Text: Matthew 4:1-11
Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
It doesn’t take an expert or a trained eye to see the difference between our Old Testament reading and our Gospel reading today. The difference between the two readings is pretty stark. First we have Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden being tempted by the devil who appears to them in the form of a serpent. He pokes and prods them into eating the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, the one tree God said they could not eat from. “Did God really say that you couldn’t eat from that one? You know He is just trying to stop you from being smart, happy, and self-sufficient, right?” Of course, Adam and Eve fall for it, they eat the fruit, and, as they say, the rest is history. Here we are in a broken world of sin as a result.
Our Gospel, on the other hand, is a completely different story. Some of the characters are the same, or at least one of them is the same. The devil is back again, but not disguised as a serpent this time. He’s out there in the wilderness with Jesus, the Son of God in human flesh. Adam and Eve are long gone, they have died and rest in eternity waiting for the resurrection of the dead, but Jesus is there. The devil comes to Jesus with the same intentions that he had for Adam and Eve back in the day. He wants to trick, lie, and deceive and lead Jesus off the course that has been laid out for Him by the Father in Heaven. The devil tries and tries, three times to be precise, to deceive and tempt Jesus, but nothing works. Jesus will not be so easily deceived. After the third failed temptation Jesus commands the devil to “Be gone” and that devil has no choice but to flee with his tail between his legs.
If nothing else, these two readings side by side ought to show us that when it comes to dealing with temptations that we dare not trust ourselves. Instead we ought to trust only in Jesus. If we trust ourselves and try to deal with it ourselves we end up no better than Adam and Eve. Because they were deceived by the serpent and sinned we have inherited their inclination to sin. We are easily tempted and deceived. Instead we trust in Jesus, our Saviour, the conqueror, who battled in the wilderness with our enemy the devil and won. He gives us the victory over sin and death.
As we look deeper at this story of Jesus out in the wilderness struggling with the devil it would be tempting to think that the temptations that He faced out there have nothing to do with us. These temptations might seem to be kind of Jesus specific: turn this stone into bread, jump of the temple so angels catch you, bow down and worship the devil. But the writer of the book of Hebrews reminds us that “in every way [Jesus] has been tempted just as we are, yet remained without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). Jesus’ temptations are our temptations. There is no temptation that we face that Jesus has not faced and there is no temptation that Jesus faces which does not relate to us. He has been tempted just as we are tempted.
We might be tempted in less miraculous ways, but our temptations are the same. We aren’t tempted to turn stones into bread because we are not able to do that, but we are daily tempted to not trust in God to provide daily bread and instead worry about how we will provide bread and other necessities for ourselves. We might not be tempted to throw ourselves off of tall buildings so that God sends angels to catch us, but we are tempted to not trust God’s promises and maybe want to see some proof from God form time to time. And, we might not be tempted to bow down and worship the devil specifically, but we are constantly tempted to worship so many other things in the place of God. These temptations are our temptations and in the face of temptations like this we need the constant assurance that comes through faith in Jesus that He has defeated our enemy the devil for us.
But there is also something much deeper, much more sinister going on here in this gospel reading and in our own lives. This story of Jesus being tempted in the wilderness happens immediately after Jesus was baptised in the Jordan River by John. You might be familiar with what happened there. Jesus comes up out of the water and the Holy Spirit comes down from heaven in the form of a dove and God the Father’s voice booms from heaven, “This is my beloved Son, my chosen one.”
Now look at the first two temptations in our Gospel reading today. In both of the first two the devil starts out by saying, “If you are the Son of God…” The devil heard God’s voice that day out at the Jordan River and now he is going to put Jesus to the test by calling his identity as the Son of God into question. It’s like he said to Jesus, “Are you really the Son of God? Did God really say that? Are you sure you heard Him right? If you are the Son of God turn these rocks into bread because that is something the Son of God should be able to do? If you are the Son of God jump off this temple because surely God would rescue the He beloved Son. Are you sure you are the Son of God?”
Like the other temptations, this is also a temptation that we face. We are tempted constantly by the devil to questions whether or not we are really God’s children. Just like Jesus, we were baptised and when we were baptised God called us His beloved children. We are sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father. But the devil goes to work on us and tries to make us doubt and question our identity as children of God. We might think of the devil most of the time as just trying to make us do bad stuff or break God’s commandments like the little red guy on our shoulder in a cartoon or something, but if we think that is all the devil does we are not giving him enough credit. What he really wants is to make us question who we are as the children of God and God’s love for us.
It starts out really simply, the devil tempts us into some kind of small simple sin. Something that doesn’t seem like such a big deal. It happens again and again and again every day. But then one day, out of nowhere, when we’ve done something that starts to make our conscience feel uncomfortable, he turns on us and says to us, “Did you really just do that? Christians don’t do stuff like that you know! God commanded you not to do that! He won’t love you anymore, He can’t forgive you for that! What have you done?!” You can bet that the devil did this to Adam and Eve after they sinned in the garden (why else do you think that they hid from God?), and he does it to us too.
If we try to fight this temptation to doubt God’s love for us and our identity as His children ourselves one of two things happens, either we decide that we don’t care anymore and we harden our hearts so that we don’t feel guilt anymore or we get lost in despair and lose hope altogether because we have fallen for the lies of the devil. Either way, the devil wins.
But the whole point of our gospel reading today is to show us that the devil does not win. He is a liar and a murder and he has been since the beginning, but this lying murdering devil is defeated. Out there in the wilderness we see Jesus defeat the devil for us, not simply showing us how to defeat him, but actually defeating Him for us. Jesus presents a third option for us, an option that is much better than hardening our hearts or giving up in despair: trust in Christ. He has won the victory.
The devil’s attacks on Jesus questioning His identity as the Son of God don’t stop after Jesus leaves the wilderness. These attacks will plague Him throughout His earthly ministry. The devil is relentless. Even as He hangs on the cross people will shout at Him, “If you are the Son of God come down from there, save yourself!” But in the face of these final temptations and accusations Jesus calls out, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” He breathes His last and dies. And with His death He wins the victory over the devil, over temptation, over sin, and over death itself for us.
We have no reason to doubt God’s love for us or doubt our identity as God’s children because Jesus gave His life for us to make us God’s children and to break and hinder every temptation the devil can throw at us. We were baptised into Christ, we are God’s children now, and nothing, nothing not even the very worst that we can do, can take that away from us.
So when the devil comes poking around, when He throws your guilt and sin in your face and wants you to question whether or not God could love you, remember Jesus Christ crucified for you. Jesus Christ was victorious out there in the wilderness, was victorious on the cross, and rose victoriously from the dead for you. He baptised you and made you a child of God. The devil has no claim on you anymore. Don’t listen to him, listen to Jesus. In Jesus name. Amen.