Video of the Divine Service is here. The sermon begins around the 23:20 mark.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
None of these temptations are strange to us; they are common to man going back to the Garden. Jesus is the New Adam, so He gets tempted like the Old Adam. The first temptation is for Jesus to forsake His trust in the Father and take matters into His own hands. And He could have, couldn’t He? The one through whom both the stones and bread were made could have made stones into bread. He sent ravens to feed Elijah, and He Himself gave Him food in 1 Kings 19. He multiplied loaves and fishes. He made water into wine. He could have made stones into bread, and satisfied His hunger.
But that would mean that He did not believe God would feed Him. It would be like Israel in the wilderness, after God promised to give them literal daily bread, manna from heaven. He told them that they would have enough for each day, but that they should not try to keep it until the next day, or it would rot. So they tried to gather more than they needed for each day, and it went bad. Then He promised them that on the Sabbath, they would have enough for both days and it wouldn’t go bad, so they should not go out on the Sabbath to gather manna. So, of course, they went out on the Sabbath and there was none there. God gave them what they needed daily, and they did not believe it. Jesus has been fasting for 40 days and nights, and He believes it. More than that, He knows that no amount of earthly bread can keep anyone alive forever; the bread of God’s Word gives eternal life.
The third temptation is also about trusting God, whether He would do what He said. The devil tells Jesus to put God to the test, and see if He will really protect Him and send His angels to guard Him. The devil even quotes the Scriptures to prove it. But Jesus does not need to test God; He knows that God will do what He said. Do we need proof of God’s Word? Is God’s Word not enough? Is His promise not enough? An adulterous and unbelieving generation asks for a sign, Jesus says. If they do not believe Moses and the Prophets, they will not believe even if Someone should rise from the dead. Whether we believe Him or not, God will do what He said, and He is, in fact, doing so in Jesus at the very moment of His temptation. And when Jesus’ death does come, it will be within the will of God, not at Jesus’ independent choice. And this story will not end with angels keeping Him from death, but with resurrection.
The middle temptation is always a strong one, especially in a country like ours, where the Church has freedom to preach and hear, and we all have a say in how and by whom we will be governed. The devil, in a moment of time, shows Jesus all the kingdoms of the world, and tells Him that he will give to Him all this authority and glory if Jesus will simply bow down and acknowledge the devil as lord instead of God. And here’s the part that we might find difficult: the devil says that all the kingdoms of the world have been delivered to him, and he is able to give it to whomever he chooses.
Wait a minute, we might say, all this does not belong to the devil, and therefore he can’t give it to Jesus. It all belongs to God. So is the devil simply lying, since we know that he is a liar from the beginning? Jesus could have simply told the devil that it did not belong to him, so he can’t give it away. But it is not a lie, in itself. It is just not the whole truth. The devil is in fact lord of this age, and he rules over the nations. At least, it appears to be so. Doesn’t it? Look around at this world, and see if it looks like God is ruling the nations. He is, but He gives the devil range and room for a little while. What the devil doesn’t say is that it will not always be his to give. This temptation is a temptation to forsake one way of gaining the world for another. What the devil cannot say is that if Jesus does not bow down before him, then He will not gain the world. This is not a choice between gaining the world by bowing down to the devil, or not gaining it. It is about gaining the world without suffering, death, and resurrection, or gaining it by suffering, dying, rising, and being glorified. It is about whether Jesus will act independently of the Father and grasp at the whole world, as Adam did, or whether He will act in His flesh with the divine will and have all things put under His feet.
And this is a distinct temptation for us as individual Christians and for the Church in this world. Will we suffer, or will we attempt to gain the world by force, by taking things into our own hands? If we can get enough votes, or get the right people elected, or have our policies enacted into law, or whatever else, then we can make sure Christ’s Church is protected. No, that is the devil’s bargain. That is doing what we can do in order to have the kingdoms of this world delivered over to us, so we can control what happens to us. When we care more about the way the nations of the world go than whether or not the Church is faithful to Christ’s word and gifts, then we have drifted toward the glory that the devil promises to give.
That is not what Jesus does. You shall worship Yahweh your God, and Him only shall you serve. Do not put your trust in princes. God will do what He will within and among the nations of the world. Worship Yahweh and serve Him. And when Jesus does that, He is the one who is delivered over. Delivered over by Judas; delivered over by the chief priests and scribes and leaders of Israel; delivered over to Pilate; delivered over to the will of the mob; delivered over to the cross. That means, divinely delivered over to our sin and death. And could not Jesus call down legions of angels to crush all His enemies and save Him from betrayal, suffering, and death? Could not Jesus, in a single moment, destroy every one of His enemies now? Every one of the ruling authorities that acts in ways opposed to His word and will? Of course He could, and one day, their temporary rule will come to an end, and along with them, the devil’s authority as well.
But now, Jesus says later in the Gospel, now is your hour, devil. Now is your hour and the authority of darkness (Luke 22:53). The devil does not hand over the kingdoms of the world to Jesus because Jesus bows down before him; instead, Jesus is handed over to the suffering and shame and defeat of the cross. Where is God’s provision of daily bread in that moment? Where are the angels who should guard Him and not let a stone, or a nail, strike His feet? Where is the God whom Jesus worshiped? The devil finds his opportune time. This is the hour of the devil’s authority and the darkness appears stronger than the Light, to the point where the Light is extinguished in death.
And do we expect better than our Lord? Are we like Peter? We will perhaps not say “God forbid!” to Jesus’ death, but we might say “God forbid” to our death or to the death of the Church as we have known it. Shall we reach out and take matters into our own hands, like Eve took the fruit from the tree and Adam took it from her hand? Is the devil faithful to his promises? Do we think we can take the devil’s bargain without ending up where he is going to end up? What good is it if you gain the whole world and lose your life?
Instead, Jesus loses His life and gains the whole world. He suffers, dies, rises, ascends, and is exalted. And He is Lord, though the day for Him to deliver all of the kingdoms to His Father has not yet come. But the end will come, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet (1 Corinthians 15:24-25). He must reign until then. He reigns now, as the one who cannot die anymore. And He is reigning until God puts all His enemies under the feet of Jesus the Lord. And no president, no congress, no army, no voter, and no devil can stop Him.
Lent points us toward that promise, as we are shaped into the image of Jesus, who is the image of God. Because for now, we have to wait, just like Jesus. For now, we have the word and the promise, just like Jesus. For now we do not always see the provision, or the rule, or the victory of God and His angels. But Jesus waited, and God raised Him from the dead. And because He did, God will raise you up as well. Wait for Yahweh! Be strong and let your heart take courage! Wait for Yahweh! We believe that we will look upon the goodness of Yahweh in the eternal land of the living.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 3/4/22