Every year, the gospel for the First Sunday in Lent tells us about the time that Satan personally tempted Jesus in the wilderness. Last year, we heard the story from Mark. Next year, we will hear the story from Matthew. This year, it is Luke's turn to tell us the story.
All three Gospels tell us that Jesus endured Satan's temptation for forty days without eating. The early church fathers decided that the church should remember these forty days of temptation with forty days of repentance and preparation before Good Friday and Easter. Since the early church fathers thought that every Sunday was a little Easter, they did not count the Sundays in those forty days. That is the reason that this Sunday is called the First Sunday in Lent and not the First Sunday of Lent. That is also the reason it takes us forty-six calendar days to get through the forty days of Lent.
The events of the Temptation take place shortly after John baptized Jesus in the Jordan. That baptism not only identified Jesus to the world, but also identified Jesus to Satan and His demons. As far as Satan was concerned the baptism painted a big bulls-eye on Jesus and made Him Satan's #1 target just as Adam had been Satan's #1 target after God created man. So it was not long after the baptism that Jesus had this battle with Satan.
It is important to understand that these temptations were very real. We should not think that Jesus relied on His divine nature to get Him through this event. Both Matthew and Luke remind us of Jesus humanity by telling us that after Jesus battled Satan for forty days without food, "He was hungry." God never gets hungry. Hunger is a characteristic of Jesus' human nature. The fact that Jesus was hungry reminds us that Jesus withstood Satan's attack using only His human nature. He used no resources that we as human beings do not have.
The second temptation in today's gospel may be the cruelest of the three. The devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to him, "To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours."
Satan showed all the kingdoms of the inhabited world to Jesus. These kingdoms originally belonged to God. He created them and then crowned Adam and Eve as king and queen over these kingdoms. When Adam and Eve fell to Satan's temptation, they gave Satan control over these kingdoms. Adam and Eve became slaves to sin in Satan's kingdom. Satan's words, "it has been delivered to me," remind us of the tragedy of Adam and Eve's surrender to the devil in Eden.
Satan showed these kingdoms to Jesus in an instant but I am sure that Jesus saw all the cruelty, sin, and pain in a world under Satan's influence. It must have been like watching someone torture your family. Then Satan offered Jesus a deal: "You know, you could end all this pain and suffering. I would be willing to give this world back to you. Then you could run it any way you wanted. It could be such a simple transaction. You don't really have to go through all the shame and pain of suffering and death to win back the world. There could be peace between us now. It's a win-win situation - a real no-brainer. All I ask in return is that you would worship me just one time. That's all. I'm not asking for much at all and you would receive so much in return. Why can't we just get along?"
This temptation never died. Today's gospel tells us, "When the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time." That means that the devil only withdrew in order to regroup and attack again. All three of the temptations followed Jesus through His entire ministry. Every time the people wanted to make Him their earthly king, they were doing Satan's will. They were tempting Jesus to forego the agony of the cross by compromising with the devil.
Even Peter became Satan's tool. When Jesus began telling the disciples that He must go to Jerusalem to suffer, [Matthew 16:22-23] Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, "Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you." But he turned and said to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man." Jesus knew who was behind Peter's misguided concern.
The second temptation is still around today. Satan readily tells us that we can be at peace with all people. All we need do is surrender our faithfulness to God's Word. So what if not everyone agrees with the Bible one hundred per cent. As long as they agree on the really important articles of doctrine, what difference does it make if there are some minor discrepancies with the Bible? The important thing is that we all get along, right? So what if we don't agree with a few minor points of God's Word?
Do you want to be the one who determines which part of the Bible is minor? I don't. Is infant baptism minor? What about the Real Presence in the Sacrament of the Altar? Some churches today seem to believe that God's commandments concerning sexual purity are minor. Some seem to think that murdering infants before they are born is minor. Where does it end? At what point will we decide that the entire Bible is minor and not worth studying?
When we take it upon ourselves to determine that something in the Bible is minor, we are committing the most flagrant kind of idolatry. When we trivialize a part of God's Word, we are making ourselves equal with God. In fact, we are trying to place ourselves above God by arrogantly judging His Word. We are falling into Satan's trap. Satan would have us place peace and unity with the children of this world above our peace and unity with God.
When we make God's Word minor, we disarm ourselves in the presence of the enemy. Paul told the Ephesians, [Ephesians 6:17] "Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God." The Word of God, the Sword of the Spirit, is the one and only offensive weapon at our disposal.
Notice how Jesus used it in today's gospel: "It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone.'" "It is written, 'You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.'" "It is said, 'You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.'" God's Word is the weapon Jesus used to stop Satan. It is the weapon God has given us. How dare we throw it in a corner and let it get dusty and rusty?
God's Word is the means that the Holy Spirit uses to produce and sustain faith in us as St. Paul told the Saints in Rome, [Romans 1:16-17] For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, "The righteous shall live by faith." When we make God's Word minor, we are committing slow spiritual suicide.
We often fall to Satan's compromises, but Jesus never did. Jesus withstood Satan's temptation on our behalf. He is our champion. He never compromised with Satan. Instead, Jesus stayed on the hard road to the cross.
Eventually, the World was His again, but not through compromise. Jesus fulfilled every promise God made. Jesus withstood Satan himself in the wilderness of hunger. He withstood Satan's agents during His ministry. He endured temptation even to the cross. Jesus never wavered. In the end, Jesus defeated sin, death, and the devil. He rose from the dead. He bought us back with His holy precious blood and His innocent suffering and death that we might be His own and live under Him in His eternal Kingdom.
With His victory on the cross, Jesus earned forgiveness for us. The Holy Spirit brings that forgiveness to us as He works faith in us through Word and Sacrament. The Holy Spirit will aid us in our struggle with Satan's temptations including the temptation to compromise God's Word. He will strengthen our faith and bring us home to Life Everlasting. Amen.
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