Sermon for Invocabit – First Sunday in Lent
Matthew 4:1-11 + Genesis 3:1-21 + 2 Corinthians 6:1-10
Our Lord, Jesus Christ, was baptized. He stepped forward in the place of all mankind to be the righteous one, the obedient one, the law-keeper – because every other man since Adam has been a law-breaker. He was God, and he came from God to earn back what man had lost, to earn sinners back out of the devil’s kingdom that they might enter into his own.
As soon as Jesus was baptized, he heard the words from heaven, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” And right away, the Father sent his beloved Son into the devil’s lair to suffer. Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.
A forty-day fast, with nothing to eat or drink. One day for every day that it rained during the Great Flood when God wiped sinful mankind from the face of the earth. Forty days. One day for every day Moses spent up on Mt. Sinai receiving the Law from the hand of God, the Law that Israel was supposed to keep. One day for every day Moses spent again up on Mt. Sinai receiving the Law again from the hand of God after Israel bowed down and worshiped the golden calf. One day for every day the twelve Israelite spies spent spying out the land of Canaan to test God and see if he had lied to them about the promised land. One day for every year Israel spent wandering in the wilderness, grumbling and complaining about the bread God provided for them every day.
During these forty days of fasting and temptation, in every case Jesus stood firm where Israel had failed, where Adam and Eve had failed, where you and I have failed. In every temptation, Jesus resisted the devil and wielded the Word of God as a weapon to defeat him. Those forty days of suffering and resistance were all spent for you.
In each of the three temptations mentioned in this text, the devil tries to take advantage of a hardship Jesus is facing. Or, if there is no hardship, then the devil tries to create one by dangling a piece of forbidden fruit before Jesus’ eyes, by trying to convince him he needs something that God hasn’t provided.
In the first temptation, it says that Jesus was hungry after 40 days and 40 nights of fasting. He wanted to eat. But God had not yet wanted to give him anything to eat. Remember, it was the Spirit of God who led Jesus out into the wilderness. So, on the one hand, you have what Jesus wants, and on the other hand, you have what his Father wants. And that’s not a sin. The sin comes when it becomes a battle of wills between man and God, when man begins to resent God’s will, to covet the thing that God has not provided. The sin comes when a man insists on getting what he wants. The sin comes when a man, instead of saying to God, “Thy will be done,” says “My will be done.”
And the devil’s sneaky about it, too, he’s not obvious; he’s not crass. He doesn’t say to Jesus, “Curse God! You do what you want!” He says, “If you’re the Son of God, turn these stones into bread!” In other words, God won’t mind. You’re his Son, after all. You deserve this. You need it. And your Father can hardly disapprove; he loves you.
The devil tries the same tricks on you, doesn’t he? He jabs at you, over and over, little by little. He reminds you of that thing you want that God’s Word has not given you permission to have, at least not yet. What is it? A certain job? A certain relationship? A certain pleasure? Something else? If it’s something sinful you want, like, to commit adultery or to hurt someone, then you’ve already fallen into temptation, even if you don’t act on it. If it’s not something sinful, it becomes sin when your will wins out over God’s will.
Now, God the Father made it hard for Jesus. And in the midst of this temptation, God still didn’t yet provide his Son with food. He would later, after the temptations were over!, but not now. He forces his Son to suffer the temptation and the hunger. It’s as if he were saying, “Earn it, Son! You have to earn it! No one else can do it. Earn the world back from the devil!”
And he did. See what perfection looks like! Jesus, the very Son of God, doesn’t presume to know what his Father approves of or disapproves of apart from the Word of God. He had no command, nor did he have permission from his Father to perform a self-serving miracle like turning stones into bread. All he had was the Word of God that says in Proverbs 10, The Lord does not let the righteous go hungry. So, even though there hasn’t been food in sight for 40 days, Jesus clings to that Word and throws God’s Word back in the devil’s face, “It is written: Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”
In the second temptation mentioned, the devil builds off the first one and tries to get Jesus interested in looking for a sign of God’s faithfulness. “Throw yourself down from the temple and watch as God sends his angels to lift you up and save you. Once you see with your eyes that God is faithful, then you’ll feel better. Then your trust in him will be justified.”
Does the devil ever send you looking for a sign, for some proof of God’s faithfulness? When it appears that God is against you, when God is closing all the doors around you and making it look like he’s cruel, like he’s your enemy, wouldn’t you like to see some proof that he cares? And so the devil gets you to abandon faith in your quest for sight. That’s called putting God to the test.
But again, God gives Jesus nothing – no vision of angels – at least, not yet. There would be angels attending him after the temptation was over, but not now. Now he has to trust. Now he has to believe that God is good, even though his eyes tell him differently. “Earn it, Son! You have to earn it! You have to earn the world back from the devil!”
And again, he does. See again what perfection looks like! Jesus refuses to ask for a sign. He refuses to be guided by the devil. He trusts his Father completely, without needing proof of it. Because, what does he have? He has his Father’s word. And that’s enough, because he knows his Father will not lie. “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.”
In the third temptation, the devil dangles before Jesus’ eyes the ultimate forbidden fruit, the world itself, with all its glory, with all its inhabitants. “You don’t have to earn it back from me, Jesus! I won’t make it so hard on you, so difficult, so painful. Your Father – he’s the one who wants to make it hard, who wants to make you suffer, who wants you to bear the cross, not me. I’ll make it ever so easy. Bow down to me – just this once. And I’ll give the world back to you.”
“No, dear Christian, you don’t have to suffer,” says the devil. “You don’t have to do anything that seems too hard for you. God wants you to suffer. He wants you to keep worshiping him and following his commandments, even though he knows it’s going to bring you trouble and heartache. It’s going to cause all sorts of problems in your family, in your church, even in your employment and among your friends. It doesn’t have to be so hard. Just don’t speak up. Just don’t rock the boat. Don’t practice discipline in your home, or in your church. Just let people do what they’re going to do. Then they’ll love you. Then you won’t drive them away with the Word of God. Then your church will be popular and people will want to come. All this I’ll give you. And you don’t even have to ‘bow down’ to me. Just don’t bow down quite so low before God.”
You see how lost you are, don’t you?, if your salvation depends on you. If you have to earn God’s favor, or earn God’s forgiveness, or earn your way out of the devil’s kingdom and into God’s, then you’re lost. You’re condemned. You have no hope. And so God calls you to repentance, to acknowledge that you have listened to the devil’s voice, to abandon all hope of earning your way into heaven, and to look in hope to the one who earned it for you.
Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “ ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’ Jesus said that, knowing full well what it meant, knowing full well that his worship of the Lord his God would lead him to the cross, that his service to God alone would mean giving his life as a ransom for many.
Jesus Christ, the Son of Man, the Offspring of Eve, came knowingly and willingly to this earth, to our human race, so that he, the Son of God and the Son of Man, could earn the world back from the devil and give his life as a sacrifice in order to accomplish it. But don’t you for one moment think that it was easy for him to resist the devil’s temptations. The Scriptures tell us that he suffered when he was tempted. We see his agony in drops of bloody sweat as he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night he was betrayed. “Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will!” Jesus did not “want” to suffer, but he was perfectly willing to suffer, to submit his will to his Father’s will, for love of him, and for love of you. And by his perfect trust, his bloody sweat and his bloody death, he earned the world back to God from the devil. There’s no reason for you to perish eternally. The Son of God has bought you, has redeemed you by his victory over the devil’s temptations and with his blood, shed on the cross and given to you here to eat and to drink. And as you eat and drink his body and blood, you eat and drink his victory over the devil. You eat and drink his righteousness, his life, and the forgiveness of sins he has earned for you.
Today on Invocabit Sunday, the first Sunday in Lent, we witness the first bruises that Jesus, the Offspring of the woman, dealt to the serpent’s head. Forty days Jesus spent in the wilderness being tempted by the devil, earning our salvation. Forty days we’ll spend in the season of Lent, one day for each day Jesus would appear to his disciples after he rose from the dead and crushed the serpent’s head for us forever. To you God the Father does not say, “Earn it!” To you God the Father says, “Trust in Jesus Christ, my Son, who has earned all things for you. Amen.