in Sermons

20. February 2011
Invocabit  (Lent 1)
Matthew 4:1-11

“It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Temptation. Hunger. Battle. Enemies. Satan.

I recently had someone remark to me, “Pastor, I don’t think we think about our lives as warfare.” Its true. We’ve got cash in our pocket, food on our tables, and a car in the garage. What’s there to battle for? The enemies of the state are half a world a way. No battle here. The last great war was won before most of us were even born. The closest thing to warfare for most of us are the Wisconsin lawmakers hiding away in Illinois while rioters damage their state house.

We are tempted to think our lives are just hunky dory. We are tempted to think that our souls have been locked away for safe keeping by our Lord, never to be tested, tried, or even assaulted. We presume that God will protect us, even when we blatantly ignore his warnings and go about our lives bull-headed and stupid. We are tempted to listen to all the self-help gurus and think that we can make things better if only we try harder.

Succumbing to these temptations leads you down a dangerous road. That road doesn’t lead to the hill of Calvary. That road leads down to the Dead Sea, to the desert wastes, and into the land of bondage. Israel has been there before. These lands are cursed. They have no sustenance. Demons and the Great Serpent lie in wait to eat up your flesh. These lands are filled with death.

It seems like just yesterday that we recalled the Baptism of our Lord in the Jordan river. John the Baptist resisted at first but relented. Water washed over Jesus’ head, trickled down his beard and chest, while his Father proclaimed from heaven, “This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased. Listen to him.”

“The Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” The very next thing is temptation. The glory revealed in Baptism, miracles, and the brilliant transfiguration is immediately assaulted by black death of the evil one.

To be God’s Son is to be marked man. Satan cares little for those who go about their hunky dory lives, ignoring their faults, and acting as masters of their own destiny. From his perspective, those who distrust their God and presume too much about Him already have one foot in the lake of fire.

Jesus is different than you and me. The Son of God doesn’t shy away from reality. He doesn’t play mind games with himself, acting like the temptations, the sorrows, and the grief of this world is a figment of our collective imagination. Jesus doesn’t turn a blind eye to the weakness of his flesh. He doesn’t act like the way of the Lord is a cakewalk. He confronts his humanity head-on with a fast. He confronts his flesh with a wilderness battle with the Tempter.

“And after forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.” Knowing full well that devil is right around the corner, he turns to weakness. He deprives his body of food, to learn in his flesh that his Father sustains him and provide for him. Bread for the body is bread from the Father. Jesus himself gave us that most trustworthy petition, “give us this day our daily bread.”

From Satan’s perspective, this is the perfect trap, an ideal setup. He’s dealt with men for millennia and they never win this game. The quickest way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. Old ancient Israel failed miserably. Their hunger fractured their trust with God. They cried out to God and Moses for food, reaching the depth of distrust when they exclaimed, “Oh, that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the pots of meat and when we ate bread to the full! For you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger” (Exodus 16:3).

Now again in the wilderness, the diabolos himself begins the first attack. The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” The temptation is great. A silly chocolate fast pales in comparison to forty days of fasting. The goal and aim of Jesus’ fast is to trust completely in the our heavenly Father to provide for him. Saying “no” to a common thing such as food for a time leads to a greater appreciation of giver and the gift. Jesus knows to the core of his flesh that he is utterly dependent upon his Father for food.

So the Word incarnate answered, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” Bread alone just not satisfy. Spiritual battles can’t be won on an empty or satisfied stomach alone. No one becomes a Christian or stays a Christian by starving or by being well-fed alone. No one resists the temptations of our flesh through fasting or feasting alone. Food, house, and home don’t equip us for the battle for our soul. Real warfare needs real armaments. The only lethal weapon and impenetrable armor to temptation is the Word of God.

Satan knows this, too. He knows he is powerless versus the Word. But he also knows our flesh doesn’t have just one Achille’s heal. The Christian’s weapons of battle are not his own but given to him by God. Satan’s attack changes. He will tempt you to think they are weak. He will tempt you like he tempted Eve to ask, “Did God really say…?” Thereby, instilling the seed of doubt. He knows that to cause you to doubt God’s Word, you will doubt God. Doubt leads to unbelief. Unbelief is to perish upon the sword that should protect you.

That doubt of God’s Word starts innocently enough. You think that one little sin won’t compromise the whole. St. Paul says, “A little leaven leavens the whole lump” (1 Corinthians 5:6-8; Galatians 5:9). Luther also shows in his explanations to the Ten Commandments shows that transgressing any commandment always is breaking the first commandment. Any and all sin is idolatry.

Satan has second attack prepared, another weapon in his armory. He knows we often presume to know too much. We think we’ve got a better idea about our problems and their solution than God. It’s this sort of presumption that Satan will turn against us. He tried to challenge Christ’s in this way. 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 they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”

Does the Scripture really say that? Actually, yes! Funny thing, Satan knows the Scriptures better than we do. Well, maybe not so funny. Satan deftly quotes Psalm 91. Deftly, because he left out the all important truth. The Father will command his angels concerning you, says the Psalmist, “to guard you in all your ways” (Psalm 91:11). The promise to send the angels to guard us and to do battle for us is bound to keeping us on the path with the Lord. The path leads to his rescue of us is for our salvation. He sends his angels not so we can do Stupid Human Tricks, jumping with pinnacles, but so that we will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust” (Psalm 91:2).

The Word incarnate knows the Psalms better than we ever could. They were written by his Spirit and testify to Him. He knows his Scripture better than Satan. He can wield the sword of the Spirit with agility and strength. Satan’s weak try at being a Biblical scholar is parried with the strong Word of the Spirit. Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.” Testing the Lord is idolatry. Faith trusts in the Lord, to walk in his ways and to fear him.

Satan also knows of a third and more lethal attack. The greatest temptation of our flesh is to lust after other gods. These aren’t bearded deities, with glowing faces, floating in the heavens. Our false gods are much plainer than you think. It might look like latest gadget, the next meal, or the other desires of the flesh. Luther says that a false god is anything you fear, love, or trust above God himself. The devil tried to tempt Jesus to these idols. 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 will fall down and worship me.”

At first blush, one might think Satan is only tempting Jesus to worship him. This is true but there is more. Worship of false gods and worship of the devil go hand in hand. Satan tempts Jesus with the kingdoms of the world and their glory. He’s tapping into the very human lust for power.

Adam and Eve had the same lust for power. Satan used it effectively. “Did God say?” was followed by “You will be like God.” That’s the biggest temptation of all. Its one thing to distrust God or to presume to know better. Sin at its worse spits in God’s face and says you are god. The ultimate rebellion is to reject God altogether and become your own master, the center of your own universe.

This is the aim and goal of all Satan’s attacks, to make shipwreck of our faith. Jesus responds to him “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.” Enough is enough. The Word of God must stand and it won the skirmish with between Jesus and the tempter.

Funny thing, too. Satan, knowing Jesus is the Son of God, still tried to tempt him. Jesus, the Godhead in the flesh, cannot lose. So why bother? The devil didn’t believe it. He didn’t believe that God would stoop down to such a low level, even taking on the flesh of his creatures, just to redeem them.

Brilliant, too. Since Satan has played his cards. Jesus caused Satan to reveal his plan of attack. Now, we know what he has in store for us. We know that Satan will come after us, trying to brew mistrust against God’s Word. He may tempt us to presume to know better than God. He will lead us towards idols.

We also know how to parry his stabs. We know how to parry his blows. The Word of God. The Spirit-infused blade, sharper than any two-edged sword. Jesus showed us that when it comes to temptation, nothing can stand against the Word. Read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the Word and you will be prepared for the tempter’s clash with you.

This whole exchange between our Savior and the diabolos is only the prelude of the real battle. Satan’s lies will intensify and his temptations to sin increase. On the hill of Golgotha, the torment in his flesh will be insufferable. The mocking of God’s Word will be more intense. Those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross. So also the chief priests… “He trusts in God; let God deliver him, if he desires him” (Matthew 27:40-42).

Truer words could not be spoken! The Son of God will come down from the cross. The temple of his body will be destroyed. God will deliver him. His body will be rebuilt and on the third will rise. Even in those final moments, the Word of God rings true and sustains Jesus unto death.

So also for us. When we are assaulted by the tempter’s wiles, we return to the Word of God. We receive his Word when our daily prayers and meditation dwell richly in Jesus. We gather here together in the sanctuary dedicated to the Lord’s gifts of preaching, teaching, the washing of rebirth, and the holy supper. Therein, the Word cuts through our weak defenses of our sin and excising our distrust of God, our presumptions over his Word, and every false idol. The wound is cauterized and healed by the searing blade. The cool salve of God’s forgiveness is applied to our battle wounds, preparing us for the next skirmish.

There’s really nothing to fear. Christ has already won the war. We’re just doing the clean up. Yet, we best remain on guard with the Word, even for a wounded enemy. Our lives may not be hunky-dory. We have real enemies in our own flesh and in Satan and his host. Victory is already ours and we are already crowned in Christ. Let us hold fast to him and to his Word, ever prepared for the next clash with the tempter. And afterwards, the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him. Listen to those messengers of God and be healed.

In Name of the Father, + Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church
Dyer, Indiana