Text: Luke 4:1-13
Date: Lent I + 2/21/10
Lutheran Church of the Incarnate Word, Rochester Hills, MI
That our Lord Jesus Christ was tempted by the devil in the wilderness as His first action after His baptism, was the first skirmish or battle in His mission to free mankind and all creation from the devil’s rule, the curse of sin and the reign of death. That He was tempted, as the Bible says, “in every respect…as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15) means that He understands intimately whatever it is you are enduring and can “sympathize with our weaknesses.” That He endured temptation, not as a super-man, nor “counting His equality with God” as anything (Philippians 2:6), but as one of us armed only with holy scripture, the Word of God, suggests that by faith in Him, baptized into His family, we have the same necessary equipment ourselves to fight the good fight of the faith, to resist temptation, “to live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness” (Small Catechism, Creed II). That our Lord, as of first importance, was tempted by the devil in the wilderness set the course that led to the ultimate conflict on the cross where, resisting the devil’s last temptation to “come down from the cross” (Mt. 27:40), He, nevertheless, received and endured the whole load of God’s righteous wrath against all sin, including yours, and let it kill Him so that His death would be the one and only perfect sacrifice that erases all sin, death and devil for all people as His resurrection proclaims the triumph of life and reconciliation with God.
We are maybe more familiar with St. Matthew’s report of Jesus’ temptation. But this year we hear it from St. Luke who emphasizes, maybe more than Matthew, the cosmic conflict and warfare of the mighty Son of God.
The devil repeats the challenge, “If you are the Son of God,” tempting the Lord somehow to prove His identity that is for now hidden humbly behind His fully human nature. Maybe the greater temptation was for the devil to think that Jesus would be easier to tempt as a man who could be affected with hunger, pride, or false doctrine or teaching. Martin Luther preferred Luke’s ordering of the three temptations for preaching because they build to the chief temptation of despising and misusing God’s Word.
The temptation to ignore God and make bread and money and material possessions your sole goal (or your “god,” that to which you look for the highest good in your life) should be obvious enough. How many (especially public) high school graduations have you attended where student speakers talk primarily about their number one goal in life of becoming rich, as if that’s the highest aspiration a person can have? The “living by bread alone” credo is the most common and universal temptation. Furthermore, it is interesting that Luke does not report Jesus quoting the entire verse of Deuteronomy 8:3, “man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” In Jesus’ temptation both the original sin of Adam and the historic failure of Israel are undone. Adam was tempted to eat and fell into sin. Israel was fed with manna in the wilderness but their lack of faith and fear of not having enough food caused them to murmur and rebel against God. Jesus lived by the Word of God. He is the new man, the new Israel who is the Word of God and is Himself the bread of life from heaven who feeds His people.
In Luke’s ordering, the temptation of gaining the fame and power and riches of the world by selling your soul to the devil is the second temptation. One should pause at the devil’s claim and assertion that all the authority and glory of the world has been given (by God!) to him and ask, “is that true? Or is he lying?” Don’t fall for it. As Adam and Eve found out, the devil’s promises are hollow; he cannot deliver what he promises. His only “authority,” such as it is, is over the fallen world, separated from God and from life itself. His so-called “glory” is doomed to defeat. To buy in to the devil’s claims is to lose the authority and glory of being children of God: the authority to call upon the name of the Lord as a dear child calls upon their dear father, the authority to say “no” to the devil, his temptations and his deceitful ways; and the glory that is and shall be ours fully in the resurrection to eternal life.
Finally, the greatest temptation and sin, according to Luke and to Luther, is to misuse God’s very name and Word by which we ourselves and others may be misled into unbelief. The promise of Psalm 91 is true and it is for you, “He will give His angels a charge or command concerning you,” to keep you safe in all your normal ways. Those last words is the little part the devil left out and thereby misquoted the verse. But even if tragedy, accident, illness or death takes hold of us, it cannot undo the promise and the life we have been given in Christ by faith in Him. That’s why we grieve the death of loved ones but like people who have the only hope there is.
Luke ends his account of the temptation of Jesus saying, “When the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from [Jesus] until an opportune time.” That “opportune” or propitious time would be when Satan entered Judas Iscariot (Luke 22:3) before the Last Supper of the Passover of that holy week, to begin the process of forcing the final battle by offering to the chief priests to betray Jesus.
In imitation of Israel’s forty year wilderness wandering and Jesus’ forty day temptation, in Lent we take forty days (not including the little Easter of Sundays) to contemplate, to let sink in, what we are being given for our battles with sin and Satan, namely, strength to carry our crosses, true repentance and faith by which we can learn to live boldly in the forgiveness of our sins and the “pattern of the sound words…in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 1:13). Let each of us live on every word of God, worship and serve God alone, and hear and listen only to the sure and reliable preaching of the promises of God for our life and our salvation.