger all the way.
And so, Jesus' victory over Satan not only assures you that he has won in your place. But it also gives you an example to follow to defeat Satan. You have put on Christ in your Baptism and through faith. This means that you are righteous before God. Yet, this also means that Christ gives you strength to battle Satan with his Holy Spirit.
In the first temptation, Satan tries to get Jesus to despair of God's goodness and trust in himself. Jesus is hungry after fasting forty days. "If you are the Son of God, turn these stones into bread." Surely Jesus could have done this, but Satan is trying to get Jesus to doubt God's providence. So, Jesus responds, "It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'" And so, Jesus teaches you what is most important even as you are tempted by Satan. How often does Satan turn your attention away from God's Word to focus on your belly or your bank account, as if God doesn't know how much a loaf of bread costs? And do you place your trust in God or do you neglect hearing God's Word and prayer, so that you can take care of yourself and your wants as if God won't take care of you? Let this be ever on your tongue, "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God." God will take care of you. He knows your needs. And he says that you need his word more than food, drink, house, home, money, goods, etc.
Next, Satan twists God's Word. He tells Jesus to test God by jumping off the pinnacle of the temple and he sites Psalm 91, "He will command his angels concerning you... and... On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone." Now, if you were paying attention to the Gradual this morning you would notice that Satan left out an important phrase, "To guard you in all your ways." The angels are sent to guard us in the ways God has sent us. This means according to God's Word. If God doesn't promise it, then don't hold God to that promise. Jesus responds to Satan with clear Scripture, "It is written, 'You shall not put the Lord your God to the test."
Satan knows Scripture and he will gladly misuse it. And you have all heard Scripture be misused. False preachers misapply God's word all the time to get people to believe things that God never actually said. Jesus says, "Don't Judge," so false teachers conclude that God is okay will all kinds of sins and no one needs to repent. Scripture says, "God is love," So, false teachers distort the word love to mean accepting sexual perversion. Scripture demands that you follow God's Law perfectly and that those who break God's Law will not enter the kingdom of heaven. So, false teachers say that you cannot be saved through faith alone or trust in the forgiveness of sins, but you must follow God's law perfectly or you will go to hell. False teachers come in many shapes and sizes, but they always distort God's word to say what it doesn't actually say. So, learn from Jesus. Take the clear passages to defend against distorted Scripture.
Satan tried to use riches to get Jesus to fall. It didn't work. Jesus again uses God's Word, "You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve." And he sends Satan away. This again should be on our lips and on our heart every day. There are many false gods to seek after: money, power, sex, drugs, popularity. And Satan knows them all by name. All of us must be reminded every day that God is God and we are here on earth to serve him.
"It is written," Jesus said three times to Satan. That's quite remarkable. Jesus is God. You'd think that he would simply smash Satan's face with lightning or something like that. But Jesus isn't beneath using the written Word of God as his weapon. And neither should you be. Jesus used God's Word to defeat Satan and he teaches you to do the same.
Imagine that a great knight, who had fought and won many battles, gave his battle sword to a peasant boy. Do you think that boy would treasure that sword highly? Or for a more contemporary example, if your father or grandfather were to give you his rifle that he used to fight Nazis in World War II, would you toss it in your garage to rust away? Of course, you wouldn't. You'd prize it, keep it clean, and put it in a place of honor. Well, Jesus gives you a much more valuable and useful weapon, the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. (Ephesians 6:17) And Jesus doesn't just give it to you to put in a trophy case. Jesus tells you to use it. And he promises that it will work well, just as it worked well for him.
God's Word is a powerful weapon to aid against temptation. Jesus has demonstrated this to us. And even more, God's Word is a powerful defense for your faith. Satan's ultimate goal is for you to doubt the forgiveness of sins won by Christ for you. He wants you to doubt God's love and think that there is something lacking in you that God cannot fill. But God's Word again gives you confidence. Your baptism joins you to your victor Jesus. Jesus has won the battle in the wilderness and the battle on the cross for you. And he gives you victory even over your grave. You have received the same Holy Spirit as Jesus. And just as Scripture promises the protection of angels to Christ, so do you have the same host of angels protecting you. When Satan attacks your faith in Christ and God's Love for you, you can respond, "It is written, 'God gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.'" (1 Corinthians 15:56) Amen.