Striving with Satan
Invocavit Sunday (Lent 1)| Matthew 4:1-11| Pastor James Preus| Trinity Lutheran Church| March 6, 2022
When people think of Satan, they often think of two extremes that are both false. The first extreme is that Satan is a harmless spirit, who couldn’t hurt you if he tried. (This is why many so flippantly play around with the occult, visit psychics, and try to make contact with the dead or other spirits). The other extreme is that Satan is an unconquerable foe against whom no one can help you, not even God. With this view, many look at Satan as God’s equal, an evil god, against whom all resistance is futile.
Both these extremes of course are wrong. Satan is not harmless. He is our evil foe. Scripture calls him a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour, and a dragon, who claims many lives. Satan is our arch enemy, our number one problem. His goal is to lead you into sin and unbelief and to send you to hell. And he’s very good at it. He has claimed countless victims in his millennia long career, and he is not done. Yet, Satan is certainly conquerable. He is not all-powerful. He is only a fallen angel. He is not able to do anything beyond what God permits. And, our Lord Jesus Christ himself has defeated Satan for us in human flesh, so that we too might share in Jesus’ victory over Satan.
Likewise, as with Satan, there are two extreme opinions about Jesus, both of which are false. The first extreme is that Jesus came to earth only to be our example, to show us how we can make it to heaven by our works. In this way, Jesus would be nothing more than a second Moses, a lawgiver. And he wouldn’t be any better than Moses, because Moses didn’t give any command that God himself didn’t give. This extreme leaves us with little hope of salvation, because our salvation would still depend on us.
The second extreme, is that Jesus did not come to be our example at all; we do not need to learn from Jesus how to behave; since Jesus has overcome temptation in our stead, we can freely fall into temptation without fear; our sinning doesn’t matter; we don’t need to resist Satan. This extreme is equally wrong, because it gives the victory back to Satan after Jesus has won it for us! If you continue in sin without repenting, then you lose your salvation, as Hebrews 10 states, “For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.” (25-26) Jesus did not come to earth only to be an example to follow. He came to earth to be our Champion and to defeat Satan in our stead. Yet, Jesus also is our example, whom we should learn from, so that we can withstand Satan when he attacks.
Correcting these extremes about Satan and Jesus is important when confronting our own battle with Satan in this life. You’ll notice that immediately after Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River, the Holy Spirit led him into the wilderness to be temped by the devil. And so, we too, when we are baptized into Christ and become Christians through faith, the Holy Spirit leads us through this wilderness to be tempted by the devil for an appointed time. We must recognize that Satan is our deadly enemy, who desires to destroy our saving faith, and Jesus is our example in how we must fight against him.
“If you are the Son of God,” Satan jeers at our Lord. And so, Satan accuses us saying, “If you are God’s own child…” But Jesus did not need to prove himself to Satan or meet Satan’s standard. And neither do we. We are God’s children, because God says so in our Baptism by the merits of Christ. So, Jesus teaches us not to be thrown off our footing when sparing with Satan. A key you find in every answer Jesus gives to the devil, “It is written.” We don’t fight Satan with lofty human wisdom, eloquent speech or convoluted philosophical arguments. We use the same sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:17) which our Lord took up in human flesh, the holy Word of God. Scripture was written for us to use it against Satan and his lies.
The first word of Scripture Jesus employs is, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” as quoted from Deuteronomy 8:3. This statement is often misunderstood to mean, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but also by what proceeds from the mouth of God.”, as if bread isn’t sufficient, God’s Word must be added. But that’s not what it says. Man lives by the word that proceeds from the mouth of God alone. Yes, you need to eat. Yes, the grain must grow; the livestock must be raised; the oil must be drilled, etc. But not a kernel will sprout but by the word of God. Not a loaf of bread, not a bite to eat, nor a shred of cloth to cover your naked body will be produced outside of the Word of God. God produces all these things by his omnipotent Word. And if he desires for you to live without them, he could sustain you by his Word alone. Yet, if God were to cause the earth to be filled with bread and every other delicacy we crave, as we now experience, yet were to withhold his saving Word from us, we would be lost. It would be better to starve in the wilderness, staring at rocks, than to live in a land full of bread without the Gospel of Christ, which alone gives life that will never die.
And so, when Satan lies to you and tries to convince you that you need things other than or more than God’s Word, employ this dagger to his heart: “Man lives by the word of God alone.” And trust in God to provide for you.
Second, Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 6, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.” After Satan tries to get Jesus to prove himself to be God’s Son, he then tries to get Jesus to test his Father himself. He did this by misquoting Psalm 91, yet leaving out the important line, “To guard you in all your ways,” as if God’s angels were sent to play games with Christians who like to jump off buildings and not to protect them from evil thrown at them by the devil and the sinful world.
And this is how Satan tempts us. He tempts us to put God to the test. We put God to the test when we purposefully do what God forbids with the attitude that if God loves me, he’ll protect me. So, Satan fools people into neglecting going to worship and hearing God’s Word, participating in unchristian activity like drunkenness and fornication, all the while thinking that God won’t let the saving faith depart from their hearts. God’s angels will attend me, even if I purposefully walk down the path of unrighteousness and unbelief.
Yet, Jesus teaches us to use Scripture: You shall not put the Lord your God to the test. God indeed promises to send his angels to us and to provide for us an escape out of temptation, but we must not test him by fleeing from his angels and ignoring the way of escape he provides.
Finally, Jesus quotes, “You shall worship the Lord your God and him only you shall serve (Deuteronomy 6:13).” This word teaches us to serve our Lord in every faction of our life. Husbands and wives serve the Lord in your homes, workers at work, students at school. This word will remind us who we are and why we are doing everything in our life. It brings a constant check to our actions and a curb to Satan’s lies.
Jesus certainly is our example in battle against Satan. And as angels attended him in his physical weakness, so God sends his angels to minister to us as we battle Satan in this wilderness. Yet, unlike Jesus, we do not finish every bout untouched. We don’t seek to live by God’s Word alone, but we crave after bread in all its forms, even neglecting to hear God’s Word and find strength in the Gospel, so that we can pursue more wealth. We test God’s patience and love by going longer and longer without prayer, longer without hearing and meditating on God’s word, further down dangerous roads, dabbling in our vices, indulging in sins, confident we’ll turn back when we need to, the angels won’t let us go too far. We pray, “lead us out of temptation,” but only halfheartedly, while our eye is already on that sin we long to commit. And we worship and serve other gods, who have found a place in our hearts. It might not seem so brazen as prostrating ourselves before Satan and worshiping him, but we serve and trust and love other gods, wealth, power, comfort, the affection of others, more than God.
It’s not that Jesus isn’t the perfect example, but that we fail to follow his perfect course. But Jesus didn’t come to be a mere example. He came to be our champion. During these forty days of Lent, we spend much time focusing on the passion of Jesus on the cross. Yet, here on the first Sunday in Lent, we see that Jesus overcomes Satan already in the wilderness. Jesus does not sin. And this we must keep in mind as we walk with Jesus to his cross on Good Friday. That Sacred Head there wounded is the same one who silenced Satan in the wilderness, who overcame every temptation. Our Jesus is without sin. Our Jesus is righteous, holy, perfectly obedient. But he suffers for sins he has not committed. Jesus is our perfect High Priest, able to sympathize with us in our weakness, yet he is not limited by his own sin, because he has none. Jesus is the perfect Sacrifice, a Lamb without spot or blemish, who can take our place under God’s punishment and satisfy his righteous wrath. Jesus makes atonement for our sins on the cross, because he defeated Satan in the wilderness. Jesus’ passive obedience on the cross was made perfect by his active obedience in the wilderness when he obeyed God rather than Satan.
And so, Jesus proves himself to be the Seed of the Woman, who crushes the Serpent’s head, even as his heal is bruised on the cross. And this grants us the greatest and only sure victory over Satan. We have Jesus. As long as we have Jesus, Satan loses. We only lose to Satan if we lose Jesus, because even if we do sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous, who has made atonement for all our sins. Do not underestimate Satan. Yet, do not fear him. If you have Jesus, you have already won. Amen.