Our Substitute In Temptation
Matthew 4:1-11

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Matthew 4:1-2  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.

Dear fellow redeemed in Christ our Lord…  Every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we pray, “And lead us not into temptation.”  This is the prayer of one who is under attack.  Writing on the Sixth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer in the Large Catechism, Martin Luther comments: “…although we have acquired forgiveness and a good conscience, and have been wholly absolved, yet such is life that one stands today and falls tomorrow.  Therefore, even though at present we are upright and stand before God with a good conscience, we must pray again that he will not allow us to fall and yield to trials and temptations.”  (LC III:100)

To be a Christian, simply, is to live in the presence of temptation.  Temptation is the invitation of the world, our flesh, and the devil himself to abandon the God who loves us and has redeemed us by the blood of His Son.  So today we look to the One who not only taught us to pray against temptation in the prayer which He gave His disciples, but who also endured temptation for us as our Savior.

Temptation is no trivial matter; it is much more than simply making a bad choice, like eating too many cookies when you are on a diet.  To be tempted is to be presented with the opportunity to deny who you are in relation to God.  We can see this from both of the great narratives of temptation in the Holy Scriptures which we heard earlier in the service.

The first account of temptation is that of our very first parents.  Adam and Eve were created in the image of God.  That is who they were in relation to their God and Creator.  They were not gods, but human beings created in God’s image.  God was the Creator; they were the creatures.

Now God gave Adam and Eve the lushness of paradise as their home.  The bounty of that garden was for their delight and enjoyment.  The garden was God’s garden, and He gave it to Adam and Eve as a pure gift.  There was only one thing that was not given to them – the tree that was in the middle of the garden, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  Adam and Eve knew only good.  Good is that which is received from God’s hand as a gift to be used according to His will and word.  Evil is to take for oneself what God has not given.  Evil is to use what belongs to God against Him.

Genesis tells us how craftily the old evil foe leads Eve into temptation.  Satan begins by placing doubt in Eve’s mind: “Has God indeed said you shall not eat of every tree of the garden”?  With his question, “Did God really say…?” Satan becomes a dispassionate critic of God’s Word, inviting Eve also to question that Word.  And the devil does not stop there.  He counters Eve’s answer with a bold assertion: “You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good from evil.”  Satan invites Eve not to settle for merely being in the image of God, but instead to do what is necessary to be like God, knowing good from evil.  To be in the image of God is to be God’s son or daughter.  To be like God is to be in competition with Him.

So Eve gives in to that terrible temptation.  She relies on her sight, her experience, her desires rather than the clear Word of God.  She sees that the fruit looks really good.  She reasons that it is a desirable thing to be wise, like God.  And so she eats, and she gives to Adam and he eats.  And you know the rest of the story.  The end and outcome of that eating is not life but death.  Adam and Eve were persuaded to deny who they were in relationship to God.  They were seduced into taking that tree in the middle of garden for themselves as though God were keeping from them something that was good.  By grabbing for what God had not given them, they lost what He had given them.  Such is the way of temptation.

Now contrast the account of Adam and Eve with the temptation of the Second Adam, our Lord Jesus Christ.  His temptation is not set within the beauty of paradise, but the harshness of the desert.  Matthew tells us that Jesus was led there by the Spirit to be tempted by the devil.  Freshly baptized, Jesus has the Father’s own word: “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.”  Jesus knows who He is in relation to the Father.  He knows that He was sent from the Father to fulfill all righteousness, that is, to suffer and die as our Savior.

Now Satan questions that relationship, not once, not twice, but three times.  From the Catechism you have come to know that temptation is from three sources: the devil, the world, and the sinful flesh.  Ultimately, of course, all temptation comes from the father of lies, the prince of hell.  God is never the author of temptation.  James 1:3 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.”  Satan is the author of temptation and his target is always the First Commandment: “You shall have no other gods.”

In His temptation in the wilderness, the Lord Jesus Christ faces all the temptations which confront and challenge us, inviting us to deny who God has made us to be in Holy Baptism.

The first temptation is a temptation of the flesh.  Our Lord had fasted for forty days and nights and He was hungry; His whole being craved for food.  We have a hard time if we miss one meal; Jesus had gone without food for forty days and nights.  He was hungry.

The tempter comes to Him and says, “If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.”  Here Jesus is tempted to take for Himself the bread which the Father has not given.  Here Jesus is tempted to doubt the goodness of His Father who has promised to open His hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing.  Jesus was tempted not to be the obedient Son who does the will of His Father even when that will includes suffering.  He was tempted to use His divine sonship to serve Himself, to change rocks into bread.

But, of course, the Lord Jesus Christ does not give into the devil’s enticement.  He answers Satan with His Father’s words: “It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”

But Satan is not yet finished with Jesus.  If he cannot break Him at the point of His fleshly hunger, maybe he can bring Him down by a temptation to worldly prestige and success.  Satan’s proposition is quite simple. “Jesus, if You are the Son of God, jump off the pinnacle of the temple and the angels will swoop down, pick you up, and carry you to safety.”  In other words, Satan is saying: “Put on a show….Demonstrate that You really are God’s Son….Just think how this could show the world who you really are, Jesus.”

Once again, Satan’s aim is to get Jesus to deny who He is in relationship to the Father.  The Father sent His Son into the world not to dazzle the world with a display of God’s almighty power, but to take on the form of a servant and go to the cross as the sin-bearing Lamb of God.  Jesus will not let go of that identity and the mission which it entails.  Again He answers Satan from the Word of His Father: “It is written again, You shall not tempt the Lord your God.”

There is a third temptation.  This one is a direct invitation from the devil himself.  After showing Jesus the glory of the kingdoms of this world, Satan says, “All these things I will give You if You fall down and worship me.”  Satan is saying to Jesus, “Take the easy way out….Don’t bother with establishing God’s kingdom through suffering and dying on the cross, just fall on your knees and do homage to me, and I’ll hand over all the kingdoms of this world to you.”  But Jesus will not give to Satan what belongs to God alone.  He says: “Away with you, Satan!  For it is written, You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only shall you serve.”

In the hymn “A Mighty Fortress” we sang of our Lord’s victory over Satan: “Tho’ devils all the world should fill, all eager to devour us, we tremble not, we fear no ill, they cannot overpower us.  This world’s prince may still scowl fierce as he will, he can harm us none; he’s judged, the deed is done.”  The Lord’s fight with Satan was like all of His life and death for us.  Satan’s game plan was to get Jesus to choose some path other than the road that led to the cross, but Satan was not successful.  Jesus, the High Priest of our salvation was tempted in all points as we are, yet without sin.  Where we stumble and fall, He stood firm.  In times of temptation, we look not to ourselves but to Him.

God sets that throne of grace before us as He gives us the food that Satan cannot stomach – the body and blood of the Lamb of God, the One who was our substitute in temptation.  This is the food and drink that delivers forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation to those who eat and drink in faith.  This is the food of the soul which provides what the evil world around us cannot provide.  Without it we wither and die, but with its regular and constant nourishment we live and flourish and are sustained until the Lord calls us home.

In the name of the Father and of the  Son and of the Holy Spirit.