Facing Life’s Temptations

Read Matthew 4:1-11

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, my family and those whom God loves:

Let us pray. Lord God, bless your Word wherever it is proclaimed. Make it a word of power and peace to convert those not yet your own and to confirm those who have come to saving faith. May your Word pass from the ear to the heart, from the heart to the lip, and from the lip to the life that, as you have promised, your Word may achieve the purpose for which you sent it; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Today Hunter and Avery will be baptized and at the end of the service the newly elected Council members will be installed. Hunter is seven years old and Avery just turned twelve a couple of weeks ago and they desire to be baptized. I think that’s wonderful because God has been working in these children’s lives, whether they totally realize that or not. Likewise, I think it is marvelous that the six people who were elected to Council last Sunday, joining the other three already elected Council members, all desire to serve their Lord and His church. The Holy Spirit has called you to this important role in the life of this congregation.

Now I’m going to say something else to Hunter, Avery and each these members of Council and to all of us, that perhaps you won’t like to hear, but it will happen. At some point down the road, maybe even today, you will be tempted to abandon what God is calling you to be as a baptized child of God’s and as a leader of this congregation. Not only will you be tempted, but you will fall to that temptation. You see, the devil knows you very well and knows where you are weakest, and he will tempt you with something that will cause you to move against God and against His Church. That temptation most likely will not be a direct attack, although it might be, but will more likely be as subtle and sly as was the serpent’s approach in the Garden of Eden.

Now right now you may be thinking just like Peter who when Jesus told him that he would deny Jesus three times, Peter responded and said (Matthew 26:33), “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.” But you know what, Peter did fall away and so will you. So will every one of us at some point, in fact it may happen even daily. Every one of us will fall to Satan’s temptations.

It is for this reason that after his baptism Jesus was “led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil” (Matt. 4:1), whose name means “slanderer” and in v.3 he will be called the tempter; the one who is God’s enemy and the source of all temptations. God may test you from time to time, but it is the devil who will tempt you to leave behind God and His kingdom and His will for you.

Now before Avery and Hunter were to be baptized and prior to these Council members being elected I didn’t test any of you as to whether you were really committed to being baptized and to serving our congregation. I didn’t take you out into the wilderness, drop you off there and tell you, “I’ll be back to pick you up in six weeks and then we’ll see if you’re really interested in being baptized or being a member of Council.” If I had done that, I’m not sure whether you would have wanted to be baptized or to serve on Council. We all have a hard enough time giving up the fun things for God, little lone doing hard things like being out in a wilderness.

But unlike us and for us, the Holy Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil and in doing so, the Holy Spirit didn’t set Jesus up in the wilderness with a fully equipped and stocked RV. No, the Holy Spirit led Jesus there and left him with almost nothing And after fasting forty days and forty nights…and this is a bit of an understatement… he was hungry (4:2). I would say, he was starving, famished, weak, barely able to stand.

It is at the end of those forty days and not before; at the very point of weakness and vulnerability that the devil moves in with his first temptation and wouldn’t you know it; it is has to do with food. Now the devil doesn’t tempt starving Jesus with a nice juicy steak. Instead, he baits Jesus with the words If you are the Son of God… At Jesus’ baptism God had said (Matthew 3:17), “This is my beloved Son…. Now Jesus is truly man like you and me but he is also truly God, and the devil is tempting Jesus to use his divine powers to change these rocks into bread. If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread” (4:3). Just think, if Jesus would just do this, he not only could feed himself, but the entire world. People would make him king. Why not do it? The temptation seems good for everyone.

Is this how the devil tempts us? It seems to me that the devil never has to work this hard on us, at least not with me. Rather than remind us of who we are – baptized children of God’s – the devil would have us forget that we are baptized and instead encourages us to believe that we are in charge; that we can do whatever we want to do.  Then, if your family is coming over for lunch on Sunday or you’re having a birthday party on Sunday, the devil can say to you, “You know, it’s more important that you do these really wonderful things than go to worship or Bible study or some dull church meeting. And if you really want to go to church, well, it’ll be there next week, but what’s possibly more important than family or having fun. You only live once.” It doesn’t take much temptation from the devil and off we fall…

Jesus’ response to his temptation, however, is not determined by how he’s feeling that day or whether something is fun or not fun or whether it has to do with his family – and he does have one. No, Jesus’ response to this juicy temptation arises from God’s Word (Deuteronomy 8:3). Jesus says to the devil and to us: “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God’” (4:4). Three times (4:7,10) we will hear Jesus draw his defense against the devil’s temptations from God’s Word. Do you think that perhaps we might consider doing that when we are tempted?

Okay, Jesus got through that one but Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle…the highest point of the temple (4:5) and from there the devil says to Jesus: “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’” (4:6).

The devil, although he is opposed to God, is not biblically illiterate like many people today. He knows how to use the Bible, or should I say, misuse it for his own purposes. The devil knows how to water God’s Word down; to encourage people to focus on the easy parts and ignore and avoid the hard parts. And he wants to make sure you’re comfortable with options, especially with your interpretive options. The devil teaches us to treat God’s Word like a wax nose, one you can twist and reshape so that whether it be baptism or the church, or being on council, God’s Word can mean whatever you want it to mean or don’t want it to mean. And when that happens, again we fall to the devil’s temptations.

Jesus, however, knows the truth of God’s Word because he is the truth, the Word made flesh and he speaks it very plainly to Satan: “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test’” (4:7). Strike two!

But the devil is persistent and Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory (4:8).

I can almost hear the devil speaking to us and saying something like this, “I don’t know about these church things but having some water poured on you and words spoken over you doesn’t seem too glorious. Why would anyone want to be baptized anyway? It’s really crazy! And why would anyone in their right mind want to be on Council or become a member of the Church? I’m sure there are probably at least forty-seven other better things to spend your time on. Does the church even do anything? On the other hand, family, work, school, sports, video games, friends, the Drop in Centre, travel…you could have them all and without the church. You could even have more time and more money to do all of this…that is, if you just didn’t spend so much time in worship or Bible study or having devotions.” And again, we find ourselves falling and failing to notice what the devil is really asking of us in this temptation.

The devil says to Jesus, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Now you might get the impression that the devil has been in charge here or that he somehow has something to give Jesus or give to us, that actually belongs to him. However, all along it has really been the Spirit leading Jesus and from the heavens to the earth, all things belong not to Satan, but to God, its creator. The devil is only pretending to be in charge.

Jesus knows this and therefore with the authority of God almighty he commands: “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve’” (4:10). All temptations ultimately would have us break the First Commandment…“You shall have no other gods!” and to bow down in worship to Satan. But Jesus throws the devil a fast ball right down the middle: “Strike three…you’re out!”

And having struck out, the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him (4:11). This would be Christ’s first victory against Satan, but not his last challenge or temptation and his final victory would come later in his death on the cross.

Yes, it’s wonderful that you, Hunter and Avery desire to be baptized and it’s wonderful that you council members who are also baptized members of this congregation, have agreed to serve on Council. What is most amazing though, is that when you fall to Satan’s temptations, not if but when you fall and fail, we have a high priest who is able to sympathize with our weaknesses, because in every respect he has been tempted as we are, yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15). Jesus understands the battle of this life – your battles with temptation.

That Jesus understands and sympathizes with our weakness, however, is not an excuse to get baptized and never come back to church or to not take seriously all those responsibilities you have been given as leaders of this congregation. Instead, our Lord has faced your temptations for you so that when you do fall and fail and you will, you can turn to him in repentance and know the comfort and renewal of his forgiveness.

Jesus has defeated Satan for you when he died on the cross and then overcame death in his resurrection for you also. Jesus set you free from sin, death and the devil’s power when you were baptized into Christ Jesus and filled with His Spirit and gifted with faith. Jesus did this all for you, not so that you can just keep on sinning by serving other gods or skipping worship when it pleases you or avoiding the study of God’s Word or whatever temptation the devil has in store for you. Instead, Jesus has defeated Satan and filled you with His Spirit in Baptism so that you may be a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17); that you may walk in the newness of Christ’s life (Romans 6:4); and that you might do the good works God has created you for (Ephesians 2:10).

Just as God sent angels to minister to Jesus after his wilderness temptation, so also in the midst of your temptations and failings God provides for you. Today He has offered His Word and Sacraments that you may know the assurance, comfort and strength of His love, forgiveness, life and salvation. Though you have fallen to temptation many times in the past, maybe even today and will in the future, Jesus says to you (Mark 1:15), repent and believe in the gospel….go, and from now on sin no more” (John 8:11).

Avery, Hunter, Council members and all God’s baptized here today, may God bless you and keep you in Christ amidst all the temptations that you will face unto life everlasting.

Let us pray… Mighty Lord, though devils fill the world tempting us at every turn, we do not fear because You have won the victory. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Grace be with you,

By PT Graff

A baptized child of God's, called to be a son, husband, father, citizen of Canada and heaven and a pastor.