Sunday, February 18, 2024


 Matthew 4:1-11

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.  And after He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He then became hungry.  And the tempter came and said to Him, "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 ON BREAD ALONE, BUT ON EVERY WORD THAT PROCEEDS OUT OF THE MOUTH OF GOD.'"

Then the devil took Him into the holy city; and he had Him stand 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 WILL GIVE HIS ANGELS CHARGE CONCERNING YOU'; and ‘ON their HANDS THEY WILL BEAR YOU UP, LEST YOU STRIKE YOUR FOOT AGAINST A STONE.'"  Jesus said to him, "On the other hand, it is written, ‘YOU SHALL NOT PUT THE LORD YOUR GOD TO THE TEST.'"

Again, the devil took Him to a very high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world, and their glory; and he said to Him, "All these things will I give You, if You fall down and worship me."  Then Jesus said to him, "Begone, Satan! For it is written, ‘YOU SHALL WORSHIP THE LORD YOUR GOD, AND SERVE HIM ONLY.'"  Then the devil left Him; and behold, angels came and began to minister to Him.

Sermon for Invocavit Sunday                                 02/18/24


My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

 Our Gospel this morning is probably familiar.  It is the account of the temptation of Jesus by the devil just after His baptism.  These temptations echo in some ways 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 sorts of temptations as Adam and Eve, only His were far more dramatic and urgent – 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, only tailored just for Him.  And they were far more pressing upon Jesus than upon Eve.  This was part of what He needed to do to earn the perfect righteousness that brings us salvation.

On this day in the life of Jesus, you should notice that 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 accessing 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 the disadvantage to 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.

Of course, the playing field of temptation is never really 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 pretty much that way when he tempts us too.  He cannot grow tired, while we can and do.  He knows our every weakness, while we rarely understand them ourselves.  He is perfectly deceitful, and we are not always expecting to be deceived.  He has tremendous power, particularly among sinners, and we simply do not, particularly when it comes to opposing him.  That is why this lesson is so important for us.  We need to learn from Jesus about the best way to deal with temptation.

The first temptation that Jesus faced was 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 her answer she added to the command of God, suggesting that maybe she thought God was a little unjust, or extreme, or something.

And what was the answer of Jesus?  His answer was the Word of God.  

It is interesting to note that Jesus never went on offense.  I imagine that He could have, but we cannot, and so He did not.  He showed us how to handle temptation when we are tempted.  He did everything He did as One of us.  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 fruit 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.  You might say, Jesus was being tempted with bad exegesis.  The devil took the Word of God right out of Jesus' hands and used it to tempt Him.  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 temptation 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 put God to the test, to see if He would keep His promise.  It was dressed up to look 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.  Some demand that we worship on the Old Testament Sabbath, some insist on the need for keeping the Law, some think that the Jewish people are the chosen people and the true Israel of God, no matter what.  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 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, expressed in the single rule they had been given, was not meant 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.  Eve doubted God.  Jesus trusted God, and refused to be pushed 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 quotation 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.

Like every temptation, it was filled with lies.  In the first place, 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 paid to the devil.  It was 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 supposed 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 so far as 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 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. It does not matter what the stakes are, or what is offered, or how appealing it may be made to appear.  When one trusts God and places 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 faithfulness left for us.

We face similar temptations.  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.  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 get tempted in this way by false doctrine.  We are often challenged directly: Do you mean to tell me that I could go out and kill someone and still go to heaven?   Or, How could a loving God send anyone to hell?  What difference does it make which church I belong to, as long as I believe in Jesus?  These are some of the question we hear commonly.  This is only a small sampling of the questions we face.  These sorts of questions all do what Satan did on that mountain – they presume to challenge our faith with a supposed truth, but actually they challenge us to doubt God's Word and act or speak on the basis of false doctrine and confused interpretations of Scripture which place God at odds with Himself.

Let me show you what I mean.  Do you mean to tell me that I could go out and kill someone and still go to heaven?  This question sounds so good, but it challenges us to doubt the grace of God, and the Gospel He proclaims, as though it is our behavior that wins eternal life for us.  The answer is, ‘Yes, you could.  But the more interesting question is, would you?' If you have murder in your heart, are you likely to be a true believer?  

How could a loving God send anyone to hell?  This question places God's love in competition with His justice as though He could only be one or the other.  The Bible says God is just and loving.  

What difference does it make which church I belong to, as long as I believe in Jesus?  The best answer to this question is to ask, What difference does it make?  Then we really need to get into the question of what differences there are between different denominations, and the differences in what we believe about Jesus and who this Jesus is – things which are by no means the same necessarily from one church body to another.  

The temptation is to ignore God's Word for the sake of feelings.  To do that is to doubt 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 put the truth first, and trust God's Word no matter what.

The third temptation Jesus faced is common in our lives 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 invites or commands us to do.  Jesus said, you shall worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only!  We need to remember whose church this is, and why we are really here, and how Christ's church works.  We are here to receive His blessings – forgiveness, won for us on the cross, the Holy Spirit to create faith in us and keep us supplied with faith, and strength, and wisdom, and courage, and faithfulness to live each day as His people, a light in a very dark and evil world.  We worship God by being faithful, and trusting God to grant us the increase.  We can even win by losing — if we remain 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.  Keep your mind firmly fixed on Jesus, and everything else will sort itself out.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)

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