The First Sunday in Lent February 26, 2012
1 Chronicles 21:1-15
360, 413, 446, 410
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.
Dear fellow-redeemed in Christ Jesus:
“There are two equal and opposite errors about devils into which our race can fall. One is to disbelieve/deny their existence, the other is to believe and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them.” C.S. Lewis, the author of these words, goes on to say that the Devil and his evil angels are overjoyed when someone falls into either of these extremes because both make the Devi’s work easy.
Scripture is clear: Satan is real. His goal is to bring you into eternal damnation. He is that hungry lion walking about stalking his prey and drooling at the thought of attack. You and I are his intended prey. The Devil has two powerful allies: the world and our own sinful flesh. To ignore Satan’s existence is foolish and deadly. To play with him and his temptations as if he were harmless is foolish and deadly.
Wherever the Devil rules he will only need to maintain his authority, but where he yet has souls to conquer is where he will concentrate his efforts. Therefore, as children of God, we can and ought to expect the Devil’s temptation. The apostle James gives us our battle cry against the Devil’s work when he writes, “RESIST THE DEVIL AND HE WILL FLEE FROM YOU” (James 4:7). The account we have just read gives us the means to make that battle cry into a battle plan and to gain the victory over temptation. First, I. Beware of the Devil’s tools and then II. Be aware of Christ’s triumph.
Comedians and cartoonists have made Satan into a punch-line and a cartoonish character with a smirk on his face and a pitchfork in his hand. Perhaps some of the indifference and misplaced humor about the Devil and his work could be eliminated if we would refer to him by the meaning of his names instead of the names themselves. It is harder to chuckle while saying “Adversary” instead of the familiar “Satan;” and “slanderer/accuser” doesn’t fit the cartoon image quite as well as “Devil.” Our adversary is a slanderer, accuser, deceiver, “a murderer from the beginning…a liar and the father of it” (John 8:44) who tempts with cunning skill. Paul gave warning to the Corinthians “lest Satan should take advantage of us; for we are not ignorant of his devices” (2 Corinthians 2:11).
The devices of Satan are best realized by observing him in action and seeing what he uses as his tools.
The first tool in the Devil’s bag is using temptations about earthly concerns, obscuring priorities, and exploiting situations and weaknesses. “When [Jesus] 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 [Jesus] answered and said, ‘It stands written, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”’” [v.2-4]
The Devil had been actively tempting Jesus throughout all of the 40 days, but now, the Devil saw another opportunity to strike. Jesus was hungry. Satan saw the opportunity to wrap a temptation around an appealing solution to that hunger. The Devil knew full well that Jesus was the Son of God, but like the mockers around Jesus’ cross he challenged Jesus to prove it. Could Jesus have made all the stones into loaves of bread? Without a doubt! and in the blink of an eye! To do so, however, would have been to forget and forsake His priority as Savior.
At times Jesus did make use of His divine power, but He never did so for His own personal gain. Rather, Jesus’ miracles were always to further the work of saving souls from their sin.
The Devil wanted Jesus to act on the needs of His body and forget about His greater work, but Jesus did not fall. Instead Jesus used a passage from Deuteronomy to answer the Devil’s temptation. The words Jesus used were originally spoken to the Children of Israel explaining why God had allowed them to go hungry before He sent Manna. God wanted to teach the Israelites to rely on God for their every need, trust that He would take care of them, depend on His Word, and keep Him as their first priority.
This tool of temptation remains effective today. The Devil wants each of us to become so concerned with what we need and want and what we have for our life on earth so that we forget what Jesus said, “Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing…seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:25,33). Just think of how much easier it is to forget about a daily devotion compared to forgetting about three meals a day. We do not live by bread alone but by the Word of God and that Word promises unconditionally to each one of you that He will provide for what is needed in this life. “The Slanderer” aims to have you doubt God’s promise, question His ability or wisdom in providing for you, worry about your future, and make earthly things a higher priority than the Word from God’s mouth. It is a temptation for each one of us and it is real.
When the first temptation did not succeed, the Adversary tried another tool. “Then the Devil took [Jesus] up into the holy city (Jerusalem) 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.” [v.5-7]
Again, the Accuser challenged Jesus, “If you are the Son of God…” but this time there is a new twist—he quoted God’s Word! Satan hates God and is opposed to everything He says, but the Devil is not above using the Word of God if he can twist it or delete part of it or modify it ever-so-slightly to serve his own purposes. What the Devil told Jesus is right out of Psalm 91, but God’s promise of angel protection does not apply to faithless challenging of God and a blatant disregard for His Word.
The children of Israel contended with God in the wilderness and complained because they had no water. They accused Moses—and by extension they accused God—saying that he had brought them out of Egypt into the wilderness to kill them. In spite of all they had witnessed and all the Lord had promised, the Israelites tempted God by asking, “Is the LORD among us or not?” (Exodus 17:8)
Jesus would have tempted God and sinned if He had jumped from the temple. God’s promise of angel protection is not a written permit to act irresponsibly with arrogance and pride as if we call the shots while demanding that God protect us according to our will. At the end of the Devil’s temptations God did prove His promise that Satan had tried to twist when God sent angels to minister to Jesus. [v.11]
The Devil’s crafty tool in the second temptation was his attempt to deceive Jesus by using God’s Word in a untruthful way. This tool is as old as sin itself for it is the tool that Satan used on Eve when he asked her, “Did God really say….” and then proceeded to offer his own interpretation of what God meant and what His true motives were. The tool of twisting God’s Word is still effective. Paul warned the Corinthians that there are “…false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. And no words in the Bible that will support his wonder! for Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:13-15).
The Devil takes advantage of the human weakness that likes to hear what it wants to hear. It is so easy for a person to decide what he wants to believe and then set out to find claim. It is alluring to sinful flesh to simply close ears or eyes to whatever is inconvenient or what crimps a style. How sinfully delightful to mold God’s Word to fit the “modern age” rather than mold the modern age to God’s Word through the preaching of the Truth.
All who refuse to hear God’s Word, who fail to see that it applies to them, who pick and choose for themselves what they will call truth, who of their own wisdom decide what God says—these have fallen victim to one of the Devil’s shiny tools that will lose its luster quickly after this life is done.
Satan is not a quitter: “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..” [v.8-11]
Even when the Devil left, Luke tells that it was only until another opportune time for temptation would come. In this third temptation, the Devil shows that he has power because Luke tells us that he showed Jesus all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. We are comforted by the knowledge that the Devil’s power is limited and controlled by God. Nevertheless, he is a potent enemy and he sought to tempt Jesus with the lure of power and glory and wealth.
In one way, the Devil didn’t have what he offered to Jesus. The Devil does not own the earth or its kingdoms because everything belongs to God. These things were not the Devil’s to give! On the other hand, God does call the Devil the “ruler of the world” (John 12:31; 14:30). The Devil does rule over the unbelieving/sinful world and he tempts souls to covet the things of the world, to seek honor and glory in this life.
Jesus Himself once had the full power and authority over all the world, but He emptied Himself of that when He humbled Himself to be our Savior. Not having that glory and living on the earth with sinful mankind would make it a temptation to try to regain the power. Jesus resisted the Devil by using God’s Word that commands all worshipful love and service to be directed to the one and only true God.
The lust for power, riches, or other fleshly pleasure is a potent tool of the Devil. Covetous discontented desires for self glory, wealth, power, and pleasures are the Devil’s tool to lead us to create a god for ourselves. Whatever we serve and on whatever we set our heart is our god and it is impossible to have two masters, “…for either you will hate the one and love the other or else you will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon” (Luke 16:13). “…all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life--is not of the Father but is of the world” (1 John 2:15-16).
When we see the tools the Devil has and how shrewdly he uses them we begin to understand our need for protection against his attacks. We need to beware of the Devil’s tools and “keep watching and praying that we enter not into temptation.” However, our wariness of the enemy will not turn into fear when we are aware of Christ’s triumph.
While the Devil was working hard to pull Jesus down into sin, God was accomplishing another purpose through the temptation of His Son. At the very beginning of this account we hear that “Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness (with the express purpose) to be tempted by the Devil.” [v.1]
In order to be our substitute before God, Jesus had to become a flesh-and-blood human being like you and me. In order for Him to satisfy God’s justice, Jesus had to face everything just like we do with the exception that He also needed to remain sinless in order to be the perfect sacrifice for our sins. As a human being Jesus was under the same Law, faced the same human emotions, and therefore, faced the same temptations. He was “in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness and the ongoing temptations throughout His life were part of what was necessary for our salvation.
Jesus was acting on our behalf so through Him we triumph in His triumph. Jesus’ victory over the Devil came first by remaining sin-free throughout his life. Then when the Devil thought he had beaten Jesus in death on the cross, Jesus triumphed once more by rising from the dead and descending to Hell to declare His victory. By triumphing over the Devil’s temptations in life and triumphing over death when He died for our sins and rose again, Jesus gives us victory over sin, death, and the Devil.
We face temptation to sin every day. Being aware of the temptation that Jesus endured for our sakes gives us the comfort that our Savior-God has been here and has faced what we face. Jesus comes to us in His Word and tells us, “I know what you are going through because I faced it too. I am going to be at your side to help you and tell You how you defeat our Adversary. “For in that He Himself has suffered being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted…for we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 2:18, 4:16).
It is incredible that our flesh which is so weak in terms of following God’s will can be so strong in its appeal when it is pulling the other way. When we face temptation in our lives we do well to keep Christ’s triumph in mind.
First, keep in mind just what Christ’s sacrifice means to us. When you commune you receive the very body and blood which Jesus offered in payment for your sins. Through the Sacrament you receive the assurance that your sins are forgiven and you are thereby strengthened to resist and flee from temptation. Satan must surely cringe each time a child of God receives Christ’s body and blood believing that through them there is forgiveness. Satan cringes as we celebrate Lent for He knows that those events which are our salvation are his undoing.
We also learn from Jesus not to play games with the Devil. Jesus flatly resisted, didn’t bargain, didn’t try it out for a while. He said, “NO!” He said, “This is what God says…this is what you—the Devil—say…they don’t match so you be gone!”
We have seen the dangerous nature of Satan and his deadly tools and we are in no position to entertain temptation by going where we know it will be or doing things which we know will bring it. Flee temptation, get out of situations which provide opportunity for the Devil to tempt you. Remember your Savior’s triumph over temptation and like Joseph, exclaim, “How can I do this great wickedness and sin against God” (Genesis 39:9).
Each time the Devil came to Him, Jesus used God’s Word to defeat him. Jesus didn’t use any other weapon than the same weapon he gives each one of us. The Word of God gives protection and beats back the Devil with his temptation. The Word gives us the righteousness and the peace of salvation. As the Word gives growth to our faith we will be continually better equipped to withstand what the Devil uses to attack us.
The Word’s defense against temptation is not as a book that is some kind of magical charm to ward off evil spirits. Rather, the Word of God is our defense when we use it as our armor and our sword by applying its words to our situation—to the temptation the Devil brings.
Are you a young Christian who is having trouble spending time in a study of God’s Word because it isn’t cool and “I’d rather do something else?” Use God’s Word to resist the Devil’s temptations by reminding yourself of the need for it and regain a love for salvation.
Are you a teenager or young adult surrounded by peer pressure to follow after others in their pursuit of sexual sins or other abuse of my body that is the temple of the Holy Spirit? Use God’s Word as the weapon against temptation, saying “Devil I don’t care who our what you may use as a way to lead me down that path. It is a path God does not want me to follow and He is my God and Lord who gave Himself for me on the cross. I will not do what you want me to do because my Savior has redeemed me from that!”
Are you an adult struggling with work and finances. Do you have so many things to do and things you want to do while you’re young so that you find it harder not to worry and hard to direct your priorities for yourself and your family to your Savior? Use the Word of God to resist the temptation and recall God’s invitation that He is ready and able to hear and answer all of your needs. Take it to Him in prayer, trusting Him to provide, keeping Him front-and-center, making decisions according to what is good for the soul while modifying career, school plans, and the rest of life around that instead of vice-versa.
Are you an older adult beginning to fear for your retirement years, or are you already in declining health and fearful of how much suffering you might face and how death will come? Resist the temptation of fear by recalling God’s Word of promise that He will not allow you to be tempted above what you are able, but will with the temptation also make a way to escape that you will be able to bear it; and that you also rejoice to know that your times are in God’s hands.
The Bible as a book won’t do anything for us or defeat any temptation, but when the living active Word of God that is recorded in those pages is the light in our path and our sword drawn for defense, then we have the powerful Word of God on our side, we will be able to resist the Devil, and He will flee in defeat.
Yes, with the armor of God as our defense, the knowledge of Christ’s triumph as our hope in which we place our trust, and the comfort of His understanding presence—we will be protected. We now wear the helmet of salvation which after we have withstood all of the Devil’s attacks will turn into a crown of life forevermore. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.