Sermon: Tempted Yet Victorious

Text: Matthew 4:1-11
First Sunday in Lent
Listen to the Sermon here.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Christians worldwide pray, “Lead us not into temptation”, several times daily. Jesus taught us to pray that God would “We pray in this petition that God would guard and keep us so that the devil, the world, and our sinful nature may not deceive us or mislead us into false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice” (SC III.16). And there is a reason why Jesus taught us to pray, “Lead us not into temptation.” Because even in the best of times, we have a poor track record of resisting temptation. But did you notice this morning’s Gospel reading? “Jesus was led … to be tempted by the devil” (Mt 4:1). Jesus was led into temptation. John had just baptized Jesus in the Jordan River. The Holy Spirit descended upon him like a dove, and then He was filled with the Holy Spirit. And what does the Holy Spirit do? Leads Him into the wilderness to be tested by the devil. The Temptation of Jesus allows us to ask, why was Jesus tempted? But first we will see that we are tempted in precisely the same ways.

The Devil’s Temptations

Jesus had nothing to eat during the forty days in the desert. When the forty days came to an end, Jesus was incredibly hungry. Satan tried to take advantage of this. “Turn these stones into bread.” That would have been easy for the Son of God. After all, he performed miracles and even multiplied loaves of bread! Jesus could make bread from stones. Jesus had the power, but that would not be a proper use of His ability. His power was to serve others, not to satisfy his hunger. Jesus is hungry, and the devil seizes on the opportunity and attacks him at this weakest. He wants Jesus to use his power to satisfy his own desires.

This same kind temptation is present in our lives. We have good, God-given desires for food, water, sleep, sex, companionship, and so on. Our wants and desires are what make us incredibly vulnerable to the devil. We’ll do almost anything to satisfy a pang of hunger, a craving, an urge, a passion. This is where Satan works—at the level of our wants. Your desire for food can be turned into a lure to overeat. You desire to sleep, and he tempts you toward laziness. You desire sex, and he tempts you with sins like lust, pornography, adultery, and homosexuality. The Enemy is so deadly in the way he attacks our desires. He has even convinced many that their desires for sin define who they are.

Food is necessary for life but not sufficient to sustain life. But Jesus did not come into this world to maintain his life. He came to die for yours. Jesus shows us that He lives by self-denial. He denied Himself so that He might give all He has for you.

The second temptation is a challenge to the trustworthiness of God. The Deceiver dares even to take up the promises of God into his mouth and twist them. Satan quotes Psalm 91 to shake Jesus’ trust in God’s promise for safety. He wants Jesus to subject his Father’s promises to verification. Since Jesus is God’s Son, then God should protect him. “But how do you know? Maybe you test it to find out.” The devil urges Jesus to test God’s promise by making a daring leap from the top of the temple.

The devil wanted Jesus to validate God’s trustworthiness. Force the Father to deliver Him miraculously. But that would be an example of a lack of trust, and it can show up in various ways in our lives. The temptation is to test the Word, prove it, and run the experiment to see if it works. But that’s not the way of faith. We are tempted to question God’s Word when it doesn’t say what we want. We are tempted to doubt God’s love for us when something goes wrong in life. We are tempted to ask God to prove that He is still with us even though He has shown His faithfulness to us repeatedly. To test God is the complete opposite of having trust in him.

Jesus was committed to living off God’s Word, to trusting God completely. Jesus never needed to set up trick tests to put God on the spot, to ensure the Father’s protection, as if He was uncertain about it. Christ simply takes God at his Word.

 The Saviour’s Victory

A third time the devil comes to Jesus. He takes Him to a very high mountain and shows him all the kingdom of this world and their glory. The Serpent offered a shortcut. Get the kingdoms of the world without sorrow, suffering, and ultimately a violent death. It’s the quick, easy, pain-free way. He could accomplish the goal in Satan’s way, avoiding the cross. All Jesus had to do was worship the devil that one time.

When Jesus refused to take the devil’s shortcut to glory, he embraced the way of the cross. The enticing whispers of Satan were designed to distract him from his goal, the path that would lead to suffering and death on your behalf. The devil tried to stop him from dying for you, to redeem you. But Jesus accepted that this was the Father’s will. Why was Jesus tempted? Remember the story of Adam and Eve in the garden—a single command; a single temptation; a single, devastating result. Jesus was tempted so that he could succeed where Adam failed. Where we fail, again and again, Jesus succeeded. Jesus is the man. He is the representative human being. Whatever Christ does, he does for us. He came to offer to God the obedience that Adam could not provide. Jesus’ righteousness answers Adam’s sin. One perfect life, one cross, and a single, blessed result.

You will be tempted. The flesh may scream for satisfaction; the world may tempt you to doubt your identity in Christ. You have an enemy intent on destroying you. He is mightier than you and full of wickedness. Never underestimate him! In yourself, you don’t stand a chance against him. “If you try to help yourself by your own thoughts and counsel, you will only make the matter worse and give the devil more space” (LC 3.VI.111). But our text this morning isn’t about what we can do. It’s about who Jesus is and who you are in Christ. Your saviour Jesus Christ is stronger than the devil. When tempted, he overcame. You have been baptized and are now a child of God Almighty. You can use the same defence as the Son of God himself.

Satan was crushed by the one man who would not let go of God’s Word and clung to His promises. Jesus never listened to Satan, and instead, he was bruised and bled and died precisely to crush the Serpent’s head. Christ, the Valiant One, fights for us. All he does, he does for us. Christ’s victory over the devil and his lies is our victory. By faith, we claim this victory, because God gave it to us when he baptized us. We claim Christ’s victory, and we send the devil packing.

Notice how Jesus overcame these temptations. “It is written … it is written … it is written …” Three temptations, and all three resisted with nothing more than the Word. The power against the darkness, the demons, the old evil Foe, against Sin, Death, and hell is not in you or in your ability to resist. The power is in the Word. Nothing but the Word. Nothing more than the Word. “One little word can fell Him.” Jesus gained victory over every the devil with nothing but the Word and promise of God. Our God and his Word are our mighty fortress. Store scripture in your heart and know how to use it. “The sword of the Spirit … is the word of God” (Eph 6:17), and if we do not know our way around the Scriptures and do not trust the God who spoke in the Scriptures, we will not share in the victory of God’s Son. The Savior gives His Word for certainty, the certainty of who you are as His baptized children and assurance of your destiny in heaven. Cling to the Word and put it to good use. Let the Word of Christ dwell within you richly. The Word is to be heard and prayed. Sing the Word! Read and recite the Word! Memorize, think, and meditate on God’s Word! Feast on the Word! And wield the Word as a trusty shield against the Serpent’s lies. 

You do not go on this journey alone. The Son of God goes with you. And because He was tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin, we can pray, “Lead us not into temptation.” “Although we are attacked by these things, we pray that we may finally overcome temptation and win the victory.” You and I can take our stand with Jesus, confident in his strength and his victory–victory over sin, death, the devil, and yes, even over temptation. The same Savior who defeated Satan comes to you today in Word and Supper as the sure sign that His victory over the devil is yours. “The Kingdom ours remaineth.”

May the peace of God, which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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