First Sunday in Lent Matthew 4:1-11
Today we consider the temptation of Christ in the wilderness, how he lived there 40 days without food and was attacked by Satan.
I've always enjoyed going into the wilderness to get away from it all. When I go camping it is for recreation and relaxation. I go there because I want to go. It's a thrill for me to be miles away from the nearest telephone tower or hamburger joint. Jesus' wilderness experience is much more than a camping trip. It isn't for relaxation. He went there to battle with the devil.
We read that the Spirit of God led Jesus into the wilderness. While we often put ourselves into temptation, Jesus was led there by the Spirit. It was the will of God that he be tested. Out there, far away from anyone who could help him, he was at the place where the Spirit of God's will and the will of the Devil met in great conflict over him. Apparently Satan knew all about Jesus and had seen him baptized in the Jordan River, marking the beginning of his ministry. Satan's resolve was to break this champion before he got any further in his work. God the Father even seemed to will it that way by sending Jesus to Satan.
These past five months our country has been on the lookout for evil. We used to rush through airport security at the last minute to our gate, but now we are searched, patted, X rayed and questioned. I find it both startling and reassuring to see soldiers with rifles guarding our transportation routes. Yet this present conflict is a mere trifle compared to the spiritual warfare that was waged there in the wilderness between Jesus and Satan.
We should not assume that the temptation Jesus endured was only the three challenges in our text. It appears that the temptation was constant throughout the forty days, so much so that Christ had no opportunity to eat at all. Yet the word of God has preserved for us the three temptations most common to us all.
It is too easy for us to read through this and think how simple this must have been for Jesus. After all, he knew he was God, and could call down an army of angels at any time to chase the devil away and set a banquet table to satisfy his hunger. We forget that it was God's will that Christ go through this. The greatest hardship for Jesus was remaining in harmony with God's will. One deviation would have meant failure for him as the messiah and failure for our eternal salvation. Everyone's fate was riding on Jesus those forty days, and he was hungry and tired.
In Jesus we see strength and perfection. I have been watching the Winter Olympics this week whenever I can, especially the ice skaters. To perform those leaps and keep their balance takes years of practice and great physical strength. Here in his temptation we see true spiritual power. Jesus is attacked on three fronts. Turning stones to bread is a temptation to give in to his own personal comfort. Leaping from the temple would bring recognition of his rightful status as king and the duty of the angels to care for his needs. And the offer of immediate rule over the kingdoms of the world is a proposal to take the easier way to the goal set before him. What divine strength he demonstrates as he rejects the wrong and chooses the right.
How different we act in similar situations. When the devil comes around tempting us, how easily we give in to his urges. Adam and Eve lived in paradise and still fell under temptation. We fall prey to Satan in the midst of all of God's blessings to us. Jesus, alone in a barren wilderness, endured it all.
When the spirit of God leads us to the place where our faith is put to the test, it is so easy for us to give in. "I'm not that strong," we say. Or, "I'll do better next time, but right now I have to give in," we hear us telling ourselves. Sometimes the pattern of sin is so ingrained in us we do not even consider the evil of what we are doing. We fail constantly, but Christ remained fast in his determination to do God's will.
He remained fast in God's will because that was his only identity. The devil twice proposed to Jesus, "If you are a Son of God." The true Son of God could not allow himself to put off God's will for just a mere moment, even if it killed him. A true Son of God would not give in to his own personal objections. He would follow the Father's will to the letter.
Jesus was obedient for us. He proved to the world that he was the acceptable candidate to be the savior of the world. He proved he alone was powerful enough to take on the cross. He proved he could endure anything the devil, the world, or the demands of the flesh could throw at him. Truly this man was the Son of God.
By watching Jesus we can learn how to deal with our own temptations. It is true that God does not tempt anyone. Rather, it is our own desires that lead us astray from God's will. Still, God allows these moments of choice to come to us so that our faith in him may be tested.
When we are tempted we should remember that Jesus has freed us from the rule of Satan. We do not have to obey him any longer. Our debt has been paid.
Jesus answered each of these three temptations with the Word of God. Scripture is our defense also. This is why we ask children and adults to commit it to memory so that it is available when you need it. This is how we know the will of God and are reminded of his mercy. We look to his word in every time of hardship.
Jesus temptation took place immediately after he was baptized. That is significant for us as well. The gift of Baptism washes away our sins and puts the name of God on us. But we must live in this wilderness where the Devil prowls around, seeking whom he may devour. We will be tempted and tested in this life on every side. But God is watching over us. His word is our food and drink. In it we are strengthened, because it speaks of Christ, our champion. As Noah was sustained for forty days in the ark, as the children of Israel were fed for forty years in the wilderness with bread from heaven and water from a rock, God's word will sustain us as it points to Jesus, who gave his life to defeat the devil and bring us to the promised land of paradise.
Above all, when we find that we have given into temptation, we should call upon the mercy of God.
Yes, we are in the wilderness in this life, and it is not pleasure camping trip. But Christ, our champion, is with us. This is enough.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
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