The First Sunday in Lent

March 1, 2020

“Overcoming Temptation”

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



When our first parents fell into sin, we fell with them.  While the world and her false religions rage against the doctrine of original sin, they may as well defy the law of gravity.  The hymnist writes the truth:


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, verse 1)


Anybody with eyes to see can see that we are all born sinful and prone to sin.  Only by the light of the Holy Scriptures can you understand how deep the sin is, but you don’t need the illumination of the Holy Spirit to learn that lying, cheating, stealing, boasting, coveting, and killing are features of the human race wherever human beings can be found.


God didn’t do this.  God is not responsible for evil.  The devil lied.  Eve was deceived.  Adam sinned.  This is history.  This is no myth by which people of long ago tried to explain the origin of evil in this world.  This is an historical event, recorded by Moses by inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  Our ancestors are not primates who evolved into human beings.  The evolution upward of the human race is a delusion.  We did not evolve.  We devolved.  We fell from innocence into sin.


Those who deny original sin typically argue that they cannot take the blame for someone else’s sin.  They didn’t eat the forbidden fruit.  They aren’t responsible.  What they conveniently ignore is their own behavior.  What they do, say, and think demonstrates that they agree with Satan and oppose God.  Every sin is a repetition of the original sin.  The tempter asks, “Has God indeed said?”  He questions the authority of God’s word.  He lies about God.  He promises what God won’t give.  The one he is tempting sees that the sin looks good.  Satan’s promise makes sense.  God’s word appears to be arbitrary and unfair.  This is how Satan leads us into sin.  He appeals to what we want and we wouldn’t want it if we were not sinners to begin with.  Sinners sin because they like it.  We all became sinners when our first parents ate the forbidden fruit.


God punished the man and the woman.  For the woman, that which brings the greatest joy – having a baby – would become painful.  And while she would want to rule her husband, he would rule over her.  For the man, his work would no longer be the blessing God created it to be.  Nature would turn against him.  He would die and return to the dust from which he was made.


This is the voice of God’s law.  But before God spoke his law to Adam and Eve, he gave them the gospel.  The gospel that God gave to them was not spoken to them.  It was spoken to the devil who had taken on the form of a snake to lead Adam and Eve into sin.  After cursing the snake, he cursed Satan himself and said:


And 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.


In the Bible, the word seed is used to refer to a descendent.  A woman has no seed.  A man has a seed.  But this Descendent would have no human father.  His mother would be a virgin.  The virgin born Son of God would crush the lying head of the devil.  This happened on the cross where Jesus bore all of the sin of the world and took it away.  The devil was undone.  The sacrifice on Calvary, by taking away our sin, takes away from Satan his power to accuse us of sin. 


But Christ’s victory over Satan didn’t just happen on the cross.  On the cross he bears our sin.  But more is needed.  He must fulfill all righteousness.  He must not only die for sin.  He must do what God commanded us all to do.  He must do differently than Adam and all his descendants.  Instead of disobeying God, he must obey him.  Instead of giving in to Satan’s temptations, he must withstand them.  Instead of being seduced away from relying on God’s word, he must take his stand on God’s word.  He must do what Adam and Adam’s children did not do. 


The Holy Spirit led him into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.  God doesn’t tempt us to sin.  The Bible says:


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) 


Satan hates humanity.  This is why he led our first parents into sin.  This is why he seeks to lead us into sin.  He hates us.  This is why he falsifies God’s word, contradicting it at every opportunity.  Satan won the victory over the human race when he led Adam into sin.  Jesus came to take Satan’s victory away from him.  The first Adam disobeyed God.  The second Adam would obey God.  Christ’s obedience is what makes us righteous.  St. Paul writes in Romans 5:19,


For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.


All who became sinners by Adam’s disobedience were made righteous by Christ’s obedience.  The devil came to Jesus to tempt him to sin.  He failed.  Jesus obeyed.  When Jesus overcame temptation he made us righteous.  His obedience is credited to us as if we were the ones who resisted the devil and overcame him.  As surely as Christ obeyed, we are righteous.


We receive this righteousness through faith in Jesus.  We are baptized into union with Christ.  God’s name is placed upon us and Christ’s righteousness becomes ours through faith.  The believer in Christ does battle.  Christ has already won the victory, but for us the war goes on as long as we live in these bodies in this world where the devil, as a roaring lion, walks around seeking whom he may devour.


The devil is a rationalist.  Reason reigns supreme.  If you are the Son of God you can turn stones into bread, right?  So then, you haven’t eaten any food for forty days.  You’re on the verge of starvation.  You’re hungry.  If you are the Son of God, turn these stones into bread.  If you can do it, which of course you can, if indeed you are the Son of God.


Make sense?  Sure, if you’re the devil or if you think like the devil!  Jesus is the Son of God.  He joined the human race to replace Adam’s disobedience with his own obedience.  He will not turn stones into bread for his own benefit, as if food for the body is more important than food for the soul.


Christians regularly neglect God’s word for the sake of making more money.  It is considered a most reasonable thing to do.  Is it reasonable?  Sure, like the devil reasons!  What do you need more: God’s word or your daily bread?  Doesn’t Jesus promise that if you seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness you will also be given everything else you need?


Jesus drives the devil away with the written word of God:


It is written, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”


The devil can quote the Bible, too.  He cites the Bible against the Bible.  He twists God’s word like a pretzel.  Throw yourself off the pinnacle of the temple,


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 replies by quoting the Scripture that says: “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.”  The devil wants control.  He wants to control God.  He tempts Jesus to test God and to place himself over the Father who sent him.  If you really are the Son of God, doesn’t the Father have the duty to care for the Son? 


Is God honor bound to care for us?  Yes, he is.  He has promised.  So then, don’t we have the right to test him?  No, we don’t.  He’s the teacher and we are the student.  He tests us.  We don’t test him.  He is in charge and he will decide how to care for us.  Should we pray?  Absolutely!  Should we specify to God exactly how and when and what he must do for us?  Or, should we entrust ourselves into his fatherly care, knowing that he will take care of whatever troubles us?  Faith doesn’t take control.  Faith trusts that God will and will do so for our good.


The third temptation is the most brazen, but for us Christians the most powerful of them all.  The devil promised Jesus the power, the riches, and the glory of this world.  The price?  Worship Satan.  When we prefer what this world promises us to what God promises us we are bowing down before Satan to worship him.  Jesus says, “It is written, ‘You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only you shall serve.”


Three times Jesus said, “It is written.”  He drove the devil away from him with God’s written word.  Jesus didn’t dialogue with the devil.  He opposed him with God’s word.  “Away with you, Satan, for it is written,” Jesus said.  He dismissed the devil with the word of God.


This is how we do battle.  The devil is quite active today, lying about everything God says.  He lies about who God is, to lead us away from reliance on the God in whose name we have been baptized.  He lies about how a sinner is saved.  He teaches salvation by works so that we will not trust in Christ alone for our salvation.  He lies about what is right and wrong, sanctifying every kind of perversion imaginable.  He lies about what matters in life, trying to lead us to rely on what is perishing so that we will perish with it.


We overcome temptation by claiming Christ’s victory as our own and by doing what he did in response to the devil’s temptations.  We say, “It is written.”  What God says settles it.  This will drive the devil away from us. 



Rolf D. Preus


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