Watch the livestream beginning at 10:30 a.m. on Sunday. After the livestream is finished, the video will be available to watch at any time.
Gospel: Matthew 4:1-11 (NIV)
- Hymn CW 556:1-4 “All Mankind Fell in Adam’s Fall”
- Choir “Is He Worthy”
- Hymn CW 863 “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”
- Hymn CW 842:1,3,4 “Jesus Still Lead On”
I love the way the Scripture lessons tie together this week. The Old Testament lesson showed us how the world went from perfect to perfectly wrong. The Gospel shows us Jesus bringing it back. In the Garden, Adam listened to Satan and brought sin to all mankind. In the desert, Jesus rejects Satan’s lies and maintained the perfect righteousness that he would give to us on the cross. I went back and forth on a sermon theme this week. Something catchy about the battle between the prince of lies and the prince of peace. The rumble in the desert. The greatest battle. In the end, I just couldn’t get past the simple theme you see in front of you. It says what we need to know. Jesus wins! In this battle in the desert, his whole life, and for eternity.
Understand right away that this wasn’t the only time Jesus and Satan battled. The book of Hebrews tells us that Jesus was tempted in every way, just as we are, but never sinned. He faced temptation every day. But Matthew records this incident in the desert right after Jesus’ baptism to show us the pattern of how those battles always went. Satan came. Satan tempted. Jesus won. All the way to the greatest and most obvious victory of all. An empty tomb on Easter morning that shattered death and the power of Satan forever. A head crushed even as the heal still stung.
While we rejoice in the Savior’s success we can pick up a few helpful pointers for the battles we face every day too. This morning we learn to recognize the devil’s scheme. And to imitate the Savior’s defense. If we do this, you might be surprised how much you can enjoy not just eternal victory from Jesus, but more regular victories as Satan tempts us to sin every day.
The first rule of battle: know your enemy. The Apostle Peter was inspired to write a description of Satan in his first epistle. He says, “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” As we seek to defend ourselves against temptation, let’s start with the obvious. The devil is dangerous and he knows what he’s doing. The ringleader of the angels who rebelled against God even before Adam and Eve, Satan wants nothing more than to lead as many souls into hell as possible. Now, he’s not the leader of hell – he’s hell’s first inmate. And he’s certainly not equal to God, but that doesn’t stop him from working to lead others to suffer along with him. And he’s not just going to lie back and let people stumble across him. Peter says he’s actively on the prowl, looking for people to devour in sin. Satan doesn’t want to just test you. He’s not just provoking you or wanting you to suffer. He wants to devour you. Destroy you for all eternity. That’s his goal. His only purpose as he lashes out against God.
And Satan knows when to attack. I mentioned Jesus’ temptation in the desert happened right after his baptism. After the Father had voiced his approval on his perfect Son, (Remember, “This is my Son, whom I love. With him I am well pleased.”) He sent Jesus into the wilderness where he fasted for 40 days and nights. By this time Jesus was hungry. He must have been tired. He was at his weakest. And that’s when Satan strikes.
As an aside, recognize this scheme of Satan for yourself. When are you most likely to fall into sins that you know better than to fall into? When you’re tired. When you’re hungry. Lonely. Sad. When you’re mad. When you’ve been drinking or when you aren’t in control for some other reason. One strategy for overcoming temptation is to watch where you fight your battles. If you know you’ll be tempted in a dark room or away for a weekend with your boyfriend/girlfriend, don’t go there. If you know that certain people bring out the worst in you, stay away from them. Sometimes common sense is an ally of faith. If you knew an earthly enemy was waiting to beat you up at a certain place or time, you’d make preparations and avoid it, wouldn’t you? Do the same spiritually. You win every battle you don’t have to fight.
But back to Jesus’ temptation. Satan uses the same pattern of temptation with Jesus that he did with Adam and Eve, It’s a three-pronged attack. First, he tries to create doubt. Then he distorts God’s Word. Finally he promises false blessings. In Genesis we saw these with his whisperings, “Did God really say…, you will not surely die…you’ll be like God.” Satan here uses the same scheme against Jesus. Jesus had just heard God tell him he was pleased with him. But now twice Satan comes whispering in his ear, “If you are the Son of God…” Satan misquotes Psalm 91 to get Jesus to try to test God. And Satan makes false promises too. He takes Jesus up to a high mountain and tells him, “’All this I will give you,’ he said, ‘if you will bow down and worship me.’” It wasn’t Satan’s to give!
Imagine the arrogance of Satan to make this approach to Jesus. Jesus is God in the flesh, standing right in front of him. The almighty creator of all things. The true owner of all those kingdoms Satan tried to use in his temptation. The author of the Scripture Satan tried to twist in his scheme. If Satan is bold enough to bring temptation to God himself, do you think he will hesitate to bring it to you? Of course not. Satan is God’s enemy. And we children of God are his enemies too. This side of heaven we will always face his influence and temptations.
Satan’s scheme is to twist our thinking to be like his. To compare ourselves to each other and build up our pride instead of comparing ourselves to God and recognizing our total need for a Savior. To look at God’s will for our lives and think of it as only a burden, instead of recognizing the real blessings that come from a holy life. To become enamored with the things of the world and miss out on the greater spiritual things that last for eternity. We know these temptations because our sinful nature loves them. We know the devil’s scheme because we face it every day. So how are sinful, weak people like us to overcome?
Well honestly, we don’t. We can’t. I mean, if heaven depended on our ability to fight off Satan at every turn we’d all be lost. But the battle for our eternal future isn’t fought by us, but our champion. If Jesus could win the victory, we’d have victory. If he could remain perfect, God would count it for us. And what happens in the desert? Jesus, our champion WINS!
At the heart of each of Satan’s three temptations was doubt about what God’s will for Jesus. But if you read closely you see that each time Jesus responded with the same words. “It is written.” When Satan tempted him to use his divine power to make bread, Jesus didn’t. When Satan tempted Jesus to call on the angels for help, Jesus didn’t. Even when Satan offered him the world, Jesus didn’t take the bait. Instead, Jesus trusted in the Word of God. The Word that promises that God is watching out for us. The Word that trusts God without testing him. The Word that worships Him only.
“It is written.” With the simple words of Scripture Jesus completely overcame the devil’s temptations. And not just here in the wilderness, but his entire life. Jesus trusted in the words of his Father all the way to the cross, and then to his Easter victory over death itself. Jesus trusted that death brought into the world by one sinful man could be removed by one perfect man. Jesus’ victory is the reason we are confident of our place in heaven. This victory in the desert is just a shadow of the victory of Good Friday and Easter. There Jesus crushed the serpent’s had forever. Sin undone. The victory won. Heaven achieved for every believer Jesus wins, and so do we!
But there are still battles we face today as we wait to celebrate the final victory in glory. And it’s in those battles that we find a need to imitate our Savior’s defense from the desert. Jesus knew the power God gave him in the Word. You see, Satan lies, and that means that it cannot stand against the truth of God’s Word. Remember the scheme of the devil? He wants to create doubt, distort God’s Word, and promise false blessings. The believer armed with the Word of God won’t be deceived by those things because we know the truth.
Satan tempts us and never gives up, but we are not on our own. In Ephesians 6 Paul talks about a kind of spiritual armor and weaponry that God gives us. He says there, “take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” Brothers and sisters you cannot defend yourself with weapons that you don’t have in your hands. Is your life not what you want it to be in faith? Do you fall more easily into temptation than you like? Then pick up the sword of God’s Word. Study it with us after worship. Read it on your own. Join a Salem growth group and talk about it and pray about it with others. This Word of God is our sure defense. A trusty shield and weapon.
Equip yourself with the Word and you will find Satan as weak against you as he was against our Savior. Rejoice that Jesus wins, always, and that his victory is yours. And cherish the Word, that we would be prepared against every lie of our already fallen foe. May God bless you in the battle. Amen.