Fighting or Winning?
I know you had to have people like this in your classes. I had them in high school, again in college, and even some in seminary. When the topic turned to war, they would suggest that the way to settle conflicts between nations was to have one man fight for each side, usually the leader. For example, the dispute between Iraq and the U.S. would be solved by placing President Bush and Saddam Hussein on an island. They would fight till one achieved victory. The whole nation would share the fate of their leader. Think of the lives spared. War would only be hell for two people. What a way to fight a war!
You've got to be kidding. Would you want the fate of your nation, your family, and you to depend on one man? I wouldn't, and herein lies our problem. What we won't accept in the physical realm we're to accept in the spiritual. We're to accept that the eternal fate of us, our families, our world was resolved by a fight between Jesus and the devil. And that just isn't good enough. That's why many people come away from the fight in our text with 3 steps to defeat the devil. They think it's meant to be an example of how we're suppose to fight the devil when it's really the only way to win the war.
Jesus isn't led by the Holy Spirit into the desert to show you how to go toe to toe with the devil. He's out there in your shoes and not only yours but everyone you know and everyone you don't know. Jesus stands in the shoes of all sinners. That's why He's all alone, constantly tempted, and all but starving. This is what sinners deserve. Right before this Jesus was baptized by John. He publicly picked up the sins of the world. In the desert, all alone, is where sinners should be. Open sinners in the Old Testament were driven outside the camp of God. The scapegoat upon which all the sins of God's people were confessed was led out into the desert and left to roam. Jesus is our scapegoat. He's outside the camp of God because He's got all our sins around His neck, on His head and, in His conscience. Look and see what our sin and guilt deserve.
Jesus is tempted, not to show you how to overcome temptation, but because doomed sinners really are at the mercy of demons. Do you see how the devil is allowed to lead Him around by the nose? Up a mountain, over to the temple, back and forth, up and down. It's as if Jesus is a dumb ox with a ring through His nose which the devil can freely pull this way and that. The ring is made up of our sins and our shortcomings which Jesus bears. Our sins give the devil the right to lead God the Son around by the nose.
And why does Jesus hunger? To show you how to fast? Get real. Jesus is in the desert half starved because that's what should happen to sinners like you and I who mumble and complain about how God provides for us. What does a parent do to a child who complains and gripes about the food set before him? Sends him to bed without his supper. Here Jesus is sent to bed for 40 nights without supper because we don't like this or that about our daily bread.
Right at this point the devil pounces on Jesus. Jesus was terribly tempted all during the 40 days and nights as the text says, but at the end of this time, when His hunger is ravenous, when He has keenly felt the discipline of His Father having been sent to bed without His supper for 40 nights, then the devil attacks.
Learn something about the devil from this. Get out of your head the devil of Dante, Milton, and Stephen King. Their devil is monstrous and horrible. Their devil inflicts pain by skinning people alive, plucking out eyeballs, or roasting sinners over a fire. Their devil tempts mainly with naked dancing girls, fountains of youth, and piles of gold. You see no such devil here, do you? In fact, you're not SHOWN a devil at all. If the devil looked like Dante, Milton, and King imagined, we would seem him coming for miles. And if he only tempted like they imagined, we would know how to resist.
But the devil is more subtle than he is Satanic, more deceptive than he is destructive, more finesse than he is fear. He comes to the Son of God starving for our sakes, and says, "You're no Son of God. If you were, you would make this stone into bread." The devil stabs Him with despair. God really doesn't love you or care for you; if He did, He wouldn't have abandoned you. Besides, if you really were the Son, you could make bread and prove your sonship.
You know how easy it is to despair, don't you? You've felt alone, abandoned, forsaken by God. You've easily given into despair, haven't you? I sure have. This my friends is hell. Believing God has cast you into the pit for your sins with no way out. Believing that God has forsaken you as your sins deserve. Believing that a true son or daughter of God would not be in the pitiable state that you find yourself in.
Despair is a deep and deadly sin. Despair calls the God who is love unloving, the God whose mercy endures forever, unmerciful and the God who give grace for grace, ungracious. There is no despair in heaven and no despairers either. Yet how often I despair; thankfully, Jesus did not. He parried that demonic thrust by not allowing the devil to define sonship. Because He lacked daily bread was no indication He was not a son. Man lives by more than bread alone. Because He was apparently at the mercy of the devil did not mean God had forsaken Him.
Having failed to tempt Jesus with the bitterness of despair, the devil tries to tempt Him with the sweetness of good. He knows that Jesus came into the world to rule it. That's the goal of God, and therefore, it's good. The devil offers to give Jesus this great good instantly. "Just worship me," he says.
How many "goods" has the devil tempted you with? People have been tempted to divorce by, "The Lord wants me to be happy;" "it would be better for the children;" "it's better than fighting all the time." People have been tempted to abortion by, "The world doesn't need one more unwanted baby;" "we're too young to raise a baby;" "the child would suffer terribly with its deformity." Friends, the devil seldom tempts with OBVIOUS evil; usually he uses APPARENT good. Just like in the Garden: the fruit really did appear to Eve to be good for food, a delight to the eyes, and desirable to make one wise.
Jesus, however, cannot be tempted by apparent good. He clings to the clear words of Scripture that under no circumstances is anyone to be worshiped other than God. No good thing can be achieved by doing the bad thing of violating a clear Word from God.
You would think the devil would be done now, but he's not. He tries the ploy that he used on Eve in the Garden. He quotes Scripture saying, "It is written, 'He will command His angels concerning you..." You've heard this temptation before. But instead of saying "it is written," people now say, "the Bible says." "The Bible says" forgive people, so that means we should forgive murderers and not execute them. "The Bible says" do not judge, so that means it's wrong to judge homosexuals as sinners. "The Bible says" we're all sinners, so that means it's okay for people to live openly in sin.
A clear mark of the devil is to take a Word of God and make it mean something that it does not say. This is where many of the obvious errors that bug so many of you come from such as woman pastors, homosexual churches, and pro-choice denominations. "How can they do that," you ask me? They do it by driving a wedge between what God says and what He means making sure what He "means" supports them no matter what He really "says."
Jesus would not be tempted to do this. The devil said to Him, "It is written." Jesus replied, "It says." Twice before Jesus had said, "It is written." When citing the Bible, this time, however, He said, "It says." That's because the devil threw back the words, "It is written" in His face. The devil did the equivalent of those who say, "The Bible says" and then proceed to attach their own meaning to what it says. Jesus would not allow the devil to drive a wedge between what the Bible says and what it means. There is no way what it says about the angel's protection can mean throw yourself into their arms because the Bible also says, "Don't put God to the test."
"Ding!" the bell rings. Round one is over. But don't think that the devil is defeated now. This is one battle in a great war, so we read, "When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left Him until an opportune time." The devil went away to live to fight another day.
Don't get me wrong; you and I really do need the victory that was gained here. What you saw here is called the active obedience of Christ. That means Christ obeyed the will of God perfectly in your place. He went out bearing your sins, your guilt, your punishment, your weakness, and did not fall for any temptation of the devil. Where you and I fall many times Jesus fell not once.
But that's not enough. Obeying God in your place means that Jesus has all the obedience you need to go to heaven. But that's not enough to get you to heaven. What about all of the times you fail to obey? What about the times you've despaired calling God in essence an unloving, worthless father? What about all the times you did evil to bring about good? What about the times you've twisted what Scripture says into what you wanted it to mean?
Do you understand that there is hell to pay for each and every time you fell? Every despairing thought, every wicked thing done in the name of good or because the Bible says must be punished. This is where the passive obedience of Jesus comes in. Not only did Jesus actively obey in your place, standing firm in temptation, but He passively obeyed in your place suffering all the punishment your sins deserve. The passive obedience of Jesus is the story of Lent that we go through on the Wednesdays of Lent. It's what all the slapping, spitting, whipping, crucifying, and dying Jesus goes through is about.
Both the active and the passive obedience of Jesus are needed. Without the active you would have to resist every temptation in order to go to heaven. Without the passive your sins would still have to be paid for. One without the other would still mean there would be hell for you to pay in the future.
Thanks be to God that in Jesus you have both, but this Gospel truth can only be preserved if Jesus is the only warrior in the cosmic battle against Satan. What we tend to want to do is claim the passive obedience of Jesus while declining the active. We say thanks be to God that Jesus suffered and died for my sins, but now it's up to me to stand firm against the devil.
Get real. I don't know about you, but he leads me into despair every time I try to match wits with him. The evil he waves before me always looks good. And when I try to pull out the sword of God's Word to defend myself, the devil always knocks the sword out of my hand and stabs me with it. Friend, if this text is preparing me for battle with the devil by teaching me how to fight, I give up right now. If perfect Adam and Eve were no match for him, how on earth can sinful me be? Do you think all a sinner such as I needs is a 3 step guide for defeating the devil? No, I need a Savior from the devil!
This text shows me my Savior. It shows me Jesus in my place keeping the Law of God spotless even in the face of temptation. It shows me Jesus won my war with Satan! Here is victory over the devil in spite of my many falls into temptation. Here I win heaven by what Jesus did in my place. Here is where the only two kingdoms that exist in the world fight. The devil represents his and Jesus represents God's. All of God's kingdom wins when Jesus does. The Scriptures tell us this story not to teach us how to fight the devil but to "tempt" us to believe we have already won in Christ. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Lent I (3-4-01) Luke 4:1-3