The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Love of God, and the Fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
Matthew 4:1 “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 And after He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He then became hungry. 3 And the tempter came and said to Him, ‘If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.’ 4 But He answered and said, ‘It is written, ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.’ 5 Then the devil *took Him into the holy city and had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple, 6 and *said to Him, ‘If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down; for it is written, “He will command His angels concerning You”; and “On their hands they will bear You up, So that You will not strike Your foot against a stone.”’ 7 Jesus said to him, ‘On the other hand, it is written, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.”’ 8 Again, the devil *took Him to a very high mountain and *showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory; 9 and he said to Him, ‘All these things I will give You, if You fall down and worship me.’ 10 Then Jesus *said to him, ‘Go, Satan! For it is written, “You shall worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.”’ 11 Then the devil *left Him; and behold, angels came and began to minister to Him.” (NASB)
This is the first Sunday in Lent. That means the assigned Gospel lesson is the temptation in the wilderness. That’s the Gospel lesson every First Sunday in Lent.
As for the Gospel lesson this morning, just before being led into the wilderness, Jesus was baptized by the reluctant John the Baptist. As you recall, John tried to prevent Jesus from being baptized. John said to Jesus, “I have need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?” John didn’t understand. He could only think of the baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sin; baptism for actual sinners. He understood that he and all sinners needed to be baptized by the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. He didn’t understand that the Son of God, the Lamb needed to be baptized with a baptism that was to be more than a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.
“16 After being baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and lighting on Him, 17 and behold, a voice out of the heavens said, ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.’”
Jesus’s baptism was Jesus’s messianic ordination. The word “ordain” means “to set into place;” “to confer holy orders on someone with official ministerial or priestly authority.”
Jesus’s baptism was His public induction into the Office of Messiah. It was to set the name of Father on the Son in the unity of the Holy Spirit. It was the launching of Jesus into His saving work as the Savior of the world. In the moment after Jesus came up out of the water, the heavens opened, the Dove descended on Him, God the Father said, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased,” and Jesus embarked on His ministerial career. He came up out of the water, “then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.”
The Holy Spirit led Jesus (Mark 1:12, “the Holy Spirit drove/impelled”) Jesus into the wilderness to be physically weakened in order to be tempted by His and our deadly enemy. 1 “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 And after He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He then became hungry. 3 And the tempter came.” (vv 1–3)
When we were baptized, we were baptized into Jesus’s innocence, holiness, and righteousness. We were baptized into His life, death, and resurrection. When Jesus was baptized, He was baptized into our miserable sinful lives. He was baptized into everything that is bad about and around us.
Perhaps an illustration might help here. A surf fisherman is a person who fishes from the sea shore. A surf fisherman wades into the ocean water a little ways out and casts the line into deeper waters. Once the fisherman catches a fish, he reels it in and puts the fish on a stringer. A stringer is a line that holds the fish and keeps it from swimming away. They anchor the stringer several feet away from where the fisherman stands. In this way the catch remains at a safe distance just in case the wounded fish attracts sharks.
When Jesus came up out of the waters of His Baptism, God the Father immediately sent God the Son out into His divine “fishing expedition,” to catch men and to make other men “fishers of men.” As part of this divine expedition, God the Father places Jesus on a stringer.
Jesus is life is filled with perfect loving devotion to the will of His Father. He is holy and without sin, yet He fills the waters of Baptism with His atoning blood. Perhaps that image of the baptismal water turned red with blood might help make that verse Revelation clearer and more concrete (7:14) “‘who are they, and where have they come from?’ . . . These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.’”
When Jesus came up from the water, the blood of the Lamb was in the water and the devil could smell it. When Jesus came out of the water, the Messiah had been identified. Now the satanic shark can close in on his prey.
2 “And after He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He then became hungry. 3 And the tempter came….” By the end of those 40 days, Jesus was like a weak and wounded fish. The devil in all his strength thinks, he’s got Him. But Jesus doesn’t stumble. He knows full well why He has been led into the wilderness. He offers Himself up as willing bait. He knows it’s coming. He knows the test will be a very real one, but He desires it with every fiber of His being. He also knows that resisting temptation, following the will of God, and trusting in every word that comes out of the mouth of God is what it means to “fulfill all righteousness.” Remember what Jesus told John when John initially refused to baptize Jesus. Jesus told John, “Permit it at this time; for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”
The devil comes and devil says to Jesus, “If you are the Son of God” then proceeds to set before Jesus the first temptation. In the first temptation the devil tries to get Jesus to yield to the most basic of all human needs. He tempts Him to eat and take of His bodily needs. In response Jesus said, ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.’”
That opens the way for the second temptation. The devil wants to see if Jesus will do just that. The second temptation tests Jesus’s faith in the words that proceeded out of the mouth of God. The devil latches on to Psalm 92:11-12. “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command His angels concerning You’; and ‘On their hands they will bear You up, So that You will not strike Your foot against a stone.”” Psalm 92 says, “He will give His angels charge concerning you, To guard you in all your ways. They will bear you up in their hands, That you do not strike your foot against a stone.”
It’s not just politicians, activists, false teachers in the church, bad exegetes, and misguided laity that misunderstand and misuse the words that came out of the mouth of God. The devil does too. Jesus understands the strategy and doesn’t take the bait. He employs Deuteronomy 6:16 “You shall not put the LORD your God to the test.”
In the third temptation the devil drops all pretense of piety. Echos of the fall into sin can be heard in this one. The serpent said to Eve, “God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
The devil seeks to replace the Lord God. “The devil took Him to a very 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 fall down and worship me.’” So Jesus replies with the First Commandment. “Go, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.’”
That which we and the Israelites of old have failed to do, Jesus does for us and in our place as His second ministerial act. The first was His baptism. Here Jesus puts Himself between you and the devil and wraps you in His righteousness of pure faith, love, and obedience.
The Lamb of God laced the water of your Holy Baptism with His perfect life, with His desire to feed on the words that proceed out of the mouth of God, with His right interpretation and use of those words, and with His perfect life of worshiping and serving the Lord your God. “Now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Eph 2:13), because the blood of Christ has been brought near to you in the baptismal font. “The blood of Jesus [God’s] Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 Jn 1:7).
But just as Jesus’s Baptism and blood attracted the devil’s attention, so also our Baptism into Christ also attracts the devil. The devil does not need to trap, trick, and tempt unbelievers. They already belong to Him. “Where Christ builds a church, the devil builds a chapel.” (Luther) Christ dwells in us so the devil targets us. Think of your own life in Christ. Think of the constant battle against temptation and sin, specifically the temptation to ignore, wrongly interpret and use the words of God, His Law and Gospel. Think of how often you have succumbed to fear, anxiety, greed, anger, and laziness in spiritual and temporal things, instead of fearing, loving, and trusting in God above all else and to worship and serve Him alone.
The church is emptying. The faith is being distorted. Government and culture are the emerging the gods of our generation. Christians, us included have become all too comfortable with sin as a way of life. We are in the current mess in large part because Christian parents stopped raising their children with an understanding that the devil, the world, and our own sinful natures are on the move seeking to devourer our families.
The devil and the world thought they had won a great victory on Good Friday. Jesus was dead on the cross. What the devil and the world did not understand is that God had put His blood soaked Son on another “stringer.” John 12:31-33 “‘Judgment is upon this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out. And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself.’ But He was saying this to indicate the kind of death by which He was to die.”
After the three temptations were completed, “the devil left [Jesus] and behold, angels came and began to minister to Him [Jesus].” So also it is for you. As long as we remain in Christ by His grace through faith, we will face temptation. We will stumble and fall into sin time and time again.
In the normal economy of God, the angels God sends to you and all Christians, are mortal men, sinners just like you. Angels are messengers who come to minister and serve you. That’s what pastors do. They have been sent to you bringing the forgiveness of sins.
Do you remember your Small Catechism? “What sins should we confess? Before God we should plead guilty of all sins, even of those which we do not know, as we do in the Lord’s Prayer. But before the confessor we should confess those sins alone which we know and feel in our hearts.”
And what is it that we are to believe when the Pastor speaks the words of absolution? The Office of the Keys, “[We] believe that when called ministers of Christ deal with us by His divine command, . . . and absolve those who repent of their sins and want to do better, this is just as valid and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ our dear Lord dealt with us Himself.”
Jesus’s victory in the wilderness, daily life, on the cross, and in the resurrection is our victory. In Holy Baptism “the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever” (Small Catechism, Baptism, Fourth Part). Satan is our enemy. One little word did and can fell him: I’m Christ’s. I baptized.
May the peace that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.