SCRIPTURES: Ps. 91; Dt. 26:1-11; Rom. 10:8-13; Luke 4:1-13
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil.
Today is Valentine’s Day. It’s a day to celebrate love! And, look who is held before us today in our Gospel reading: the devil, the epitome of hate and selfishness and evil! He is held before us that we might see his defeat by the One who is love incarnate: our Lord Jesus.
Pay close attention to how the devil tempted Jesus, and to how Jesus overcame the devil’s temptations. For, the devil is your enemy, also. Now, he is not like God: able to be everywhere at once, and so able to be near you and tempt you continually. Satan is a creature, not God. He is a spirit being of great power and wisdom and cunning, but he is not almighty or all-present. But, neither is he alone. The Bible tells us that there are many demonic spirits like him who hate and oppose God and His people. And so, you need to be aware of their attacks and know how to defeat them.
The devil and his hosts tempt us in many ways. One of the most common is with the desire for things: in Jesus’ case, food, as He is starving. For most of us, wealth and possessions. Now, food and wealth and possessions are of themselves neither good nor evil. You can be rich or poor, hungry or full, and be faithful, or unfaithful, to God. The question is: are you content with God’s provision? Jesus, quoting Deut. 8:3, reminds us: “Man shall not live by bread alone.” When it comes to life and living, don’t focus on things and getting more of them. Focus on God. He is life eternal: uncreated, always alive and without a beginning; always living and doing, and never weakening or aging or dying. He is true and complete and perfect and eternal life! As you live in His love as His child in Christ, He shares with you His life. How eternally blessed you are! Don’t let anything distract you from this! And if in your life God allows you to be burdened in some way as you follow Him – as Jesus was hungry, because God sent Him into a barren wilderness – then don’t seek to ease your burden by ways or with things that would keep you from listening to God or following Him.
When I was 20, I spent the summer working in a factory. In July, the factory shut down for two weeks for inventory. Every nut, every bolt, every wrench – everything, from the smallest part to the largest machine – was to be counted and recorded. Those who chose to work those two weeks would be paid time and a half. Those who worked on Sunday would get double their hourly wage! I worked, but my co-workers were surprised when I told them on Saturday that I would not be in the next day. And, when I told them it was because I would be going to church, some of them laughed at me. “God won’t care if you miss one Sunday! And, hey, you can put extra in the offering plate next week!” That wasn’t the point. Going to church wasn’t about what I was doing for God. It was about being with God’s people in my Savior’s loving presence!
Now, this did not at all compare to what Jesus endured. I was not enduring some great temptation of Satan. I was simply setting my basket before the Lord; confessing, “A wandering Aramean was my father” (Deut. 26; in other words, “I am undeserving, but my good and loving God has blessed me with everything as a gift because of Jesus”); and rejoicing in all the good that the Lord God was giving to me.
Satan is very successful with temptations to not focus on God, or even grumble against Him, and seek more of the things of this life. Wealth, possessions, and a better life are not his only temptations, however. He is far more difficult and dangerous when he tempts you with your God and with your faith in Him.
“The devil showed Jesus all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to him, ‘To you I will give all this authority and their glory... If you will worship me, it will all be yours.’” Satan was tempting Jesus with God and with Jesus’ trust in Him. You see, all the kingdoms of the world would be Christ’s. He’s the eternal Son of God! They would be His when His Father received Him again at His right hand in heaven as Lord over all things. Right then they weren’t His, however, for the Son of God had turned away from this and embraced the humble role of a servant by being conceived of the Virgin Mary and born into this world. This was His Father’s will, that He humble Himself and offer Himself up to suffering, sin and death to rescue us from the sorrows, present and eternal, that our sins bring. Only after offering His life for us on the cross would His Father receive Him back into heaven and exalt Him over all the kingdoms of this world. The devil tempted Jesus to take this now, before He suffered and died. And, when Jesus rejected the devil’s temptation by quoting Scripture and saying that He would worship and obey God only, the devil quoted another Scripture and used it to tempt Him to trust God completely and let God show Himself to be His Savior. “Jump off the top of the temple and let God rescue you! Be a true believer! Show your faith!”
In my last year of college – I was attending a Lutheran college, preparing to go to the seminary – I worked at a restaurant as a dishwasher. I didn’t work Sunday’s, however, so that I could go to church. Well, early one Sunday morning the restaurant manager called me and asked if could come in and work. Their regular dishwasher was sick and they couldn’t get anyone else. So, I went in. Later, a friend at school told me I was wrong to miss church. I didn’t keep the Sabbath day holy! I wasn’t living my faith! Actually, I told her, I would have broken the commandment and not lived my faith if I had not worked and so missed church.
Boy, God’s Word is confusing, isn’t it? So, on one Sunday it would be wrong to skip church and go to work, while on another Sunday it would be wrong to skip work and go to church. How can you know what’s right and how to live your faith? This is what the devil wants you to think. The solution is to not rely on a partial and piecemeal understanding of the faith – the devil quoted just a couple of verses of Ps. 91 to Jesus, and by quoting them out of context he actually changed their meaning. Keep listening to God. Learn His words more fully and rightly, and trust Him. But, don’t challenge Him to take care of you as you do what you want. Trust Him to take care of you while you obey Him and help others in their need! This is what Christ does, and so this is our faith. This is why I washed dishes and missed church that one Sunday. The restaurant needed my help! (Although, I believe I kept the extra money I was paid that day. I wasn’t completely selfless!)
None of us is completely selfless, and every one of us gives in to the devil’s temptations at times and sins against God. We are sinners in this life, and will always be sinners. This is above all why Jesus came, and why He endured Satan’s temptations. He faced the devil in weakness; just like us. Like us, His only defense was His trust in God’s Word. But, unlike us, Jesus did not give in. He overcame all of the devil’s temptations; and He defeated him for us. That is what you have to hold onto today. Jesus is “Lord of all, and bestows His riches on all who call on Him” says our Epistle (Rom. 10). The riches of His forgiveness of all of your sins, which He won for you on the cross, is yours! The riches of His victory over the devil is also yours! You will not see it completely in this life; but in the life to come you will see it. The devil and his hosts will lie, crushed and helpless and silent, under the feet of Jesus, and so under your feet. There will be only God’s complete and perfect love – a perfect and eternal Valentine’s Day! – to experience and enjoy; and this will never end.
Guide the people of Your Church, Lord, that following our Savior we may walk through the wilderness of this world, with all of its trials and temptations, toward the glory of that world to come! We ask this through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.