The Vicarious Obedience of Christ
First Sunday in Lent| February 25, 2007| Rev. Rolf Preus| St. Matthew 4:1-11
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterward He was hungry. Now when the tempter came to Him, he said, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.” But He answered and said, “It is written, `Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’ ” Then the devil took Him up into the holy city, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down. For it is written: `He shall give His angels charge over you,’ and, `In their hands they shall bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone.'” Jesus said to Him, “It is written again, `You shall not tempt the LORD your God.’ ” Again, the devil took Him up on an exceedingly high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to Him, “All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus said to Him, “Away with you, Satan! For it is written, `You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only you shall serve.’ ” Then the devil left Him, and behold, angels came and ministered to Him. St. Matthew 4:1-11
Let us compare Adam to Christ. Adam was tempted because he chose to go to where the devil was. Jesus was tempted because the Holy Spirit led Him to where the devil was. Adam was tempted within the luscious and fruitful Garden of Eden. Jesus was tempted in the stark and arid wilderness. Adam gave in to the temptation. Jesus resisted the temptation. The devil lured Adam away from the word of God. Jesus opposed the devil with the word of God. After Adam disobeyed, God sent angels to bar him from His holy presence. After Jesus obeyed, God sent angels to serve Him. When Adam disobeyed he brought sin, death, and everlasting punishment upon the human race. When Christ obeyed He brought righteousness, life, and eternal blessing upon the human race.
Adam’s disobedience is imputed to the world. Christ’s obedience is imputed to the world. On account of Adam’s sin, the entire human race is guilty and stands condemned before God. On account of Christ’s obedience, the entire human race is acquitted and stands righteous before God. Adam’s sin changed the nature of all those born according to the flesh. Whereas in the original creation Adam and Eve did what was by nature good and right and pure and holy, now in their fallen condition the children of Adam and Eve by nature do what is evil and wrong and corrupt and sinful. Christ’s obedience changed the nature of all those born again by the Holy Spirit. The same Spirit that led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil leads us to Christ, clothes us with Christ, reckons to us the righteousness of Christ, forgives us all our sins for Christ’s sake, and empowers us to live holy lives in imitation of Him who resisted the devil’s temptation with the almighty word of God. The Holy Spirit takes away Adam’s failure and replaces it with Christ’s success. This is the life to which He calls us during this holy season and throughout the year.
Jesus faced three temptations. All three dealt with values. What did He value? What was more valuable than what? What is more valuable: food for the body or food for the soul? What is more valuable: divine proof or divine promises? What is more valuable: the glory of the world or the glory of heaven? We all face these temptations. Let us see how our Lord faced them and drove the tempter away from Him.
What is more valuable: food for the body or food for the soul? Let’s do a poll. Take a vote. Let the people decide. What do you think the answer will be? Why, there’s no contest. Consider excuses for missing work and for missing church. What would the boss accept as legitimate reasons for not going to work on a given day? Then consider reasons for skipping church on a given day. What’s more important? Making money? Or hearing God’s word? What do we need more? A healthy bank balance or a solid grounding in God’s saving doctrine? What do we crave more? The satisfaction of our physical desires or the words of life that strengthen our soul?
“If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.” But Jesus is more than the Son of God. He is also the Son of Man. He has become our brother. As our brother He offers His most holy obedience to God. He fulfills all of God’s demands for us, as our substitute. He values the word of God more than any bodily need He has.
And He has bodily needs. He was hungry. He was thirsty. He suffered pain. Just like every other human being. But there is something every human being needs. We need it to live. We need God’s word. We need to be listening to it and taking it in. We need to be learning it and inwardly digesting it. If we neglect it in favor of what our body wants, how are we any different from the animals that cannot know God or worship God or love God? When what God says is despised, how can anyone argue that God Himself is not being despised? But Jesus says that we live on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.
What is more valuable: divine proof or divine promises? The creature presumes to put his Creator on trial. If you are God you fix the mess I am in. But you made the mess you are in. God told you not to do it and you went ahead and did it and now you’re criticizing God for not fixing it. Perhaps God wants you to learn from your mistakes. You have no right to tempt God. You have no right to put Him on trial.
Does God really care for you? Do this, to find out. Ah, but that puts you in charge. You’re not in charge. When you demand proof from God you’re demanding to be God’s boss. You set the conditions. You make the rules. You decide what He must do to show His faithfulness to you. Then you’ll trust Him if He honors the deal.
But that’s not faith. Faith knows that God cares for us. Faith knows that God loves us. Faith knows that God will turn every evil thing to work for our good. How does faith know this? Because God promises this. Faith trusts the divine promise. Faith doesn’t demand divine proof.
“If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down.” Now note how the devil loves to quote the Bible. He goes on to say, “For it is written: ‘He shall give His angels charge over you,’ and, ‘In their hands they shall bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone.’’ That’s perfectly true. But you are not to put God to the test. When we pray that God will not lead us into temptation but deliver us from evil we cannot sincerely pray this prayer while running into temptation and embracing evil. God is not there to do tricks for us. He will not permit Himself to be taken into judgment by you. When God talked to Job out of the whirlwind in response to Job’s incessant complaining, what did God say? Put into plain English God said, “I’m God and you’re not. Remember that.”
God doesn’t have to explain Himself to us. He’s not on trial. But when He promises us something, we can surely bind Him to it. In fact, He loves it when we do. When we latch on to His promise and refuse to let go He is pleased with us. His promise is always joined to Christ. It is always for the sake of Christ’s obedience that God looks favorably upon us. Just as Jesus valued the divine promise over any divine proof, so we have in Christ the proof of His promise on which we can rely no matter what our immediate circumstances might say to the contrary.
What is more valuable: the glory of the world or the glory of heaven? Here we see the father of lies at the height of his powers, or perhaps we should say at the depth of his diabolical deceit. Notice Satan’s tactics. First, he offers what is not his to give. The kingdoms of the world and their glory did not belong to the devil. He cannot give what he does not have. Second, he exacts a condition that would require Jesus to deny both Himself and His Father. He says, “All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me.” Jesus replied, “Away with you, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only you shall serve.’”
The temptation is as powerful as it is outrageous. How can the author of evil, of lies, and of deception presume to offer us glory? But he does. That’s exactly what he does. He would persuade us that he is the one who owns this world. We know better. We know better because God has told us so. This is our Father’s world. The devil is called the prince of this world, not because he owns it – he most certainly does not – but because he controls to loyalty of so many in it. So this is the temptation to sin. Wouldn’t you like the approval of those who appear to be in charge? They talk about peer pressure usually with reference to teenagers and I’ll admit that at that time of life it is particularly difficult to stand alone against the crowd. But we all want the glory of the world. It’s no fun being ostracized, having what you treasure trashed, having what you value despised. But for us to gain the transient glories of this world requires that we set aside the eternal glories of heaven. For the LORD our God is not the only jealous God, permitting the worship of none other god. The idols of this world are jealous as well. If we want the glory the devil promised to Jesus we will have to sacrifice our Christian faith to get it. It won’t appear that way at the time, but it is most certainly true.
The worship of God is a confession. It is a confession that all of the promises of this world are, at bottom, without any true value. As the hymnist reminds us: “They prove to be burdens that vex us and chafe us and true lasting happiness never vouchsafe us.” Our Lord Jesus made the good confession in the face of the liar and murder of souls. He thereby set an example for us all to follow. He relied on the power of God’s holy word. Trusting in God’s word, He valued food for the soul higher than He valued food for the body. He valued the divine promises and didn’t demand that His Father prove Himself. He valued the glory of heaven more than any promise of glory here on earth. He did what Adam failed to do. He did so as the true man, the righteous man, the sinless man.
And He did it all vicariously. That is, He did so as our substitute. He did so for those who recklessly and shamefully embraced the values of the devil himself and sold their soul to him for nothing but empty and worthless promises. Christ’s obedience is so much more than our example to follow. It is the power to destroy all the works of the devil. It is the fulfillment of righteousness to silence the devil’s lies. Christ’s righteousness is ours. It is the forgiveness of our sins so that the devil cannot use them to trap us into further sin. It is the innocence in which we stand against the deceiver of our mother Eve and our father Adam. We stand against the temptations of the tempter with the weapon of God’s written word. But more than that, we stand against him with the Incarnate Word standing at our side, throwing into the devil’s teeth the loss he suffered in the wilderness and on the cross. With Christ on our side, we cannot fail in our battles against the evil one. And so we fight as those who have the victory. In Jesus’ name.