Victory Over Temptation

Sermon for the First Sunday in Lent based on Mark 1:9-15 and James 1:12-18

Dear tempted saints: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Lead us not into temptation. These are the words Jesus taught us to pray.

In our Epistle lesson, James helps us understand what this means. By the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he writes, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and He Himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.” (James 1:13-14)

In the Small Catechism, we have the explanation to the Sixth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer: “God tempts no one. We pray in this petition that God would guard and keep us so that the devil, the world, and our sinful nature may not deceive us or mislead us into false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice. Although we are attacked by these things, we pray that we may finally overcome them and win the victory.”

We have in the Small Catechism a great treasure for the church. It so wonderfully summarizes the faith and gives simple explanation for young and old alike. You can do no better than to recite portions of it every morning and evening. If you don’t know what to do for daily devotions, pick up your Small Catechism. If you don’t have a Small Catechism, pick one up from the table in the narthex.

But back to our text. God tempts no one. From where do temptations come? Temptations come from the devil, the world, and our sinful nature.

The devil and the world don’t have to work very hard to tempt us because of our sinful nature. Our sinful nature is always ready to sin and always seeking opportunity to sin. Our sinful nature has desires that are contrary to God’s desires for us. That is why we fall into sin even when we’re not tempted by the devil or the world. As we heard, “Each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.”

This desire varies from person to person, and even within a person from youth to old age. In younger years, temptation is often in sins of the flesh. In middle age, it’s often money and power that are the greatest temptation. In older years, it is often the desire to live forever that is the greatest temptation.

Most often, however, we do not and cannot anticipate what will tempt us, from where the temptation will come, or when it will come. The truth is that anything can be a temptation for us.

We can be tempted to overwork, we can be tempted to be lazy. We can be tempted to meddle in other people’s affairs, or we can be tempted to be indifferent to other people altogether. We can be tempted into hardness of heart and believing we need no forgiveness or we can be tempted to believe that our sins are too awful to be forgiven and thus be tempted to despair.

Temptation is not just into obvious vices and evil. Temptation comes like a wolf in sheep’s clothing, disguising itself as something good.

Material possessions are a good blessing from God, but we are tempted to be more attached to God’s physical blessings than His spiritual blessings. Having a good reputation is a blessing from God, but we are tempted to not speak up when we should, for fear of the disapproval of others. Leisure time is a blessing from God, but we are tempted to do anything except study God’s Word when we have free time. Thus, there are temptations for us everywhere and with everything.

These temptations come from within us, as we desire what God forbids. The world adds to the temptation because the world does what it wants and seems to enjoy it. The devil adds to the temptation because he is ever seeking our fall.

God, however, does not tempt us. God may test us, as He did Abraham, but He does not tempt us into sin. “[God] does not test in order that we may fear and hate Him like a tyrant but to the end that He may exercise and stir up faith and love in us. Satan, however, tempts for evil, in order to draw you away from God and to make you distrust and blaspheme God.” (Luther AE 4:132)

Everything God does, He does for our eternal good. Everything the devil does, he does for our eternal ill. God wants you to trust Him in poverty, illness, and failure and He wants you to trust Him in wealth, health, and success. The devil wants you to distrust and question God in poverty, illness, and failure, and not to think of God at all in wealth, health, and success.

Thus, we pray to God, saying lead us not into temptation. Guard and keep us from falling into temptation. We cannot avoid temptation with out own strength. If we could, we would have no need to pray this petition. We pray this petition because we need God to fight temptation for us.

Hebrews tells us that Jesus is able to sympathize with our weaknesses, as He was tempted in every respect as we are, yet without sin. The devil threw every temptation he could muster up against Jesus, but Jesus did not sin. The cunning father or lies is no match for the Word of God. Jesus won the battle.

The temptation of Jesus is more than Christ’s personal victory over temptation. It is our victory as well. Just as surely as we inherited Adam’s sin, so we also inherit Christ’s righteousness. St Paul put in this way in his Epistle to the Romans: For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous. (Romans 5:19)

The devil won the victory against Adam. He came to him through his dear wife. God gave Eve to Adam for him to care for. He owed her spiritual care. God had made him her spiritual head. He was to care for her as a man should care for his woman by protecting her with the Word of God. Instead, he abdicated his office as pastor of his own home and elected Eve to be his pastor and immediately submitted to her spiritual oversight. The devil gained mastery over Adam through his wife. But while Eve ate the forbidden fruit before Adam did, the Bible blames Adam. It is Adam’s sin that is reckoned to the world. So it is that Jesus, the second Adam, comes to do what Adam failed to do. Whereas the first Adam disobeyed, the second Adam obeyed. (quoted from a sermon by Rev. Rolf Preus)

Jesus gave us an example of how to fight the devil’s lies with the Word of God, but He is not merely an example for us in fighting temptation. His victory over temptation is our victory because He is our substitute. His obedience is our righteousness as we heard from Romans, because He is our substitute.

Jesus was obedient to the point of death on a cross. There He also acted as our substitute. He lived our life and He died our death. In His life He fought temptation for us and won, and in His death He paid the price for our falls into temptation.

And Jesus sympathizes with your weaknesses. When you feel all alone in temptation and think that no one understands; when it seems like your whole life is taken over by some desire, know that you are not alone. Jesus is there and He sympathizes with your weaknesses. He knows what it’s like to be tempted. He suffered when tempted so His heart aches when He sees you suffering in temptation, and He helps you in temptation (Heb. 2:18).

Jesus sympathized with your weaknesses to the point of death. It is for you that Jesus suffered and died. It is for you that He rose again. His victory over temptation is your victory over temptation, and His victory over death is your victory over death. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Temptation Overcome

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.

The Temptation of Our Lord

Sermon for the First Sunday in Lent based on Luke 4:1-13

            Dear people who are tempted: Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

After air and water, food is the next greatest need for man to live on this earth. After forty days of fasting Jesus was hungry, so the devil tempted Him with food.

The devil had also tempted Eve with food in the Garden of Eden. The devil tempted Eve to eat the forbidden fruit. Eve fell into temptation even though she was sinless and perfect and she had a garden full of fruit to eat and was by no means hungry. Adam, who was with Eve, also fell into sin and ate the forbidden fruit.

Jesus, hungry though He was from forty days of fasting, did not fall into temptation. The devil tempted Him by saying, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” Well, why not? God provides food for people all around the world. God miraculously provided bread in the wilderness to the sons of Israel, why not now to His only begotten Son? Why should Jesus not prove to the devil that He really is the Son of God and turn the stone into bread? Why would it be a sin to turn the stone into bread for Himself if He is the Son of God?

Surely it could have been rationalized this way. But the Holy Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness to fast, so He was to fast. He was to wait for His Father to provide for Him, not take for Himself what He could. Jesus responds with Scripture and says, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone.’”

The devil’s next temptation was to show Jesus all the kingdoms of the world in a moment in 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 will give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.”

This really was a temptation for Jesus to skip over suffering and dying, and jump immediately into glory. Why go through suffering and death for the people of these kingdoms of the world, why not just take the kingdoms now? Skip the anguish of the soul to the point of death. Skip the beads of sweat dropping to the ground like drops of blood. Skip the torture, mockery, and death. Just take the kingdom now.

Once again, Jesus responds with Scripture, “It is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.’” Jesus was obedient to the will of the Father. He was obedient to the point of death. Jesus didn’t come to take on our flesh for His own sake, but for our sake. He came to save us by dying for us. He would not yield to the devil and skip our salvation.

The third temptation was the devil setting Jesus on the pinnacle of the Temple and saying, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”

This time Satan even quotes Scripture. Prove that you trust God and believe His Word. He’s promised angels to serve God’s children and intervene for you. Why not show it if you believe it? Prove that the Word of God is true.

Once again, Jesus responds with Scripture, “It is said, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

We see throughout the temptation of Jesus that He doesn’t really look like the Son of God. The devil was permitted power to take Him around and tempt Him. The devil takes Jesus and shows Him the kingdoms of the world. The devil takes Jesus and sets Him on the pinnacle of the Temple. Jesus doesn’t face the temptations of the devil as God, but as a man. Thus He doesn’t look like the Son of God and He is tempted to prove that He is the Son of God.

But Jesus doesn’t use miracles or divine power to conquer temptation. He simply uses the Word of God. Jesus fought the devil with nothing more than what we have when the devil tempts us, but Jesus never fell into temptation.

And Jesus’ temptations were real temptations. Hebrews 4(:15) tells us that Jesus was tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin. Jesus remained wholly faithful to the Father and obeyed Him in thought, word, and deed even through the fiercest temptation.

So is Jesus an example for us then, in how to face temptation? In a sense, yes. Whenever we are tempted by sin we should go to Scripture, to what God says. Whenever we are tempted by sin we should go to Scripture, our source of strength. And in a sense, no. When we are tempted, we are unable to avoid sin. Temptation itself arouses in us desires for those things that God has not given to us. We sin, just being tempted, before we’ve said or done anything. Desires are kindled within us to eat, to drink, to take, to say, and to do those things that God has not given us.

That’s the real temptation overriding all temptation. The devil wants us to place ourselves into the role of judge. I will judge for myself what is right and wrong. I will judge for myself how much I should have and take for myself whatever I want so I have that amount. I will judge for myself what gives me pleasure and I will do that. I will judge for myself what is most important for me and I will pursue that no matter what.

The answer to all these temptations is God’s Word. God tells us in His Word what is right and wrong. It doesn’t matter what we feel or what we want. It doesn’t matter what other people do or don’t do. Scripture is our answer to temptation.

But even with Scripture, we still can’t face temptation following Jesus’ example. We still fall into sin when tempted because the very desires of our flesh are sinful.

We can only be saved by Jesus. His temptation was for us. He fulfilled what we cannot fulfil. He never even for a second desired anything against the will of God the Father. He was obedient through all temptation; obedient even to the point of death on the cross. He never desired anything that was not according to God the Father’s will. He didn’t desire to eat even when starving because it was not the Father’s will. He didn’t desire to skip suffering and death because it was the Father’s will to save us. He didn’t desire to test God because He fully trusted in Him without testing Him.

We cannot conquer the temptations of the devil as Jesus conquered them. We can only conquer temptation in Jesus. Jesus has conquered temptation for us. If we could conquer temptation, we would not need a Saviour. Then we wouldn’t need someone to fulfil the Law in our place. We wouldn’t need someone to die for every time we have fallen into temptation.

Jesus did what we are unable to do. Jesus fulfilled everything demanded of us and died in our place, taking the punishment of all our falls into temptation. Now we have Jesus to set over against the devil. When temptation comes, which it will, it is already conquered by Jesus. We don’t have to overcome the devil – Jesus has already done that. We don’t have to suffer for our sins – Jesus has already done that. We don’t have to die for our sins – Jesus has already done that.

Adam and Eve fell into sin by eating what was forbidden. Jesus did not fall into sin when tempted to eat what was not given Him to eat by the Father. Now Jesus gives us His perfect, sinless body and blood to eat and drink to forgive us our sins of doing what has been forbidden. He gives us His body and blood to strengthen us in temptation. He gives us His body and blood to bring us to eternal life where there is no more temptation. He gives us food which we need more than air and water. This holy food meets our greatest need. It gives us the forgiveness of sins and gives us eternal life. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.