The Beloved Son

Video of the Divine Service is here. The sermon begins around the 34:35 mark.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

This whole story is a little unsettling. Just before this, Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan River. The Spirit came down from heaven in the form of a dove, and rested on Him, to demonstrate that Jesus is the Anointed One, whom the Father has sent into the world. And the voice of the Father came from heaven: This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased.

And then this Son, on whom the Spirit rests, is sent out into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. If this is how God treats His beloved Son, how will He treat us? And sometimes it can seem like we are in the wilderness, alone with our temptations, alone with the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh. We can feel as if God is silent, that He has sent us here, and left us alone. When you are baptized, you are not immediately removed from this world, from the realm of the devil, or from your sinful flesh. The Catechism, in fact, says that when you are baptized, a life-long enemy is hung around your neck; that is, that the devil is going to be after you at all times. The devil doesn’t care about you as long as you’re nowhere near Jesus. If you are not under the Name of God, he doesn’t need to bother with you. But as soon as you are baptized into the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit—when Jesus tears you from the devil’s realm and plants you firmly in the Kingdom of God—then you can bet the devil cares. The only thing he wants is for you not to be with Jesus. And he will do anything and everything to tear you away from Christ. When you are baptized, you immediately have a target on your back.

That is why Jesus goes out into the wilderness to be tempted: because God’s people are tested, and they fail. As soon as God called His Son, Israel, out of slavery in Egypt, the question was whether they would trust Him when they were tested. The first test comes pretty quickly, as they come to the Red Sea, and the Egyptian army is behind them. They say that Moses has brought them out of Egypt in order to kill them. They’re between the Egyptian rock and the Red-Sea hard place. Moses says just wait and see that God will deliver you. And of course He does. He opens the sea and they walk across on dry land and their enemies are drowned. Does that make them trust God? As soon as they’re in the wilderness on the other side, they are tested. And instead of trusting God, who saved them, they turn to other gods; they complain and grumble and rebel.

They say that they don’t have any food. So God gives them literal bread from heaven. He says, you can gather as much as you want each day. You will have as much as you can eat. And every single day I’ll give you more. Do they trust God? No, they think that maybe God will not give them enough tomorrow, so they save some up—but that only leads to worms and maggots. And then God says they will have enough on the sixth day of the week for the seventh day as well. Do they trust God? No, they go out on the Sabbath and try to gather manna that day, too, but there is none.

Then they complain about the manna. We loathe this worthless food. So God gives them quail until feathers are coming out of their nostrils. They make other gods, trust in them, worry, complain, etc. And we might be tempted to look down on them, judge them, because it’s almost laughable that they do this over and over again. But we are no different. We too wonder whether we will have enough to live on tomorrow. We fear that maybe tomorrow God will not give us our daily bread, though He has promised to do so, and has done so until this very moment. We are anxious and worried about the state of the world, as if God had let things get out of His control. And then the devil tempts us: he says, are you sure God has said that? Are you sure God is listening to you? Are you sure there’s a God at all? It’s not a problem if you indulge in that sin, just a little bit. And then, immediately after, he says, Now you’ve done it. God can’t forgive that. Then we make our own gods, trust in ourselves, in the government, in money, in science. No, when God’s people are tested—then or now—we fail the test.

So Jesus goes into the wilderness to be tempted, not tested. He does exactly what Israel does, in reverse. He goes across the Jordan into the wilderness, a day for each of the years disobedient Israel spent in the wilderness. And He is tempted. Will He be the faithful Son? Here, though, Jesus is not a passive participant in this temptation, as we might have thought. This is not only the will of the Father that the Son be tempted in human flesh. This is the will of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. This is the triune will that the Son be tempted.

And so the devil questions the Son. You are the Son of God, aren’t you? Your Father wouldn’t want you to starve in the wilderness. Why is He letting you go so long without food? Maybe He’s not listening to you. Maybe He’s not there at all. But that’s okay, because you’re the divine Son. You can make stones into bread. He wouldn’t want you to starve, so go ahead. But Jesus is not Israel and He is not us. He says, Man does not live by bread alone—though we often worry so much about our daily bread it seems like we do. Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. We don’t live by bread, even bread from heaven, which the fathers ate in the wilderness and still died. We live by the Word that proceeds from the mouth of God, the true bread that comes down from heaven to give life to the world. Jesus says, My flesh is true food and My blood is true drink. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life and I will raise him up on the last day. Every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.

The devil says, You’re the Son of God, aren’t you? Your Father wouldn’t let even your foot be bruised on a rock. If you were to jump down from here, He would send His angels to rescue you. Or would He? Maybe you would just hit the ground. You should probably test out that promise and make sure that God will save you. But Jesus is not Israel and He is not us. He is not like Israel, who put God to the test by saying, “Is God among us or not?” We don’t know where He is; we can’t see Him; is He here or not?” Jesus knows that He is with the Father and the Father is with Him, whatever His senses or emotions tell Him. He does not need to put Yahweh, His God, to the test.

The devil shows Jesus all the kingdoms of the world, and says, You don’t need to go through all that suffering and death to get to resurrection and lordship. I’ll just give it all to you right now, if you worship me. Why suffer? Why die? Why should that be the will of the Father for His beloved Son? I’ll give it to you now. But Jesus is not Israel, and He is not us. He says, Go away, accuser! Worship Yahweh, your God, and serve Him only.

And then the last great temptation, when Jesus is on the cross. You don’t have to go through this. Come down and save yourself! Act on your own behalf, apart from the Father and the Spirit. But Jesus refuses to do so, because He is the faithful Son, the obedient Son, the beloved Son in whom is all of the Father’s good pleasure. Just as by Adam’s disobedience the many became sinners, and we’ve been going along with his disobedience ever since, so by the one Man’s obedience, the many are made righteous. God made Him, who knew no sin, to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God. He is the one who gives us the words to pray: OurFather. The beloved Son makes us His brothers and sisters, and therefore children of the heavenly Father. Our Father. And our Father has promised to hear us for the sake of His Son. He will give us, each and every day, what we need for this body and life, until this life is over. He will not lead us into temptation, because He led the Son into temptation. He will deliver us from the Evil One, because Jesus has broken the tempter’s power.

When Jesus was finished with the 40 days, and with the temptation of the devil, then angels ministered to Him, the same angels with whom the devil tempted Him; the same angels of Psalm 91. God did send His angels to guard Him in His way. And those angels served Him as they served Elijah in the wilderness, by giving Him the bread for which He trusted God, the bread He refused to take on His own power. And when Jesus cried out on the cross, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” the answer did not come immediately. It looked like only defeat and death. But the Father will never abandon His Son to death and decay. On the third day, the answer came in the form of resurrection.

So it will be for you. Whatever you go through, whatever you experience, whatever suffering, grief, fear, anxiety; whatever temptation; you are the dear and beloved child of the Father. When He put His Name on you in baptism, He said to you what He said to Jesus: You are My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased. Silence the tempter with those words: I belong to God in Jesus Christ. My sins belonged to Him in His death, so now His righteousness belongs to me, in life and in death. He always hears you, because you are in Christ. He will answer you, because you are in Christ. And the full and final answer will come on the day of resurrection. You are His beloved Son. In Him, you are well-pleasing to the Father.

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, 2/25/23

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