Still needs a bit of editing and condensing, but here’s the raw material for Sunday.
Beloved saints in Christ:
David must have looked pretty puny next to Goliath. How silly he must have looked with his five smooth stones and a sling. It reminds me of a scene in the Monty Python classic “The Search for the Holy Grail.” A guy has all his arms and legs cut off, and still he comes at the knight saying, “I’ll head-butt you to death.” It’s laughable.
David had all his arms and legs, but still. This was insanity. This was suicide. What kind of a fool would think that he could defeat a Philistine giant like Goliath with nothing more than a few stones? And then to say such crazy things like, “I will strike you down and cut off your head.” He must have been the laughing stock of his whole family. What was David thinking?
Whether or not David was intimidated by the giant the text does not say. He certainly doesn’t seem to be all that frightened. But David knows where his strength lies. He knows that his strength does not lie in physical weapons, but rather in God’s protection. “You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.”
David’s confidence might have seemed a bit misplaced, even to the most devout believer. You can hear his brothers saying, “Okay, David, now this is getting a little out of hand, don’t you think? I mean, we all believe in your God too. We all know he’s strong. But this is nuts.” David is not dissuaded. He trusts in the Lord. He was confident that the Lord would deliver the Philistines into the hands of Israel.
And David’s faith is not in vain. David, who appears weak compared to the Philistine, prevails! His stone finds its mark. God delivered them, just as He had promised. He had given David—and Israel—the victory. He showed them and us that where true strength lies—not in the might of man, but in the Name of God.
It was much the same out in the wilderness with Jesus and Satan. After Jesus is baptized and anointed by the Spirit, He is led out into the wilderness to be tempted. He fasts forty days and forty nights, makes himself weak and vulnerable.
By comparison, Jesus must have looked quite like David against Goliath. He didn’t even have five smooth stones—at least stones of the physical sort. He came empty-handed. He did not come brandishing swords or spears or weapons against the old satanic foe. He wielded only the sure and certain blade of God’s holy Word.
But this was enough! By means of this Word, Jesus prevails. Satan tempts Jesus to use His divine power to alleviate his hunger, and Christ responds: “It is written: Man does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Satan tempts Jesus to test His Father’s love by throwing himself down from the temple.
And Jesus slings the stone of the Word back: “It is written: You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.” Satan tempts Jesus to set aside his mission of suffering and death and to choose earthly fame and fortune. All Christ must do is bow down and worship him. And Jesus sends a stone right into the heart of the devil: “You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve.”
Christ was weak and vulnerable. But He was not intimidated. Like David, He knew that this battle would not be won by swords and spears, or by any physical weapons or strength. Spiritual battles must be fought with spiritual weapons. And whoever comes in the Name of the Lord of hosts need not be afraid. Whoever stands with the Lord and He with them has all the weapons, armor, and battle gear they need.
As the Psalm says: “Our help is in the Name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” No devil, no army of devils can take the Lord against His will. Satan would not even have been able to tempt Jesus had Jesus not willed it, had He not given the devil permission. Remember—one is creature, the other is Creator. The creature does not rule the maker. So why does Jesus do it? Why suffer this?
He does this for our sake, even as He willingly lays down His life for us on Calvary. Nobody takes His life from Him, but He lays it down of His own accord. He does this because it is necessary for Him to share in every way in our flesh and blood—even to the point of suffering our death. For in this way He is able to sympathize with our weaknesses, since He has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.
Satan has always seemed like a menacing foe in comparison to the sons of men. He is an angel after all. And it’s true that he is powerful. He is the god of this world. But he is no true God. He is created by God, endowed with strength. And he has thousands upon thousands of unclean spirits, evil angels, at his command.
He’s had a pretty successful track record of messing things up in God’s creation. He deceived Adam and Eve and led the whole world into sin and shame. He tempted the Israelites in the wilderness and led them to rebel against God their Savior. He incited lust in David’s heart for Bathsheba and a desire to kill her husband. Today, even though his strength is limited, he leads many into sin. He uses their own inborn love for evil against them.
He turns the hearts of husbands away from their wives. He leads children to despise their parents and finally to abandon the faith into which they were baptized. He exerts his evil will wherever he might. He is hell bent on destroying every good work of God, and ultimately, on destroying faith. He delights in false belief and in leading people to despair of God’s love and mercy. And he has been doing this from the beginning.
Even now, he tempts the faithful with thoughts of self-indulgence. He tempts the sons of God to force the hand of their Father, to test His Fatherly love and mercy. He continually tempts God’s sons and daughters with thoughts of personal gain and glory, with earthly power and wealth, and by his cunning, he has devoured many.
Compared to him, we often seem to be a pathetic bunch. We often feel weak, powerless, and small. Like David. Like Christ. The bully thrives on intimidation and bravado, and so does the devil. How puny we seem next to him. And yet, it is not so. For like David, and like our Lord before us, we stand not on our own strength, but on the strength and the power of Christ’s holy name. “You come out with swords and spears and javelins, but I come in the name of the Lord of hosts.”
Indeed—that very name is etched on your forehead, placed on you in the waters of holy Baptism. That Name which is above every Name surrounds and engulfs you. Think about it—God’s Name, the same Name by which Pharaoh’s army was destroyed in the Red Sea, is placed upon you. Are you really so weak and vulnerable? Maybe by the world’s standards. But not by the Lord’s.
When you are tempted, you need only remember that you are not fighting a battle the outcome of which is uncertain. Christ has already prevailed over the old evil foe. He has already destroyed his domain. The giant is defeated. “The ruler of this world is judged.” Goliath has been slain. All that awaits is for our greater David to cut off his head. But make no mistake about it. The devil has been thrown down in the death and resurrection of Jesus.
The temptation of Christ is not recorded simply to give you a “how-to” instruction book on doing battle with the devil. You are not Christ. You do, however, have spiritual weapons, like the Word of God and prayer. And you should employ those in your own spiritual battles. Remember, spiritual warfare must be fought with spiritual weapons.
What lesson, then, does this temptation account teach us? It teaches us that as baptized sons of God we can and should expect to be the targets of the devil’s hatred and temptation. But we should not shrink in fear or despair when this happens. Nor should we wring our hands in worry or despair when we see evil taking place around us or in the world. We should instead look to Christ, who has won the victory. We should place our trust firmly and confidently in Him, and remember that as His children, we do bear His holy Name.
This should also teach us not to be slack in prayer or in meditation on God’s holy Word. These are the weapons that He has given us. If we are, then we will certainly give the devil a foothold in our lives. If we stand around like dummies and wait for the devil to attack us, then we are sure to be moved by his temptations. But if we are vigilant, and train ourselves to recognize the smell of Satan’s foul breath when it breathes upon us, then we will be much better prepared to resist him and remain firm in our faith.
The Christian can take comfort in this fact—that every temptation he suffers, Christ has suffered as well. Christ has already walked that road for us. He has walked the road of temptation, of mistreatment, of mockery. And He has done it in a way that no sinful man could. He has prevailed where Adam and all his fallen children did not. For all of his bravado, Satan could not intimidate Jesus. He could not lead Him astray. He could not prevail against this son of David. And He will not prevail over the sons of God.
In conclusion, this Gospel today shows us what kind of Savior and High priest we have in our Lord Jesus. He not only willingly suffers death for us, but He allows Himself to suffer the devil’s pathetic temptations for us. He allows this creature called Satan to take aim at Him, even though it is pointless. He suffers everything for us, so that we might learn to trust and believe in Him and cling to Him in all times of trouble. God help us to do this always. Amen.