Today’s Gospel lesson starts out: ”Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil...” If Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness, remind you of the forty years that God’s people Israel wandered through a wilderness in the Old Testament, good!
The Bible means for you to connect these two events separated by 1500 years. For ancient Israel, God’s deliverance from the hands of Egypt and His miraculous parting of the sea should have been a constant reminder of God’s faithfulness, grace, and power.
No test should have frightened them.
No temptation should have lured them.
But, as you’ll remember, whenever a new test, temptation, crisis, or idol came along, God’s people were prone to forgetting the goodness of God and all the good that God had done for them.
They panicked, seeking refuge in dead idols that could not save them or in works of sin that couldn’t give them life.
I can't be too critical of the ancient Israelites though. Speaking for myself, I know that I find it easy to forget God in the rush of daily life or when crises hit. Instead, try reliance on myself or on the things of this world to see me through or to make me feel strong.
When I forget God, like Israel, I always make a mess of things. This is why our daily appointments with God and our weekly worship are so important. Through them, God reminds us of all we need to remember and He strengthens us with the power of His Word, the Bible.
In today’s Gospel lesson, after, on the banks of the Jordan River hearing God the Father thunder from heaven, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased,” Jesus goes into the wilderness. He does so seeking to do what Israel was never been able to do (and what we're never able to do): Live through the tests and temptations of this life while remaining faithful to God.
Jesus had to do this. The human race needed one representative who, unlike the rest of us, fulfilled God’s law and remained faithful to God’s will so that, at His death, He could take the punishment that each of us deserves for our sin.
In going into the wilderness, Jesus was beginning the ministry of the Messiah that God had used Isaiah to foretell hundreds of years earlier: “...We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” [Isaiah 53:6]
In the wilderness, long before He went to the cross, Jesus met the temptation to dodge His mission and forgo His ministry, which, had He caved in, would have left us dead in our sin for eternity.
Because of Jesus’ faithfulness in fulfilling God’s law for us, we can say with the preacher in the New Testament book of Hebrews: “...we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.” [Hebrews 4:15]
But don’t let all of this history make your eyes glaze over, because Jesus’ time in the wilderness also gives us a model for daily godly living. We are saved by God’s grace through faith in Christ. And out of gratitude for that grace, we seek through daily repentance and renewal and by the way we live to express our thanks to God for it all.
In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus shows us how to face our tests and temptations in life.
We face them first, like Jesus, relying on the Holy Spirit. In our Baptism, God gives to the baptized the same Holy Spirit Who filled Jesus and led Him into the wilderness.
In our daily lives as Christians, we can tap into the power of the Holy Spirit as we deal with situations at home, school,work, and leisure.
And we do that by praying, by reading God’s Word, and by living in fellowship with God’s people in the Church, people, who like us as believers in Christ, stand under God’s Word as the ultimate authority over our lives.
Let me make this promise to you: If you will take the time before diving into any decision--to be still, to know that God is God, and to seek God’s counsel through Christ--you will make more right decisions, more decisions you don’t regret, and you will experience God’s peace. That's the simple truth.
In facing life’s temptations, we need to do so in the power of God’s Holy Spirit. But let’s quickly look at the three temptations Jesus faced to learn more about facing down temptation and tests.
Temptation number one offered by the devil to Jesus (verse 3): “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.”
The devil was taunting Jesus. Temptation often comes to us in this way. “If you’re so sure of yourself…” “If you think you’re so tough…” “If you’re certain that you’re all that…” "If you think you know what you're doing..."
Jesus didn’t let the devil’s taunting bother Him. He knew that He was God’s own Son and that the Father was pleased with Him.
The Christian lives in this world knowing that we don’t need to pull any power trips, we don’t need to do anything to prove our worth. Jesus Christ already proved our infinite and eternal worth in the eyes of God when He died on the cross and rose from the dead for us.
Through our Baptism in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and our faith in Christ, we own the same title that Jesus bears: Child of God.
In this first temptation, the devil was also preying on Jesus’ weakness. Jesus was not only God, but also a man who, after forty days in the wilderness, was hungry. The devil was challenging Jesus to use His power in a way that Jesus never used it: for Himself.
Had Jesus turned stones into bread just to suit Himself, He would have been guilty of the same sin that His earthly brother James would later accuse earthly Christians of committing: “You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” Jesus faced down this temptation when He cited the Old Testament, Deuteronomy 8:13: “Man does not live by bread alone…”
The God we know in Jesus Christ is all you and I need. He has our backs here. He has our backs for eternity.
Temptation two is shown in Luke 4:5-6. The devil showed Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and said that if Jesus would worship him, the devil, he would give all those kingdoms to Jesus. We are tempted to idolatry, the worship of things or people other than God, because we think they can assure us of good lives, maybe even easy lives. We worship idols as shortcuts to blessings only the God of the universe can give.
The devil knew that Jesus had come to claim the people of the world for God. The devil was offering Jesus a shortcut, a less personally painful way claiming the world. Watch out for shortcuts!
But Jesus didn't come into the world to conquer its kingdoms by domineering people; Jesus came to conquer our greatest enemies--sin and death--by going to the cross and the tomb.
All who believe in Jesus become part of something that lasts longer than all the kingdoms, corporations, nations, fads, Twitter trends, or dictatorships of the world, the eternal kingdom of God.
Jesus refused the devil, saying He would only worship God. We are called to do the same thing every day of our lives.
In temptation three, the devil twists the Word of God, trying to entice Jesus to throw Himself off the pinnacle of the temple in Jerusalem. Some scholars believe that the pinnacle rose seven hundred feet from the the temple’s base.
God, the devil said, would catch Jesus. The devil pulled a few passages from the Old Testament out of their context, not taking into account everything God says in His Word to tempt Jesus, to try coaxing Jesus into jumping.
But Jesus responded, quoting Isaiah [verse 12], “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
Jesus knew God’s Word and because He did, He was ready to face whatever the devil or this world threw at Him. We need to know God’s Word for the same reason.
As we face life’s tests, we can move through them to deeper faith and deeper maturity as people when we
- rely on the Holy Spirit;
- remember that as baptized believers in Jesus Christ, God has our back, we have nothing to prove to anybody, and can live each day in God’s grace;
- remember that only God is worthy of our worship and lives lived in response to His grace; and always recall that by steeping ourselves in God’s Word, we are ready for anything.
As we surrender to Christ each day, we belong to God and through Jesus, we know that God is bigger than any temptation, any test, any challenge, even death.
He is all we need. Amen