Gen. 3:1-21; Matthew 4:1-11
Pastor James Preus
Trinity Lutheran Church
March 1, 2020
And Lead us not into temptation.
What does this mean?
God tempts no one. We pray in this petition that God would guard and keep us so that the devil, the world, and our sinful nature may not deceive us or mislead us into false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice. Although we are attacked by these things, we pray that we may finally overcome them and win the victory.
Jesus teaches us to pray in the Lord’s Prayer that our heavenly Father would lead us out of temptation. This is an important petition. We must not think that temptation is no big deal or that because we have the forgiveness of sins that it doesn’t matter whether we fall into temptation. Temptation leads to false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice. It was falling for temptation by our first parents that plunged our human race into sin and death. The Apostle warns, “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. 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 also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” (1 Corinthians 10:12-13) And so it behooves us to pray to God for aid against temptation, so that we do not fall into a worse condition than we were in before we had Jesus.
God tempts no one. The tempter himself is Satan. In our Old Testament and Gospel lessons we heard how Satan tempted our first parents and won and how this same Satan tempted our Lord Jesus and failed. Jesus then became the perfect high priest, being tempted like us in every way, except without sin (Heb. 4:15). These were two very different outcomes, yet the old tempter didn’t change his technique. In both cases, Satan did what he always does. He lied.
“Did God really say...”, the serpent asked. He knew full well what God had said, yet, you’ll notice that he does not ask if God said what he actually said. He doesn’t ask if God really said that they were forbidden to eat of the tree that was in the midst of the garden, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Rather, he asked whether God forbad them from eating from any of the trees. He tricked Eve into engaging with him, but she was unprepared. The lies kept spewing from the liar’s mouth until Eve and her husband forgot the command of the Lord.
Likewise, Satan lied to Jesus every step of the way. Yet, Jesus did not consider the devil’s lies. He didn’t weigh them against sound reason. Rather, he responded with the holy Scriptures, the Word of God, which St. Paul calls the Sword of the Spirit (Eph. 6:17). Of course, Jesus did not need to quote Scripture and say what was written. Jesus is the incarnate Word Himself, the Son of God. He certainly could have driven Satan off immediately. Yet, Jesus purposefully used a weapon that each of us has at our disposal in order to teach us how to fight against Satan.
In the first temptation Satan attacks the Third Commandment, which teaches us to fear and love God, so that we do not despise preaching and God’s word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it. Again, Satan is sly. He tells Jesus to prove that he is the Son of God by turning stones into bread. Jesus is hungry. He hasn’t eaten in forty days. And he certainly has the power to turn stones to bread or even raise up children for Abraham. Yet, Jesus knows that he does not prove himself to be the Son of God by satisfying his bodily hunger, but by doing the will of his Father, who sent him.
This teaches us that there is nothing more important than hearing and learning the Word of God. “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” This isn’t hyperbole. You need to hear God’s Word more than you need to eat. In the Lord’s Prayer, we are taught to pray six petitions that have to do with our spiritual needs. Yet, we are taught only to pray one petition that concerns all our needs of the body. Yet, we think our bodily needs are more important. Satan frequently and with much success tempts Christians to consider their jobs, investments, property, and all other stuff more than hearing, learning, and conforming to the Word of God! It is God’s Word that gives us faith in Christ. God’s Word gives us the Holy Spirit. God’s Word gives us eternal life. Yet, we seek after bread, which perishes.
In the second temptation the Liar attacks the Second Commandment, “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God.” What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not curse, swear, use satanic arts, lie, or deceive by His name, but call upon it in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks.” Satan in this temptation uses the Word of God. Yet, he misuses it. He perverts it, cutting it up and putting it back together. God indeed promises the protection of angels, but Satan leaves out the phrase, “to guard you in all your ways.” (Psalm 91:11) Satan means for Jesus to put God to the test, which Scripture clearly forbids (Deut. 6:16).
Satan uses such a trick on us today. Then he tempted Jesus to throw himself off the pinnacle of the temple. Now he tempts us to thrust ourselves into licentious sins. To behave licentiously means to behave unrestrained by the law, as if you have a license to sin. Satan misuses the Gospel itself, the greatest Word from God, to persuade Christians into un-Christian behavior. Scripture teaches us that we are saved by God’s grace apart from our works. And because Jesus died for the sins of the whole world, God’s grace will never run out. Where sins increase, so grace abounds all the more (Romans 5:20-21). And what does the tempter do with this beautiful Gospel message? He asks, “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” Even more, he asserts this! He convinces Christians that their sins cannot harm them, so long as they have a superficial knowledge of Christ. And he encourages Christians to continue in fornication, adultery, drunkenness, rivalry, slander, hatred, and any sin under the sun, with the false promise of rescue you from your sins even if you do not repent. “Cast yourself down into the abyss of sin! Don’t hold back! He’ll command his angels!” Yet, such reckless behavior would be to put God to the test. Christians must fight temptation and repent of their sins daily.
The tempters final test attacks the First Commandment, “You shall have no other gods.” This seems like a wild attempt of a desperate fool. Who would bow down to Satan? Yet, imagine all the kingdoms of the world and all their glory. Such a vision would certainly instill awe and wonder in any of us. And how quickly people turn from worshiping God in order to gain even the smallest portion of this world’s wealth.
We truly behave like addicts. The addict chases a temporary pleasant feeling and keeps running back to it over and over again until he is left empty, broken, with ruined relationships, no job, and utterly unsatisfied. And then the addict continues to chase after that drug that ruined his life in the first place. And this is how we behave as we strive after earthly treasures that moth and rust destroy and thieves break in to steal. It is as Paul Gerhardt wrote in his hymn, “What is all this life possesses?/ But a hand Full of Sand/ That the heart distresses.” And so, we need to learn to turn from the lies of earthly riches and bow down only to the true God in heaven.
Jesus did a good job countering all the devil’s attacks. He effectively used the Holy Scriptures to foil the tempters power. Yet, as you’ve no doubt picked up, Jesus is a lot better at this than we are! He went three for three! How many times has the devil scored on you since you’ve woken up this morning? Indeed, it would be a sad and tragic case if Jesus came to earth and strove with Satan simply to show us how it’s done.
Although, we Christians try to use God’s Word to resist temptation and by the power of the Holy Spirit we are indeed successful against Satan, we do not always stand victorious. We let our guard down. We fall for his tricks. We behave like soldiers putting down their shields and taking off their armor in the middle of the battlefield, oblivious to the myriad of arrows zinging around us. We underestimate the danger of temptation. But remember, Satan is like a snake. If he can fit his head in, he can fit his entire body in as well. If you give the devil an inch, your treacherous heart may betray you and give him a mile.
And then the devil enters into the next stage of his attack. He accuses. Yes, the same miserable being that tricked you into sinning against your God then accuses you of sin and he tells you that you cannot be saved by grace. You’ve soiled it. You must make atonement for your sins. Or perhaps, even despair.
Yet, Jesus did not strive in the wilderness with Satan for his own sake. And he didn’t do it simply to give us an example to follow. Rather, our Lord who so successfully used Scripture to battle Satan fulfilled Scripture itself; a portion of Scripture Satan knew quite well, because it was to him that these words were first spoken:
I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” (Genesis 3:15)
Jesus Christ himself is the seed of the woman, born of the Virgin Mary. He has come to bruise the head of Satan and win a total victory. Jesus defeats Satan by his perfect obedience to God the Father. Jesus withstands the temptations of the devil in our place. He is the only human being who has never sinned. And Jesus suffered the price for our sins. That is what God meant when he said that Satan would bruise Christ’s heal. Jesus was indeed crucified after Satan enticed Judas to betray him and the chief priests to cry for his blood. Yet, Jesus’ wound was only temporary. After making full atonement for all sins he was raised from the dead. Jesus’ wound has healed. He is victorious over Satan. Satan’s wound will never heal. He is judged.
Jesus said “Begone, Satan.” and Satan departed. We too have the authority to say those powerful words. After Adam and Eve failed to cover up their sins with fig leaves and got expelled from the Garden of Eden, God clothed them with the skin of an animal. You must slaughter an animal to take its skin. This foreshadowed the work Christ would do for us. Jesus offered himself up as a blameless sacrifice in order to clothe us with his righteousness. Scripture says, “For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” (Gal. 3:26-27)
Through faith in Christ Jesus we share in Christ’s victory. The evil foe, who has no equal on this earth is no match to us. Christ Jesus has given us a little word that can fell him. We are baptized into Christ the victor. Christ Jesus has washed away our sins. We are forgiven. Satan cannot harm us. Amen.