What image comes to your mind when you think of an epic battle? Perhaps you think of the ancient battles with thousands of troops facing each other on a great field of battle … maybe something more modern … bombs, artillery, computer guided ordinance. If you are into fantasy or science fiction, you might envision energy beams and force shields. Imagine a great battle. What image comes to your mind?
Today's Gospel is an account of a great battle in the greatest of all wars. What kind of cosmic spiritual powers do the Lord of Life and the lord of death bear against each other? The answer might surprise you because all these two great warriors did was talk. They had a conversation out in the wilderness. The weapons used in this great battle were … words. That's it … just words.
The devil is the ultimate con artist. When he uses words, he lies … he misleads. Jesus said, [John 8:44] "[The devil] was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies." The Apostle Paul told the Corinthians that [2 Corinthians 11:14] Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. He can disguise himself as polite … caring … nice … helpful … and so forth. He has the ability to make us think that the loving thing is cruel … that the right thing is wrong … that the truth is a lie … and so forth. The devil knows how to spin the facts. He is always politically correct. He knows how to present his case in a way that will boost our self-esteem. He is the master of deception.
Jesus, on the other hand is the truth. [John 14:6] Jesus said … "I am the way, and the truth, and the life." He also said, [John 8:31-32] "If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." Jesus does not spin the facts. Jesus knows that the truth is not always politically correct. Jesus knows that the truth does not always make us feel good about ourselves. Jesus knows that sometimes love means telling someone a truth that they do not want to hear.
We underestimate words. We think of the massive military powers of the past as great powers, but they are nothing compared to words. Words convinced the German voters to elect Adolph Hitler to lead their country. Words convinced a group of young men to hijack some airliners and fly them into buildings. Words convince men, women, and even children to strap on explosive vests and detonate them in crowded areas.
Words convince men and women to join the military. Words convince these men and women that their cause is just. Words convince these men and women to commit to combat, launch missiles, drop bombs, and assassinate the enemy with drones. Words mean things and have more power than we can imagine.
The devil bends the power of words to his will. He lies. He even bends Holy Scripture in order to mislead. Today's Gospel shows the devil lifting the words of the Psalm out of context. He blasphemes against the very Word of God and omits a small word here and another small word there until the remaining words conform to his lie. In this way, he hopes to mislead and corrupt.
The first temptation is very subtle. Think back to the first time you thought about the details of this account. Sooner or later most people will wonder what the big deal is about converting stones into bread. The Gospels record two accounts of Jesus multiplying loaves in order to feed thousands of people. What could possibly be so terrible about making a little bread out in the wilderness where no one else even needed to see what Jesus did?
The bread itself isn't the problem. The problem is doubt … lack of faith. Jesus, in His state of humiliation, is living in our place. Therefore, just as we should trust God to give us all things, so also Jesus must always place His trust in God. The devil tried to plant doubt in Jesus' mind. God has forgotten you. He is willing to let you die of hunger. His promises mean nothing to you. Your concern is for bread; forget about God's Word. Take matters into your own hands. Don't rely on God. The devil hoped that these words would enter Jesus' thoughts when he said, "If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread."
This temptation has been around for a long time. When God led Israel out of Egypt, He baptized them in the Red Sea and then led them into the wilderness. They listened to the words of the devil and complained against Moses and against God. They didn't trust God to care for them in the wilderness.
A similar thing happens in our time as well. At the first sign of any trouble, we are ready to turn to the world for advice. We trust the words of the world. We trust the words of the devil. We trust our own words. We don't trust the Word of God.
The second temptation seems very daring on the part of the devil. He asks Jesus to worship him. At first glance, this seems to be a no brainer. Surely, anyone who still has a few working brain cells knows that worshipping the devil is really, really wrong, incredibly stupid, and very, very dangerous. Here we forget two things. The devil is the ultimate con artist, and any form of worship that does not worship the true God, worships the devil. This means that we can worship the devil without knowing that we are worshipping the devil. Jesus Himself said, [Matthew 12:30] "Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters."
The devil offered the world to Jesus. Today, I notice that many people are willing to do almost anything just to get along. The devil uses this against us. He will find a Biblical truth that makes people uncomfortable. Then he will tell us that it's not an important doctrine … just a few words in a part of the Bible that most people don't even read. "Worship me," he says, "by ignoring those few, insignificant little words and I will guarantee you peace and unity in your congregation. All you have to do is give up a few words that most people don't even know are there. Is that really so bad?" Suddenly, the devil has us judging what parts of the Word of God are important and what parts we can let slide for the sake of peace. By suggesting that we can judge God's Word, he is suggesting that we can judge God Himself. When we are arrogant enough to judge God's word, we are worshipping the devil.
In the final temptation, the devil put on the robes of the preacher. He quoted from the Word of God, but He only quoted the words that suited his purpose. He left out four words that change the very meaning of the passage. In this way, the devil changed the psalm from God's promise to protect us into God's permission to do stupid things … like jump from the pinnacle of a very tall building.
False preachers still do this sort of thing. They pick and choose which words they will use and which words they will discard. Even though Jesus said, 'This is my body;' 'This is my blood,' what He really meant was, 'This represents my body;' 'This represents my blood.'" Even though Jesus told the church to teach all that He commanded, we only need to learn enough … and we decide what is enough. We simply forget that telling God that we don't need any more of His word is the same as telling Him that we don't need any more of Him.
Sadly, we must all confess that we do not listen to the Words of God as we should. We often let the devil, the world, or our own sinful nature pick and choose the words of God that we will hear. The devil and the world seduce us with the words that we want to hear, and we have especially made ourselves into false gods by listening to our words instead of God's Words. We all deserve punishment both here in time and forever in eternity for listening to the words we like instead of the words we need.
Never the less, there is comfort in today's Gospel. For our champion, Jesus Christ, saw through the lies of the devil. He never gave in to the temptations that the devil placed before Him. Oh, Jesus endured temptation greater than any we must ever endure, but He never sinned. He earned a righteousness that we never could.
At the same time that He lived a perfect, sinless life, He was filled with sin … not His own sin for He had none, but He was filled with our sin. All the sins of all the people of all times and places were placed on Him. When the time came to punish our sin, the punishment fell on Him. He took on Himself the punishment for all the time that we listened to our own words instead of His words. While Jesus suffered and died on the cross, He paid for our every sin.
Yet Jesus did not remain dead. [1 Peter 1:3] According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. According to this great hope, we look forward to the day when Christ will raise all the dead and all who believe in His Word will join Him in eternal peace.
This world is a dangerous place. The devil and the other evil angels constantly tempt us to turn away from the truth of God's Word and listen to the devil's lies, the world's lies, and the lies of our own sinful hearts. In this way, they hope to rob us of our salvation. Never the less, Christ, our champion and savior has endured the temptations of the evil one and remained without sin. He has taken our sin on Himself and endured its punishment. He has triumphed over sin, death, and the power of the devil. In this way, He has defended us and made us His own forever. We now wait in the safety of His protection and look forward to eternal life with Him. Amen
Please quote from my sermons freely. I expect people to copy my sermons or I wouldn't put them on a site like this. I only ask that you quote accurately if you attribute anything to me.
Should you decide to contact me, I would be very interested in knowing where you are. Please include the name of your city, state or province, and country when contacting me.
Send James T. Batchelor an email.