Years ago, a man I knew shared with a group of us what his dad told him every time he went out with friends or with his girl back during his teenage years. “Remember,” his dad said, “who you are.”
Those seem like wise words to me because it’s so easy in the individual moments of life that come at us like the ocean tide every second of every day to forget who we are and who we’re called to be.
The Word of God teaches that we all have a call, a vocation. This doesn’t refer to our jobs, although our call will usually include what we do as working people. For the Christian though, our vocation is about who we are and who we are called by God to be.
The call we all have as disciples of Jesus Christ is given to us at the moment of our baptisms when, after we are washed in the water charged with God’s life by God’s Word, Christ’s cross is marked on our foreheads and we are given our vocation, our identity, “child of God.” “Mark James,” the pastor said at my baptism, “child of God, you have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever.” Pastors said similar things when you were baptized, whenever you were baptized.
As Christians, our vocation, our call, is to be God’s children: God’s daughters, God’s sons.
To be a child of God is an incredible privilege of grace, making us God’s intimates and heirs of all that He has in mind for those who repent and believe in Jesus.
We Christians aren’t the first on whom God has conferred the title and the call, child of God, daughter of God, son of God. Moses once told Egypt’s king, Pharaoh: “This is what the Lord says: ‘Israel is my firstborn son, and I told you, “Let my son go, so he may worship me.’” (Exodus 4:22-23) Through Abraham, Israel had been given its call to be God’s children. Israel was to be a light to the nations, helping the whole world to see the God Who loves us and saves all who turn to Him in faith from sin, death, and darkness.
History shows that Israel failed in its calling as God’s son. The people of Israel--the children of God--forgot who they were. They chased after false gods, temporary pleasures, worldly power. They became diverted from their mission as God’s children to be God’s light to the nations.
Our first lesson for this morning shows us that it was always God’s intention to send a Messiah into the world in order to save the human race and the universe our sin has impacted. After the fall of Adam and Eve, from whom we all inherit the condition of sin, God told the serpent, the devil, speaking of the Messiah Who would be born of a woman in Bethlehem thousands of years later, “...I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” (Genesis 3:18)
Jesus was to fulfill the call that Israel--and no human being in their own power--ever could fulfill: the call of being the perfectly obedient child of God, the Son of God, Who by going to the cross as God the Father willed, would crush the power of Satan over you and me.
Our gospel lesson for today picks up Matthew’s narrative of Jesus’ story right after Jesus had been baptized in the Jordan River. There, you’ll remember, “As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.’” (Matthew 3:16-17) Jesus was given His call, His call as the Son of God. But in today’s lesson, Matthew 4:1-11, we see that Jesus was given no time to savor that. The first verse says: “Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.”
Notice that while Matthew’s account of Jesus’ baptism emphasized Jesus’ deity, here Matthew underscores Jesus’ humanity. Jesus is Lord of heaven and earth, the second Person of the Holy Trinity, but He is also a human being. He had to take on our humanity in order to save us from the inside out, becoming the perfect human sacrifice for our sins, paying the debt we owe for failing to remember our call to be children of God. Jesus is, like all human beings, even those who know nothing of God or who reject the very idea that God exists, under the authority of the other Persons of the Trinity: the Father and the Holy Spirit. So the Holy Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness for the express purpose of Jesus being tempted by the devil. Like ancient Israel, who God had called His Son, Jesus, just proclaimed God’s Son at the Jordan, goes into the wilderness. In Jesus’ forty days, He was tempted in the same ways that ancient Israel was once tempted for forty years. But with a different result: Jesus resists every temptation, fulfilling His call as the Son of God.
Jesus is tempted in three ways by the devil.
Knowing that Jesus is hungry, the devil tells Jesus to turn stones into bread. But citing words Moses uses in Deuteronomy to speak of Israel’s wilderness wanderings, Jesus refuses to perform this miracle to prove Himself or to feed His groaning belly. “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” (Matthew 4:4)
Next, the devil tells Jesus that He should throw Himself from the top of the Temple in Jerusalem to show people how the Father takes care of Him. Again, citing words from Israel’s wilderness days, Jesus refuses saying, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” (Matthew 4:7)
Finally, the devil shows Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and says that Jesus can have them all without suffering, scorn, rejection, cross, death, or grave, if Jesus will just worship him. “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’” (Matthew 4:10)
Although the devil continued to try to prevent Jesus from dying on the cross for our redemption, tried to lure Jesus into turning from His call as our Savior, and still tempts people today, the devil knew at that moment that the jig was up. Jesus had defeated the devil by remembering Who He was and that His call was and is to save us.
We often read this account and think of it as a how-to guide: “how to evade temptation by knowing God’s Word.” I've even preached on this lesson that very way.
Being steeped in God’s Word will help us to avoid the temptation to individual sins: adultery, cursing, thievery, gluttony, covetousness, murder, idolatry, not worshiping with God’s people, or lying.
But if that’s why we think the Holy Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted, we miss the point.
In Jesus' temptations, God is not telling us to so much remember who we are, but more to remember Who Jesus is.
And who is Jesus?
He is God the Son Who willingly became one of us, bore the rejection of the world, flogging, hatred, condemnation, and crucifixion because He never forgot you.
He never forgot that you need to be saved from sin, death, and the grave.
He always remembered His vocation.
In Jesus, the preacher of the New Testament book of Hebrews says, “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)
Jesus remembered Who He was--He remembered His call, so that He could save you from yourself, from the temptations we all face and the sins we all commit to be something other than what He died and rose to make us, children of God.
The Savior Who went to the wilderness and the cross and now sits at the right hand of the Father, always remembers you. May we never forget that! Amen
[I'm the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]