Rev. Deacon Allen Batchelder
March 9, 2014 – Lent I
Genesis 2:15-17; Psalm 32, Romans 5:12-19, Matthew 4:1-11
From Genesis, the First Book of Moses:
And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.”
From the St. Paul’s letter to the Romans:
Then as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience many will be made righteous.
And from the Gospel of St. Matthew:
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them; and he said to him, “All these I give you, if you will fall down and worship me: then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, ‘you shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’”
Let us pray:
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer, our Strength and our Salvation.
About two months ago, we looked at Jesus’ baptism in the River Jordan by John the Baptist. His baptism pictured His future baptism on the cross (Matt. 20:22) when all the “waves and billows” of God’s judgment would go over Him (Ps. 42:7). Thus, John the Baptist bore witness to Jesus Christ as the Son of God, and also as the Lamb of God (John 1:29).
As Jesus came out of the water after His baptism, the Father spoke from Heaven saying: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” God the Father made a declaration – a public declaration, that Jesus was His beloved Son. That is – the Son of God.
And now we go to today’s gospel reading, where the Holy Spirit leads Jesus into the wilderness or desert to be tempted. Why? The reason is so that Jesus can be tested, or tempted, by the devil. In verse 2, we are told that Jesus has been in the wilderness for 40 days and 40 nights, and during that time He was fasting – that is, not eating anything. Now if you had been fasting for 40 days and nights, how would you feel? The verse states the obvious – Jesus was hungry! And this is when Satan decides to tempt Jesus 3 times; at a time when Jesus was probably rather weak.
But before we look at those temptations, we should ask the question – why was Jesus tempted in the first place? Why did the Holy Spirit lead Him there to be tested? Well the Scriptures don’t tell us directly but it is not hard to deduce why.
From the high and holy experience of blessing at the Jordan, Jesus was led into the wilderness for testing. Jesus was not tempted so that the Father could learn anything about His Son, for the Father had already given Jesus His divine approval. Jesus was tempted so that every creature in heaven, on earth, or under the earth might know that Jesus Christ is the Conqueror. He exposed Satan and his tactics, and He defeated Satan. Because of His victory, we can have victory over the tempter.
Just as the first Adam met Satan, so the Last Adam met the enemy (1 Cor. 15:45). Adam met Satan in a beautiful Garden, but Jesus met him in a terrible wilderness. Adam had everything he needed, but Jesus was hungry after forty days of fasting. Adam lost the battle and plunged humanity into sin and death. But Jesus won the battle and went on to defeat Satan in more battles, culminating in His final victory on the cross (John 12:31).
Our Lord’s experience of temptation prepared Him to be our sympathetic High Priest (Heb. 2:16-18). It is important to note that Jesus faced the enemy as man, not as the Son of God. His first word was, “Man shall not live by bread alone.” We must not think that Jesus used His divine powers to overcome the enemy, because that is just what the enemy wanted Him to do! Jesus used the spiritual resources that are available to us today: the power of the Holy Spirit of God (Matt. 4:1), and the power of the Word of God (“It is written”). Jesus had nothing in His nature that would give Satan a foothold (John 14:30), but His temptations were real just the same. Temptation involves the will, and Jesus came to do the Father’s will (Heb. 10:1-9).
St. Paul reminds us in our Epistle reading from Romans that sin came into the world through one man, that is, through Adam. Adam was given dominion over the old creation, he sinned, and he lost his kingdom. Because of Adam’s sin, all mankind is under condemnation and death. Christ came as the King over a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). By His obedience on the cross, He brought in righteousness and justification. Christ not only undid all the damage that Adam’s sin affected, but He accomplished “much more” by making us the very sons of God.
The first temptation of Jesus involved the love of God and the will of God. “Since you are Gods beloved Son, why doesn’t Your Father feed you? Why does He put you into this terrible wilderness?” This temptation sounded like Satan’s words to Eve in Genesis 3! It is a subtle suggestion that our Father does not love us.
But there was another suggestion: “Use your divine powers to meet your own needs.” When we put our physical needs ahead of our spiritual needs, we sin. When we allow circumstances to dictate our actions, instead of following God’s will, we sin. Jesus could have turned the stones into bread, but He would have been exercising His powers independent of the Father; and He came to obey the Father (John 5:30; 6:38).
The Lord quoted Deuteronomy 8:3 to defeat Satan. “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Deut. 8:3). This quote referred to Moses speaking to the Israelites just before they entered the Promised Land, after their 40 year journey through the desert. And he reminded them that during that journey, that they had survived on manna. That is – food that God gave them directly from heaven. Feeding on and obeying God’s Word is more important that consuming physical food. In fact, it is our food (John 4:32-34).
The second temptation was even more subtle. This time Satan also used the Word of God. “So you intend to live by the Scriptures,” he implied. “Then let me quote you a verse of Scripture and see if you will obey it!” Satan took the Lord Jesus to the pinnacle of the temple, probably 500 feet above the Kidron Valley. Satan then quoted from Psalm 91:11-12 where God promised to care for His own. “If you really believe the Scriptures, then jump! Let’s see if the Father cares for you!”
Note carefully our Lord’s reply: “It is written AGAIN” (Matt. 4:7). We must never divorce on part of Scripture from another, but we must always “compare spiritual things with spiritual” (1 Cor. 2:13). We can prove almost anything by the Bible if we isolate texts from the contexts and turn them into pretexts. Satan had cleverly omitted the phrase “in all thy ways” when he quoted from Psalm 91. When the child of God is in the will of God, the Father will protect him. He watches over those who are “in His ways.”
Jesus replied with Deuteronomy 6:16: “Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.” We tempt God when we put ourselves into circumstances that force Him to work miracles on our behalf. The diabetic who refuses to take insulin and argues, “Jesus will take care of me,” may be tempting the Lord. We tempt God when we try to force Him to contradict His own Word. It is important for us as believers to read all Scripture, and study all God has to say, for all of it is profitable for daily life (2 Tim. 3:16-17).
The third temptation that Satan offered Jesus was a shortcut to His kingdom. Jesus knew that He would suffer and die before He entered into His glory (Luke 24:26). If He bowed down and worshiped Satan just once, He could enjoy all the glory without enduring the suffering. Satan has always wanted to be God (Isa. 14:12-14). Worshiping the creature instead of the Creator is the lie that rules our world today (Rom. 1:24-25).
There are no shortcuts to the will of God. If we want to share in the glory, we must also share in the suffering (1 Peter 5:10). As the prince of this world, Satan could offer these kingdoms to Christ (John 12:31; 14:30). But Jesus did not need Satan’s offer. The Father had already promised Jesus the kingdom! “Ask of me, and I shall give Thee the heathen [nations] for Thine inheritance” (Ps. 2:8). You find the same promise in Psalm 22:22-31, and this is the psalm of the cross. Our Lord replied with Deuteronomy 6:13: “Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God and Him only shalt thou serve.” Satan had said nothing about service, but Jesus knew that whatever we worship, we will serve. Worship and service must go together.
Satan slithered away, a defeated foe; but he did not cease to tempt Jesus. We could translate Luke 4:13, “And when the devil had ended every possible kind of temptation, he stood off from Him until a suitable season.” Through Peter, Satan again tempted Jesus to abandon the cross (Matt. 16:21-23); and through the crowd that had been fed, Satan tempted Jesus to an “easy kingdom” (John 6:15). One victory never guarantees freedom from further temptation. If anything, each victory we experience only makes Satan try harder.
At the end of the last temptation, Jesus commanded “Be gone, Satan!” After Jesus Christ had defeated Satan, He was ready to begin His ministry. No man has the right to call others to obey who has not obeyed himself. Our Lord proved Himself to be the perfect King whose sovereignty is worthy of our respect and obedience.
The devil left Jesus. Jesus had been tempted 3 times. He’d been tempted to turn stones into bread to satisfy His hunger. He’d been tempted to test God’s care for Him by jumping off the top of the temple. And He’d been tempted to gain all the kingdoms of the world by worshiping Satan. And unlike our ancestors, unlike Adam and Eve who failed, unlike the Israelites in the desert who failed, and unlike us who fail each day when we succumb to sin, Jesus did not fail. He passed the test. He was the perfect sinless one, who demonstrated in this temptation, that He was indeed the perfect Son of God, and the only human who was sinless, and therefore that He is qualified to stand on our behalf, and to represent us before the judgment seat of God and to stand in our place in something we could not do: that is, to withstand the temptations of Satan, and not sin.
Friends, where does our heart lie? Where do our priorities lie? May our heart’s desire be every word that proceeds from the mouth of God, as it was for Jesus as He claimed victory over Satan with God’s Word. Worship the Lord your God and serve Him alone and feed on His Word – the Bible; read it, study it, and obey it – all of it. So that when life’s temptations come our way, we can say: “Be gone Satan!”
Let us pray:
Almighty God, whose blessed Son was led by the Spirit to be tempted by Satan: Come quickly to help us who are assaulted by many temptations; and, as you know the weaknesses of each of us, let each one find you mighty to save; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives, and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen!