Sermon for Invocavit Sunday
Pastor Robin Fish
Shaped by the Cross Lutheran Church
Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
Our Gospel this morning is the familiar account to the temptation of Jesus. These temptations echo the temptation of Eve. Jesus was recapitulating the testing of mankind, taking a second run at it if you will, only Jesus didn’t fail – He faced the same fundamental temptations as Adam and Eve, only His were in a far more dramatic and urgent setting – and He resisted. ” When Jesus resisted the temptations of the devil that day, He passed the test that Eve, and Adam, had failed. He resisted precisely the temptations that mankind had failed, and so became, as it were, the second Adam.
As Jesus faced the tempter, the playing field is not quite level. On the one hand, Jesus is God. That gives Him an advantage. On the other hand, He is living in humility, clothed in human flesh and blood and human nature, not taking advantage of all of the powers and prerogatives of God. That gives the devil an advantage. Jesus has just spent forty days and forty nights without food. Matthew highlights this disadvantage for Jesus in saying, seemingly without any real need to, that Jesus was now hungry. Matthew says it, however, so that we don’t get some fancy philosophical notion that Jesus was immune to hunger, and that this wasn’t a real test.
The playing field of temptation is never level. You should learn that here and now, if you didn’t understand it before. Everything was pretty much stacked in favor of the devil, when he confronted Jesus. Things are usually that way when he tempts us. He cannot grow tired, while we can and do. He knows our every weakness, while we rarely understand them ourselves. He is perfectly deceitful, while we are not perfectly anything, and not always looking to be deceived, or capable of discerning when we are. He has power and we simply do not.
The next lesson we should draw from this is simple: Temptation happens – it will happen. This law is irrevocable for us while we live in the flesh. We will face temptations – although we may not always recognize that we are being tempted when it happens.
We can also note that temptation always hits you where it hurts. Jesus was hungry, and so it was food. He tempter also knows where you are sensitive and where you are weak. Temptation never comes where you are strong and unconcerned. If it does, it doesn’t seem much like a temptation. It always hits where you are vulnerable. That is why this lesson is so important for us. We need to learn from Jesus about the best defense against temptation.
First Jesus faced the temptation of food – physical need. Eve faced it too, when the devil said, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?” He was challenging the goodness of God and the confidence she had in God’s providence. She answered, and in answering she added to the command of God, indicating that just maybe she thought God was unjust, or extreme, or something.
How did Jesus confront this temptation? He responded with the Word of God. Jesus never went on offense. I image that He could have, but He did not. He showed us we can do it when we are tempted. Instead of claiming power, He claimed the fortress of God’s Word. Jesus expressed His confidence in God: “It is written, ‘MAN SHALL NOT LIVE ON BREAD ALONE, BUT ON EVERY WORD THAT PROCEEDS OUT OF THE MOUTH OF GOD.’” He resisted the temptation to doubt God’s provision. When Eve sinned, she failed that test. Genesis tells us that one of the reasons that she took from the tree was that the fruit was good to eat.
The second temptation of Jesus listed in Matthew was the one in which the devil took Jesus to a high pinnacle of the temple and tempted Him to jump down, quoting Scriptures and saying, It is written. That was actually a temptation to doubt the Word of God. You might say, Jesus was tempted with bad exegesis. The devil took the Word of God right out of Jesus’ hands and attempted to tempt Him with it. He set before Him an impossible situation, and then said, “Don’t you trust God? Here is His Word saying that He will catch you and take care of you and protect you!” The devil was suggesting that the only way to demonstrate faith is take the most extreme action and dare God to prove His promises true. If you cannot ask, you must not believe.
The temptation also came once again with the “If you are the Son of God,” clause. It was as much as saying, “Surely God will do all of this for you, since you are His Son!” The temptation was to doubt God’s Word, and so test Him, to see if He would keep His promise. It looked like faith, and it sounded like a legitimate promise, but neither was true.
We face disbelief in God’s Word disguised as bad exegesis all of the time. Nearly every debate about doctrine with another confession is a debate about a misunderstanding of the Word. Some swear that alcohol is forbidden, so they cannot see using it in church, as we do in communion. Some cannot comprehend how a child can believe, so they reject baptism for infants. Others cannot imagine how water can work forgiveness of sins, so they deny baptism’s power altogether. Some demand that we worship on the Sabbath because the Jews had to, some insist on keeping the Law – as though we could, some think that the Jewish people are the chosen people and the true Israel of God. Every one of them marshals Scripture to their cause. They all have their passages. And they are all wrong. They apply half-verses and half-truths just as Satan did, that day against Jesus.
Eve faced the same sort of temptation, when the Devil said, “You surely shall not die! For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” The devil was tempting her to doubt the Word and promise of God. God had spoken the truth about sin and death, and His will was not to restrict her or deny her anything, but to protect her. The devil invited her to doubt God’s Word about the result of sin – and God’s goodness and honesty as well. Sadly, Eve doubted God. Happily, Jesus trusted God, and refused to be deceived into a test which would actually show that he did not trust God’s Word, but trusted His own judgment more. Jesus answered with the Word of God – sound doctrine. He answered a temptation clothed in a Bible passage with the Scripture which answered the real temptation, “On the other hand, it is written, ‘YOU SHALL NOT PUT THE LORD YOUR GOD TO THE TEST.’”
Finally, the devil stopped hiding and simply offered Jesus the easy way. He knew what Jesus had come to do. He knew that Jesus could see the cross and all the pain and torment. He knew that Jesus had years of difficult work ahead, and he offered Jesus the easy route. Just bow down to me, worship me once, and I will let you off the hook. You can have the whole kit and kaboodle. Genuflect to me and recognize me as your superior, worship me as your God and I will spare you the cross and give you the whole creation as your prize.
This also teaches us that temptation is never convenient. It never seems to come when you are ready for it. It always comes at inconvenient times and when you are least prepared to face it.
Like every temptation, this final temptation was filled with lies. First, the world does not belong to Satan. It is not his to give. The price that Jesus was going to pay for our redemption was not going to be paid to the devil. It was to be paid to satisfy the justice of God. If Jesus had given in to the temptation, He would have become just like us, only more so. That would have been Satan’s victory over God and our absolute ruin. There would have been no glory to give to Jesus, nor would the devil have given it, if there had been. He is a liar, and the father of it, as Jesus once pointed out.
Eve faced the same temptation. The devil told her that the fruit would make her just like God. This was a good thing that Eve expected God could give her. The devil wanted her to doubt God’s goodness, and take matters into her own hand, and grasp the imagined good for herself, rather than wait for God to give her every good thing. – and she yielded to the temptation. Genesis tells us that one of the reasons she ate of the fruit was that it was desirable to make one wise. She became like God only in that she suddenly understood both good and evil. She understood good (having once been holy) and evil (having become evil). God understood both without ever becoming evil, so, although she became like God in some respects, she wasn’t much like God.
Jesus answered with the Word. “It is written, YOU SHALL WORSHIP THE LORD YOUR GOD, AND SERVE HIM ONLY.” He answered with the Word of God, and faith. The thing that Eve forgot, which Jesus kept in mind, was that God is first, and we come second. That is the only position that a Christian can take. The constant theme of humanistic unbelief is that we are of such significance that we cannot set our own desires and felt-needs aside for anything else. God cannot ask us to suffer, or do without, or wait patiently. What kind of God could do that!? The answer, of course, is the God who suffered for us, and waits with patience and earnest desire for our faithfulness and trust in Him. He is the God who has our true blessing and welfare at heart, and only asks us to trust Him for a moment, so that we may share eternal bliss.
It does not matter what the stakes are in any temptation, or what is offered to us, or how appealing the temptation may be made to appear. When we know who God is and trust Him and place Him in the proper place in our lives and consideration, then we wait on God, and we accept from God what He gives to us with thanksgiving and faith. We are called to be faithful, and we must first be faithful to God. If we fail in that, there is no genuine faithfulness left for us to assume.
Of course, we face temptations similar to Jesus’ – similar in kind if not in scope or power. First is the temptation of physical need – or physical desire. Many times we are not able clearly to distinguish between the two. We just know what we want or need, and it seems more important – more urgent – to us to meet that need or fill that desire than anything else. The temptation is always to take care of Number One first. The temptation is that we cannot let some theology, some bit of religious stuff – we cannot let some mere rule stand in the way of our need. That is how the temptation often presents itself.
Like Jesus we want to answer this first temptation with the Word of God and place God first, trusting Him in all our needs. We want to take Him at His Word that He will not forsake us, that He will always provide – as Jesus said, Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you.
The second temptation was the temptation to doubt God’s Word. Funny thing is that it doesn’t usually look like a temptation to doubt the Word of God. Jesus’ temptation looked like a challenge to Him as to whether He really trusted God. The faithful and sincere thing seemed to be to jump off the temple and trust God to do what He had said that He would do. But that would have been a species of unbelief. That would have proven that Jesus didn’t trust God, because He would have foolishly put God to the test for nothing more than proof. Faith is not seeing, not having the proof in front of it, but still trusting.
We are tempted in this way by false doctrine. False doctrine always does what Satan did on that mountain – it presumes to challenge our faith something that sounds Biblical, but actually it challenge us to doubt God’s Word or to act or speak on the basis of false doctrine and confused interpretations of Scripture which place God at odds with Himself.
This sort of temptation is often little more than an appeal to ignore God’s Word for the sake of feelings. To do that is to deny the truth of God’s Word, and count something or someone as more important than God. Jesus answered with faith, and clear doctrine – you shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test. We need to do the same; put the truth first, and trust God’s Word no matter what.
The final temptation Jesus faced is the most common sort today. We face this temptation each and every time we are offered the faster way, the easier way, the more effective way than what God teaches us to do. Jesus said, you shall worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only! We need to remember whose is God, and who we are. We worship God by being faithful, and trusting God, and doing the things He has given us to do. We can even win by losing — when we are faithful.
We can trust God, after all. We serve Him not by what we do, so much, as by trusting Him. Jesus once said to the Pharisees, Learn what this means, I desire compassion not sacrifice. And His will, summarized in the First Commandment is that we hold Him first in all things, and trust in Him alone, and love Him more than life itself. And love for God is a love that is seen in love for one another. This is the same will as what we see on the cross, where He died for your sins so that you might be forgiven and come to know Him as He is, gracious and merciful, full of love and compassion, and desiring your salvation first and last.
When we confront temptations, we can have no better pattern than that which Jesus provided. Hold fast to His Word, and trust in God. That is how to deal with temptation.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.