The Lord God deliberately sends His Son to face satan. The Spirit specifically leads Christ into the wilderness for the purpose of being tempted. Although God tempts no one, yet He puts His Son in the crosshairs of the tempter.
This tempter is also called the “enemy” or “adversary”. The word devil means “slanderer”. We know his intentions. This fallen angel wants nothing good for any man, least of all the Son of God.
But the Lord’s intentions are only good. He wants to benefit all mankind through His Son. So He must prove and demonstrate that Christ is holy, perfect, and obedient. Even when lucifer tempts Him, the Son of God must stand firm.
This is abundantly clear because the event immediately before the temptation was the Baptism of our Lord. Then the Father spoke from heaven, saying, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” This public declaration painted a target on Christ’s back for satan. The Son of God is publicly revealed, and now the tempter is not able to resist going after Him. Rather than hide Christ from the devil, the Lord sends Him out for the purpose of meeting the devil in the wilderness.
Why the wilderness? Because the people of Israel, whom God called to be a son to Him, were tested in the wilderness for 40 years and failed. They put bread before obedience to God. They tested the Lord, and they repeatedly fell down to idols like the golden calf when they should have worshiped only the Lord.
The only-begotten Son therefore went to meet the devil in the same place. He put obedience before bread. He refused to test the Lord. He refused to bow down to a false god. He succeeded, thus proving that He was truly the Son of God.
Seeing that Christ is being tested as Israel was helps us to understand the text better. For example, when Christ tells satan, “You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve,” we know that He is demonstrating His own obedience. He will not worship satan or any false god, because He is the sinless Son of God. But it might be attractive to think that Christ is telling satan, “You better worship Me, because I am the Lord God.” No, that is not the point (although Christ IS the true God, worthy of worship). Or we might think that Christ is saying to satan, “You, satan, will one day bow down to the true God.” That sounds nice, but again, it is not the point (although it is true that on the Last Day the devil will be forced to bow the knee before the Lord he hates).
This is the point of the Temptation of our Lord: Christ IS the Son of God. He has come to overcome satan, to offer perfect obedience to His Father, and to rescue mankind from the devil’s clutches.
That is why lucifer tried to get Christ to misunderstand His role as the Son of God, come to save humanity. Of course, this would never happen. Our dear Lord is simply too wise and too good to fall for satan’s tricks.
Can we see examples for us in Christ’s resistance to temptation? Yes, but only if we are careful. It is not so much that Christ is showing us that we must defeat satan by saying the right Bible verse at the right time. That would be horrifying! Who has the proper discernment to always perceive that the tempter is going after them, much less pick exactly the proper passage to fit the occasion? The devil is often so subtle that we do not even realize that he is at work on us. The temptations he presents are also extremely tricky. If we had to perform properly at the precisely right time to beat satan, we would all be lost.
But there is still a good lesson to learn for our Christian walk. We are obviously not the only-begotten Son. Yet we are sons of God by adoption into the image of Christ, by Baptism. We should be aware that this paints a target on our back for satan. The devil cannot resist going after us. When trouble and temptation come our way, we should not act surprised. God has not adopted us as His children to make our lives completely comfortable all the time, at least not in this present life. God sometimes allows satan to come for us.
For instance, when we suffer, we can remember that Christ suffered extreme hunger in the wilderness. Like Him, we should still remember that we are God’s children and should obey our heavenly Father. We should not be paralyzed by fear or despair when life is threatened. We should not panic into disobedience. In this way, we hold onto our Baptismal identity.
But again I emphasize that the main point is not our faithful obedience. The main point is that Christ has been faithful. He obeyed in every way for about 33 years. He did not falter in the least bit, although satan shot flaming arrows of temptation at Him. We have given in to lesser temptations than these. Yet Christ, standing firm, has become our mighty fortress, our refuge against the wiles of the evil one.
Now the devil cannot accuse us any more. Our sins, which form the basis of his accusations, are covered up by the Blood of the Son of God. If Christ were less than the Son of God, then His Blood could be doubted as to whether it truly covers all the world’s sin. Since Christ proved Himself the genuine Son of the Father, then His work on earth is perfect and of infinite value for sinners. His life, death, and resurrection are most certainly effective to give us salvation and eternal life. We can know this for certain.
So the devil, hoping to bring down the Son of God, instead serves God’s purpose. The devil becomes the foil who proves the ultimate worth of the Hero.
In the same way, God sometimes allows us to be tempted by satan. But God’s purpose is not to see us fall. Rather, He wants us strengthened and proven. He wants us to humbly seek repentance. He wants us to cling all the more tightly to our dear Savior.
The Lord keep us faithful, in the image of the faithful Son of God. Amen.
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