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Victory

March 13th 2011 by Joel Schultz

The season of Lent begins with the familiar story of the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. One could almost imagine a spiritual boxing match as Jesus and Satan slug it out in the wilderness beyond the Jordan River. The good news is that Jesus resists the tempations of Satan and His victory becomes our victory.

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Lent 1A – Matthew 4:1-11 — “Victory” – March 13, 2011 Drip, drip, drip – the Jordan River’s water slowly trickled off our Lord’s wet head. The hot wilderness sand glued itself to His damp feet. Behind Him the famous river snaked along; before Him the ancient serpent, Satan, lay in wait. Still drenched with baptismal water, the Holy Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness of temptation. Heaven and hell were about to exchange blows. And in the celestial realm, you could probably have heard a pin drop.

We are tempted to view the fight as a spec¬tator, to whoop and cheer for our Big Brother who is about to blacken the eye of the bully from Hell. But we are not merely fans in the stands: No, we are in Christ. In Jesus, all of humanity goes toe-to-toe with the heavyweight champion of hell. When this one Man enters the ring with the tempter, all men step in with Him. Just as in Adam all humanity fell through temptation into sin and death, so in Christ all humanity will rise through obedience into righteousness and life. We are not in the audi¬ence; we are in the desert, for we are in Christ.

During the next 40 days after His baptism, Jesus fasted and prayed and was tempted continually as the Greek tells us. Matthew’s Gospel account, it seems, let’s us in on the last three temptations. The devil had heard the Father’s sermon at the baptism of His Son. He watched Jesus fast for 40 days, he saw Him hunger, so he devised a plan of attack. Matthew writes, “And the tempter came and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread’” (Mt 4:3). Do you hear what is suggested? The devil is saying, “If it is true, what that voice from the clouds said, then why has Your Father evidently abandoned you to die of starva¬tion? Why is he depriving you of the basic necessi¬ties of life?” So, you see, Satan, hungry for victory, has swung the first of his final blows at the empty belly of our Lord.

But the punch was blocked – not by human strength, not by willpower, not by argumentation, but by the Word of God. Jesus answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God’” (Mt 4:4). And the word that had proceeded from the mouth of God was, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

Bear this in mind. The temptation was not simply to turn rocks into food. Satan lured Jesus to turn from the trust¬worthy words of His Father to the fickle feelings of the human heart. But instead of turning stones into bread, Christ resists temptation turning to the Word of God for strength.

Satan has used that same temptation in our lives, hasn’t he? He has dropped doubting thoughts into our suffering hearts. At your Baptism the Father said, “You are my son, you are my daughter, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” But does it always seem so? When the bills pile up, have you wondered what use is the Father’s rich grace if you don’t have money to pay what you owe? If you are so loved by Him, why did He allow you to be injured, to become ill, to spend hour upon hour in pain and misery? If God is good, why is my life at times so bad? So goes the temptation to despair – the temptation to shatter our trust in our heavenly Father.

But as it was with Jesus, so it is with you. Satan is luring you to turn from the trustworthy Words of your Father to the fickle feelings of your human heart. Do not trust yourself. Trust your Father. If He sent His own beloved Son to the cross, do not pretend that He will spare you crosses, suffer¬ings, and pains. But through all the suffering and trials of life is the smiling face of your beloved Father. A Father who reminds us in Romans 8: “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (8:38-39). In love He is bringing you, cross by cross, suffering by suf¬fering, to the glory of the resurrection. Having failed in the first round of his final assault, Satan cir¬cled his opponent, planning his next attack. As Matthew records: “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’” (Mt 4:5-6). Is the devil simply trying to break our Lord’s neck? No, he is far more sinister than that. He is saying, “You claim, then, that You are the beloved Son of God, in whom God is well pleased. If that is so, if Your Father loves You so much and You are so well pleasing to Him, then I suppose He will do anything to protect you. So, throw yourself down from the temple. Why, He has even said He will protect You with His angels. You rely on His Word. Take Him at His Word and jump.”

This second temptation is one of presump¬tion. Satan tempts Jesus and us to presume that because we are children of God the Father, nothing bad can or should happen to us. This temptation of the devil calls us to abandon faith and live by sight. To abandon the objective truths of God’s Word for the Subjective feelings of the human heart. However, Scripture says, “We live by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor 5:7).

It completely does away with the cross of Jesus in the Christian life and substitutes it for a theology of glory, which is, an arrogant, faithless presumption that because we are saved God will always shower us with bless¬ings and miracles – because we are His children, nothing bad will ever happen in our lives. And if it does, then there must be something wrong with my faith.

Jesus rightly tells Satan, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test’” (Mt 4:7). Jesus knows full well the bad things that would happen to Him in His life BECAUSE He was the Son of God. Again, we are not immune to suffering as God’s children, but we face it with the full confidence that nothing can “separate us for the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” What we see in life does not change our status as God’s children. Luther says it well in our opening hymn, “And take they our life...”

Having been defeated in the first two rounds with our Lord, Satan stepped forward for one final, climactic effort. In the first temptation, the devil held adversity and pain in the face of Jesus. Now, Satan holds prosperity and delight before Him. The devil knew that Jesus knew what suffer¬ings awaited him, so the devil said, in essence: “Because you are God’s Son, You deserve better than this miserable life. You deserve riches, honor, and glory. I can give all that to You. Yes, all that and more if only You will get on your knees and wor¬ship me.”

But our Lord came not to be served, but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many – ¬as a ransom for you and me. And if He came not to be served, certainly He came not to pursue wealth, fame, and glory! He came to “fear, love, and trust in God above all things,” and in so doing, to fulfill the Law for you and me. So He said, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve’” (Mt 4:10).

Do you see what our Lord has done in His conquest of Satan and all his temptations? He has utterly reversed the fall of the first man, Adam, and has brought forward a new humanity, with Himself being a new Adam, who bears in His own body the source of all true and lasting life. What you could not do, Christ has done for you. The tempter whom you could never defeat on your own – ¬Christ has defeated. The new beginning that you could never create – Jesus has created for you.

In the plush Garden of Eden, the first Adam was defeated by the ancient serpent. But in the wasteland of the Judean wilderness, Jesus fought off the temptations of the evil one. Every fiery arrow shot from Satan’s bow was doused in the water of the Word. Heaven and hell stood toe-to-¬toe, and hell and all its power fell.

The Lord Jesus fought this battle for you. His victory over the devil is your victory as well, for all that Christ accomplished has been reckoned to you as your very own. When you fall prey to the temptations of Satan, flee to the One who defeated Satan. As 1 Cor 10 promises: “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it” (1Cor. 10:13).

Those who are in Christ Jesus can¬not be harmed by the enticements of evil. As in Adam you died in sin, so in the Christ you live. When tempted we flee. When we fall into temptation we repent and return to the Lord. We leave the old Adam, our sinful nature, with his death, and come to the new Adam with all His life. He will receive and embrace us as His own. He who was tempted for us is never tempted to turn us away. His baptism is our Baptism. His conquering of sin is our conquering of sin. His crucifixion, His resurrection, His ascen¬sion are ours. We have victory over sin, death, and the devil through His victory.

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