The First Sunday in Lent

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Not About You; For You”

Matthew 4:1-11

 

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

This account of Jesus being tempted in the wilderness by Satan fits very neatly into Lent. Jesus is in the wilderness for forty days; Lent is forty days. Jesus fasts in the wilderness; many Christians fast during Lent. Jesus uses the Word of God to battle Satan’s temptations; we pray, perhaps especially during Lent, that God would confirm us in His Word so that we may withstand the temptations of Satan. It all fits so neatly. Which should make us nervous. It should make us nervous, because that neat fit may cause us to think that since we are celebrating Lent, this text is really about us. Jesus is giving us an example here of how to battle Satan, and so if we just memorize a few choice passages, Satan will leave us alone. And that should not only make us nervous, but afraid. It is a dangerous thing to think you can handle Satan; to think that you can take refuge in yourself, in your knowledge of the Scriptures, and your ability to quote them. Let me let you in on a little secret: Satan knows the Bible better than you do; he knows it better than I do. He’s been around a lot longer than the both of us. He’s probably not going to tempt us in obvious ways, certainly not in a red suit with horns and a pointy tail, with a pitchfork in his hand. He may not even tempt us with obvious, external sins. Much more likely is that he will come at us with the good things in our lives: our families, or our jobs, or our hobbies or weekly activities. He will use those good things to try and tear us away from Christ, our only refuge and fortress. And if we think we are strong enough to battle him, even with Jesus as our example, we’re in trouble.

But there’s another problem with taking this passage as being primarily a morality lesson, and that’s that, in order to make this text about us, we have to remove all the specifics, generalize it until it can fit us, and then put back in the details of our lives so we can make it apply. But there is one specific that refuses to allow us to do that. That detail is the first words out of Satan’s mouth: “If You are the Son of God…”. Satan obviously does not approach us with those words. Instead, he is throwing the Words of God back in Jesus’ face: “If You are the Son of God…”. Remember back to the baptism of Jesus, which comes right before the temptation. There the Holy Spirit descends in the form of a dove, and the Father speaks from the open heaven: “This is My Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well-pleased” (Matthew 3:17). Just as we heard Him say from the mountain of Transfiguration. And that’s where Satan attacks: at Jesus’ very identity. But notice that the Spirit, who descended and remained with Jesus, marking Him as the Anointed One, is the One who leads Jesus out into the wilderness to be tempted. It is not Satan on the offensive at all: God is on the offensive, and He’s sending His Son out into the wilderness to do battle with Satan. His will, which Jesus, as the Son, shares, is that Jesus be tempted to prove that He is the faithful and obedient Son in place of all the unfaithful children. Jesus is rewinding the clock and reversing the unfaithfulness of Israel; He is acting in the place of Israel, and in our place.

When God brought Israel out of Egypt, He said to Pharaoh, “Let My Son go, or I will take your son” (Exodus 4:22-23). God brought His son Israel through the Red Sea on dry ground, drowning all his enemies, and leading him through the wilderness right up to the gate of the Promised Land, the Jordan River. But there Israel rebelled; there Israel refused to believe God’s promises; there they trusted what they could see, rather than what God had said. And so God caused them to wander in the wilderness for forty years. He led them into the wilderness to test them, to see what was in their hearts, to see if they would obey His commandments. But they would not, so Jesus had to. Jesus goes out of the Land of Promise, through the Jordan River, and out into the wilderness to be tempted, to prove that He was the obedient Son.

So when the devil tells Jesus, “If you are the Son of God, turn these stones into bread,” Jesus will not, because He knows His Father will provide, whether by manna or otherwise. He will obey His Father, and love of His Father is in His heart. Later, Jesus will multiply bread and fish for the people, but not according to His own will, and not for His own comfort. When Satan tells Him to leap off the Temple, He will not put God to the test, as Israel did at Massa, when they said, “Is Yahweh among us or not?” He will not test God to see if He will really keep His promises. He is the obedient and faithful Son. Angels will attend to Him, but at the Father’s word, not at a faithless test. When Satan tells Jesus to worship him, and he will give Him all the kingdoms of the world, because he is the prince of this age, Jesus will not. He will worship only God, unlike Israel who found idols to worship in every kingdom of this earth. He will receive all authority and power and glory; He will be given all the kingdoms of the world; but not by Satan, and not this way. He will receive them because He will follow the Father’s way all the way to the end. This is not a story about us, or it would end the same way it ended with Israel. This is a story about Jesus and His faithful obedience. But that doesn’t mean it has nothing to do with you. It has everything to do with you!

Because not only would Jesus trust His Father to send Him bread in one way or another, the Father sent Him as bread for the world. Jesus said, “The fathers ate manna in the wilderness, but they still died, even with that heavenly bread. But I am the Bread from Heaven; I am the Bread of Life. And the bread I will give for the life of the world is My flesh. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood, I will raise up on the last Day.” He gives Himself, Body and Blood, for you. Jesus would not leap off the Temple, but He had already leaped from a far higher place: He descended all the way down into our flesh, and still He would go deeper, humbling Himself all the way down to death on a cross; there He would suffer Hell for you, as the Father turned His eyes from your sin on Jesus’ shoulders. Then Jesus would return to Hell again, in victory. He would bring the battle to the devil’s house; He would bind the strong man, and plunder his house, and you are the spoils of war. Not even the gates of Hell can prevail against Christ and His Gospel. Jesus is King over all kings and Lord over all lords, but in Him you reign because He has given you the abundance of His grace and the free gift of His righteousness (Romans 5:17). You are heirs with Christ of His entire kingdom.

So we find that this account does fit neatly with Lent. But not because Jesus is an example for us to follow; not because it teaches us to read the Bible so we can fight Satan. Yes, we should read the Bible. We should read it every day, hear it every week, not so we can mine it for gems to defend ourselves against temptation, but because it tells us about Jesus, the faithful Son, how He has already defeated Satan. The Scriptures exist to make us wise for salvation in Jesus Christ (2 Timothy 3). That is how we resist the devil: by standing firm in that faith (1 Peter 5). This text fits well with Lent, because it teaches what all of Lent teaches us: to take refuge in Jesus, our faithful Lord and the obedient Son of God, who took our place of unfaithfulness and disobedience. “Jesus came, this word fulfilling, trampled Satan, death defied; bore the brunt of our temptation, on the wretched tree He died. Yet to life He rose victorious, by His life our life supplied” (LSB 521:4).

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.

Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 3/12/11

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2 responses to “The First Sunday in Lent

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