2-18-24 Invocabit

Bible Text: Matthew 4:1-11 | Preacher: Pastor Andrew Richard

The devil is the master of a thousand arts. But our Lord Jesus Christ is master of a hundred thousand arts. What delusion entered the devil’s mind to make him think that he could succeed against our Lord? Perhaps he thought he had Jesus at some disadvantage. The Son of God was now incarnate and could feel hungry and tired. Jesus had been fasting for forty days and forty nights. He was alone in the wilderness and seemed easy prey. But He’s God! Seriously, Satan, what were you thinking? “When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are in peace.” Satan, you were that strong man, but you weren’t strong enough. Jesus continues, “But when a stronger than he comes upon him and overcomes him, he takes from him all his armor in which he trusted, and divides his spoils” (Lk. 11:21-22). Devil, you trusted in your temptations. You thought you were invincible. And a weak, hungry man answered you three verses from Holy Scripture and said, “Be gone, Satan!” and you found yourself more naked and scared than Adam and Eve, and with more reason to fear the wrath of God than they. For they waited in hope for the Seed of the woman who would crush your head, and you could only wait in dread for the crushing blow to come. And it has come. Today the Church remembers with love for our Lord that day when His human heel hovered over your head in the wilderness and He showed your weapons to be nothing against Him and He let you run away so that He could defeat you gloriously according to the Scriptures and at His chosen time. Satan, you are plundered. Your arrows and shield and sword are broken (Ps. 76:3). Cower before the God who has assumed our human nature. Cringe and grovel before Jesus who redeemed us.

The devil deserves a good mocking, particularly at the beginning of the season of Lent. The Lenten readings all focus in some way on Jesus’ conflict with the devil, like so many skirmishes and battles before the war on Mount Golgotha. And Satan loses all of them. It’s encouraging for us to see this, to see the devil defeated, because we know our experience of his attacks, and we know what it is to win―to resist the temptation and walk according to God’s commandments―, and we know what it is to lose―to fall to the temptation and sin.

You know temptation, and you know that the devil knows what he’s doing. He’s had several millennia of experience tempting men, and you’ve had what? A handful of years of experience recognizing and resisting it. It’s one thing to look at the temptation of Jesus and see how easily He overcomes temptation. It’s something else to overcome it as simply yourself. We don’t even fully understand how temptation from the devil works, though of course the Lord has given us in Scripture what it is sufficient to know. In John 13 it says, “the devil…put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray [Jesus]” (Jn. 13:2). In Acts 5 when Ananias and Sapphira lie, Peter says, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit?” (Acts 5:3). Yet Peter also says, “Why have you conceived this thing in your heart” (Acts 5:4). From these verses we can say that Satan deals with the heart. That is the true realm of spiritual warfare: not out there somewhere; in the heart. Yet the devil does not have free reign in our hearts. Satan may have given Ananias the idea to lie, yet Peter still faults Ananias for thinking it was a good idea and acting on it.

You know from experience how this goes. Sometimes you’re sitting there, minding your own business, not looking for any trouble, and it’s as if someone suddenly suggests to you, “What if you were to do this? Wouldn’t that be fun and satisfy your: lust, vengeance, envy, pride, fill in the blank?” or “What if you were to interpret that person’s words this way? Why don’t you replay that scene another thousand times?” or “What if this situation in your life means that God has forsaken you? What hope do you have?” And a thought that wasn’t there a moment ago is, out of nowhere, at the forefront of your mind. Luther put it this way in the Large Catechism when explaining the 6th Petition of the Lord’s Prayer, “And lead us not into temptation”: “Though I am now chaste, patient, kind, and in firm faith, the devil will this very hour send such an arrow into my heart that I can scarcely stand. For he is an enemy that never stops or becomes tired. So when one temptation stops, there always arise others and fresh ones” (LC III.109).

Now it would be bad enough if temptation only came at us from the outside. Yet because our flesh is corrupt and we are sinful from birth, our fallen nature wants to go along with the temptation. In this respect the temptations we suffer differ from those of Adam and Eve in paradise and those of Christ. Before the fall, Adam and Eve had no sinful desires native to their flesh. Jesus likewise does not have a sinful nature with its sinful desires. We, however, have concupiscence, which is a five-dollar theological term that explains why, if your neighbor were to put up a sign that said, “Keep off the grass,” you’d want to go run all over it. Or to quote a better explanation from St. Paul in Romans 7, “I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, ‘You shall not covet.’ But sin, taking opportunity by the commandment, produced in me all manner of evil desire” (Rom. 7:7-8). And our sinful desires are allied with the devil in his temptations, as it says in James 1, “each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed” (Jas. 1:14). Because of your own sinful desires, the devil doesn’t even have to try particularly hard sometimes. He knows your weak spots. He knows that he can consistently get you to lose your temper, or overindulge your appetites, or look lustfully, or worry about tomorrow, or take words the wrong way, or speak too quickly, or doubt your salvation, or neglect prayer, or whatever your Achilles’ heel might be.

And you sin. You should have said with Joseph when he was tempted by Potiphar’s wife, “How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” (Gen. 39:9). And instead you must say with Job, “I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:6). You grieve. And you don’t even chiefly grieve because of Satan. No, you chiefly grieve because you have offended against God. He’s only done you good, His commandments are good for you, His yoke is easy and His burden is light, and you know it, and you want to please Him, and you sinned anyway. That’s what grieves the Christian heart. “For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him,” and you sinned instead. You sinned because you have an enemy, the devil, who seeks your downfall, and it’s no overstatement to say, “On earth is not his equal.”

“With might of ours can naught be done, / Soon were our loss effected. / But for us fights the Valiant One, / Whom God Himself elected” (LSB 656:2), and that is the chief point of this first Sunday in Lent, and indeed of the whole season of Lent. As we all cowered in fear before Goliath, knowing none of us was a match for him, our David came and has overcome. Jesus, our Deliverer, took the field of battle, won where we lost, and where we were conquered, He conquered. He “was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin,” as it says in Hebrews 4 (Heb. 4:15.) Jesus knows what it’s like to have the devil come at Him, enticing Him to sin against God. And even though Jesus has no sinful desires, He did feel the sinless and natural human desires. We heard that plainly in the reading: “He was hungry” (Mt. 4:2). And Satan came and tempted Him to turn stones into bread. This means that Jesus was even tempted in the sense of having a desire in Himself to which Satan could appeal, which is the sort of temptation we face all the time, and Jesus still stood fast and did not sin: not in His desires, nor in His thoughts, nor in His actions. He “was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.” And by overcoming the devil’s temptations against Himself, Jesus overcame the devil’s temptations for all of us.

For Jesus did not come merely to be an example of something we could never hope to be on our own. Rather, as it says in 1 John 3, “For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil” (1 Jn. 3:8). And that’s simply a sermon on the verse we heard from the Old Testament reading, that first Gospel which the Lord preached against the devil and for the comfort of Adam and Eve, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Gen. 3:15). That is to say, “Satan, someday a woman of this sinful human race will give birth to a male child who is a match for you. Indeed, she will give birth to Me, and I will be found a man, God incarnate. You and I will both pose to strike, and as you bare your fangs and lunge at Me, My human heel will come down to meet you. Your bite will hit home, and you’ll be right where I want you: latched on to your demise and speeding downward to the dust. You will wound My heel, but I will wound your head. Mine will be a light wound as I make light of death, but yours shall be a mortal wound, and you shall never recover. Satan, you shall be undone. So you have warning and My saints have comfort.”

And of course it all came to pass. Jesus withstood every temptation, including the temptation to come down from the cross. Jesus bore the wages of sin. Jesus atoned for all sins by His innocent death. Jesus proved by His resurrection that no sin is left, no death is left for those who are found in Him. And what is left to Satan? Even when he does succeed in getting you to sin, what has he gained? He can try to come at you with accusations, and he can try to torment your conscience with guilt. But, as it is written, God has canceled “the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross” (Col. 2:14). And again, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1). Jesus is the Victor. Satan is the Loser. Christ’s verdict stands, and the devil cannot gainsay Him. You are as innocent as Jesus is in the eyes of the Father, for you are not clothed with fig leaves of your own sewing, which would be insufficient for covering your shame, but you are clothed with Christ Himself and appear before Him in all righteousness, innocence, and blessedness. And that’s even when Satan succeeds in his temptations.

But Satan does not have to succeed in his temptations. In Christ temptation has lost its power, “For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted,” as it says in Hebrews 2 (Heb. 2:18). Or again in Hebrews 4, “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” (Heb. 4:15-16). And you know from experience that Jesus is the Helper of the tempted. You’ve been tempted to do something, and yet didn’t do it. By whose strength did you stand against the devil? By your own? You know how weak your strength is against the devil. But Jesus is the stronger one, and by His strength He has kept you from temptation. When you fall it is according to your weakness, but when you stand it is according to Jesus’ strength.

Therefore, whether you stand against temptation or fall to it, you stand in Christ. Now this is not a call to be apathetic toward sinning. You should care whether you sin or don’t. You should care whether you’re pleasing to God or offensive to Him. You should care about living according to His Word, and the very thought of transgressing it should be distasteful to you. We are not unaware of the devil’s schemes. He knows that Christ forgives sins, and he knows he’s not merely spinning his wheels in trying to get you to sin anyway. Satan, by his constant temptations, is trying to get you to love your sin more than you love your Lord. No one and nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom. 8:38-39). No one can snatch us out of Jesus’ hand (Jn. 10:28-29). But we can forsake Christ, and this is the devil’s goal. Therefore Peter warns us, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith” (1 Pet. 5:8-9).

But did you hear the note of hope in that warning? “Resist him.” What, me? Resist the devil? How can I? As a Christian, that’s how. As one who belongs to Him who overcame every temptation of the devil. When Jesus wielded the Word of God against the devil, He was giving us that same Word to resist the devil. Satan cannot stand when those words “it is written” are followed by Scripture. And you know the Ten Commandments. You can say, “No, devil, I won’t do that, for it is written, ‘You shall have no other gods,’ ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ ‘You shall not covet,’” or any other commandment.

But even more than wielding the weapon of the Word that Jesus wielded, you can call upon Jesus Himself to grant you aid. You can pray. Jesus was tempted in every way we are, yet remained sinless, and so we have confidence to approach His throne of grace and find mercy to help in our time of need (Heb. 4:15-16). Jesus does not stand idly by when the devil attacks His dear saints, but in such times He is near to us. We pray to Him for aid, and He helps us.

We can also rely on Jesus’ victory. Because Jesus stayed in the wilderness and did not flee, but fought, and won, we don’t have to stick around when the devil comes looking for a fight. When Potiphar’s wife came to Joseph and enticed him to break the Sixth Commandment, Joseph spoke according to the Word of God and no doubt prayed, but he got out of there. When the devil comes tempting you, you have even more reason to remove yourself from the situation. You don’t have to stay and fight, because Jesus did. You can say, “Satan, you already lost. There’s nothing I need to stick around and fight for. I’m getting out of here. Jesus already beat you.” And this is not a shameful retreat on your part, but a sign of utter contempt for an enemy who has a giant heel print in his head and whose fangs are broken.

So, as Peter writes, “Resist him, steadfast in the faith” (1 Pet. 5:9). James writes the same thing, “Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (Jas. 4:7). We sang in the Introit from Psalm 91, “You will tread on the lion and the adder, the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot” (Ps. 91:13). And Paul writes in Romans 16, “The God of peace will crush Satan under your feet shortly” (Rom. 16:20). Jesus has come, and He has won the victory, and He has destroyed the works of the devil. All praise to our Lord, our Deliverer. Amen.

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