In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Ghost.
Our constant temptation is temptation to unbelief. That’s why Luther, in his explanation of the Sixth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer, says that the petition, “Lead us not into evil” is a request that “God would guard and keep us so that the devil, the world, and our sinful nature may not deceive or mislead us into false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice.” Our temptation isn’t necessarily to sins of varying varieties, but to a particular sin, but to unbelief, to doubt that what God says is true, to no longer believe that God has our best interest in mind in all that He allows to come our way.
This has been the issue of temptation from the beginning. Our first parents, as we heard in the Old Testament Reading, were led by the devil to doubt God’s Word. He hisses at them, “You will not surely die.” In other words, God is a liar. He is holding out on you. And the other side of that coin is how we often walk into sin: “I will not surely die. I’ll just do what I want and ask for forgiveness later.” All we do is trick ourselves into thinking sin has no consequences and that no one is the wiser.
But the devil is. Remember what Moses said of the ancient serpent: He was more cunning than anything else God had made. He knew then, just like he knows now, that all he needs is a foothold, an opportunity to find some weakness that will turn us. Just read every page of the Old Testament, that’s what has happened time and time again. Adam was given a paradise, but he could not keep himself from the one thing that he was not allowed to have. Those who followed Moses out of Egypt were delivered from slavery, and the parting of the Red Sea alone should have assured them of God’s loving care for them, but the Red Sea had barely drowned Pharaoh and his armies than the Israelites were grumbling against God and Moses. Again and again, despite the Lord’s mighty acts on their behalf, the children of Israel gave into temptation and chased after other gods.
So after Jesus is baptized, He is led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil after fasting for forty days and forty nights. This is a reliving of the testing of Israel in the wilderness, where they did not trust God to provide them with food. Because of their rebellion, they had to wander in the desert for forty years. Jesus now endures everything Israel did, but He will do it without sin.
This is why the Son of God took on human flesh, this is why He assumed our human nature—so He could suffer as a man, hunger as a man, be lonely as a man, be tempted as a man. In all of this, though He possessed the full power of Almighty God, He did not exercise the powers of His divinity. He hungers and thirsts, grows weak just like you and I would if we were left in the desert without any supplies for almost a month and a half.
And it is in that weakened state that the devil comes to Jesus. And the devil shows that he hasn’t added anything new to his playbook since his fall. Just like he did with Adam and Eve, he begins with food. Why is food, in many ways, the height of temptation? Because eating gets at the heart of our dependency. We cannot exist without food, and without it, we panic. We are completely dependent upon our neighbors to plant, water, harvest, hunt, butcher, clean, deliver, package, and cook. Even if we grow and harvest all of our own food, we still depend on rain, sun, and soil, and even the seeds themselves have to come from somewhere! So, we cannot eat on our own; we completely depend on something outside ourselves to provide our food. And ultimately, that dependence is on God. The need for food reveals our weakness and total dependence on God. So that’s why the devil likes to bring food into his temptations. It underscores our delusions that we are god, that we are in control, and that nothing bad can come from giving into our lusts, appetites, and desires.
In the account of Jesus’ temptation we see the one man who does not succumb to His lusts, appetites, and desires, because He perfectly and fully believes the Word of God, that those things our fallen flesh long for can be damaging to us physically and spiritually. Jesus does the will of God, and He does it under the harshest of conditions, conditions that none of us with original sin could ever endure.
Though Jesus does not have original sin, He is not at all unlike Adam, who was also born without original sin, but was tempted into actual sin. Jesus is certainly tempted into actual sin, but passes every test that humanity across the ages has failed. So that means Jesus has endured every suffering that you know, and He has resisted and overcome every temptation that you experience. This means that when you are tempted, you are not alone! Jesus has stood right where you are and was tempted with excesses in food and alcohol, temptation to gossip, temptation to shoplifting, temptation to abuse God’s gift of sexuality, temptation to avoid prayer and Scripture. No matter how the devil, the world, and your sinful nature would lead you to sin, Jesus knows what it is like. And He remained without sin in your place, giving perfect obedience to God, perfect obedience to the holy Law. He relies on God’s promises never to leave or forsake and the power of God’s Word against the devil in your place.
And that perfect obedience was given to you at your Baptism into Christ. His obedience was made yours. And more than that, He gave you His death in your place, His death for your sin. He was perfectly obedient to the Father when it was completely unjust, the Shepherd dying for sheep who love to wander. He has forgiven you for every disobedience, every sin against His holy Law, every time when unbelief reigned, thinking that sin was no big deal. You are forgiven.
And now because you are Baptized into Christ you are also given His power against the devil. By His Holy Spirit He conforms you to His image, learning to deny yourself and do warfare with the devil. His Holy Spirit gives you the power to learn to put your trust not in bread alone but in every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God. Though God has not promised to remove the things that are heavy burdens, He has promised to provide you with an escape in the temptation when it comes. The Word of God is your recourse. He has given it to you as a gift so that you can read it, speak it, sing it, and shout it at the devil as the armor against his fiery darts. Only by the Holy Spirit at work in that Word can temptation be resisted and the devil turned away.
Never forget this: You are in Christ. You may be weak, and you have fallen many times, but Jesus Christ is not weak and He did not falter. You are in Him, and the victory is yours. By yourself you will fail, but in Him is forgiveness, life, and victory over every evil.
The peace of God which passeth all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
Sermons from Mount Olive
Mount Olive follows the historic one-year lectionary (series of readings).