The Disciples' Temptations

Text: Matthew 4:1-11
Date: Lent I + 3/13/11
Lutheran Church of the Incarnate Word, Rochester Hills, MI

The story is as old as the third chapter of the first book of Moses and as current as this moment. It is the story of life, God’s good gift of human life and identity as His creation, His offspring, His own sons and daughters. That life, however, met an enemy: temptation, suspicion, pride, the lie of “life” without God or at least apart, separated from God; then awareness of sin and guilt, then tears, then fear, isolation, bruise, pain, sweat, then dust. “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” It’s the same story for everyone no matter how great or how small, no matter fame and fortune, or neglect and poverty. “All have sinned.” Still, God saw His creation the object of His care and love and he planted alongside the Fall into sin the seed of promise, the promise of His own rescue, renewal, redemption, resurrection from death to life.

Today we enter the ancient path that leads to our own rescue, our own chapter in the story. It is the path called Lent in which, first, we are called to deny ourselves and simply receive what God offers, for He has made good on his promise of rescue. The seed or offspring of the woman has appeared: the offspring of Adam and Eve, the son of Mary, the Son of God in our blood and flesh[1], Jesus of Nazareth. On this path we hear His story walking the way of the cross. But more than that. We not only hear His story, we receive it, take it in and as we do it has the power to transform us. Today we hear of His victory over temptations and are told that in Him neither do we have to give in. Then, this year, we follow the ancient path of John’s Gospel: we hear of new birth from above, of living water that gives life, of blindness turned to sight, and of calling forth the dead to life. Then, in one great and holy week, all of these stories combine and grow in our hearts, no longer as a cancerous tumor of deadly sin anymore but as the blessed new birth pangs of living faith bursting forth from baptismal water into the divine light, the dawning day of the morning star arising in your hearts (2 Peter 1:19). By means of the mighty, creative Word of God in our hands, our eyes, our nostrils, our ears, our hearts, the miracle of Easter gives us life. “Death is swallowed up in victory” by “God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 15:54-57).

“This is my beloved Son,” said the voice from heaven as Jesus stepped forward from the Jordan water as a man empowered by the Holy Spirit. By the same Spirit He was led to begin His mission of deliverance by first meeting the archenemy head on. Fasting and hungry in the wilderness, the tempter, the ancient serpent, the accuser, the liar and murderer from the beginning approached. As He began by planting doubt in the first daughter and son of God asking, “Did God say,” so He begins here with the doubtful words, “If you are the Son of God.” The devil knew Jesus is the Son of God. He just didn’t believe it. In reply, as with a swift thrust of a sword, “It is written” made the temptation evaporate and any chance of sin with it.

So also on this Lenten path must we not only hear but “read, mark, learn and inwardly digest” what is written, the Word of God. As the letter to the Hebrews warns, “we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it” (Heb 2:1). For “the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword” (Heb 4:12) and it is our only weapon, the only weapon we need, “A sword and shield victorious,” the “weapon of the Spirit” (LSB 657). By the same Spirit and Word temptations that come from without no longer must take root within.

But be careful with this sword, this Word. In the wrong hands it can be used against you. The way of glory, of side-stepping the cross, seems much more desirable. There is an addiction to glory that becomes blind, that just cannot see that the only way to winning is by losing. But the goal is not high Nielsen ratings but following the Way to life that is only through the atoning death of our Savior, even death on a cross. It is abuse of God’s Word to avoid repentance, faith and the cross. With God’s Word we are given the amazing strength to bear the weight of our crosses.

Finally, it all comes down to the First Commandment. To have a god is simply that to which you look for the highest good in your life at any given moment. And that can be anything. So when you are given the Lenten gifts of the catechumens beginning with the Ten Commandments, you are called and enabled to fear, love and trust no one else but the one, true God. When you are given the Creed you are given the very words to confess the one, true faith. “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God” (1 John 4:15). When you are given the Lord’s Prayer you are given God Himself, His holiness, His kingdom, His protection and strength, His glory and victory already yet in the shadow of the cross. In the water of Holy Baptism you die with Christ and are raised with Him. In the body and blood of Jesus He lives in you and you through Him. In this way you deny yourself, take up your cross and follow Christ.

“Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil,” for you. He met each temptation armed only by the Spirit and the Word, the same Spirit and the same Word God has given you. “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb 4:15-16).

You strove with Satan, and You won;
Your faithfulness endured;
Lend us Your nerve, Your skill and trust
In God’s eternal Word. (LSB 418:2)

[1] Greek word order, Eph 6:12; Heb 2:14.