It’s The Word
And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing during those days. And when they were ended, he was hungry. The devil said to him, "If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread." And Jesus answered him, "It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone.'" And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to him, "To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours." And Jesus answered him, "It is written, "'You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.'" And he took him to Jerusalem and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, "'He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,' and "'On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.'" And Jesus answered him, "It is said, 'You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.'" And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time.
Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, Amen.
Last week we saw Jesus shining brightly in His glory on the Mount of Transfiguration. What a contrast to this week. Jesus is going into the dry dusty wilderness, a barren wasteland not suitable to sustain life. This was a place full of scorpions and snakes and of course a serpent. This is the hard edges of Lent. Still dripping wet from His Baptism, being full of the Holy Spirit and having received testimony from the Father, Jesus heads into the wilderness. There He will be tempted and tested by the serpent of old, that old evil foe, the devil.
Our text says: “He ate nothing during those days”. I don’t recommend you doing this at home. You are not Jesus. This fast was His to do alone, and He does it for you. Though He is the One who gives seed to the sower and bread to the eater, His very human belly is now empty. He’s hungry with our hunger, emptied for our salvation. In this moment of His human weakness, delirious with hunger, the serpent comes to Him, the one who tempted Adam and Eve to eat forbidden food to satisfy their appetite to become as gods, now comes to the second Adam, humanity’s new head, with a similar diabolical proposition.
"If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread." You are the Son of God, aren’t you? If so you have all creative power with the mere utterance of your words. By you all things were made including bread and stone. Who would miss this stone you created? Who would even care? Who would know you cheated in your time of testing? There’s no one here but you and me, hiss.”
Hebrews 4:15 says, “We have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are.” We will do anything for a loaf of bread - forsake freedom, sacrifice unborn children, sell our selves into slavery and prostitution, kill. Our appetites are powerful, that little pleasure center in our brain, bent by sin, can turn pleasure into addiction and addiction into idolatry. The gambling rush, the glimpse of pornography, the abuse of substance, and most of it is done in the secret of our own little virtual wilderness. Who would know? Who is there to see? How we hate to be hungry, how we hate to be weak, to be wanting, at the mercy of God! We fight wars over bread, we kill our neighbors over bread, we ravage countries for bread.
Jesus would not do it. He came to serve, not to be served nor to serve Himself. His Baptism set Him on an exodus road to the cross. If He cheats here in the wilderness, could He be trusted on the cross? Would that be a lie too? The devil tries to deflect Him from Calvary, not by a lot, just a little. One little stone turned to bread to fill His belly. It doesn’t take much when it comes to temptation. A little seed of doubt - Did God really say that? If you are the Son of God....” The Devil is tempting Jesus to follow His painfully empty stomach down a highway that leads to destruction. He would not do it.
The Bread of Life would not make bread for Himself. “Man does not live by bread alone.” He came to give His flesh into death as bread for the life of the world. He refuses to feed His flesh bread from His own hand. The way of faith is the way of being given to, not of grabbing or of taking what is your right to have. By His hunger, you are filled. You, who hunger and thirst for righteousness, are filled by the life of this staggering weak man in the wilderness who is your Savior. He speaks for you. “Man does not live by bread alone.” He fights for you against the devil. He does what Father Adam did not do and what you and I cannot do. He resists the old evil Foe. “On earth is not his equal,” that is until the Son of God put his very human foot down on wilderness soil and said, “No, I will not fail!”
The devil, the Liar and Father of Lies, took Jesus up and in a glorious, glamorous instant showed Him all the kingdom of the world. How that must have looked to Jesus! The splendor of Egypt, Athens, Rome. The glitz and glamour of Las Vegas. The majestic power and glory of all this world’s kingdoms. Think of how hard we scrap and claw to get just a piece of it, our little chunk of the kingdom. Think of how hard people work, and how much money they spend to be the one in control.
Imagine the possibilities with Jesus running the kingdoms of this world. One world government, one world religion. The end of poverty, disease, oppression, crime, terror. Eutopia. Heaven on earth. All without so much as a drop of divine blood being shed. All for this price tag: “It’s all yours if you will bow down and worship me.”
The temptation of power and idolatry. We fail to see the seriousness here, because we don’t recognize the deadly seriousness of worship. We don’t take our bows seriously enough. So what? It’s only a bow. And so we bow to whatever gives us power and control, don’t we? The old Adam loves to be in control, refuses to bow down to God. He would be a god for he has bitten into the lie that said, “You can be like God.” Whether by gun, or sword, or the word, he will use it to gain control over others and be the top dog.
Sometimes we read this and think, “But that’s silly, Jesus could see through this ruse? He’s the Son of God! He’s the Lord of heaven and earth. All authority is His already.” But we fail to recognize what Jesus is doing here. This is our temptation; the temptation of all of humanity is focused on this one Man, the new Adam. And although He is God in the flesh, He literally “takes it like a Man.” He takes on the frightful prospect of being the Übermensch, the Man in charge, the Superman, the world’s dictator.
“One little Word subdues him.” When Dr. Luther wrote that Hymn the people asked what the one little word? What is that “word” that fells the devil in His tracks? I always thought it was “Christ” or “Jesus.” The little word is “liar.” It’s all a grand and glamorous lie. Not 24 carat gold, but fool’s gold, a fraud. There is only one way the Son of God takes His seat on the throne as King of Kings and Lord of Lords and that’s to be lifted up and enthroned as a corpse on a cross. Dying and rising. There is no other way for the kingdoms of this world to become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ than through Jesus dying and rising. The kingdoms of this earth are all destined to die, including this nation that is ours. They all have their appointed time and season. They are indeed given to the “prince of this world,” but by God for their judgment and destruction. And it must be this way. The old must die, the new must rise. And there is only one King before whom the nations will ultimately bend the knee, “at the name of Jesus every knee will bow - in heaven, on earth, under the earth - and every tongue confess Lord Jesus Christ to the glory of God the Father”(Phil 2:10-11)
“You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only shall you serve.” Did you catch the wonderful little paradox? The devil is “God’s creature.” The devil should be bowing before Jesus. The creature must always bow before his Creator.
Jesus refuses the power deal, for your sake. His worship is pure, and His purity is yours. He refuses to bend the knee to any except His Father. He refuses to be the Superman, the Übermensch, but instead becomes the Man of Sorrows, the broken, bleeding man, the least of all men, the beggar King who rules by His dying and rising. And all of it is done for you.
The devil takes Jesus to Jerusalem, to the temple, and set Him atop its highest point. “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you to guard you’ and ‘on their hands they will bear you up lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”
“You are the Son of God, aren’t you? Well, you know the Scriptures, the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word. It says, “God’s angels are watching you like a hawk. If you slip, they’ll swoop down and catch you. You won’t even stub your little toe, Jesus. Do you think it’s true? Did God really say He’d break your fall? How about putting it to the test? Jump. If it’s true, you go fluttering down for a soft landing on angel’s wings, wow! Talk about 15 minutes of fame! They’ll be eating out of your messianic hand, Jesus. So go ahead and jump.”
Did God really say? Did God really say, “On the day you eat of that tree, you will die”? Did God really say, “Your sins are forgiven?” Did God really say, “This is my Body, my Blood?” Did God really say it?
The temptation to test the Word is to test God. Is He true to His Word? Let’s find out. Put Him to the test. We dissect His word with the scalpels of criticism, our clever philosophies and of our “world views.” Oh yeah, we’re good at it. Any word but God’s Word. Did God really say it? Criticizing, dissecting, slicing, dicing, anything but hearing the Word that promises life.
The devil turns out to be a Bible-quoting liar. He quotes Psalm 91 to Jesus and tempts Him to put God to the test. If you look up Psalm 91 you’ll find a couple of interesting items. The verse that precedes the devil’s quote is this: “If you make the Most High your dwelling - even the Lord, who is my refuge - then no harm will befall you.” You are safe as you are hidden in Christ. You are safe as you cling to His Word of promise. You are safe when you make the Most High God your dwelling. Even death can’t harm you. But that’s not what the devil wants. He wants you to trust in yourself and to test every Word and promise that comes from God.
The other side of the passage is even more interesting: “You will tread upon the lion and the cobra; you will trample the great lion and the serpent.” That’s about Christ the One whose cross bruised heal crushed the head of the Evil One. Oh the devil knows how to find just the passage he wants, and how to ignore the rest. Don’t do the same.
Again, Jesus answers on your behalf. “No. You shall not test the Lord your God.” To test God and His Word is not to trust Him and take Him at His Word. Jesus trusted the Word of His Father for us. His tempted for us; His victory was for us!
With that said, let me assure you that you will be tempted. As baptized believers we go from the water to the wilderness too. You will be tempted by your appetites, by the lust for power and control, by the desire to test God’s Word. The apostle Peter reminds us that the devil stalks around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. “Resist him,” Peter says, “standing firm in the faith, that is the faith that clings to Jesus and confess Him as Lord. The devil shudders at that. A simple word of truth on the lips of a baptized child of God, can defeat the evil one. The word of truth, I am Child of Jesus Christ who died for my sins and calls me His own. For Jesus is our new and second Adam, and has planted His heel firmly on the serpent’s head and has crushed it. His victory is yours!
In Jesus name. Amen and Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, Amen.