The First Sunday in Lent
February 17, 2013
“Between God and the Devil”
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
The Lenten season is known as a time of repentance. We confess our sins to God and we believe him when he tells us that our sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake. Repentance is a wonderful thing but there is a person who doesn’t think so. He would, if he could, stymie repentance, short-circuit it, and prevent it from taking place. That person goes by many names, but he is commonly known as the devil. If we are serious about repentance we need to be serious about the devil.
The devil is a fallen angel. He was a part of God’s perfect creation. Pride was his undoing. He rebelled against God. He hates God and humanity. He wants to destroy our faith. He leads us into sin and then uses that sin to challenge our status as God’s children. God establishes our status as his children. He baptizes us. He joins his name to ours and our name to his. He washes away our sins. He gives us our identity as Christians. He works faith in us. The devil seeks to destroy faith.
Right after Jesus was baptized the Holy Spirit led him into the desert to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights and was hungry. In his hunger he confronted the devil’s temptations. We know that Jesus was God of God when he faced the devil in the desert. But he was also a man. He took our place. He became our champion. He fought our battle. Remember that. God’s battle against the devil and all the powers of evil in this world is our battle. He fights for us.
He fought with the weapon that he has given to us: God’s word. Each temptation of the devil was met with the words, “It is written.” Jesus was God in the flesh. He regularly claimed divine authority in his teaching saying, “You have heard it said . . . but I say to you.” That was a divine claim every time he said it: “I say to you.”
But that’s not how he argued with the devil. With the father of lies he stood on the Bible and said, “It is written.” He is true God, but he is fighting the battle of humanity against all evil powers. The cosmic battle between good and evil is no myth. It is God joining the human race to do as a man what man needed doing. What we needed doing was to live in holiness and innocence in the face of the devil’s lies, deceptions, and temptations. The first Adam failed. The second Adam would not fail.
The Son of God fights for us as our champion. He is our God. He is our brother. He faces down the devil’s temptations as our representative. Our baptism into union with Christ is what enables us to face down the devil’s temptations. We do so as children of God who have the right to claim Christ’s victory as our own.
When the devil tempts our Lord Jesus he also attacks the Trinity and the true deity of Jesus Christ. “If you are the Son of God . . .” he says. “If you are” is to suggest that perhaps Jesus is not. He is not true God. He’s just a man. If he is just a man then he cannot defeat the devil, even if he is perfectly holy and sinless. Adam was perfectly holy and sinless and when he went up against the devil he lost. The innocent man lost his innocence. If Jesus is not the Son of God he hasn’t got a chance against the devil.
But Jesus cannot prove to the devil that he is the Son of God. If he does what the devil asks of him he will demonstrate that he is not the Son of God. The devil’s temptations are for Jesus to deny God. Let us examine each of the temptations to see how this is so.
The first temptation is to distrust. The second temptation is to presumption. The third temptation is to apostasy. The first temptation is to deny God the Father. The second temptation is to deny God the Son. The third temptation is to deny God the Holy Ghost.
“If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.” Jesus needs bread. That’s not under dispute. He’s hungry and he needs to eat. Will God the Father meet his need? We confess in the Catechism: “I believe that God richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life.” But if this confession is true, then surely he will provide for this hungry, faithful, obedient man, Jesus. Will God provide? Or will he forget? Does he care what I need? Or is he ignorant? Does God have the right priorities?
Jesus speaks God’s word. “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” I have to work and I can’t go to church. No, you need to go to church because man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. You need God’s word more than you need to work because it is not your work that gives you your daily bread it is your Father who is in heaven. You don’t trust in your own strength or intelligence or opportunity to make a living, you trust in him whose word is your greatest need in life. Let him worry about your future. It’s in his hands; not yours. The first temptation is to distrust. It is to deny God the Father.
The second temptation is to presumption. It is to deny God the Son. The tempter says:
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.
The devil can quote the Scriptures. But he distorts what he quotes. He quotes from Psalm 91 the words, “He shall give his angels charge over you” and leaves out the words, “To keep you in all your ways.” That’s because the devil wants to persuade you that you are in charge of your own ways and it is you who chooses your own path. You’re the boss. God works for you and he’s there at your command. That’s the sin of presumption.
The sin of distrust doesn’t believe God’s promise. The sin of presumption holds God to promises he doesn’t make. God’s promise to give his angels charge over us to protect us is his promise to protect those who entrust themselves to him. It is not his promise to protect those who put him to the test. Entrusting ourselves to God is letting God decide how to be God. The sin of presumption presumes to tell God how he’s going to save us.
The sin of presumption presumes. I’ll tell God how to be God. But that’s not how it works. God tells you how he’ll be your God. You don’t tell him. God tells us that we need Jesus suffering and dying for us. This is where it’s at, God says. St. Paul wrote: “I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” (1 Corinthians 2:2) Jesus gave us the Sacrament of his Body and Blood saying, “This do, in remembrance of me.” God tells us that our salvation is in the blood of the Lamb. The sin of presumption presumes to find salvation elsewhere.
God, give me something more exciting in life, more colorful, more meaningful than all this talk about suffering and death and blood and atonement – how depressing! I want to celebrate life! I don’t want this dreary repentance talk, blood talk, forgiveness of sins talk. Let me fly! Give me wings so that I can soar wherever I want to go! Affirm my spirituality, or I’ll go and find me a religion that will!
And so the sin of presumption sins against God the Son, saying that there was no need for his incarnation, no need for his obedience, no need for his suffering and death on the cross. It puts God to the test, demanding that he prove himself, not as he has chosen to prove himself, but as we decide. But God won’t permit anyone to put him on trial. “You shall not tempt the LORD your God.” The second temptation is to presumption. It is to deny God the Son.
The third temptation is to apostasy. It is to deny God the Holy Ghost. Abandon the faith altogether. Forget God. Forget him. He’s irrelevant! He doesn’t give you your daily bread. He doesn’t send you his Son to die. He doesn’t do anything at all. Oh, he may exist, but not so that it matters in your daily life. So live as if he doesn’t. Consider everything this world has to offer and get as much of it as you can because you only live once and what you see is what you get.
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."
Apostasy is falling away. It is denying God altogether. It is abandoning the faith for something presumably better.
Here in the Red River Valley of the North you get more of what the world offers by belonging to some sort of established Christian church. It is socially beneficial. In Europe and Canada it’s not as beneficial. It’s not uncommon for highly successful people to reject God openly and without apology. Apostasy is socially acceptable.
But where getting the glory of the kingdoms of the world goes along with belonging to a Christian church it is quite common for those who have already abandoned the Christian faith to remain affiliated with Christian churches. They exercise their influence over others. The apostasy of a few becomes the apostasy of many. You can see this all over America where churches have bowed down and worshipped the devil, adopting his lies as divine truth. They teach that the Bible that God gave us is filled with errors and contradictions. They teach that we descended from the animals. They deny the God-ordained differences between men and women, even going so far as to celebrate the homosexual perversion as if it is God’s own gift. They defend an alleged right to kill the unborn. They toss out the mysteries of the faith and pawn off the false promises of political ideologues as if it were God’s own truth. Make no mistake about it. Those who, in the name of Jesus, call good evil and evil good have fallen from the faith. It is written, “You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only you shall serve.”
The threefold temptation of the devil – to distrust, to presumption, to apostasy – continues to the end of time. Jesus won our victory over the devil’s temptations by his obedience to what was written. His obedience is reckoned to us as righteousness. He is the second Adam. He is the seed of the woman who has crushed the head of the serpent. He belongs to us in our baptism. By his authority we tell the devil to leave us. Then angels come and attend to us, bearing us up in their hands, keeping us from the devil’s power. Amen