Beloved. We are in the holy and penitential season of Lent, which began this past Wednesday with Ash Wednesday. It is a 40 day period—not including Sundays—preceding Easter. It is a time during which we focus inward and examine our heart and life for sin—especially sin that has slowly and gradually taken hold in our life, perhaps sin that we even enjoy. After examining our heart and life in the light of God’s holy law and recognizing that sin, we strive, in the power of the Holy Spirit, to root that sin out of our life and to do and live the opposite of that sin.
And Lent has an outward focus: we use these 40 days to ponder all of Jesus’ work to save us from our sin; we ponder all He went through to rescue us from the result of our sin: death and hell. Our Wednesday evening services give us wonderful opportunity to ponder all the events of our Lord’s holy sufferings. We see and ponder all of Jesus’ sufferings and realize that it was for me and even if I were the only person in the world, He would have done the same. What love and mercy our Lord has on each of us poor sinners! And Lent drives home the point to us: even though we are saved freely by God’s grace, it cost Jesus dearly—His suffering and the shedding of His holy divine blood. And precisely this strengthens us in our resolve to fight against and root out sin. As we see our Lord’s love and mercy toward us and His suffering for us, why would we want to continue in sin? Wouldn’t we want all the more to fight sin? Our prayer in Lent is the prayer of the Lenten hymn [#140, 4]: Grant that I Thy Passion view With repentant grieving Nor Thee crucify anew By unholy living. How could I refuse to shun Ev’ry sinful pleasure Since for me God’s only Son Suffered without measure. Far from Jesus’ suffering and death giving us license to sin all we want—hey, we’re forgiven—it drives us even more to holiness of life.
We also see something else happening in Lent in the Sunday Gospel readings—we see Jesus in battle against the devil and defeating him. Today’s Gospel is the account of the devil tempting Jesus but Jesus resisting the temptations and continuing to live that holy, sinless life that He came to do—to be that perfect, sinless sacrifice for us and, in our place, keep God’s holy Law as He demands.
The 40 days of Lent is a wonderful reminder to us of Jesus’ 40 days and nights of fasting in the wilderness before these temptations. Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil. After he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. These temptations—and the many others Jesus endured during His earthly life all the way to the end when He was on the cross—were all part and parcel of His saving work—doing for us/ in our place what we cannot do: perfectly resist temptation. And not only that, these temptations show Jesus’ great humiliation—although He was God, He did not use all His divine power, glory and majesty that was His; He declined using them. Not making use of His divine power and prerogatives, Jesus faced the devil as a human being; that is, in these temptations Jesus did not rely on His divinity but He resisted as a man.
Notice our text’s first word: Then. What had happened just before—Jesus’ baptism when the Holy Spirit visibly came upon Him and when the Father called out from heaven: This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Jesus was marked for all to see and hear that He is the Son, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. But then what happens? Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil. Right after His baptism and the Father stating exactly Who Jesus is, the Holy Spirit leads Jesus into battle against the devil. This is a picture and reminder to us of what our baptism means for us. Not only does God claim us in baptism, give us the Holy Spirit and the gift of faith, adopt us as His dear children, but in baptism we then, too, are sent out into battle against the devil, His ways, His temptations. Although we are far from perfect in resisting and fighting the devil, like Jesus was, that is still our call as Christians; the fight against the devil and sin is our daily battle. And here for Jesus in our text, it was God’s plan/ His will that Jesus be tempted by the devil but that Jesus triumph; this was all part of Jesus’ saving work. Jesus triumphed over devil, temptation and sin for us—when we don’t/ can’t and fall into sin.
Again, the key point to remember is that in facing temptation Jesus did not rely on His divinity, His divine nature, to overcome the temptation; instead He faced the temptations as a man, a true human being. We get a hint of that in the words: he was hungry. Even this whole scene, we see Jesus’ great humiliation/ not using His divine power and majesty: the devil came to Him and led Him around. Had Jesus been relying/ making full use of His divine power, could/ would the devil dare to approach Him? But why did Jesus face the devil as a man and not as God, which He rightly could have? Holy Scripture tells us later [Hb. 2.17-18]: …in all things [Jesus] had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest…for in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted.
There is a fascinating twist with our text. Although it is all about Jesus overcoming and defeating the devil and his temptations, all about Jesus keeping God’s holy law for us, all about Jesus’ saving work, since Jesus is fighting these temptations as man/ as a true human being we see our dignity as people.
The Tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become bread.” But Jesus answered, “It is written: Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes out of the mouth of God.” Obviously after going without food that long, Jesus is hungry. And what does the devil do? He comes to Jesus and makes the temptation appealing to Jesus’ hunger. Sounds basic enough. And our text is clear enough: Jesus was hungry. What does this show us? That people have basic physical needs—food, water, shelter, etc. And what does the devil do? He appeals to the physical/ baser/ animal part of humanity—hunger: “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become bread.” What is the devil saying with this temptation but that humanity is merely a beast that craves material goods? But what happens with Jesus here? The hunger of His flesh does not control Him; instead He controls the flesh. What does Jesus show here by this—that He, the perfect Man, the one/ only one to have lived on this earth as God intended in the creation is not an animal made up of all sorts of various appetites; people are not animals with various appetites and desires they can’t control but have to act on.
Jesus shows us our human dignity as the peak of God’s creation: “It is written: Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes out of the mouth of God.” Yes, we are physical; yes, we have various appetites and desires—after all Jesus is true God and true man, who here was hungry—but there is something more important even than the physical: the spiritual. Animals are physical; they are ruled by their appetites and instincts. Humanity is physical, but we have that higher, that spiritual dimension. Unless we purposely block it out, we know that there is a God to whom we are responsible; we know that there is a God who cares for and provides for us, that word that comes out of the mouth of God. Jesus’ glory here is the trust He has in His Father. That is true human dignity—we are God’s special creation, He loves us and we then in turn fear, love and trust in Him.
Lent is the perfect time to rid ourselves of the notion that for whatever the sin “I just can’t help it.” That notion is the devil playing to your baser appetites. Remember your human dignity; you’re not an animal—you are not just physical but also spiritual. Pray to the Lord and ask Him for an extra measure of His Holy Spirit for strength to fight against the temptation of being ruled by baser appetites. Will it be easy? No. But with the Lord’s help and strengthening, we will be able to recognize the temptation, fight against it and enjoy our human dignity which is greatest as we are trusting in the Lord.
Then the Devil took him into the holy city. He placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, and he said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. For it is written: He will command his angels concerning you. And they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.” Jesus said to him, “Again, it is written: You shall not test the Lord your God.” The second temptation Jesus faced was one of misplaced trust. The devil basically said: “OK, since you rely on God so much, I’ll up you one. Throw yourself down from the temple and God will protect you.” Jesus shows what true human dignity consists of—not only do we know that there is a God, but that we rely on Him rightly. We see in the world how the devil has robbed humanity of this dignity. Because of the sin of Adam and Eve—and its effects and guilt are passed down through all generations—as we are born into the world, all of us do not know God rightly. That’s why there are all these different religions in the world: people know that there is a God—nature around them and their own heart and conscience tell them there is—but who is that God? People flounder. So God in grace and mercy gave us His Word, sent Jesus, gave us His Church to make Himself and His salvation known. But even after we come to faith, we are not out of the woods. The devil wants to destroy our faith. That’s why we must be ever vigilant to be students of the word; why we must never take our faith for granted; why we must be in church with our fellow Christians around the word and sacrament. We have to know the Scripture and our doctrine, lest we be tricked out of the right faith. Although the devil quoted the psalm we used in today’s gradual, he left out a line: For He shall give His angels charge over you to keep you in all your ways. The point is this: as we faithfully go about the work of our calling, we can be certain of our Lord’s blessing and grace. The devil tried to trick Jesus into a misplaced trust and the devil will work to trick us out of our Spirit-worked faith using even things that “sound” right and holy. Jesus had true human dignity—rightly knowing and trusting God and would not be tricked out of it.
Again the Devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. He said to him, “I will give you all of these things, if you will bow down and worship me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go away, Satan! For it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’” The devil had tried to tempt Jesus to give up the difficult work of being the Savior of the world, of going to the cross and by that establishing His kingdom, the Church and drawing people into it. Here, the devil promises Jesus a kingdom—but not through the cross; all Jesus would have to do was to bow down and worship the devil. But here, too, Jesus shows us what true human dignity is—worshipping the one true God alone. If Jesus were to have bowed down before the devil, He would have been worshipping a created being/ creature. But in His full human dignity, Jesus refused. Our human dignity, for which we were created and redeemed, is the right worship of the true God, the holy Triune God. Everything else is just a creature, part of the creation. But look at how the devil gets people to worship created things—possessions, money, self. The created world and all the things in it can never be the source of our true happiness. We were created to look above, heavenward—to God. That’s our dignity as humans. All these other things look so impressive now, kingdoms of the world and their glory, but if we put our trust and confidence in them, we are losing our human dignity, which is meant for us to do what nothing else can—knowingly and joyfully worshipping the holy Triune God!
In these temptations Jesus shows what true human dignity consists of: spiritual appetite for the things of God, of proper trust in God and in right worship of God. As we struggle against sin and when we are facing times of temptation, let us also take great comfort in our Lord’s grace in sending His holy angels to serve, defend and protect us. Then the Devil left him, and just then angels came and served him. INJ Amen