Lent 1: The Victory of Christ Over Temptation

The Temptation of Jesus
Satan tempts Jesus on the pinnacle of the temple, on a mountain, and in the desert (Matthew 4:1-11). From Martin Luther’s Church Postils (sermons), published in 1550.

Lessons: Psalm 91, Genesis 3:1-21, Hebrews 4:14-16, Matthew 4:1-11
Hymns: LSB 424, 656, 561, 562, 422, 418

Listen to the entire service here (the sermon alone is above).

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

      Last Sunday was known as Quinquagesima, which comes from the Latin for 50th day. We were 50 days from celebrating Easter. Today is known as Invocavit. The Latin titles in Lent and Easter are from the first words of our Introit. Today’s Introit began with Psalm 91:15, “When he calls to me.” Invocavit—To call or invoke. It’s where we get Invocation—invoking or calling upon God as His name is placed upon us at the beginning of the Divine Service, as in our Baptism.

      On Wednesday, we began the season of Lent. It is 46 days long, running from Ash Wednesday until Holy Saturday. Our closing hymn talks about these 40 days because, if you omit the six Lenten Sundays (for Sundays are a little Easter), then the season is 40 days long—the same length in which Jesus fasted in the wilderness.

      The German word for Lent is fastenzeit—fasting period, which emphasizes one aspect of Lent. Some languages refer to this season using a form of forty, emphasizing its length and connecting it to the many references to forty in the Scriptures. In fact, the earliest known reference to Lent is from the Council of Nicaea in AD 325. That’s the council in which the Nicene Creed was written, and Lent was called tessarakonta, which is Greek for forty.

      In English, we call this season “Lent,” which comes from an Old English word for “lengthen,” recognizing that Lent occurs in the Spring as the days are lengthening. While it may be nice to follow the older tradition of calling this season forty, the term Lent can have useful applications. Just as Epiphany was a season of growth in which we learned of Christ Jesus as our God, so also we continue to grow—lengthen—our knowledge and wisdom of Christ as we hear of His passion and His work to redeem us from our sin—namely through additional Lenten family devotions and midweek Lenten services.

      We need this time of Lent. While it is ok to observe it as a fastenzeit (time for fasting) to remind ourselves of the great sacrifice our Lord Jesus Christ went through to take away our sin and to discipline our bodies, what we really need is to focus on our Savior Jesus, who perfectly fulfilled the Law, went to Jerusalem, bore our sins in His body, and paid for our sins on the cross. We need this time to recognize our own sinfulness and the great works of Christ Jesus who took our sins away through the shedding of His innocent Blood.

      The Holy Spirit Himself leads us through our Lenten journey. He does so through His Word—the Word which Jesus relied upon to withstand the assaults and lies of the devil.

      Jesus was led by the Spirit to be tempted by the devil. Right before this, God the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus in the form of a dove in His Baptism. In His baptism, Jesus was anointed as the Christ to bear our sins and pay for them all on the cross. And so, led by the Spirit, he goes to wilderness and fasts forty days and forty nights. It is there that Satan comes to Jesus to tempt Him.

      The devil knew what was at stake. If he cannot get Jesus to sin, then Jesus would be able to shed innocent blood as the ransom payment for the world’s sin. God our Father would be pleased with Christ’s sacrifice, Satan would be defeated, and Christ Jesus would grant the victory of eternal life to all who believe in Him.

      Because there was much at stake for Satan, he needed to work hard in his temptations. Our Gospel reports three temptations Jesus faced. Throughout them, Jesus remained sinless. He withstood each temptation and responded each time with the Word of God. In this, Jesus is serving as an excellent example on how to face temptation.

      You see, Satan tempts us to focus inward. When we face temptation, we begin to think, “What’s the matter with me? Why I am thinking like this? I sure hope no one finds out about the temptations that are going through my head!” Dear friends in Christ, recognize these temptations for what they are: they are lies of Satan getting you to focus on yourself instead of Jesus. Jesus never looked inward when He was tempted. Instead, He looked to the external Word of God.

      When we face temptation, we should be driven to that same Word and prayer. After all, “For us fights the valiant one whom God Himself elected!” “He’s by our side upon the plain” (LSB 656). Jesus fights for us. He’s our advocate, defender, and Savior. He can sympathize with our weaknesses for He was tempted as we are, yet without sin. So, then, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we can draw near to the throne of grace with confidence, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Heb. 4:15-16).

      As we face temptation, we also remember what we learned in the Small Catechism when we pray, “Lead us not into temptation.” We believe, teach, and confess, “God tempts no one. 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. Although we are attacked by these things, we pray that we may finally overcome them and win the victory.” These things certainly attack us as we are tempted, just as Satan was attacking Jesus with temptation.

      The first temptation Jesus faced was an appeal to appetite. “You’re hungry, Jesus! Feed your tummy! Do what pleases you!” In the same way, we are tempted to feed our appetites for excessive food, alcohol, sex, money, or power. To this temptation, Jesus responds, saying, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Deut. 8:3). Instead of focusing inward on what we desire, let’s improve our appetites for the Word of God. The more we pray the psalms, the more we love to pray them. The more we study the Scriptures, the more we desire to be in the Word. The more we sing solid hymns, the more we cherish them.

      The second temptation Jesus faced was an appeal to reason. Since Jesus quoted Scripture against Satan, the devil thought he could appeal to reason by using Scripture against Jesus. Taking Jesus up on the pinnacle of the temple, the devil tempted Jesus to throw himself down and quoted the Scriptures on how God’s angels will take care of him. When quoting Psalm 91:11-12, Satan skipped a line, which is, “To guard you in all your ways.” The purpose for God sending angels is not to protect us so that we can deliberately place ourselves in harm’s way. Instead, they are to guard us in all our ways—to keep us from putting ourselves in harm’s way. That means it is not for Jesus to test His Father by jumping. And so, He responds, saying, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test” (Deut. 6:16).

      Satan loves to appeal to our reason. He likes to make us think we are so smart that we know more about what’s good for us than God does. And so, we militate against God, His Word, and His Church. We fight to maintain our perspectives instead of humbling ourselves by submitting to God’s Word. We look for preachers who say what we want to hear and for churches that match our ideologies. Many Lutherans are not Lutheran by conviction but by circumstance. That is, they were born into Lutheran homes, married a Lutheran, or the closest church to their home is Lutheran. The danger of being Lutheran for these reasons instead of conviction is that if we find things that disagree with what we want to think or feel, we quickly leave, looking for something that suits our itching ears. Instead, we must be Lutheran by conviction—fully convinced that what is taught in true Lutheran churches truly matches God’s Word. And that means these teachings won’t match the desires of our sinful flesh. You see Satan will want us to reason away the Scriptures. He wants you to be the interpreter of Scripture (if you’ll even bother to search the Scriptures). Instead, Scripture interprets Scripture. Satan wants you to make the Bible say what you want it to say and omit whatever you don’t like.

      But we must not test God. We recognize that God never lies. His Word is truth (John 17:17). “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Rom. 15:4).

      Finally, Satan appealed to the human desire for ease. The devil was trying to get Jesus to believe that He could have everything without going to the cross—just bow down and worship Satan. But Jesus responded that the only One to worship is the true God (Deut. 6:13). We all prefer for things to be easy. We skip church because it’s too hard to get up, get ready, get our kids ready, listen intently, sing cheerfully, and gather joyfully. Years ago, one faithful lady told me after facing some conflict with other church members that she should just stay home. That way she doesn’t have to put up with anything. She didn’t realize that Satan was already waging an assault on her soul, for the devil was tempting her with the desire for ease. Satan tempts us to take the easy route and skip church and Bible study, give poorly to God, let our Bibles collect dust at home, refrain from helping our neighbors, make excuses for not helping the poor, and so on. Satan tempts us to be lazy and not work when we realize we can work the system. There’s really no end to the temptations we face.

      That’s why we rejoice in what Jesus did for us. He remained sinless as He was tempted. He did not give in, not even once—not even just a little. He did everything right. He fulfilled the Law in our place.

      He did not take the easy route. Instead, He earned our salvation through the only way we could be reconciled to God—by going to Jerusalem where He would be handed over to those who hate Him, endure a false trial, beatings, and be nailed to the cross where He would die among the transgressors, shedding His innocent Blood. He died, bearing the sins of the entire world. He served as the ransom payment for all our sin. And He rose victoriously from the grave to grant us victory. Because He lives, we hold fast to our confession, rejoicing in the salvation He won for us. Our Heavenly Father did not choose the easy part, but gave His dearest treasure—His only begotten Son as the Lamb of God to take away the sin of the world.

      Adam and Eve could not withstand the temptations of the devil, even when they lived in paradise—the Garden of Eden. We, too, despite our sincerest intentions, fail. But Jesus withstood all temptation and now credits you with having kept the Law of God perfectly. He covers you with His righteousness, so that the Father sees you as innocent. You are truly blessed. You are God’s dear children. He loves you. He grants you everlasting life—by grace.

      God bless you this Lenten season. Amen.

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