Text: Matthew 4:1-11
Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Everything these days, it seems, is tested. Whether it’s car parts coming off the assembly line or software for your computer. It’s all tested. We want the things we buy on Amazon to be tested and have great ratings. Even if that rating is only from Andy in Dallas who gives it 5 stars and a thumbs up as a great product. Our cereals are tested. Maybe not scientifically, but you remember, “Kid tested, mother approved.” And it’s not just the products we buy. Animals are tested as well. Guide dogs and support dogs go through rigorous testing to determine that they’re ready to assist their owners. Go to the county fair and you’ll find the horse pulls, where the horses are harnessed to a sled on which blocks of various weights are placed. The contest then determines which horse can pull the greatest amount of weight over a specific distance. It’s a test of strength. But products and animals aren’t the only ones put to the test. We’re put to the test regularly. If you’re still in school, you regularly have tests to determine whether you’ve learned the things you were supposed to. When you get your driver’s license, you have to take both written and road tests to determine your competence to operate a motor vehicle. We’re tested all the time, in formal and informal ways. And Jesus is no exception. In His temptation, our Savior was PUT TO THE TEST.
Throughout human history, people have been put to the test, going all the way back to Adam. Adam, who was created by God, was given free will to obey God’s Word. And then, not long after his creation, he was put to the test right there in his perfect home in the Garden of Eden. There, Satan sought to destroy Adam’s relationship with God as he twisted the word for his own purposes. “But the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’” Adam, and Eve together, failed the test because they doubted the Word of God. “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that
the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.”
Just as God’s first human creations’ perfect life in the garden lasted such a short time before the devil made his appearance to test and tempt them, we too can’t go long without being put to the test. In fact, our testing and temptation is a daily occurrence. Not surprisingly, our testing often follows the same pattern as that of Jesus. Because really, the devil hasn’t learned a whole lot of new tricks. He hasn’t needed to since the ones he used in the garden with Adam and Eve worked so well. Of course they didn’t work on Jesus, but since the same temptations work so well on us, Satan continues to go back to the same playbook, day after day.
Every day, we’re tempted to live solely on the bread of the world. To look to the provision around us for what we can receive from God only. In that way we test and we doubt God when we seek first the things of the world, serving our own selfish interests, rather than His will. As we daily confront these tests and temptations, the results are often discouraging. Adam and Eve failed their test, and therefore all mankind fell into the abyss of sin and death. And daily each one of us sins and falls short of the glory of God. We deserve no good thing from God, only punishment for our failures and sins.
The consequences of our failure at the tests of this world are nothing compared to our failure when we give in to temptation. Failing your Algebra test means you’ll get a bad grade and have to work harder to bring it back up to pass the class. Failing your driver’s test means you’ll have to buckle down, study harder, practice more, and retake the test. Failure in your job may mean you’ll find yourself looking for a new place to work. None of this compares to the consequences of our failure to resist the temptation to sin. But unlike the Algebra test, or the
driver’s test, or the demands of work, temptation to sin is a test we cannot pass on a consistent basis. God’s standards, revealed in the Law are just not possible for us to live up to. There may be a day when we feel we’re doing pretty well, but perfection is not a standard we can measure up to.
Thanks be to God that we don’t need to. Because we have a substitute, One who passed the test for us in His obedient life and death so that we would be credited with His grade. Jesus is put to the test for us. And as our substitute in life, He was tempted as we are, yet without sin. Of course there must have been temptations to sin before the Spirit led Him into the wilderness, but this account that we hear today from Matthew’s Gospel tells us so much about the One who walked the road we cannot walk, and also gives us the model of the most successful tools when battling testing and temptation.
The first lesson we have here is that the devil likes to strike when we’re most worn down, and least able to fight back. For Jesus this was after 40 days and forty nights of fasting. In one of the greatest understatements in all of Scripture, Matthew tells us that, “He was hungry.” And then we hear that, “the tempter came and said to Him, ‘If You are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’” Satan knows just where to strike, and exactly when to do it. When what we need is to be humbled, he places recognition within reach. When we’ve been fighting with our spouse, he causes our eye to wander to another. When we’re weary and run down, and the place we really need is the church, he gives us other options for our time. And in our weakness, we often succumb to his tricks. But not Jesus. Even in His wearied state he answers, “It is written, Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”
Undeterred by his first failure, and seeking to trap Jesus using His own words against Him, the devil takes Jesus to the pinnacle of the temple and says to him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down, for it is written, He will command His angels concerning You, and on
their hands they will bear you up, lest You strike Your foot against a stone.” His plan is so often to pit us against our creator. Just as he tricked Adam and Eve in the garden with, “Did God really say,” he will time and again twist God’s Word for his own purposes. In these times, our response should be that of Jesus, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.”
You’d think that two rebuttals would have been enough, but Satan doesn’t give up easily. He then takes Jesus “to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to Him, ‘All this I will give You if You will fall down and worship me.’” The same temptation is laid before us every time we think the things of this world are worth striving for. With eyes solely fixed on the things of this world, we lose sight of the One who created it all and has already given it to us. Like Jesus, our response to this testing should simply be, “be gone, Satan! For it is written, You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve.”
Three times Jesus is tempted to doubt God and His Word for physical and spiritual help. In each of those tests Jesus defeats Satan and shows His love for God and sinners by trusting and abiding by the Father’s Word. He gave to us the model of resisting the devil’s schemes, and as our substitute in death, Jesus paid the price for the sin of all humanity, from Adam to us. As He was tempted again to come down from the cross, and again remained faithful to His Father and to His plan to save us. As our substitute and as our Savior, He who knew no sin became sin for us, that in Him we might have the righteousness of God.
And as our loving Savior, He helps us in our time of testing. He bestows forgiveness and eternal life on all who trust in Him. The Introit we sang earlier reminds us that in times of trial God promises to rescue His people, because He loves us. His help isn’t some non-descript word or deed that is difficult for His people to see. His help is here. In this place. As we gather around
Word and Sacrament, He preserves body and soul, and strengthens His people for the battle against testing and temptation we face on a daily basis.
Luther writes, “Satan has gathered experiences from the very beginning of the world and has been made more cunning by daily practice. If he finds it impossible to overcome us by the greatness of the temptation, he tries to overcome us by persevering until he has wearied us with this and other passages of Holy Scripture that, as he does not weary of assaulting us, we may not weary of persevering in prayer and in hope until we gain the victory.”
The obedient Christ rescued us from the disaster of sin and death caused by Adam’s disobedience. What’s more is that when we’re put to the test, our heavenly Father will supply the strength to resist and overcome temptation. It’s always nice when we have an additional opportunity beyond Reformation Day to sing A Mighty Fortress. And today is the perfect day as Luther’s words speak directly to our text about the temptations we face. The world’s prince may still, scowl fierce as he will, He can harm us none. He’s judged; the deed is done; One little word can fell him. And that word is the name of Jesus. The One who was tempted as we are, and more, but knew no sin. His is the name we call out to when we’re tested and tempted. And His is the strength that carries us to the end. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.