Text: St. Matthew 4:1-11
Rev. Paul L. Beisel
25 February 2007
Baptized saints in Christ:
Have you ever failed a test? If so, then you know what a terrible feeling it is. Imagine if your failure caused every other person in the class to receive a failing grade too. No amount of extra credit would be enough to change this grade.
St. Paul says that “in Adam all died, because all sinned.” All people received a failing grade because of Adam’s failure to keep God’s covenant. The whole class, that is, the whole world flunked when Adam flunked a major exam. The test was a hard one, no doubt about it. There was only one question on the exam: What did God say about the tree in the midst of the Garden of Eden? Adam knew the answer. It was right on the study guide. He said: “Do not eat of the tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. For on the day that you eat of it you will surely die.”
But then comes that crafty serpent like a rebellious teenager who wants the brain in the class to mess up. “Did God really say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?” Adam’s wife Eve was close: “We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die’.”
But Satan, the Old Evil Foe, knew how to put doubts in the minds of men. He creates doubt in the mind of Eve about God’s Word, and about His goodness. He gets Adam and Eve to wonder if they can really trust what God said. “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
What’s this new teaching? Was God holding out on them? Could they have been wrong about God? After all, the serpent did sound very reasonable. And look at the fruit on that tree! It was delightful to look at. How can something that looks so good be so bad for you? How can something that tastes so good be harmful? Maybe you’re right, Devil. Who knows if we can trust God’s Word or not? It’s the only thing we’ve ever known. What if there is something else, something we’ve been missing out on?
You know the rest of the story. It is your story. It is the story of every child born of Adam, for his unbelieving blood runs through each of our veins. His test was also your test. When he failed you failed. You have been there too. God’s Word said “no” but the devil said, “Maybe.” And you said, “Okay.” You gave in. You succumbed. You did not resist. You made excuses and blamed others for your own mistakes and faults. “It’s not me, it is someone else who did that. That’s not me.” “I just couldn’t help it.”
And thus history repeated itself. And it continues to repeat itself because our hearts trust the devil’s word more than they trust God’s Word. They think that what the devil offers is actually better than what God offers. But see, the devil does have an advantage. For what he offers is immediate. It is now. It is pleasure now; satisfaction now; vengeance now; popularity now; fame now; comfort now; pay-back now. What God offers is far better, but it appears to be less, because it is something we have to wait for. It is God Himself. It is everlasting peace, righteousness, holiness, contentment, and paradise. It is love and joy. It is everything that is good, because it is everything that comes from God.
And it’s not like we don’t have these things now. Adam and Eve were not without the other trees in the Garden. It’s not like it was this tree or nothing to eat from. Already now God has given us His Spirit, His reconciliation, His righteousness and innocence, His Word. But these are spiritual things. They are not seen or perceived except by faith. So where faith is lacking, the heart is oriented towards more visible and immediate things, things that come from the devil. When Adam failed, all failed, because all fell prey to the devil’s temptations.
So let’s pretend that you aced a test, and because of it the entire class was given A’s, even though they all had actually flunked. “Because of one man’s righteous act, the many were made righteous.” Jesus was also given a major exam, one not unlike Adam’s. And once again the Devil was there to make sure that history repeated itself again, that God’s second Adam made the same mistake as the first.
Perhaps he could get Jesus to doubt his identity as God’s Son, which had just been revealed in His Baptism. “If you are the Son of God, then command these stones to become bread.” “Come on Jesus. If you cannot do this simple thing, then you may have just been dreaming that whole “beloved Son” thing up. Let’s see if you really are God’s Son. Something unexpected happened though. The devil was resisted. His ploy didn’t work. “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”
Unlike the first Adam, Jesus refused to play the devil’s games. He refused to be swayed into doubting the validity and truth of God’s Word. The Word of God is good, and it is better than any food that can go into a man’s stomach. “Let me starve here in the wilderness, for all I care. It is nothing to me, for God’s Word does not lie. You want me to demonstrate my sonship by doing some miracle? I will show you that I am God’s Son by my obedience to His Word.”
Satan tries again. “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from the pinnacle of this temple. For what Father would let His beloved Son die such a terrible death? What kind of Son would not trust his father to protect him and guard him? See, even the Scriptures say that you will be rescued. “Not so fast miserable devil.” Jesus said to him: “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test’.” A true Son does not put His Father to the test. He does not live life recklessly, hoping that his Father will sweep down to the rescue whenever he gets himself into hot water. Nice try Satan. Let’s see what else you’ve got!
The devil throws it all at Jesus. He shows Him all the kingdoms of the world in a flash and makes one last attempt to get Jesus to fail. “All these I will give you if you fall down and worship me.” And there it is again—have it all now. Don’t wait for it. I can give it to you immediately. That’s the lure that Satan uses to hook people. And he even tried it on Jesus. But once again, it didn’t work. A kingdom Jesus would have, and that greater than any kingdom the devil could offer. His is the kingdom of heaven, and He would have all authority on heaven and earth. But first He must suffer the pain and agony of the cross, and be raised again from the dead.
By one man’s disobedience the many were made unrighteous and disobedient. By Adam’s failure to keep God’s Word and resist the devil, all men became prisoners of the Devil. In Adam all died. But in Christ all shall be made alive. By His obedience unto death, by His righteousness, the many were made righteous. History did not repeat itself there in the wilderness. Jesus broke the age-old cycle of disobedience. He trusted His heavenly Father. He waited for His kingdom. His A+ was your A+. His story is your story. His victory over the devil is your victory. For you died with Christ. You were buried with Him by baptism into death. You no longer live but Christ lives in you.
Now the devil would like for you to doubt your own heavenly identity and to mistrust God’s Word. He would have you believe that what he offers is better than what God offers. “If you are the Son of God, then prove it!” Prove it by what? By testing God? By having everything now because after all, what kind of Father would not want his son to have all good things? Beware, dear children! Satan does not want you to be happy. He does not want you to succeed. He does not want you have anything. These are only props, props which he uses to turn your eyes away from God and His Word.
Do not forget or doubt who you are. You are God’s sons and daughters by faith. His Spirit dwells in you. Christ is your brother. You belong not to the devil but to God. Your future is full of satisfaction and contentment even if now you find it lacking. You have a heavenly inheritance awaiting you, a paradise, a place where God dwells with you and you with Him. Don’t throw it all away for a taste of immediate enjoyment.
Do just the opposite in fact. Deny yourself the satisfaction of instant gratification, of earthly pleasure and enjoyment just to remind yourself and to show the devil that God alone is your refuge and strength. He alone is the source of your contentment, your peace, your enjoyment. “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”
And don’t think that you are the first to endure the diabolical temptations of the devil. Do not let him fool you into thinking that you are the first to be weak, to fall prey to the crafty serpent. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.”
You cannot avoid temptation. This will be a part of your life until the end. Satan never stops; never gives up. As long as you carry with you the flesh of Adam, you will always be susceptible to tests and trials. But as Luther once said: “You can’t stop the birds from flying overhead, but you can keep them from roosting on your shoulder.” When you are assailed and attacked by the temptations of the devil, don’t try to handle them on your own. You are powerless against them by yourself. Instead, run to Christ. Take hold of your Bible and read some Psalms. Pray the Lord’s Prayer. Do whatever you have to in order to keep those annoying birds from resting on your shoulder. God will come to your rescue. “When he calls to me, I will answer him; I will rescue him and honor him. With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation. He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.” Satan is a clever wolf, and every wolf knows that if he can just separate one little lamb from the rest of the flock, he will have himself a meal. Your only hope is to remain with the herd; take refuge in your Good Shepherd, and surround yourself with your fellow sheep in Christ. Amen.