Sermon for the First Sunday in Lent based on Matthew 4:1-11
Dear people who are tempted: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
When the devil attacks you, it doesn’t feel bad to you. Yes, he prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour (I Peter 5:8), but unlike a lion, when the devil attacks you, it does not feel like a lion’s sharp teeth crushing your bones or like a lion’s sharp claws tearing your flesh. If that were the case, you would never fall for the devil’s attacks or succumb to his temptations. You would flee his attacks because they would be painful.
No, when the devil attacks, it feels good. He knows what your sinful flesh wants, and he offers it to you. He appeals to your pride, as he did when he tempted Eve saying, “You will be like God.” He appeals to your sinful desire for unchastity, laziness, gluttony and drunkenness, greed and deceit, anger and hatred. When he attacks you, your sinful flesh loves it. Your sinful flesh wants nothing more than to jump in head first into whatever the devil’s temptation is, regardless of the consequences. He dangles in front of your nose exactly what it is that you want; exactly what you think will make you happy; exactly what feels good to you.
It doesn’t help that when you look around in the world, these are the things that the people of the world not only pursue, but they are the things in which they seem to take the greatest pleasure. Not only are the people of the world doing these things with pleasure, but there seem to be no bad repercussions or consequences whatsoever. So, what’s the big deal? Everyone else is doing it. Did God really say that exactly this is wrong? It’s just one bite of fruit, that hardly seems like such a horrible evil.
The devil’s temptations always seem good. He doesn’t tempt us with things that appear bad, he tempts us with things that appear good and desirable.
The devil tempted Jesus with things that appeared good. He tempted Jesus with food after He had not eaten for forty days and forty nights. The devil tempted Jesus to trust the protection of angels. The devil tempted Jesus to receive all the kingdoms of the world without having to suffer and die. These temptations all sound good. There doesn’t appear to be any harm in doing them.
Jesus recognized the harm and evil in these temptations, however, and He did not fall into sin. Jesus saw through the devil’s temptations, and He knew what was right and what was wrong. Jesus did not do anything contrary to God the Father’s will, no matter how good it might have sounded to us.
Jesus faced temptation and won. Unlike Adam in the Garden of Eden, Jesus did not fall into sin. Jesus did not eat what He should not have eaten. Adam ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil because there did not appear to be any harm in doing so, even though God had expressly forbidden it. Thus, Adam brought sin into the world, and Adam’s sin brought death and condemnation into the world.
We have followed Adam. We have been fooled by the devil’s temptations. We have looked at his temptations and thought that they appeared good to us even if they are against God’s will. We have fallen into the devil’s temptations because they appeared so good to our sinful desires. We have excused our sin as something good because it felt good or because society has accepted it, everyone else is doing it, and there appear to be no consequences or repercussions.
The devil even quotes Scripture in His temptations to make sin sound like it is God’s will. The devil knows what our weaknesses are. He then takes a passage from God’s Word and twists it to exploit our weakness. He is successful if we do not hold Scripture as a whole. He lifts a passage out of context and twists it to say something that it does not say. When we hear this twisted message, it stokes our sinful desires as the devil knows and intends. The devil wants us to think that our freedom in Christ is freedom to sin, and thus he seeks to destroy us through our own desires as they give birth to sin and bring forth death.
However, God does not desire our eternal death. God does not want us to spend eternity in the death of hell. Thus, He cast Jesus into the wilderness to face the tempter. The temptations and desires that we have not been able to withstand, Jesus withstood. The desires that have given birth to sin in us never even took shape in Jesus. The sin that we have committed that has earned us the wages of death was never committed by Jesus. He faced the devil’s temptations and never even for a split second desired to do what He was tempted with.
And it was necessary that Jesus never sin even in the face of the greatest temptations. If Jesus would have sinned even once then He could not have died for your sin or been punished for your sin. Then He would have died for His own sin and received punishment for His own sin. But Jesus never sinned. Parched and hungry, tempted in every way by the devil, Jesus never sinned. Thus, Jesus fulfilled God’s Law for you. He did what you cannot do.
Jesus’ death, then, brought life for you. Adam’s one sin brought death for all mankind, but Jesus’ one act of righteousness – His death on the cross – brought life for all mankind. Adam’s disobedience made all mankind sinners, but Jesus’ obedience to the point of death has made you righteous.
Jesus’ death for you has paid the penalty of your falls into temptation. Your sins have been covered with Christ’s righteousness in your Baptism. Jesus gives you a meal to eat that has not been forbidden you. He gives you His own body and blood for the forgiveness of all your sins. Through His Supper He also strengthens you in your fight against temptation, so that you will recognize sin to be sin and flee from the devil’s temptations, while daily drowning your sins and evil desires through repentance.
The devil’s temptations may feel good to us, but we have God’s Word which tells us what is really good for us. Sin never ends up being quite as good as we had thought at first, but what God has in store for us is perfect and good. We may not always see the harm in doing something against God’s Word, but the harm and evil is there, even if hidden from our view.
Cling to God’s Word in temptation. God knows what is best for you. Flee the temptations of the devil, the world, and your sinful nature. Seek God’s will from His Word when unsure of what is good and what is evil.
Come and receive the Sacrament of the Altar. Jesus’ body and blood washes away every sin. Forgiveness is given from the altar for every time you have fallen into temptation. Jesus’ victory over temptation is your victory over temptation because His body and blood cleanse you of every sin. There are no strings attached. Simply free forgiveness, given and shed for you. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.