Sermon – Matthew 4.1-11 (Lent 1 – 2021)

Let us pray: Lord God, heavenly Father, inasmuch as the adversary does continually afflict us, and as a roaring lion walks about, seeking to devour us: We beseech You for the sake of the suffering and death of Your Son, Jesus Christ, to help us by the grace of the Holy Spirit, and to strengthen our hearts by Your Word, that our enemy may not prevail over us, but that we may evermore abide in Your grace, and be preserved unto everlasting life; through the same, Your beloved Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one true God, now and forever. Amen.

Grace to you and peace from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.  

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.

 2 And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterward He was hungry.

 3 Now when the tempter came to Him, he said, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.”

 4 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.'”

 5 Then the devil took Him up into the holy city, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple,

 6 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.'”

 7 Jesus said to him, “It is written again,`You shall not tempt the LORD your God.'”

 8 Again, the devil took Him up on an exceedingly high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory.

 9 And he said to Him, “All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me.”

 10 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.'”

 11 Then the devil left Him, and behold, angels came and ministered to Him.

These are Your words, heavenly Father. Sanctify us by the truth. Your Word is truth. Amen.

Dear fellow redeemed,

St. Paul writes to the Ephesians, “Taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one” (6:16).

Scripture calls the temptations of the devil fiery darts. Luther picks this language up in the Large Catechism when he writes about the sixth petition, in which we pray, “Lead us not into temptation.” He writes, “Then comes the devil, inciting and provoking in all directions, but especially agitating matters that concern the conscience and spiritual affairs, namely, to induce us to despise and disregard both the Word and works of God, to tear us away from faith, hope, and love, and bring us into misbelief, false security, and obduracy, or, on the other hand, to despair, denial of God, blasphemy, and innumerable other shocking things. These are indeed snares and nets, yea, real fiery darts which are shot most venomously into the heart, not by flesh and blood, but by the devil.”

But then when we consider Jesus’ temptations in the wilderness, we might be prone to think, “But it’s Jesus. He’s the Son of God. Those fiery darts of the devil deflect off him as though He were made of steel. They don’t phase Him a bit.”

Certainly as true God, He has all power and authority over Satan. If He was in that wilderness in glory, sure the darts wouldn’t have fazed Him. He wouldn’t have been hungry. Wouldn’t have need angels ministering to Him. And the devil wouldn’t get a single syllable out of his mouth before Christ would cast Him away. But Jesus didn’t come to flex His divine might.

Rather He came in humility, as man to save man. He was willingly born in humility, lived in humility, and suffered in humility. He was willingly born under the Law, lived under the Law and suffered under the Law. He did battle against Satan here in weakness. According to His divinity, He is the Judge and He is Righteousness, but He did not come into the world to condemn the world, but that He might save the world. Thus He was born under the Law, that He may redeem us who are under the Law.

Thus see Christ in battle. Yes, He is fully God, but He did not use His divine might. It was hidden. You see there instead Christ doing battle for you in the frailty of His human flesh, though He did not have a sinful nature.

And so the devil attacked. And the devil threw at Christ his fiery darts. With lies, half-truths, deceit, accusations, and perversion of God’s Word, he attacks.

You know what his attacks are like. How would you describe them? Luther said that the devil is the master of a 1000 arts. Yet, he often uses his tried and effective methods.

In fact we see a striking similarity between the tactics he used against Adam and Eve, and against Jesus. To Eve, he said, “You will be like God.” To Jesus, he said, “If you are the Son of God.” Adam and Eve had the image of God, but were not like God in knowing good and evil, but the devil tempted Eve to become like God. Jesus is the Son of God, but the devil tempted Jesus to doubt whether he is the Son of God. In both cases, he tried to get them to doubt God’s Word. For Adam and Eve, the word was God’s command to not eat of the fruit of the Knowledge of good and evil, and the threat attached to it. For Jesus, it was the Father’s words spoken 40 days earlier, “You are My beloved Son. With you I am well pleased.”

He uses the same tactics on us today. He tempts us to be like god. He tempts us to obey our desires, to trust in ourselves, to exalt ourselves in glory. He tempts us to believe that we are accountable only to ourselves, and that there is no divine punishment for sin. But to do this, he works to get us to doubt God’s Word, which says that you are not God, but God is God, and He is your Creator, the sustainer of your life, that it is His law you must obey, and if you do not there is most definitely eternal judgment for it.

But then he tempts you in the opposite way. For you are God’s baptized children, justified before God through faith. But then the devil comes along accuses you of your sins, and says, “If you are a child of God, you wouldn’t have done that.” Or he takes your trials and struggles in life, and says, “If you are a child of God, you wouldn’t be suffering so greatly.” And so he strives to get us to doubt God’s Word, which declares us God’s baptized people.

And so those fiery darts of the devil pierce us. We fall. We obey our sinful desires rather than God. Our love for God falls short. We put our trust in ourselves. We sometimes act as though there is no consequences for our sins. And then the devil accuses us and gets us to doubt. And these fiery darts would most certainly conquer us, if not for our Champion who enters into battle for us.

This wasn’t a chance meeting here between Jesus and the devil. Jesus followed the Holy Spirit into the wilderness for the very purpose of doing battle against the devil for us. And so, as one who was under the Law, He kept it for you. Man wanted to be God, but God did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the the form of a bondservant, and thus he hungered 40 days and 40 nights, and trusted His Father. Man doubted God’s Word, but Jesus stood firmly upon the Word, saying, “Thus it is written.” Jesus emerged from the battle victorious. He remained perfect under the Law. This was not the final victory over the devil. This took place at Jesus death, for Scripture says, “By His death, He destroyed the one who has the power of death, that is the devil.” But here He remained the unblemished Lamb who would be sacrificed for us. Plus, His perfection under the demands and threats of the Law, earned for us a righteousness that justifies us before God.

And so what does that mean for us? The great American theologian Walther used the picture of David and Goliath. The Philistines stood on one side of a valley, and Saul and his army stood on the other side. Then the giant of frightening size came forward from the Philistine army, and he mocked God and God’s people. He challenged anyone of the Israelites in a duel. If the Israelite won, the Philistines would be become servants to them. If Goliath won, the Israelites would then become servants to the Philistines. Everyone of the Israelites feared Goliath, and no one would come forward. Goliath insulted the Israelites for 40 days, until the unassuming David arrived to the battleground. Trusting in God, he challenged the giant. With one stone, David fell the giant.

Satan, the giant had been harassing mankind in this fallen wilderness, and no one was equal to him to challenge him. But the lowly and unassuming servant, Christ, came and conquered the devil!

Those who still serve sin remain under the power of the devil, and have no part in Christ’s victory. Walther said, “If you want to be eternally blessed by the battle of your Savior your heavenly General, nothing more is demanded of you and all men than that you play the part of a believing spectator [as those who watched on as David defeated Goliath]. The important thing is not that you learn how to fight against sin and Satan from Christ’s example but the first, most important, the main things is that you learn to believe that Christ battles for you, in your place, for your freedom and salvation. Whoever knows and feels his sins, whoever knows that hitherto he has served the devil, that he was full of unbelief, contempt of God’s Word, pride, vanity, lust, and love of the world, or that he at least has not really battled against the world, flesh, and Satan, let him merely look to his Savior; this Champion from the stem of David has held the field for us; this Lion from the tribe of Judah has conquered for us. Though you may have fallen ever so deeply, though you may have even begged the devil’s pardon, free yourself form this disgraceful tyranny. Side with Christ; then you are victor over sin and hell; then Christ also divides the spoils of war with you, forgiveness of sins, righteousness, life, and salvation.”

All the devil’s work is come unravelled, when you receive by faith Christ’s Word of forgiveness and receive His Sacrament. Every spiritual hurt that the devil inflicts upon you with his fiery darts is healed by Christ’s forgiveness.

And this the beginning of your battle against the devil as he continues to throw his fiery darts at you. It is faith which trusts that Christ has already won the battle, that you live as God’s people. But then you also have the word.

There’s reverence for a weapon that was lethal against enemies in the fight for good. You might see the sword of a famous general in a museum. The weapon that Christ used to take down the devil was the Word of God. This Word is not an artifact, but it is the living and powerful Word of God that still causes the devil and his minions to flee and scatter today.

So with faith in Christ and prayer to our heavenly Father and the powerful Word of God, we live in the fallen world, fighting a battle against the devil which has already been won. The forgiveness, righteousness, and eternal life are already ours in Christ. Amen.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.

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