Matthew 4:1-11 (1st Sunday in Lent—Series A)
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
March 13, 2011
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the Gospel lesson for the day, recorded in Matthew 4:
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'” Then the devil took him to the holy city and 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 will command his angels concerning you,’ and “‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.'” Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.'” Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.'” Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him.
He is real, you know. The devil, I mean. He is real. You do believe that, don’t you? He is not a leftover remnant from the Middle Ages. He is not a myth, not a fairy tale. He is real. He is first mentioned in Genesis 3, our Old Testament lesson for today. But who is this very real devil and how do we, as Christians, deal with him?
Some people think that Satan, the devil, is everywhere and can do anything. That’s certainly what he would like everyone to believe. But, we know from the Bible that Satan is merely a great pretender. He tries to act like God, but he is not God. He is powerful, but not all-powerful. He is not present everywhere. Satan is not all-knowing. He is not at all like our Triune God. So where did this pretender come from?
The Bible doesn’t describe Satan’s origin in great detail. The “ancient serpent” of Genesis is identified in Revelation as “the devil, or Satan.” 2 Peter 2:4 talks about angels who sinned. And Jude 6 tells us, about angels “who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling.” “When this initial rebellion of the devil and his evil angels took place the Bible does not say. But ever since Satan and his demons rebelled, this evil being seeks to discredit God and harm God’s people.” (How to Respond to Satanism)
The Bible uses different names to identify and describe this enemy of God and God’s people. “Devil” as is used in our Gospel lesson, means “accuser” or “slanderer.” This is how he does his work—he accused Adam and Eve in the garden. He accused Job. He accuses us of sin. “Satan” means “adversary” or “opponent.” Satan is not for us. He is not on our team. He is against us and against God. The devil is also the tempter. He tries deceptively to lead people away from God and His goodness. In John 8, Jesus called the devil “the father of lies” who has been a liar and murderer from the beginning. The devil never, ever tells the truth. He turns truth into a lie.
The devil, Satan, the tempter, the father of lies, along with his evil angels, work for the spiritual destruction of Christ and Christ’s people, the Church. Satan frantically tries to lead all people away from God, but especially members of Christ’s Church. The closer you get to Jesus, the harder and faster the devil works on you. So how does he do it?
By studying its tracks, a hunter can identify his prey before he actually sees it. He or she knows from the tracks whether it is a deer, a rabbit, a squirrel, or a bear. Although Satan is an invisible enemy, he still leaves tracks behind in some obvious areas. Some of these areas are:
- Enchantments—influencing people by charms and magical arts.
- Witchcraft and wizardry—dealing with evil spirits through sorcery.
- Communicating with the dead through evil spirits.
- Putting a spell on someone.
- Astrology and horoscopes—suggesting that the stars control human affairs and character.
All these practices are condemned by God in the Bible. Yet they are used by Satan as sinister temptations to the power and glory the devil offers.
But the devil’s practices are not always so obviously “evil.” When Satan goes fishing for us, he covers his barb with very attractive bait. In spite of God’s warning, we nibble at the devil’s bait—harmlessly for a time, unaware we are going against our Creator. But we never know when Satan is going to jerk the line and set the hook in place. “A little internet pornography won’t hurt me. I can stop looking at it any time I choose.” Before you know it, in a matter of days, porn becomes a full-blown addiction. “A little sexual encounter here and there will spice up my life. I can do what I want with my own body. What harm is there in having a little sexual fun.” Then a sexual disease is contracted, or an unplanned pregnancy occurs. “Sometimes you just have to lie. Especially those ‘little white lies.’ They don’t hurt anyone. Lying might save my reputation or my job or my marriage.” Who will trust a liar? “Go ahead and talk about him behind his back. Gossip about what you heard her do. It’s not your reputation on the line. People have a right to know.” “Go ahead and take it. ‘Steal’ is such a harsh word. You didn’t have time to study for the test. Just copy an answer or two to make it look good. A ‘C’ will do.” “Get drunk all you want. Do some drugs. Make yourself feel good. Curse when you want to. Get angry when you need to. Do what works best for you so that you come out on top.”
That’s how the devil the works. That’s how he tries to lead us away from Christ and from Christ’s Church. And he is successful at times. In our sinful, human frailty, you and I do give in to his temptations an awful lot. We are very much like the apostle Paul who struggled just as we do. He said, “For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.” (Romans 7:18-19) But we are not the ones who should be throwing up our hands in defeat. We’re not the defeated ones! Satan is! And that means we have the power and the ability to tell Satan where to go.
After fasting forty days and forty nights in the wilderness, the tempter came to Jesus in order to break Him. This was the devil’s opportunity to end the salvation mission before it could really get started. Get Jesus to fall and the whole human race would belong to the devil. But Satan was defeated. Using the very Word of God which He had written, Jesus overcame the devil’s temptations. He countered every lie, every half-truth, every evil desire of the devil with the Word of Life and Truth. And the devil left Him.
This was the first defeat for the evil one. The next defeat would come in a moment of seeming victory. The incarnate Son of God was betrayed into the hands of sinners. Jesus was sentenced to death by crucifixion. All of the world’s sin was heaped upon Christ as He hung on the cross. Forsaken by God the Father, Jesus suffered in agony the full punishment for sin. Then, Jesus died. From one perspective, the death of Jesus looked like a complete victory for the devil. But that was from his twisted point of view. The fact of the matter was that Jesus died a sacrificial death saving people from their sins, from Satan, and from eternal death by the shedding of His blood. Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross won our forgiveness and eternal life. Jesus’ death rescued us from the power of the devil himself! Then the final nail in the devil’s coffin came very early on the first day of the week. Jesus’ tomb was empty. Jesus Christ rose from the dead! Christ triumphed over death and the devil.
How do we now deal with this defeated enemy? Until Christ returns, Satan will continue to scheme and plan ways to lead people away from Christ. “The devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8) Should we become afraid and put our heads in the sand like an ostrich? Of course not. Jesus Christ is King of kings and Lord of lords and we are God’s children by His grace to us in Holy Baptism. We are brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ who never lose sight of the victory that Jesus won for us on the cross. We savor Jesus’ death for us and cherish His resurrection as proof that we, too, shall live forever.
Because of Christ, we no longer need to live in the fear, darkness, and doubt that the devil offers. By grace through faith we cling to the cross of Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. You and I have been bought and paid for by the blood of Jesus. You and I are covered in the blood of the Lamb of God who has taken away our sins. By the power of the Holy Spirit working through God’s Word and Sacrament, we have put on the whole armor of God so that you and I can stand up to the schemes of the devil. By God’s grace we’ve been given the shield of faith, with which we can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one. We have the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God—the Gospel message of Christ’s death and resurrection. And Satan can’t stand up to that Word. And he can’t stand up under the precious name of Jesus Christ, at whose name every knee must bow, including the devil.
Want to get the devil away from you? Want to send Him scurrying back under the slimy rock where he came from? Want to tell him to “Go to . . . !” Then do it in the name and power of Jesus Christ. Tell the devil, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written that I am God’s child, cleansed by the blood of Jesus. You have no claim on me. I am Christ’s and He is mine.” Amen.