1 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. 2 After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” 4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” 5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. 6 “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written: “‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’” 7 Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 9 “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” 10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’” 11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him. — Matthew 4:1-11
Dear Brothers & Sisters In-Christ:
Some encouragement for all who struggle with temptation-
This year on the first Sunday in Lent, the gospel lesson was the above account of Jesus’ is tempted by the devil. The theme for the readings from the lectionary revolved around how Jesus defeated temptation, how he was strong where we are weak. But diving into this portion of God’s Word, we find that Jesus didn’t just resist temptation. He dominated it. He controlled it. It was always under his control.Take a look at the details surrounding Jesus’ temptation. He fasted 40 days. He was in the desert. He made himself vulnerable so that he could show his power. He is literally saying to the devil, “I can beat you with one hand tied behind my back.” And even in Jesus’ weakened and hungry state, the devil never had a chance. Jesus was tempted under his own terms because Jesus is in controlThen you look at the temptations the devil used against Jesus – first, he hit him where he was vulnerable, his stomach. Having fasted for 40 days, I think we all would have given in and taken a little Satanic sourdough to fill our bellies – but not Jesus. He didn’t even think about it, because if he had he would have already fallen into the tempter’s trap. Jesus simply controlled the temptation by using God’s Word. Jesus is in control.
Then the devil challenged his authority over the angels and his standing as the Son of God, but Jesus again never thought of “showing Satan who’s boss” by diving off the Temple. Instead he showed Satan who’s boss by using God’s Word. Jesus is in control.
Then, the biggest temptation of all. Jesus was in this world to save the world, to win the world back from the devil, and he knew exactly what that would entail. He knew the suffering and death, the torments of hell that he would have to endure to complete his work of paying for our sins – and Jesus wasn’t looking forward to it. We see that in his prayer in Gethsemane on Maundy Thursday evening – when he asked if there was a way that the cup of suffering could be taken from him – then, as he always did, he submitted to God’s will. Jesus knew the suffering he would have to face and he would face it willingly because Jesus is in control.
But here, on that mountain, Jesus is facing temptation to try and win the world in another way – a way that didn’t require the beatings, the floggings, the punches, the thorns in his head, the nails in his hands and feet, the suffocation on the cross, the death of a criminal, hanging naked outside Jerusalem, humiliated – the devil was giving Jesus the easy way out – the way that didn’t require a cross. All he had to do was take a knee. But Jesus resisted – he dominated – he controlled the devil with his command to get away. Jesus told the devil, “That’s it, you’re done. You can’t tempt me anymore because I say so.” Jesus ended his temptation the way he allowed it to begin – under his terms. Jesus, again, is in control.
Jesus’ being in control, even over the devil and all of his temptations is wonderful news for us who realize that all of us deserve hell for our sins for a number of reasons. First, it shows us Jesus’ perfect obedience, never sinning, so that he was able to be our substitute by dying for the sins of the world and paying the price so there is forgiveness for sins. But it also shows us that temptation, his temptation and ours, is under his control. The Bible tells us that we will never be tempted beyond what we can bear. That means whatever sin you struggle with, homosexual or heterosexual sin, hating or hurting people, lying or greed, whatever the sin, you can look to Jesus for strength to resist temptation.
When Christians turn in faith to their Savior, see him dying on the cross, we see victory over the devil – even though on our own we’re weak and unable to resist him. But we have a Savior who dominated the devil for us, and promises that we can dominate too, with his help. That doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy, far from it! We have a world that accepts all kinds of disgusting sin as just part of who we are. We have an idolatrous sinful nature that finds fun in anything as long as it’s not God’s way – that would much rather worship ourselves and our desires than someone dying on a cross. We have the devil, who works hardest on us, who knows where we’re vulnerable, who uses anything he can to pull us away from our Savior and when he gets us to sin, leads us to despair – thinking we’re so bad we can’t be forgiven. Not easy at all!
But look at the temptation of Jesus and really put yourself in his place. It wasn’t easy for him either – and during Lent we’re especially reminded of that as we see our Savior paying the price we deserve so we don’t have to pay it – making us able to resist temptation when we turn to him in faith and draw strength from his victory.
So when you feel the devil’s cunning, when you’re tempted – when you feel like it’s too much to bear – when your world seems out of control – turn to Jesus and his Word. Turn to him for strength to resist sinning. Turn to the Word of God, which is the way you grow strong, to chase the devil away like Jesus did. There you find the comfort of forgiveness when you’re weak. And there you find that Jesus, your strong and mighty Savior is on your side, reassuring you always that he – Jesus – is always in control.
In Jesus who gives us strength,
Pastor Daniel Babinec
Rev Daniel (Dan) Babinec
Pastor, St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church (WELS) Woodland, Wisconsin
Pastor, Zum Kripplein Christi (WELS) Iron Ridge, Wisconsin