1st Sunday in Lent – February 18, 2018
At once the Spirit sent him out into the desert, 13and he was in the desert forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him. 14After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15”The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!”
Every time we meet together for worship, we pray these words together to the Lord: “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” And we believe them. Why shouldn’t we? After all, the Lord promises to not hand us over into sin. He promises to protect us from the devil.
That is what makes our Gospel reading so striking. After Jesus began his ministry on earth with his baptism we hear in the Gospel of Mark: “At once the Spirit sent him out into the desert.” Someone was waiting for Jesus out in that desert. He wasn’t a follower, and he certainly wasn’t a fan. He was the Foe – the devil. And he had a mission of his own. He would stop Jesus in his tracks. In that desert, the devil would end Jesus’ ministry before it began.
The only way to do that would be to make Jesus slip up. The devil probably felt somewhat confident. After all, he had been pulling people into sin for thousands of years – with great success. Sure Jesus was perfect, sure he was the Son of God. But the devil had gotten perfect people to sin before.
He already seemed to have the upper hand on Jesus. The Gospel of Matthew tells us that Jesus had been fasting for 40 days and nights. These were hardly the best circumstances for defending against the devil’s greatest temptations.
Yet there Jesus was, standing before the devil himself. Then the devil lobbed his first challenge: “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” Such a simple ruse, and yet how tempting! The Bible tells us that Jesus “was hungry.”
Hunger has caused a lot of sins over the years – especially in the Bible. When the Israelites traveled to the Promised Land they found themselves in a desert much like Jesus was in. Their food and water had run out. In the midst of their hunger they angrily cried out against Moses and the Lord: “You have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.” Had they been able to turn stones to bread they would have done it immediately – even if it meant turning their backs on God.
But not Jesus. “Jesus answered, ‘It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’’” Trust that the Lord will give you daily bread – because he promises to!
First temptation defeated. The devil quickly regrouped: “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written: ‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’” If Jesus was going to quote Scripture, then so was the devil. The problem, however, was that the devil took this passage out of context. He likes to mix truth with lies – it makes his temptation more effective.
There is an animal that lives in Mexico and South America called the margay. It looks like a cross between a leopard and a cat. But it is the sound of a margay that can send chills down your spine. In the middle of the forest a margay will make a call that sounds just like a baby monkey that is injured.
The sound is so convincing that adult monkeys come to help the crying baby. That is when the margay pounces, killing the adult monkey.
The devil does the same thing. He makes the sound of God’s words, but he twists it and changes it to mean something completely different. The only way an adult monkey can defend against the trickery of the margay is by knowing the difference between a real baby monkey crying and an imposter.
So it is with us. The only way we can know the difference between what God says and what the devil says is by studying the Bible. On this Christian education Sunday we see just how important God’s Word is believe, to know, and to memorize. Jesus has effectively answered two of the devil’s temptations with Bible passages.
Now comes the third one. And if we were ranking the difficulty of temptation, this one might be the considered the most tempting of all. “Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor.” Then the devil said the lie to end all lies. “All this I will give you…if you will bow down and worship me.” Gain all the power and riches and glory in the world – and all you have to do is sell your soul!
That’s more tempting that we realize. Who wouldn’t want to get everything your heart desires? If you could just snap your fingers to get whatever it is you want, how quickly would you do it? Vacation in a beautiful, distant land? *Snap*. New car? *Snap*. More money? *Snap*. New toy? *Snap*. No more strife? *Snap*. Pain forever gone starting right this instant? *Snap*.
Jesus, the only one able to snap his fingers to instantly get what he wants, now faced that temptation. How would he answer? “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”
Perfect. Every deceit, every trick, every temptation drops harmlessly to the ground when it hits Jesus. He makes it look so effortless. But make no mistake – it wasn’t easy. The Bible tells us that Jesus “has been tempted in every way, just as we are.” But unlike the rest of us, “[Jesus] did not sin.” Not even once.
And that’s a good thing. To be our perfect Savior, he couldn’t sin – not even once. To die on the cross as our perfect substitute, Jesus had to be the “spotless sacrifice.” And there, on the cross on Good Friday, we see Jesus finally defeat that old, evil foe – the devil. We see him wash away every wrong, every sin we have ever committed.
Now we find ourselves locked in a deadly, spiritual battle with that same devil. He fires those same temptations at us like arrows. He tempts us to covet and steal what is not ours. He tempts us to test the Lord. And he tries to pull us away from the Lord through distracting us with the money and power and possessions of the world. And often he succeeds.
Now look at Jesus. He arms you for battle in the same way he was armed: at Baptism. Jesus entered his battle against temptation armed with the Holy Spirit from his Baptism. You have been baptized with that same Holy Spirit. You are protected and armed for battle against every temptation. We have those same Bible verses Jesus used to throw back at the devil in our moments of trial.
Above all, our foe, the devil, stands defeated already. Knowing that, we continue to sing to our Lord:
“Jesus, send your angel legions When the foe would us enslave.
“Hold us fast when sin assaults us; Come then, Lord, your people save.” Amen.