The First Sunday in Lent

February 18, 2018

“Christ’s Victory Over the Devil”

St. Matthew 4:1-11


Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.  And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, after­ward He was hungry.  Now when the tempter came to Him, he said, "If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread."  But He answered and said, "It is written, `Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.' "  Then the devil took Him up into the holy city, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, "If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down. For it is written: `He shall give His angels charge over you,' and, `In their hands they shall bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone.'"  Jesus said to Him, "It is written again, `You shall not tempt the LORD your God.' "  Again, the devil took Him up on an exceedingly high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory.  And he said to Him, "All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me."  Then Jesus said to Him, "Away with you, Satan! For it is written, `You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only you shall serve.' "  Then the devil left Him, and behold, angels came and ministered to Him.  Matthew 4:1-11


The Father honored the Son.  He didn’t just identify him as his Son when he spoke from heaven at his baptism.  He claimed him.  He called him his beloved, expressing his love for him.  He pronounced his approval of him, saying that with him he was well-pleased.  Then the Holy Spirit led him into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.


So it is with us.  God baptizes us into union with Christ.  God joins our name to his name.  He tells us that we are his beloved son or daughter and that he is well pleased with us.  Then the Holy Spirit, whom we receive in our baptism, leads us to do battle against the devil.


A couple of months ago, the bishop of Rome, who claims to the pastor of the entire church, suggested that the words of the Lord’s Prayer be changed.  He said that the words, “Lead us not into temptation,” might cause confusion.  He called the traditional words a “bad translation,” saying that it might be good to change the sixth petition to, “Do not let us fall into temptation,” to avoid causing confusion.


First of all, it isn’t a matter of translation.  The words in the original Greek are perfectly clear.  Matthew and Luke use the very same words in their writing of the sixth petition of the Lord’s Prayer.  These are the words Jesus used.  These are the words that the Holy Spirit inspired both Matthew and Luke to write.  The sixth petition of the Lord’s Prayer is in any language: “Lead us not into temptation.”  No one has the authority to change them.


Still, the words may sound a bit troubling.  “Lead us not into temptation.”  Can this mean that God might lead us into sin?  No.  St. James writes:


Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone.  (James 1:13) 


God will not lead us into temptation.  But God will lead us.  And we will face temptation.  When he does and when we do, God will answer our prayer in the sixth petition of the Lord’s Prayer by the power that our Lord Jesus Christ exercised in the desert where the Spirit led him to be tempted by the devil.


The power of Christ is the power of the written word.  “It is written.”  That settles it.  God said it.  That settles it.  What God says goes.  Period.  This is why you don’t argue with the devil.  You don’t enter into a dialogue with him, letting him have his say while you have your say.  You oppose him with the Bible, the written word of God.  If Jesus, the eternal Word made flesh, used the written word as his weapon against the devil, so should we.  St. Paul describes our spiritual warfare against the devil and his angels in Ephesians chapter six.  He lists six spiritual weapons we are to use in doing battle against the devil.  Five are defensive and one is offensive.  The only offensive weapon is the word of God.  When the Bible as God’s word is called into question – whether its truthfulness or its authority – the Christian is robbed of the one weapon that drives the devil away.


The power of Christ is in the written word.  The power of Christ is in Christ himself, who is the incarnate Word.  St. John writes,


In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. . . And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. (John 1:1,14)


Adam and Eve listened to the devil’s lie.  They sinned.  Adam’s sin brought the entire human race into sin.  As we sing:


All mankind fell in Adam’s fall;

One common sin infects us all.

From one to all the curse descends,

And over all God’s wrath impends. (LSB 562 stanza 1)


Adam and Eve listened.  They had an open mind.  Jesus didn’t.  He had a closed mind.  When it comes to what God says and what contradicts it, Jesus demonstrates the purity, the goodness, the power, and the victory of having a closed mind.  God says it.  That settles it.


It was precisely by this stubborn adherence to the written word of God that Jesus fulfilled the prophecy of Genesis 3:15 where God said to Satan, who had just led our first parents into sin:


I will put enmity between you and the woman,

And between your seed and her Seed;

He shall bruise your head,

And you shall bruise his heel.


Christ’s perfect obedience is what crushed the serpent’s head.  He obeyed by doing.  The devil tempted him to sin and Jesus drove him away with God’s word.  He obeyed by suffering.  His heel was bruised on Calvary as he suffered and died for the sin of the world.  In so dying, he crushed the devil’s head.  By taking away our sin, he stripped from the devil his power to accuse us.


Jesus is the man.  He is the representative human being.  Whatever he does, he does for us.  His obedience and his suffering are the gift of humanity to God’s justice.  We didn’t do justice.  We did injustice.  True justice called for God to reject us and condemn us and punish us for our sins.  But Christ, the Valiant One, fights for us.  He is bone of our bones and flesh of our flesh.  All he does he does as our dear brother.  He is true God.  All he does he does as our God.  His victory over the devil and his lies is our victory.


We claim this victory, for God gave it to us and joined us to it when he baptized us.  We claim Christ’s victory, and we send the devil packing. 


This world’s prince may still scowl fierce as he will,

He can harm us none.  He’s judged.  The deed is done. 

One little word can fell him.


We learn from the Catechism that our spiritual enemies are the devil, the world, and our flesh.  The devil uses both the world and our flesh as he fights against our faith and our souls.  Look at how he does it.  In the temptation of our Champion, the devil signals how he does battle.  Watch him tempt the only begotten Son of God and you will see how he tempts the baptized children of God.  We watch and learn so we know how to fight.  He attacks us by temptations to the flesh.  He attacks us by temptations of the world.  He attacks us by promising to give us what God won’t.


He attacks us by temptations to the flesh.  Our bodies need to be fed.  We need to make a living.  Money doesn’t grow on trees.  We need to work, save, invest, and secure our future.  If we won’t, who will?  But the Bible says that we do not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.


We need God’s word more than we need to make money.  We need God’s word more than we need to provide for our bodily needs.  Jesus teaches us to pray seven petitions in the Lord’s Prayer.  Six of the seven pray for spiritual benefits.  Only one out of seven pertains to bodily needs.


Why do we place our bodily needs before our spiritual needs?  Do we think that God who has, by his word, forgiven us all our sins and promised us eternal life, will forget that we need food, clothing, shelter, and every other bodily need?  Jesus, who had the power to change stones into bread, did not do so.  Learn from Jesus what you need the most.  He said, “Seek first, the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33)


The devil attacks us by temptations of the world.  He told the Son of God to throw himself off of the pinnacle of the temple, appealing to the promise of the Bible that God’s angels would keep him safe.  But to believe the Bible is not to put God to the test.  God is in charge.  We’re not.  The religions spawned by the world don’t acknowledge this.  They insist that we are in charge of God.  Do this and then God will do that.  Here’s the formula.  Follow it, and see if God won’t bless you!  Here are the instructions.  Do what they say and God won’t be able to deny you.  Leap out in faith and surely God will catch you!


Ah, but faith is no leap.  Faith doesn’t test God.  Faith requires from God no display of power and might that will impress the world.  Jesus did not throw himself down.  He meekly permitted himself to be lifted up and there on the cross he draws us to him.  There, where the world turns away in horror and disgust, Jesus bears our sins and keeps the promise God gave us.


The devil tempts us by promising us what he claims God won’t give us.  The Son of God is not seen ruling over all the nations of the world and enjoying the visible glory of such a reign.  His rule is hidden.  No eye can see it.  It is hidden under suffering and the cross.  It is hidden under words spoken by mere men, under water joined to the word, and under bread and wine consecrated by the word.  Look at what Jesus saw, as he was looking at the glory of the world, and consider what he was rejecting.  There is no civil, political, legal, judicial, or military power in this world that can compare to the power God displays when he redeems us by Christ’s blood, forgives us all our sins, and rules over us by the Holy Spirit.


Here is where Jesus rules!  Here is where the angels join us in praise of our God!  Here, where the gospel sounds forth and the sacraments of Christ are administered according to the gospel, Jesus reigns.  The devil is bound.  We are led out of temptation, and confirmed in our most holy faith.


Increase my faith, dear Savior,
For Satan seeks by night and day
To rob me of this treasure
And take my hope of bliss away.
But, Lord, with you beside me,
I shall be undismayed;
And led by your good Spirit,
I shall be unafraid.
Abide with me, O Savior,
A firmer faith bestow;
Then I shall bid defiance
To every evil foe. 


Rolf D. Preus


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