Lord, Lord, lead us into the mighty fortress of Your Word. Amen.
Text: Matthew 4:1–11
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterward He was hungry. Now when the tempter came to Him, he said, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.” 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.'” Then the devil took Him up into the holy city, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down. For it is written: ‘He shall give His angels charge concerning you,’ and, ‘In their hands they shall bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone.'” Jesus said to him, “It is written again, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God.'” Again, the devil took Him up on an exceedingly high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to Him, “All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me.” 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.'” Then the devil left Him, and behold, angels came and ministered to Him.
As soon as Jesus was baptized to be our Savior, the devil tried to make Him fall. So begins the struggle to determine to whom we belong. God’s Son could not fall, but in the haze of temptation this knowledge is hidden from Him, and He fights and wins the victory simply with Scripture.
The Savior was to be tempted. It is a wonder of God’s power and grace, that He was truly tempted and defended His perfect purity and obedience only by the power of Scripture. Here by faith we hold to what our frail reason can never reconcile: that the devil was truly permitted to entice and lure Jesus, yet he was not able to kindle in Him even the least evil inclination.
Through the powerful drive of hunger the tempter tried to find a way into His pure human nature and rushed in against Him with all kinds of thoughts of doubt and defiance: “Are You God’s Son? Is this the Father’s way? Isn’t the wilderness supposed to blossom around You? (Isa 35:1). Should God’s Son hunger and thirst? (Isa 49:10). Show all the spirits that God is with His Only-begotten and has given His glory to mankind!” But the Lord wants to atone for our sins also by His hunger, and He wins the victory with Scripture.
In the second temptation, in which the devil also uses God’s Word, of course in his own way, he looks for a way into the Lord’s heart in His holy desire to glorify His Father. “Reveal Yourself to Jerusalem. This passage should also be fulfilled in You, that the angels will bear You up. Then You shall immediately sit on the throne of David, and Israel shall praise God.” Such thoughts lay siege to His soul, and the deceiver uses all his bewitching skill to lure Him by Scripture away from Scripture. But Scripture interprets Scripture, so He wins the victory and continues on His way of humiliation.
Then the wicked devil tries to make a snare for the Lord out of His deep, loving desire for salvation, to rule over all creation. Suddenly all the kingdoms and powers of the world stand before His eyes, and the tempter says: “I have the right to all of this, since mankind obeyed me. I will give it to You; just bow down, and all this is Yours!” Awfully bold and cunning is the devil! This offer seems to give Jesus everything, but in reality it would place Him and everything under the devil’s dominion. But see how the deceiver offends against Scripture, and how he always must lose against it. “Away with you, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve.'” – So Jesus continues in His obedience, suffering, and fear of God.
Adam was tempted and fell. He abandoned God’s Word, believed the deceiver, and was caught in unbelief, fleshly desire, and pride. In him we all fell and came under the power of the devil. Christ holds to God’s Word, remains in faith, truth, and holiness, and frees us again from the devil. He fought for us and He won. His victory is your victory if you believe in Him, because He has also won power and grace for you. Not the devil, but Jesus is your Lord. Of course, you will be tempted too, and for that very reason you should clothe yourself in Christ’s power, His faith, obedience, and self-denial. Every child of God is led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. There he attacks you with grievous doubts about God’s goodness and fatherly concern, doubts about your predestination, your election as a child of God, and your state of grace. And then he lays at your feet the snares of unrighteousness, covetousness, and greed. You are tempted to strive for vain glory, to go your self-chosen way rather than promoting the work of God, to buy false spiritual hope at the cost of the truth, and he prepares for the child of God all the pitfalls and all the decoys one can name. But in all these things he wants to turn your heart away from the Word in security or in doubt, “in misbelief, despair, and other shameful sin and vice.”2
In Jesus’ soul the tempter has nothing to hold on to, and no impure desire touches the holy One, though His struggle with temptation was more severe than any of us imagines. But the tempter finds so much in us to hold on to! And yet, dear troubled friend, he shall be put to shame; he is defeated! You will be tempted, but you shall also win the victory. He who won the victory for you shall win the victory in you; you shall stand by Scripture. You will be sorely tempted to abandon Scripture, but you receive grace to stay with it and continue in faith and patience on the way of temptation with our Lord Jesus. As long as you are on earth, the devil will never stop tempting you to pride and unbelief, to disobedience and to false Christianity which revels in the pleasures of this world, never as long as you live in the flesh will you be completely free of these bad things, but never will God’s Spirit stop teaching you humility, patience of faith, and joy in suffering.
Thank You for Your Temptation and Your Victory, Lord Jesus! – Spare us, O God, from the tempter, for we are so weak. But when we must be tempted, give us victory, and let us remain conquerors for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Satan shall in dust be trodden;
Anxious hearts again shall gladden,
Singing to the Lord His praise!
Though much strife on earth awaits me
Ere I raise my palms in vict’ry,
Still my songs to God I raise.
When the tempter would secure me
With deceit and lie allure me,
So that I to death would fall –
Help, O help me, dearest Savior,
Lest in weakness I should waver,
Help me still to conquer all.
Let my tongue and heart be bounding
And Thy word of vict’ry sounding;
Say to Satan: Hence with thee!
Angels from Thy kingdom sending,
In my hour of deep descending
Let them minister to me!
Franzen: Satan skal i Støvet trædes L 269 tr. DeGarmeaux;
tune: Alles ist an Gottes Segen (ELH 411); alternate hymn: Fight the good fight ELH 249