“To Be Tempted by the Devil” (Matthew 4:1-11)

First Sunday in Lent
February 26, 2023

“To Be Tempted by the Devil” (Matthew 4:1-11)

The Holy Gospel for the First Sunday in Lent is always an account of Christ’s temptation in the wilderness. This year it’s the account from Matthew chapter 4. Today we will see how the devil operates, and we’ll see how Jesus overcomes his schemes. This has relevance for our lives, because the devil comes at us with the same sorts of temptation. And so now let’s see what it’s like “To Be Tempted by the Devil.”

Our text begins at the beginning of Matthew chapter 4. Obviously, right before this is the end of Matthew chapter 3. And there we have the account of Jesus’ baptism. The Holy Spirit comes to rest on Jesus, and the Father’s voice comes from heaven: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

Then in the very next verse, here at the start of chapter 4, it says: “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” Notice that: The Holy Spirit leads Jesus into the wilderness . . . in order to be tempted by the devil! Well, that’s a little weird, isn’t it? But here’s the reason: By Jesus now being tempted by the devil, God is finally going to have an obedient son who stays faithful and successfully overcomes the devil’s temptations. Adam didn’t do it; he failed the test. Israel didn’t do it; they failed the test. But Jesus will do it; he will pass the test, and with flying colors. So now the Spirit leads Jesus into the wilderness for that purpose.

Jesus was led “into the wilderness” for this test. Adam and Eve were in the garden when the devil tempted them. They failed the test and fell into sin. The nation of Israel was coming through the wilderness when they failed their test. As a result, they wandered in the wilderness for forty years.

So now Jesus is going to do a “re-do” and get it right. For Israel, it was forty years in the wilderness. For Jesus, it will be forty days: “And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.”

“He was hungry.” Adam and Eve were tempted through food. They were tempted to eat of the fruit of the tree from which the Lord had told them not to eat. Even though God had given them all the other trees from which to eat, the devil tempted them to eat from that one tree they weren’t supposed to eat from. But it looked so good for food! It seemed so delightful and desirable!

The nation of Israel, likewise, was tempted through food. They kept grumbling and grousing about not having the food they had back in Egypt. And they grumbled and groused about the food that the Lord was supplying them with there in the wilderness.

Well, the devil figures: “It worked with Adam and Eve, it worked with Israel, so now I’ll try tempting Jesus with food.” Remember, after fasting, Jesus was very hungry. The devil comes to him and says, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”

Now, as the Son of God, Jesus was certainly able to turn stones into bread. It was within his power to do so. In fact, think of it: Later on, Jesus will have no problem turning a few loaves into enough bread to feed thousands of people. But in the feeding of the multitude, there would be nothing wrong with Jesus’ doing so. Here, though, in the temptation in the wilderness, it’s a different story.

And here it has to do with the question of Jesus’ identity as the Son of God. Notice that the devil starts out by saying, “If you are the Son of God.” Now I should point out something about this “if” clause, “If you are the Son of God.” There are a couple of ways to do an “if” clause in Greek. One way would be to write it so that it means, “If you were the Son of God, which you aren’t, you could turn these stones into bread.” But that’s not what the devil is saying. There is a way to write it in Greek with that meaning, but this isn’t that. The devil is not denying the fact that Jesus is the Son of God. No, he’s conceding the fact that Jesus is God’s Son. After all, Jesus had just been affirmed as God’s Son by the Father at his baptism: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

You see, the devil’s approach is rather subtle. It goes something like this: “OK, Jesus, you just heard the Father call you his beloved Son. But if you’re so ‘beloved,’ then why is he letting you starve out here in the wilderness? You deserve better than that! Look, you’re the Son of God! Use that! Go with that! You know you can change these stones into bread. What would be so wrong with doing that? Food is good. And you know you need it. So go ahead, turn these stones into bread. You are God’s Son, after all.”

The devil is crafty and cunning in his temptations. He doesn’t usually take a head-on approach. More likely, he comes at things from the side. He wears down our resistance little by little. It’s a more subtle approach that the devil prefers. So here the temptation is for Jesus to use his status as God’s Son for his own benefit, to his own advantage. The temptation is to satisfy his own desires, rather than to do the will of his Father. “If you are the Son of God” is more like “Since you are the Son of God, go ahead and do whatever you like.” “If you are the Son of God”: “Okay, your Father says you’re his beloved Son. But then why is he letting you be deprived like this?” That’s how the devil operates.

How does the devil work on you? What does he whisper in your ear? I’m guessing he doesn’t usually come right out and say, “Hey, listen, renounce your faith, curse God, and come join me in hell for eternity.” No, that would be a little too obvious. Instead, the devil comes at us kinda soft and smooth-like: “Listen, Christian, you’re God’s child, aren’t you? And God must want the best for his children, shouldn’t he? So if there’s something you want to do, something you want to have–well, you should be able to get it or do it. Oh, within reason, of course. No big sins. No, just be able to satisfy your desires, that’s all. Look, God is in the forgiveness business, isn’t he? So just go ahead and do you want. And if it’s a little on the sin side, then you can repent later on. God will understand. God will forgive you. After all, you’re God’s child, aren’t you?”

Yeah, that’s how the devil operates. Subtle and crafty. Not an all-out frontal assault. More from the side. An incremental breaking-down of barriers. Friends, if you’re like me, you know how often we fall for the devil’s tricks and traps. We’re like Adam and Eve. We’re like the children of Israel. Unfaithful, disobedient. If we continue down that road, we will wind up being driven out of the garden and die in the wilderness.

But thank God, Jesus came and rescued us from that dead end. Jesus came as our Champion, taking on the devil in mortal combat. And Jesus prevailed. He carried the day. Tempted by the devil to turn stones into bread, Jesus replied: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” And so on down the line, through all the temptations. Jesus is the one faithful Son who gets it right.

You see, the devil is trying to divert and distract Jesus from carrying out his mission, which is to go to the cross and die for the sins of the world. If the devil can stop Jesus right at the outset, he’s got it made. That’s what this temptation in the wilderness is about: to see what kind of a Son Jesus will be. Will he be the faithful and obedient Son? Or a Son who uses his power for his own benefit, instead of doing the will of his Father? Because if Jesus did that, he wouldn’t go through with the suffering the cross would entail. And then we would be lost forever.

Thank God, Jesus passed the test. And he would continue faithful, all the way to the cross. For instance, when Jesus told the disciples he would be going to Jerusalem to suffer and die, Peter objected, “No, no, Lord! Certainly nothing like that for you!” But Jesus told Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!”–the same thing Jesus had told Satan here in our text! And when Jesus was hanging on the cross, people were taunting him with words just like the devil’s: “If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross!” But no, Jesus would not yield to that temptation, either. The cross was what Jesus was sent to do, and he would not be diverted. Instead, he was determined. Jesus is the faithful Son of God, the one who does his Father’s will. Yes, brothers and sisters, Jesus is the very Son of God, who shed his blood for your forgiveness! Now you will not die forever, but rather you will have eternal life!

Satan was very crafty with his “If you are the Son of God” approach. But Jesus will not use his status as Son in a way that will take him away from his mission. He’s got a job to do, which is to be the Savior of all the people here in this room. And of all the people in the world. Jesus knows his identity. He’s secure in his sonship. And nothing will shake him from his course.

And now you, dear Christian, you who hear me today: Rejoice that you have such a Savior! Take refuge in him. Realize who you are in Christ. Your identity is wrapped up in him. You are a baptized, beloved child of God. You have life in Jesus’ name. And because you do, you will find strength to resist the devil when he comes whispering in your ear. Remember who you are, and whose you are. In Christ, you are God’s beloved child. And so you can tell that old devil: “Be gone, Satan! Get lost and leave me alone! My Lord Jesus Christ has already defeated you, and I take refuge in him.”

Published in: on February 25, 2023 at 1:03 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: