Christ’s Victory, Our Victory

Matthew 4:1-11

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

St. Matthew 4:1 “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.”

Dear fellow redeemed in Christ our Lord…  Immediately after His baptism Jesus was sent into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.  This should teach us something about our own baptism into Christ.  Many people think of baptism just as a nice religious ceremony, a family event usually involving a cute little baby.  We need to realize, however, that baptism puts us right smack in the middle of a battle.  When you are baptized you become an enemy of the devil.  In the baptismal water God snatches you from Satan’s kingdom.  The sign of the cross placed upon your forehead and your heart is a like a target.  Only by the Word and Spirit of Christ will you be protected from the deadly schemes of the evil one.  We should all pray more fervently and more diligently that God would guard and keep us from the power of the devil.

In our text, Satan came to Jesus and said, “If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.”  This first temptation is the temptation of the flesh.  Jesus is hungry, so the devil tempts Him to use His power to serve Himself and gratify His own desires.  But God the Father did not send Jesus to do that.  It was God’s will that Jesus hunger on our behalf, that we might learn to hunger for Him who is the Living Bread.

The devil also tempts us to indulge our desires and lusts and passions.  “Go ahead,” he says. “What’s the harm?”  “God wants you to be happy, doesn’t He?  He wants you to enjoy yourself, doesn’t He?  Come on!”  But whatever the devil gives is like a black hole, sucking away from you anything that is good.  The pleasure he gives is superficial and temporary.  However, the pain that follows endures and lasts and multiplies.  The devil does not dish out happiness and freedom; he gives addiction and slavery.

Notice also how the devil seeks to plant doubt with his temptation.  He says to Jesus, “If you are the Son of God . . .”  At His Baptism the Father had just said, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”  Now Satan wants Him to doubt that Word of God.  “After all, if You really were the beloved Son of God, would the Father put You through these 40 days of suffering?  Look at You; you don’t look like the Son of God, all weak and weary.  Are you sure about who you are?”

And dear friends, this is also exactly how the devil subtly attacks you.  “If you are a child of God . . .”  Satan wants you to doubt the Word of God spoken at your baptism.  “If you really were a beloved child of God, would God allow you to go through the things you’ve gone through?  And look at you; you don’t look very much like a Christian.  Are you sure you’re forgiven?  Are you sure you’re going to heaven?  Look at how you feel and act some days; is a Christian really supposed to feel and act like that?”

This is really the most evil of the devil’s temptations, to cause you to doubt your relationship with God, to doubt the Word that God has spoken to you.  Remember the serpent’s question to Eve in the Garden, “Did God really say . . .?”  We usually think of temptation in terms of physical things.  But the greater temptation is spiritual, the temptation to unbelief, the temptation to take your attention off God’s Word and to believe other sources.

And so when the devil assaults your conscience and reminds you of your sins, fight him off by clinging to Christ.  Don’t let Satan force you to dwell on your miserable self.  Instead, focus on your awesome Savior.  Know that all of your sins were swallowed up in the wounds of Christ on the holy cross.  Anything that the devil can charge you with, Christ answered for fully and completely at Calvary.  With the name of Jesus you can put the devil to flight.  In this way Christ truly is your mighty fortress.

In response to the devil’s first temptation, Jesus replies, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.'”  Jesus drives back the devil here and every time with the Scriptures, the solid rock of the Word.  Our real life comes not from bread or any other earthly thing but from God’s words and speaking.  His breath and voice give us life.  The Word proceeds from the mouth of God to you, “I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine.”  “I forgive you all your sins.”  “This is My body and blood given and shed for you for the remission of sins.”  We live by feeding on that Bread of Life.

Jesus quotes Scripture, and so the devil, in his diabolical craftiness also quotes Scripture.  He took Jesus 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.'”  Now, at first glance the devil has what seems like a holy idea.  God says that His angels will protect you.  So let’s see if it is true.  Jump from the roof of the temple.

But testing God like that does not flow from faith; it comes from unbelief.  It is an attempt to manipulate God and make Him do your bidding.  Unbelief demands miracles and signs and outward displays of power to show that God is really with you.  Beware of those who want you to prove your faith with extraordinary works or spectacular signs.  That is the religion of the devil.  Jesus said, “It is written again, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God.'”

Don’t ever forget that the devil is very good at religion.  He can quote the Bible with the best of them.  But his religion – his Bible-quoting – is always a perversion of the truth.  It has the appearance of godliness, it sounds holy and moral, but it is devoid of the grace of God, or it perverts God’s grace beyond recognition and mixes it with man-made righteousness.  The devil laughs at the ignorance of those who think that it doesn’t matter what religion you are as long as you’re sincere.

You see, the devil doesn’t mind at all if people are religious.  He is the founder of Mormonism and Islam.  He invented prayers to Mary and the saints.  He is the author of all sorts of Pharisaical programs of man-centered holiness.  The devil loves religion.  But what he cannot stand is the cross of Christ; he cannot handle the fact that people believe the preaching of the true Gospel.  It disgusts him when God’s people receive the Sacraments with penitent faith.  He hates it when they trust not in their own merits but in the merits of Jesus alone for forgiveness.

Finally, the devil took Jesus 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.”  This was more than a vile, wicked invitation for the Creator to bow down to the creature, this was an attempt by the devil to get Jesus to bypass the cross.  “You want to reclaim and redeem the world, fine.  But don’t do it the hard way through suffering and dying.  Do it my way.  Do homage to me and it’s all yours.  You can have all the glory right now.”

But 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.'”  Jesus would not take the path of least resistance.  He took the path to Calvary, the only path that would truly ransom us from the power of the devil.  By the shedding of His holy blood, Jesus released you from Satan’s grip and purchased you as His own.

Today’s Gospel marks the beginning of our Lord’s victory over the devil.  Jesus went face to face with the devil as your representative and as your substitute.  And He was not defeated; He put the devil to flight.  He was tempted in every way just as you are, yet without sin.  Christ’s triumph over Satan now counts as our own.  When you face temptation, you do not look to your own strength and will-power but to Him who vanquished the enemy in the wilderness and crushed his head at Calvary.

Make no mistake, dear friends.  The battle is very real.  But in Christ the victory is already won.  Clinging by faith to Christ’s sure and certain Word, and regularly receiving all that He has to give in His Sacraments, you are safe in God’s mighty fortress.

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