In his first attempt to tempt Jesus, Satan says, "If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread." What Satan does here is the same thing he did to Eve. He appealed to her physical desires. He moved his temptee away from God's Word to focus inward, on herself. With Eve he denies what God says is true and entices Eve with her own desire to be wise. "You won't die if you eat it! God knows you'll be wise like him! Don't you want to be wise?" Eve wants to be wise. She takes her eyes off God's clear word and focuses on her inner desires. She saw that the tree was good for food and a delight to the eyes, and was even desired to make one wise, and she did what she wanted, not what God commanded. And so the devil still uses this time tested tactic of pushing our gaze inward, as St. James writes in his Epistle, "But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire." (James 1:14)
So Satan tries to entice Jesus in the same way. Jesus is hungry. He hasn't eaten in forty days. Jesus is following the will of God. Satan wants Christ to give up on trusting in God and satisfy his own desires, his hunger. Now it is difficult for us to see where the problem is in this. Is it a sin to eat? Can't Jesus, who is able to multiply bread to feed thousands satisfy his own hunger? But Satan is trying to get Jesus to rebel against God. It is as if he's saying, "God has forgotten about you. He's led you into the wilderness to die. He won't take care of you or satisfy your hunger. Go on. You can do it yourself."
But Jesus counters the devil, "It is written." With all three temptations, Jesus uses this same defense, "It is written!" Our Lord uses the same sword of the Spirit each of you is armed with, the word of God. By wielding the Word of God, proclaiming, "It is written!" Satan has already lost. St. Paul writes, "No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it." (1 Cor. 10:13) The way of escape is the Word of God.
Jesus says, "It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.,'" (from Deuteronomy 8:3). Bread symbolizes earthly stuff. Things that fill your belly, your living room or garage, things that make you enjoy life here on earth, treasures that will pass away with time, in short, the desires of the flesh. But Jesus says, "All these things cannot fulfill a person. They will waist away. Rather, store up treasures in heaven. Cherish every Word that comes from the mouth of the Lord!"
Now Satan communicated to Eve through the medium of a snake. And he spoke intelligible words to Jesus. And so we fool ourselves when we think, "Well if Satan ever tempted me to forsake God's Word and follow my own desires, I wouldn't fall for it." But Satan isn't going to approach you with cloven feet with a pitchfork in his hand or wrap his serpentine body around your arm and whisper in your ear. He's a spirit. He communicates with you using no sound, simply pushing you toward your own desires, your own perceived needs. He'll let you convince yourself that you need to sleep more than do your devotions. He'll let you convince yourself that you really need to work instead of going to Church. You need to eat after all. He'll let you convince yourself that a million things are more important than hearing God's Word, which is food for your soul.
So you must not simply proclaim to Satan, but to yourself, "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God." "I need God's Word. I need to hear it, learn it, digest it. If I make $100,000 in a year, win state in some sport, or make wonderful memories with family and friends, these won't gain me eternal life. Only God's Word creates and strengthens faith."
Jesus smashes the devil's face in by quoting God's Word. So the devil comes back, "Oh, you know God's Word! Hold on! I do too! Listen to this!" And Satan tempts, "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.'" Here Satan quotes Scripture, but he purposefully and deceitfully leaves out an important part. The text quoted from Psalm 91:11-12 states, "He will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways." Satan's omittion changed drastically the meaning of the text. The angels are not promised to catch anyone, who wants to jump off a high building, but to guide the children of God to walk in the way of the Lord.
And so with Satan's perversion of the text he shows that wherever God builds a church, Satan builds a chapel right next to it. He loves to mutilate God's Word, to make playdough out of Scripture. And so many churches, sadly, pick and choose from God's Word what they want to believe.
Satan not only takes his seat in the pew, but stands in the pulpit! He satisfies itching ears by choosing tolerable Scripture passages, while snipping out the less savory ones. And so there are churches that accept every abomination and sin that Scripture condemns and reject the need for repentance. They give the appearance of following God's Word, while really following their own hearts and the desires of the masses. Some churches may even claim to believe that the whole Bible is the Word of God, but they still ignore parts they don't like, such as, "Baptism now saves you!" (1 Peter 3:21) and "This is my body, This is my blood." (Matthew 26:26, 28) Of course, even if a church stays faithful to the entire word of God and teaches it correctly, Satan still sits in the pew urging you to pick and choose what you want to believe.
Our Lord countered, "It is written, 'You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.'" And so Jesus uses God's Word to battle the perversion of God's Word. He uses pure teaching to counter distorted teaching. And so must we! We must judge what we hear from the pulpit to see if the pastor preaches the whole council of God, or only what he's comfortable preaching. We must use pure teaching, both Law and Gospel to counter watered down teaching from books we read and shows we watch. We must challenge our own personal beliefs with God's Word, reading our Catechisms to root out any false opinions we've adopted, and replace them with pure teaching based on the truth of God's Word.
Satan's last of three attempts seems so far fetched. After showing Jesus the kingdoms of the world, Satan says, "All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me." Who would fall down and worship Satan? Again, we must remember that Satan will not appear to us in his ghoulish form and command that we bend the knee. But he will tempt you to worship him. And he will use the riches of this world. In fact, he can get you to fall for a much cheaper price than the kingdoms of the world. He promises popularity, money, an easy, stress free life. And so we must like Jesus say, "Be gone, Satan! For it is written, 'You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.'"
What does it mean to worship God and to serve him? Worship always starts with hearing and believing God's Word. Our Lutheran confessions state, "Faith is that worship which receives the benefits that God offers." To serve God includes not only singing praises, but serving your neighbor. This means that we bow to Satan when we worship and serve this world instead of God. This includes ignoring God's Word and Sacrament to gain earthly wealth and pleasures and serving our own wants and desires at the expense of helping our neighbor.
Pastors too are guilty of bowing the knee to Satan to gain the world. They measure their own success not by how faithfully they preach God's Word, but by how liked they are and how cushioned the coffers are. They may not make sacrifices to the devil in strange midnight graveyard ceremonies, but they serve their own bellies, their own needs, instead of the sheep God gives them to preach to and pray for.
And so, we like Christ must understand the difference between worshiping God and worshiping the world, between serving our neighbor and serving our bellies.
Christ defeated Satan in every temptation. Did you?
And here we must learn the great importance of Christ's victory. If you look at this Gospel lesson simply as Christ setting a good example on how to overcome temptation, you will fall into despair. Try as we might, we still fall into temptation. We fail, to watch and pray. We fail to wield God's Word. And we fall. Do you catch yourself looking away from God's Word and focusing on your own wants? Do you ignore the parts of God's Word that make you uncomfortable and when you dash your foot on a stone blame God and his angels? Have you caught yourself at times bending the knee to the serpent as you strove after earthly gain? Have you failed to use Christ as your example?
But Christ is not simply your example. He's your champion! When Adam and Eve sinned, we all fell into sin. Because in Adam and Eve was the entire human race. But Christ, God's true Son took on our human flesh in the womb of the Virgin. In Christ is all mankind. When he strove with Satan, we all fought against him. And when Christ won, you and I won.
It is as Martin Luther wrote in his hymn, "Dear Christians, One and All Rejoice,"
The Son obeyed His Father's will, Was born of virgin mother,
And God's good pleasure to fulfill, He came to be my brother.
His royal pow'r disguised He bore;
A servant's form, like mine, He wore
To lead the devil captive.
Satan went to devour the man Jesus, just as he devours us by tempting us to sin. But Satan failed in tempting Jesus and so he was himself devoured. But Jesus did not win this victory for himself. He won it for you. And so as he went to the cross he bore all your losses. Jesus suffered for your failures against the devil's wiles. And he gives you his own victory. His victory over Satan. His victory over death. His victory that gives eternal life.
So when Satan comes to accuse you of the sins he duped you into committing, you can taunt the devil. "Jesus beat you! You couldn't get him to fall once! And he gives me the victory! So just as you had to run away from him with your tail between your legs, you can run off now, you serpent. You can't defeat me, because Jesus has already won my battle for me.
And so you can say to Satan, "It is written!", even after you've stumbled. It is written that Jesus defeated Satan! And "thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." (1 Corinthians 15:57) Amen.