And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing during those days. And when they were ended, he was hungry. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone.’ ” And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to him, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” And Jesus answered him, “It is written, “ ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.’ ” And he took him to Jerusalem and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, “ ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,’ and “ ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’ ” And Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ” And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time. ” (Luke 4:1–13, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
When I was preparing to preach this Sunday I came across an interesting fact. I’ve been a pastor now for nearly ten years. That means this text has come up for preaching at lest three times. And in all that time, I have never preached a sermon on this text. It’s hard to say exactly why, because this is one of those texts that is so rich, so full of meaning and. Here is the epic battle of good and evil played out. Here is Satan making his stand against God’s Messiah. He knows if he wins here he wins here. He’s confident, using the same ploys on the Second Adam, Jesus, that worked so well on the first. And it is the same in so many ways. St. Luke actually wants you to understand that. Just to make sure, he does what the other Gospel writers don’t do. After Jesus is baptized by John he goes into the desert to be tempted. But in between the events, Luke sticks the genealogy of Jesus, his family tree. And it starts with Jesus and goes all the way back to Adam. Listen to the last few lines, because they are very important in setting up the understanding of this text.
the son of Cainan, the son of Arphaxad, the son of Shem, the son of Noah, the son of Lamech, the son of Methuselah, the son of Enoch, the son of Jared, the son of Mahalaleel, the son of Cainan, the son of Enos, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God. ” (Luke 3:36–38, ESV)
Adam, the son of God. Wow, isn’t that what Satan says to Jesus. “If you are the son of God…”? Satan won his glorious victory over Adam in the garden, causing countless years of death and pain and sorrow. Now he renews the attack again. But there is a difference. Jesus wins. Satan withdraws. God stands on the field of battle victorious, as he always does, and always will. You see, this text is about Jesus. Oh, I know, you’ve probably heard this text used as a teaching on how to resist temptation when it comes. Just do what Jesus did. Just throw the right scripture at Satan and he’ll give in and you’ll win. Well, I hate to tell you this, but if you take the field against Satan, the outcome will be like the garden. You will lose. How do I know? Well, let’s just look at Satan’s arsenal.
First off, he tempts Jesus with material comfort. Jesus has been in the desert for forty days, and all that time he hasn’t eaten a scrap. And don’t think he got anything else easy either, because Satan has been at the temptation thing here for all forty days! Jesus was in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil. Satan goes after Jesus for the whole forty days and then finally here at the end we get these three. It all begins here with one of those great understatements of the Bible. And he ate nothing during those days. And when they were ended, he was hungry. Of course he was hungry. He was famished. He was starving. Most people would be dead, as a matter of fact. What Satan is putting toward Jesus is basic necessity. Look at you and me. We fail and we aren’t even faced with death. How often do we choose our own creature comfort over other people’s dire need? Here’s a simple example. You walk past the homeless person on the street and don’t help. Oh, I know, the excuse is always the same. If you give them money they’ll just drink it away. And so using that excuse you don’t help. You see, we’ve already failed our temptation. And we aren’t even starving. You know God actually requires us to help the hungry every time we are able. Anything less is sin. That’s the difference. There is nothing in us that can resist this temptation, even when nothing is at stake. But Jesus does. He could make the manna miracle all over again. He stands up to Satan in his hunger where we fail. He defeats Satan for us. He chooses God’s way, the perfect way.
Ok what about the second temptation? Satan takes a different tact. He shows Jesus the whole world. And he lies. Well, it isn’t a complete lie. He has control of the world. He has it through fraud. He has convinced people that his way is the best way. He gives them what they want, power and authority. It is pretty appealing, too. But he never lives up to his promises. Just look at Eve. He promised she’d be like God. He promised she’d know good and evil. She took what wasn’t hers to take and death entered her life. It should be mine, I deserve it. She thought. He played on her pride. How about you? Could you resist this temptation? No. You have failed this one already. Ever told a little white lie? You know the kind that never hurt anyone. It’s easier, than earning someone’s respect. After all you deserve to look good in other peoples’ eyes, right? The worst part is most of the time you don’t even have to lie. But you do. I’ve done it, too (but of course never to any of you!). You’ve done it for such little gain. Now, you know what God requires. He says even one time deserves death. You have to never lie to gain an advantage. Anything less is sin. That’s the difference. Jesus the temptation was the same. Why should God have to go to the cross to have what was already rightfully his. He could brush the cross aside and get what he deserves. But he doesn’t. Listen to Paul’s description.
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. ” (Philippians 2:5–8, ESV)
Then there’s the last temptation. Scholars have been arguing over this one forever. But it is really quite simple. Jesus uses scripture. Satan mis-uses scripture. The temptation is this. Jesus, God’s Son, trusts God to provide all that he needs. He trusts because of God’s word of promise to him. If Jesus is such a great, trusting son, he should prove it in a bigger way than just going hungry for forty days and trusting that food is at the end. If God really wants us to trust him shouldn’t he do it in a big way, rather than such a simple way? Throw yourself down, if you really trust God to catch you. Now we have it. We claim to trust God, don’t we? And yet, our trust fails at the first sign of trouble. The paycheck runs a little thin and we wonder where the money to do what we need is going to come from. My sister-in-law won the Nebraska lottery. $100k. Boy, could I use that kind of money. God wouldn’t it show folks your power much better if a pastor got that kind of cash? God we’ll really show your power if we all pray and you heal my friend of cancer. Ok, how about this simplest of examples. Every Sunday, God promises to make faith grow right here through the simple words of his servant. Often at this altar he provides food for faith, bread and wine, Christ himself, for you to eat and drink. We take it for granted. We think we’ve got to do something, anything to make what God does here better, bigger. It’s just too simple a miracle. It isn’t attractive enough to my friends. We don’t trust that God will do what he promises, in these simple things. Of course, we don’t trust God perfectly in all things. And yet, he requires perfect fear, love and trust in him. Anything else is sin. Anything else deserves his anger and punishment. That’s the difference. Jesus trusts God, the Father completely. He even trusts him to allow Satan to take him to the top of the temple. He could have jumped. He would have been saved. Satan wasn’t lying. But Jesus chooses instead the way of trust even though it means the way of the cross. Jesus wins with a word.
Do you see the drama here? Do you see how easily we are drawn into the story? Even though God’s struggle against Satan isn’t even a fair fight, what a story it is. It is your story and mine. Jesus isn’t out there in the desert for himself. He’s out there for you. He’s fighting and winning against Satan for you. When we listen to St. Luke’s telling we should really come away with a couple of thoughts. We should despair in our ability to do anything to be able to resist Satan. I like that saying, “when Satan bugs you, all you can do is flea!” Yea, flee to Jesus. He’s got Satan right where he belongs, hell bound. This is just chapter one in the story. There is more to come, more drama, more struggle, more Jesus! He wins. He dies on the cross for you. If you think Satan is tough in the desert, just look at Jesus deserted on the cross! When Satan departed from him until an opportune time, that was it. Just listen to him speaking there.
One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” ” (Luke 23:39, ESV)
But he stays on the cross. Deserted by God the Father, he is our sin. He is our punishment. He wins by dying and rising again from our death! That’s the other thing you should see here. We are such great sinners but we have such a great Savior. He
he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. ” (Titus 3:5–7, ESV)
My dear Christian friends, Satan is out there and he’s gonna try to put you through the ringer. But he is like a dog without teeth. He has no power over you anymore because Jesus has defeated him. He’s all growl and no bite for those whose faith is in the one who stands on the battlefield alone and victorious. That’s Jesus your Savior. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.