THE TEMPTATION OF CHRIST
At our Lord’s baptism we stood in the waters of the Jordan and witnessed the gracious God who hears his peoples cry for mercy. We watched the heaven’s split open, and heard him announce, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” (Mk. 1:11) We spent the following weeks hearing from the Lord what it means that God declared Jesus to be the Son-we have witnessed miracles, healings and exorcisms. Then last Sunday on Transfiguration, we stood on the mountain with Peter, James and John Then a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him”.
“Hear Him,” for He knows what is best for you. “Hear Him,” for He is the one who is driven to save you from your sins.
Only the Messiah could-restore our sinful nature, and recreate the world as God’s good creation. It would not happen easily. It would be violent-Satan would attack God’s Son-and He would suffer and be killed in the most gruesome manner. Our Epiphany readings revealed to us who this Messiah is. Mark records the miracles and deeds of Christ to help establish his power and authority. Now in Lent, we again turn to the inspired holy writers to witness what this Messiah would have to do to complete the Father’s plan of salvation. We have ringside seats for the battle between Jesus and the Devil, between Good and the Forces of Evil.
This battle was not to be fought like we would have it fought. It is not fought with staff and banner held high, with the words of a strong hymn in our throats. NO! Instead of a triumphant forceful march out of the Jordan immediately after God’s announcement at Jesus’ baptism, He was driven into the wilderness to suffer temptation at the hands of Satan for forty days. He was driven by the Spirit to do this. Jesus baptism is one of suffering and of death because in the waters He stands as one of us, and He stands for us taking our sin upon him. What we deserved, He received.
Notice how quickly Mark moves from Baptism to temptation. So too, it was this way at your baptism. when you were baptized, your life became a battleground between God and Satan. Satan will not be satisfied to simply let you go. He’s not going to just say, “Ok, God, you won that one. I’ll go on to someone else.” No, Satan will battle for your soul now more than ever! Satan will use any trick, any scheme that He can to get you to deny who you are as a baptized child of God.God knows this, and so He sent Jesus to receive all the assaults and crafts of the devil in your place.
The Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted of the Devil, for that is God’s work. God sends down his Son into the world as a mighty warrior — not to inflict suffering, but to receive it as the Suffering Servant. Our guilt and sin can not be defeated with show and bravado, but only with Jesus taking on the sin of the world, with His life, His death, and His glorious resurrection from the dead.
How we look at Jesus’ baptism and temptation really frames for us our understanding of the Christian faith, and our own understanding of temptation. Why was Jesus tempted by the devil for forty days in the wilderness? In many ways it is easy for us to look at that temptation as kind of a big object lesson. I can almost hear it: if we just act more like Jesus, then our lives will go well, and everything will be perfect. Right? Wrong!
In the accounts of St. Luke and St. Matthew we see a little bit more of how Satan tempted Jesus. The temptations always centered on trying to get Jesus to deny his mission to God’s people, to deny his purpose of saving the world from sin. Jesus is hungry, and so Satan temps Him to make bread from a rock, and thus save himself. The devil promises “authority” and “glory” to Jesus, just like he tempted Adam and Eve. In the third temptation the devil tempts Jesus to worship him, and not the Lord. But these details of Jesus temptation come to us from other Gospel writers.
The very simplicity and brevity of St. Mark’s telling of the temptation of Jesus indicates that there is a different intention for is account. He does not provide a description of the various specific temptations, nor of Jesus’ response, such as St. Matthew and St. Luke provide. That description is sometimes misconstrued as nothing more than a good example or instruction for us: a legalistic, “What Would Jesus Do?” approach to the Christian life. But instead, St. Mark records only the fact that Jesus was tempted. And because this Jesus was and is the Son of God in the flesh, His confrontation with Satan was decisive for us-not as an example for us to emulate and follow, but rather as His Victory on our behalf, in our stead, for our sake.
Only Christ can defeat Satan and triumph over temptation, sin, and death. And all of this He does (and has done) for you and for me-what we could never do for ourselves. Where Adam failed, Jesus succeeded. Where we fail daily, Jesus wins. If you think of it though, Jesus’ temptation is really a playbill for our own Christian life.
How are you tempted? Satan tempts us in many ways. The temptations may come from obvious places: we can easily point to the vices so readily offered by the world we live in; we can see and maybe even avoid too much liquor, or too much food, or any of a dozen excesses the world so frequently lays before us.
But the temptation may also come from the not so obvious places. Have you ever been tempted to put yourself before the needs of family and friends? Have you ever been tempted to put family or friends before Christ and the Church? Sometimes the most innocent of temptations are the ones that are the most dangerous. As the words of the hymnist wrote:
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 I should fail to watch and pray.
I walk in danger all the way. (LW 391, v. 1)
It is important to note and understand the way in which Jesus obtains His victory over Satan for us. It is not by a crushing show of strength, but by submitting Himself to temptation, save only without sin. And in our place, He lives as we must live — as we ought to have lived, but have not: by the Spirit of God, by faith in His Father. He faithfully entrusts Himself entirely to the Word and providence of God.
It is no coincidence that this temptation follows immediately after the Baptism of Jesus, when God the Father declared Him to be His beloved Son and the Spirit descended visibly upon Him. Indeed, the Spirit drives Him directly from the waters of His Baptism into the wilderness, in order to be tempted by the devil. It is part of that blessed exchange, of which I have often preached, whereby Jesus assumes our place under the Law, and He undergoes and endures all that we must face as poor, miserable sinners, in order that what He achieves and obtains may be for us. He is tempted just as we are, so that His victory over temptation may become our victory; just as His Cross & Resurrection become our forgiveness and life.
Now, then, as those who are baptized into Christ Jesus, who have been given to share His sonship and His life, we are likewise assaulted by the temptations of Satan, who is all the more desperate to lure us away from God and away from our faith and life in Christ.
Satan will use anything and everything within his power to get us to fall away from faith -and turn toward him. I sometimes think that we don’t realize how hard Satan is working against us. We Lutherans often talk about the Real Presence of Christ in the bread and wine of Communion. How often do we acknowledge the real presence of Satan in our lives, trying to tear us away from the life that God has given us in our baptism?
The most dangerous, dire, and basic temptation of all is to doubt and reject the Word (and works) of God, and to focus on yourself (and your works) instead of God in Christ. That is perhaps obvious in the case of God’s Word of the Law . . . but it is likewise so in the case of His Gospel:
Where God has declared unto you that you are forgiven, and that you are His beloved child, you are tempted to look at yourself, your circumstances, your sin, or whatever else in yourself, and to conclude that God could never really love you, nor forgive you, and that you are not His dear child in Christ.
Because God speaks and acts through me as your Pastor, you might conclude that His Word to you-including His forgiveness of your sin-is merely my word and my opinion, and that the real situation between you and God is still up for grabs-something to be worked out in your own heart).
Whether such attitudes and conclusions lead you to pride or despair-the twin ditches into which a Christian falls-either way, you have fallen into the dangerous sin of doubting what is in fact God’s Word. Pride says that you have kept His Law (even though you haven’t!), and it presumes that you don’t need the Gospel that He speaks to you through me. Despair says that, because you have not kept His Law, then the Gospel that He speaks to you through me is unable to help you and set things right.
Again, either way of looking at things is a fall into sin, and at the same time a turning away from your only help and hope in Christ Jesus.
Perhaps we should take this temptation thing a little more seriously than we do. If the power of Satan is so great that it took the Son of God to defeat him, then perhaps we should look at little closer at the life God has given us, and see how often Satan tries to tear us away from the faith.
It is the Word of God-to you and concerning you-from first to last, that determines who and what you are and where you stand. That reality is utterly contradicted by the devil, the world, and your own sinful flesh, all of which insist that “truth” is relative, that it’s all in the eye of the beholder, that it’s really up to you to decide for yourself what’s what, and that what’s true for one person may not be true for another-and, that, ultimately, it doesn’t matter.
But, oh, yes, it does matter. And it isn’t up to you (thank God!). It is determined by the Word of God-alone-period. It is accomplished for you by Christ Jesus, the Son of God, on your behalf. It is given to you in and through Christ Jesus, by His Ministry of the Holy Gospel-Word and Sacraments. The devil, the world, and your flesh have nothing to say about it, and nothing to do with it: nothing that matters or changes anything. Who and what you are and where you stand is who and what and where God says you are.
When you were baptized, you were baptized into a life of suffering, where Jesus and Satan battle for your life. Satan comes to you tempting you constantly to forget what you have received in your baptism, tempting you to turn away, tempting you to reach for the things of this world at the expense of the riches of Christ in the world to come, tempting you to well, if not embrace it than just dabble in the sin and death that surrounds us.
This is the mystery of baptism. In your baptism you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God (Col. 2) hidden in Jesus’ baptism, which was one of suffering and of death. At your baptism you were saved from sin, death, and the power of the devil. But at Jesus baptism, He was given over to sin, death, and the power of the devil.
That gives us the key to how to look at Jesus temptation. For you. He was tempted for you, fulfilling the Law where you have failed. That is the totality of Christ’s work. He was obedient, because we rebel. He suffered for us, because we sinned. He died, so that you would have life.
And what is the tool that Jesus’ used to defeat the powers of hell? The Word of God. With every attack that Satan made against Jesus, He responds with the truth of God’s Word. The battle between God and Satan, between God’s Church and the forces of the Devil continues. And after all this time no better defense, no better weapon has ever been needed. The Word of God; heard, preached, read, eaten and drunk. The Word of God-it is what gives you the power to overcome temptation in your life; as Luther wrote in the hymn: “One little word can fell him.”
Jesus’ temptation is the first skirmish of the battle waged against Satan. Because Jesus was tempted, and prevailed, we have the confidence and sure hope that He will never desert us in our time of need.
As St. Paul wrote the Christians in Rome:
What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all-how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?
Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died-more than that, who was raised to life -is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?
As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
The Lord’s Word is your mighty fortress, your shield and strength against all the assaults and temptations of the devil. It guards and protects you, and as often as you have fallen prey to sin, it lifts you up again (and again) with forgiveness. Here is your life and your salvation forever in Christ Jesus.