Two weeks ago, the Gospel reading in our worship service at Redeemer Lutheran Church was from Luke 4:1-13, the temptation of Jesus by the devil in the wilderness. After having nothing to eat for 40 days, Jesus was hungry. So the devil tempted Jesus to turn a stone into bread, and thus to fail to trust in his heavenly Father to provide for him. When that temptation failed, the devil tried to get Jesus to seek the easy way to have the world follow him and to set up a worldly kingdom, by following the devil and worshiping him, rather than following the path the Father laid out for him which included rejection, suffering and death.
Jesus defeated both of these temptations by quoting Old Testament Scripture, “Man does not live by bread alone,” and “You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.”
In the third temptation, the devil suggested that Jesus throw himself down from the highest point of the temple, and have the angels keep him from being harmed. First, he started with, “If you are the Son of God,” as a challenge, and then he twisted God’s Word to make it seem that Scripture would support such a thing. Again, Jesus would not be deterred from following the Father’s will. Letting people see the angels protect him in such a showy manner would be another way of developing a massive following apart from the suffering that he faced there in Jerusalem. Jesus’ response from Scripture, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.”
You are constantly faced with similar temptations to fail to trust God’s provision for you and to seek ways to exercise power over others. The third temptation which Jesus faced is perhaps the most dangerous for you, and can be seen in terms of the temptation to twist God’s Word to suit your purposes (or more correctly, the purposes of the devil). And this eliminates that Word as a means of defense against the wiles of the devil. The misuse and misapplication of God’s Word is Satan’s most insidious and most effective trick. It worked in the garden of Eden, with the question to Eve, “Did God really say?”, followed with the assurance that she and Adam could be like God. And he still uses it through false teachers who lead people astray in the church today, assuring them that sexual conduct outside of the marriage of one man and one woman and abortion on demand are OK. But any time you twist God’s Word to justify your actions, you have fallen for the devil’s temptation. Thus, there is no excuse for gossip in the church, for talking about others rather than going to them and seeking to be reconciled, no excuse for holding onto bitterness in your heart and refusing to forgive. And misconduct by others is no excuse for your sin. A spouse who does not show love for you is no excuse for extramarital affairs or use of pornography. Any time you convince yourself that God will understand your ongoing sinful conduct and overlook it, you are putting him to the test.
When faced with the temptation from the devil, Jesus perfectly fulfilled the Law. And the reality of the Law of God is that it always accuses sinners. The truth is that you have not followed Jesus’ example. And the sinful nature that clings to you will keep you from perfectly doing so. But, in showing you your sin, the Law reminds you of your ongoing need for a Savior. Then you can see in Jesus’ victory over the devil and his temptations in this text a message of the Gospel. Jesus faced and defeated the devil in your place. He perfectly obeyed the Law of God, in your place. He defeated the devil at every turn, overcoming the temptation to leave you in your sins. His ultimate victory over sin, death, and the power of the devil came through his suffering and death on the cross, followed by his resurrection from the dead. All of this he did in your place for your sake. He shouldered all your sins of doubting God’s loving provision for you, all your seeking to exert your will over his will, all your twisting and ignoring of his Word in order to justify your sin, and he bore all those sins to the cross for you. In your baptism, where you were buried with him into his death, that you might be raised with him to new life, he washed away your sins and clothed you with the robe of his righteousness. As the Holy Spirit uses your baptism and your hearing of the Gospel to bring you to repentance and faith in Jesus, all his victory over temptation is then counted as your victory.
Now, it is in your ongoing hearing of the Gospel that the Holy Spirit nourishes and strengthens your faith. It is the Gospel which is the power of God to change your heart and change your actions. It is the Gospel message of God’s love for you, poured out in the blood of Jesus shed for your sins, that causes you to want to live as he would have you live. It is love for God and love for your neighbor, worked in your heart by the Holy Spirit through the Word and sacraments, that leads you to say “no” to the temptations of the devil. As I prepared the sermon on this text two weeks ago, I realized that we had not changed the sign in front of our church since just before Christmas, and felt guilty about it. Then, it occurred to me that the message is still appropriate for this Lenten season, “O Come, Immanuel, God with us.” Jesus, Immanuel, is God with us as we live life in the wilderness of this fallen world. He continues to come to you through his Word and in the Lord’s Supper, bringing forgiveness and strengthening you to withstand the assaults of the devil. And he has promised to be with you always, to the end of the age.
The writer is the pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church, LCMS.