Lent 1: The Fast and Temptation of Christ

by Rev. Brian J. Thorson
Lesson: Matthew 4:1-11

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Immediately after Jesus is baptized, He is led by the Holy Spirit to the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil. This shows that the lives of the baptized are always going to be a battle. From the moment we are baptized until we enter the grave, we face a daily duel with the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh. We face temptation, tribulation, adversity, persecution, affliction, sickness, cross, and suffering.

And just as Jesus was led by the Spirit, so we must also realize that these sufferings come from God. Yes, God brings affliction. “Whom the Lord loves, He chastens” (Heb. 12:6). “For those who love God all things work together for good” (Rom. 8:28). For not even the sparrow falls to the ground apart from the will of the Father (Matt. 6). But remember, God is not evil, tempts no one, and does not sin.

So why would God bring about cross and trial? One reason is simple: to teach us to trust in Christ and not in ourselves or our stuff. We are taught in Psalm 50, “Call upon Me in the day of trouble;
I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me.” If life were never met with trouble, we would never glorify God; we would forget Him.

So why is Jesus, the Perfect One, led into the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil? Obviously, He will always glorify His Father in Heaven. He doesn’t need hardship to teach Him these lessons. It is written in Heb. 2, “He had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted” (v. 17-18). So, He endured temptation to be like us and to help us in the time of our own temptation. For this act of love, we ought to give all glory to Him.

Martin Luther once explained that today’s Gospel was used prior to the Reformation to force people to fast during Lent. If Jesus fasted for 40 days and 40 nights, then it was taught that the people had to do the same in order to earn God’s favor. This is obviously wrong. First, Jesus was led by the Spirit to fast—He was not led by Himself or by others. He was led by the Holy Spirit. Second, we cannot earn God’s favor through fasting. Yes, we ought to do what is right; but doing good does not earn God’s favor. Instead, doing good is what we do in response for having been received into God’s favor by His grace.

There are three kinds of fasting today. First, we may fast willingly, or by choice. For example, you may choose to give up something for Lent. When you crave the thing you gave up, it reminds you that Jesus gave up His life on the cross to pay for your sins. This is a fine form of fasting. You may also fast before receiving the Lord’s Supper. Many Christians choose to eat no breakfast when they go to the Lord’s altar. This, too, may be done in Christian freedom, for you have learned in the Catechism, “Fasting & bodily preparation are indeed fine outward training, but he that is truly worthy and well prepared has faith in these words, ‘Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.’”

The second kind of fasting is not by choice. This is the type of fasting Jesus endured. Since He was led by the Spirit to the wilderness, this shows His fast was brought upon Him. Today, this type of fasting can occur when there is scarcity or famine. It can also occur when we teach and confess God’s pure Word, for the world wants nothing to do with us who abide by our Lord’s teaching and may bring persecution.

Because this type of fast comes not by choice, this kind is nobler than when our fasting is done by choice.

The third type of fasting is abstaining from all evil thoughts, words, and deeds. It is abstaining from wicked passions, desires, and bad company. It is abstaining from gluttony—that is, excess food, drink, sleep, entertainment, and leisure. It is observing good discipline, order, and moderation. This is basically observing the Ten Commandments. And this fast is demanded by God of all Christians.

Just as Jesus fasted, so also there are also fasts for us to observe as Christ’s people.  And, just as Jesus was tempted, so also we will be tempted. In each temptation, Jesus serves as an example on how to overcome the temptation. He was tempted in three ways.

In the first temptation, the devil tried to convince Jesus to turn stones into bread. It is as if the devil is saying, “Look at how Your Father is treating You—leading You to the wilderness, making You suffer want. Since He doesn’t even give You crust from bread and lets You be so poor and needy, it is pretty clear God has abandoned You!” It is a temptation to despair—to plunge into unbelief, worry, & greed.

The Devil tempts us in the same way as often as he can. He tells you that you are alone—that no one will understand you, your own temptations, or your times of need. He will make you think that you must do it all alone—figure out your own way to turn those stones into bread. He tries to get you to despair—to despair of God’s mercy and despair of neighborly support.

Because of this type of temptation, people take matters into their own hands through godless activity—they abort babies, euthanize, steal, or conclude they cannot give God any offerings because they feel they are too poor. Younger adults refuse to marry and have children because they don’t think God will care for them and their marriage. Older adults refuse to marry because they can’t stand losing a pension benefit or government entitlement. Repent.

We see in Christ the solution to this temptation. He responded by quoting Deut. 8, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” Jesus forces us to think beyond bodily nourishment and instead to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest the Word of God. “Jesus clung to the Word of God, strengthened Himself, and knocked the devil down with it” (Luther). When we have God’s Word, we are fed and have no need to worry. We realize that life is more than food and clothing. We learn to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. We learn that all the wants and needs of the body will be granted to us in due time.

The second temptation is the opposite of the first. While the first is temptation that arises when there is a perceived need or want, the second is creating a need when there is no need. Jesus had safety. His feet were planted on the ground. Yet the devil took Jesus up to the top of the Temple and tempted Jesus by telling Him to jump off the building, saying, “The angels will take care of you.”

This is another temptation common to man. Teenagers are more tempted to do things that are not safe, but even adults are tempted to engage in reckless activity that puts them in harm’s way.

There’s another angle to this temptation that is far more enticing: it deals with our spiritual needs. In Baptism, God adds you to His family. God established this church—an ark of safety—to gather you into it so that you hear His Word and be saved by it. Yet many place themselves into danger by not gathering here—not listening to the Word—not receiving the Lord’s Supper. They often insist they are fine—that they have faith. But they are the ones jumping off the cliff. They had the safety and promise of God’s Word. But then they abandon it, placing themselves in jeopardy of losing their faith and going to Hell.

Again, we see in Christ, the solution to the problem. He directs us to the Word (Deut 6). For in the Word we have the words of eternal life. They are spirit and life. And they teach us not to tempt God by placing ourselves in danger—physically or spiritually.

The third temptation is the desire for power, honor, and good days. It is when Christians give up the faith so they can obtain what they want from this world. Jesus was tempted to bow down and worship the devil so that He can have the kingdoms of the world. Obviously, the devil was lying. Satan didn’t have the kingdoms of the world to give to Jesus. They already belonged to God.

But that’s how the devil tempts. He makes us think we can obtain better things than forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation if we abandon certain tenets of the faith (or abandon the faith altogether). Satan promises happiness and good days when he cannot give them. Yet, countless souls listen to this temptation and are overcome by it.

Jesus teaches us the true way: worship God and serve Him alone (Deut 6, 10). Observe the first three commandments. See the good that comes from God’s Word and His promises. For in this Word, God rescues you from temptation, forgives your sin, calls you His beloved children, and grants you eternal life.

After Jesus withstood the temptations, angels ministered to Him. Angels minister to us today. Not only do the heavenly spirits (angels) minister to us, protecting us, but God has sent other ministers in our lives. Humans are God’s masks and disguises which He uses for our benefit. God places others in our lives to help us in our journey toward Heaven. And God places us in others’ lives to help them. God also gives us ministers of the Gospel to direct our hearts and minds to Christ our Savior. We can view these all as God’s angels who minister to us, be they real angels or other people who minister to us.

Even though Jesus was tempted, He did not give in—not even once. He perfectly fulfilled the Law. Now He can credit you—His dear children—with keeping the Law. And because Jesus took away your sins on the cross, He can cancel out all your sin and declare you to be righteous and holy. There is no need to give in to the various temptations of the devil. Truly God has provided for all that you need to support your bodies and lives—all the way to Heaven! Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting. Amen