The First Sunday in Lent – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Matthew 4:1-11
In Christ Jesus, whose every thought, every word, and every action, were focused on your salvation, dear fellow redeemed:
His hair still dripping from His baptism, Jesus came out of the water. At that moment the heavens opened, and the Holy Spirit came down in the form of a dove and rested on Him. Then the voice of the Father rang out of the heavens, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Mat. 3:16-17). It was an impressive beginning, a fitting inauguration for the God incarnate, the only Son of the Father who came to save the world.
What would happen next? Not what we expect. “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” The evangelist Mark writes that the Holy Spirit “drove him out into the wilderness” (1:12). So much for the picture of the Spirit as a gentle dove! Why would the Spirit do this to the Son? It was the Father’s will. He had not sent His Son for glory here on earth, but for suffering.
Suffering was possible for Jesus because He was in His state of humiliation. He was not making full use of His divine powers. That meant He could feel weakness and temptation and pain. In today’s account, we see He could experience hunger. He fasted—went without food—for forty days and forty nights, and “He was hungry.” You have perhaps fasted for a day or two because of an illness. But when you recover, you feel a gnawing hunger. Your stomach is ready to be filled again!
Jesus went without eating for forty days. This is humanly possible and has been done by others, but it is not easy. As His fast extended, Jesus would have increasingly felt dull and weak. This helps us understand how the devil’s temptations were real trials for Jesus. The devil used Jesus’ hunger to attack His mission and His Person. “So You are the ‘beloved Son’ of the Father, are You? And He claims to be ‘well pleased’ with You, doesn’t He? That’s interesting because He doesn’t seem to care much about You right now. Here You are, all alone, hungry. If You are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”
There is something reasonable about this. The devil is an expert at making wrong things seem reasonable. If Jesus is God, why shouldn’t He make some food for Himself? Why should His suffering have to continue? But the Spirit did not drive Jesus into the wilderness for rest and relaxation. It was to prepare Him for the hard work He came to do, the work of redeeming the world from sin and death. If it was the Father’s will that Jesus should be hungry, then He would be hungry. Quoting from the book of Deuteronomy, Jesus said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”
“Oh, so You want to cite the Scriptures, do You,” thought the devil. “I can do that too! 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.’ Then the Father will prove His love for You! Then You can know this suffering isn’t for nothing!” Again Jesus replied with Scripture, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.” God’s love for us is clear in His Word. He does not need to prove it on our terms, or bail us out if we do something foolish.
Then the devil got right to the heart of the matter. “So You’ve come here to reign, have You? All the kingdoms of the world and their glory are at my fingertips. They can all be Yours! All these I will give You, if You will fall down and worship me. No need to struggle, no need to be hungry, no need to suffer!” Jesus, even in His weakened state, had heard enough. “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve.’” Forty days into a fast, out in the wilderness, terrible anguish and affliction looming in front of Him, and Jesus said: “I choose suffering.”
Only He could have done this. You and I don’t have the will or the strength. It isn’t that we always choose the easy path. There are plenty of examples of people choosing the hard road. A soldier exposes himself to enemy fire to save his friend. A wife cares for her ailing husband or a husband for his ailing wife. An employee stands up to an unethical boss. A young man or a young woman says “no” even when they know they will be ridiculed for it.
But none of us would make the choice Jesus did. He chose intense suffering, the fires of hell, and death for the very people who sinned against Him. Many of them were glad to see Him die. Even while He hung on the cross, they mocked Him. St. Paul writes that “one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:7-8). Paul goes on to say that we were all Jesus’ enemies; we were all against Him by nature (v. 10). And He suffered and died for us.
If we saw a future like that laid out before us, we wouldn’t go another step forward. We would turn the stones into bread. We would throw ourselves down from the temple. We would bow to the devil. We would do what was in our own best interest, and our track record proves it.
Often we have chosen to feed our hunger for the things of this life—more things, nicer things, newer things—all of them things that are temporary and will pass away. We have “put God to the test” by throwing ourselves into one sinful situation after another. We knew what we were doing was wrong, but we did it anyway. And we have bowed down to the devil by valuing glory in the world more than grace in the Word, by caring about the future of our own making more than the blessings prepared for us by our heavenly Father. When we should have said, “Be gone, Satan!” we said, “I like what I’m hearing. Stick around a while. Tell me more!”
It was because of our sin that Jesus fasted for forty days in the wilderness. It was a full forty days of fasting before the forty days of feasting after His resurrection. Forty comes up many times in the Bible. At the time of Noah, rain fell for forty days and forty nights to cleanse the world of its wickedness. Moses went without food and water for forty days and forty nights while he received the holy Law from God. The Israelites wandered for forty years in the wilderness until all those who rebelled against God had died.
Jesus fasted for forty days and forty nights because of your hunger for worldly things. He wanted to do for you what you had neither the desire nor the ability to do for yourself. He chose to deny His own physical needs and “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (Mat. 6:33), so that you would receive the treasures of heaven that will last forever. He chose to do His Father’s will and endure hardship and pain, so that you would become the Father’s own dear child and an heir of everlasting life. He chose to be a humble servant and to give Himself as a sacrifice, so that you would reign with Him at the right hand of the Father and enjoy eternal glory.
Jesus did not choose the easy way out. He chose the path of suffering in order to save you. Jesus saw hunger, torment, and pain in His future. But He also saw you. He saw you, lost, helpless, hopeless. He saw you covered in your sins, spiritually starving, dying. And He loved you. “I will give My life for yours,” He said. “I will pay for your sins. I will take your punishment. I will suffer your hell. I will die your death.”
And nothing could steer Him from this path. Nothing that the devil tried succeeded. No temptation overcame Him. In every respect He was tempted as we are, but He did not sin (Heb. 4:15). To fail was to lose you and all sinners. So Jesus would not fail. He would not lose you.
He still fights for you, even now. He fights for you by coming to you in His Word and Sacraments. He comes to chase away the devil when you have gotten comfortable having him around. He comes to strengthen you for the temptations and trials ahead which would be too much for you. And He comes to comfort you for the hardships you have experienced and the pain you have endured as a Christian living in a fallen world.
Jesus will not forsake you. He suffered and died for you, and now He lives for you. He is with you in the wilderness as you wander through this world. He feeds you with His own body and blood. He bears you up in His arms of providence and power. And He lifts your eyes to the joys to come, the joys of heaven where sorrow and suffering will be no more.
Jesus remained faithful to His mission. He followed His Father’s will. The devil did not win. “[F]or the joy that was set before him [he] endured the cross, despising the shame” (Heb. 12:2). He gladly fasted, endured affliction, and died in order to redeem you. Jesus Chose Suffering for You, to save you.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.
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(picture from “The Temptation of Christ by the Devil” by Félix Joseph Barrias, 1822-1907)
The Ninth Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: 1 Corinthians 10:6-13
In Christ Jesus, whose faithfulness does not depend on our good behavior, but on His perfect love toward us, dear fellow redeemed:
The Bible is a big book. If you have been following the two-year Bible reading plan since the year began, you are only about a quarter of the way through it. But that is to be expected of a collection of writings that covers thousands and thousands of years of human history. As much as we have in the Bible, just think how much has been left out! What we have in the Bible is what God wanted us to have, no more and no less. We can assume that every part, every detail, has a purpose, even those details that may seem unimportant or even tedious.
The apostle Paul highlights this in his First Letter to the Corinthians. He wrote about the Israelites and their experiences after leaving Egypt and setting off for the Promised Land. He recounted God’s faithfulness to them and their rejection of Him (10:1-5). Then Paul wrote that the Old Testament is more than a record of history; “these things took place as examples for us,” he said. These events were just a few among many. But they were specifically recorded for our benefit. As Paul states, “Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction.”
The first example of Israel’s sinfulness that Paul raised was how the Israelites “desired evil,” or “craved evil things.” It wasn’t long after they had been freed from slavery that the Israelites complained and thought they would be better off in Egypt than in the wilderness (Exo. 14:12). Later on they despised the food God miraculously provided them and said, “Oh that we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic” (Num. 11:4-5). The Israelites desired what they did not have and despised what they did.
This covetous thinking was idolatry. “Idolatry” is a heavy word. When you hear that word, you might picture people worshiping idols of wood or silver or gold. Paul refers to the time when the Israelites made and worshiped a golden calf. He quotes the Old Testament book of Exodus where it describes their feasting and celebrating before this false god: “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play” (32:6). But how could they worship a metal calf? You and I cannot imagine doing that.
We may not do that, but we certainly have idols. Idolatry is placing one’s fear, love, or trust in anything above the true God. In his Large Catechism, Martin Luther said that “whatever you set your heart on and put your trust in is truly your god.” What idols do you have or are you tempted to have? A way to identify them is to ask yourself what you cannot bear the thought of losing. Is it your house or your possessions? Could you live without access to the internet? Has another person become your idol? Or is it perhaps yourself? Could it be maintaining good health or pursuing your own plans that you elevate above all else? Idolatry is not just a thing of the past or a weakness of more “primitive” cultures. It is found everywhere.
Idolatry often forms in the thoughts and imaginations of an individual’s heart. But it can also catch on within a community. Think about the golden calf incident. I can’t imagine that every individual simultaneously had the idea to worship an animal statue. Rather this person followed the lead of that person who followed the lead of that person and so on. Maybe they thought to themselves: “If she’s taking part, it must be alright.” “Everybody’s doing it, so who am I to say no?” “If it’s okay with him, it’s okay with me.”
Paul provides another example of this when he refers to the unbelieving women of Moab enticing the Israelites to join them in their worship of Baal. This worship involved ritual prostitution (Num. 25). Paul plainly states the sin and its result: “We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day.” It is difficult to go against the crowd, especially when the sin looks so appealing, or when it does not seem all that serious. Today we are tempted to go along with or look the other way regarding things like pornography use, living together outside of marriage, or any other sexual sin that the unbelieving world embraces but the holy God condemns.
Finally Paul mentions two other times when the Israelites grumbled and complained against God and His servant Moses (Num. 21 & 14 or 16). They trusted their own wisdom about things and were destroyed for this idolatry. These events “were written down for our instruction.” They are a warning to us, both of how we are tempted to sin and how God punishes sin.
As we consider these examples, it would be a mistake for us to think we are nothing like those Israelites. We want to believe we could not fall like they did. But by nature, we are no different than they were. Today’s text exposes the idolatry of our own hearts. It speaks to our prideful thinking that we are more faithful than others are, that we can keep ourselves from serious sins, that we could withstand any temptation. Paul writes, “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.”
Then he adds, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man.” The temptations that have overtaken you and me were not monumental, unique temptations that barely got the better of us. They were “common” temptations, ones that have ensnared many people before us and will ensnare many after us. Paul is saying that if you cannot even hold the line against these common temptations, how could you think you would fare differently than the Israelites did?
But as we are confronted with our idolatry, with our sin against the mighty God, Paul also reminds us of this: “God Is Faithful.” Perfect faithfulness is one of the special attributes of God. The Bible is full of references to His faithfulness. The LORD used this word to describe Himself as He passed before Moses on the mountain. He called Himself “a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Exo. 34:6).
But it’s one thing to say and another to do. God demonstrated His faithfulness by keeping His promise to send a Savior for the world of sinners. Even when the Israelites had rejected Him and turned away to other gods, His promise to them and all people remained in effect. He would send His only Son to suffer and die for all sin. If there were any questions about God’s faithfulness, those were removed when the Son of God became Man in the virgin Mary’s womb. He came to show how long and high and deep God’s love for mankind truly is.
God’s faithfulness to His promise meant that Jesus had to be punished for the Israelites’ sins and for our sins. Jesus perfectly loved and honored His heavenly Father, and yet God punished Him for our idolatry, for our setting our hearts on the things of this world. Jesus remained perfectly pure in His actions, words, and thoughts, and yet He endured the judgment of God for our sexual misdeeds. Jesus never complained about the work He was given to do, and yet He was accused for our reluctance and resentment to do what He has called us to do.
Jesus stood in for us and took our punishment because He was perfectly faithful to His Father. He would not let Himself be sidetracked. He would not put His own well-being before ours. He eagerly obeyed His Father’s commands, so that we would be covered in His righteousness. And He willingly went to the cross, so that we would be forgiven of all our sins.
But if God is so faithful to forgive our sins, why didn’t He do the same for the Israelites? Why were they destroyed? Each time the Israelites sinned against God in those grievous ways, He called them to repent. Some of them did and were spared. Others defied the holy God and were condemned. The same goes for us. If we continue in our sins and ignore God’s Word, we will face His wrath. So we pray that He humbles us through the Law, so that we repent of our sins. And we trust His faithful promise that all our sins were blotted out by the precious blood of Jesus.
“God Is Faithful.” This means that “He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation He will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” Some mistakenly understand this as saying that “God will not give you more than you can handle.” But that puts the focus more on your inner strength, on your effort, than on God’s faithfulness. Paul is not telling you here that “God will not give you more than you can handle.” (You probably have more than you can handle every single day!)
The inspired words of Paul comfort you with the assurance that “God will not give you more than He can handle.” Isn’t that what the text says? “He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability… He will provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” God provides the way out. He gets you past the temptations. He is the one who guards and keeps you, so the devil, the world, and your own flesh do not get the better of you. And when you do fall, He is faithful to call you back to Him through His Word to be cleansed by His holy blood and covered again in His righteousness.
In a letter to a fellow pastor, Paul reminded him that “if we are faithless, [God] remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself” (2Ti. 2:13). This is your God, the true God, the God who is and ever will be faithful to His gracious promises toward you.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.
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(picture from “The Golden Calf” by James Tissot, 1836-1902)
The First Sunday in Lent – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: 2 Corinthians 6:1-10
In Christ Jesus, who guards and keeps us so that the devil, the world, and our own flesh may not overcome us, but so that we may overcome them by His grace and retain the victory, dear fellow redeemed:
One of the most common pieces of advice we hear and have probably offered many times is this: “God will not give you more than you can handle.” So a person might get fired from his job and have no idea how he will pay this month’s bills, and someone says, “God will not give you more than you can handle.” A friend is diagnosed with an aggressive cancer: “God will not give you more than you can handle.” Someone is carrying heavy burdens and is feeling completely overwhelmed: “God will not give you more than you can handle.”
The problem with this statement is that it is not exactly what the Bible tells us, and it may not provide the comfort we intend. We derive the statement from St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians where he writes, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (10:13). So what Paul says here: “[God] will not let you be tempted beyond your ability,” is expressed as: “God will not give you more than you can handle.” But those two statements are not exactly the same.
Paul specifically refers to times of temptation, times when the devil tries to use our sinful weakness to pull us away from Jesus. Paul talked about the various ways the Israelites had given in to temptation: through idolatry, sexual immorality, discontentment and disbelief. He said that these things were recorded in the Old Testament “for our instruction” (10:11). We are to look at the example of the Israelites and recognize that they did not have to sin; they did not have to give in to temptation. The LORD provided them a way out every time they were faced with these tests.
We are faced with the same sorts of temptations. The devil knows our weaknesses; he knows where we are vulnerable. He knows how to use others to entice us to sin. They assure us that going against what God says will make us happier. They offer friendship and empty promises, but they will not be there when the money is gone or the so-called “good times” have ended. The devil also uses others to provoke us to sin. Their constant bullying and abuse causes us to lash out with violent words or actions and to wish for them to fail in every way. And the devil uses our own sinful flesh to tempt us through things like laziness, lust, greed, selfishness, and pride to set aside love for God and for our neighbors.
In every temptation the devil’s aim is to keep our focus on ourselves and not on God or His Word. This is how he tried to tempt Jesus, as we heard in the Holy Gospel for today (Mat. 4:1-11). Jesus had just been baptized by John in the Jordan River. Then the Holy Spirit sent Him into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. There Jesus fasted, He went without food, for forty days and forty nights, which is why we set aside forty days for Lent. After those forty days, the devil came and tempted Him to follow His own will: “Turn stones into bread to feed Yourself!” he said. “Jump off the temple to show who You are!” “Enjoy everything the world has to offer!” But Jesus resisted these temptations. He did not seek self-gratification and pleasure. He came to suffer and bear the cross for the salvation of sinners.
The devil left Him at that time, but he would be back. The devil does not give up. He tempted Jesus all through His state of humiliation until Jesus descended into hell to proclaim His victory and rose again from the dead. When Jesus urges us to resist temptation and bear our cross after Him, He speaks as one who fully understands the troubles we face. The author of the book of Hebrews writes that Jesus can sympathize with us because He “in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (4:15).
The apostles kept their focus on Jesus’ Word and His example as they faced temptation and endured great suffering for preaching the Gospel. Paul listed “afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger.” All of these were opportunities for the devil to tempt them: “Is it really worth it to suffer like this? Why would the God who you think loves you let this happen to you? Look at what little progress you make! Your best efforts have been wasted! You are a nobody!”
I am sure these thoughts entered their minds because they come into ours too. The devil tempts us in the same ways. When things are going badly in our lives, he wants us to think God has abandoned us. He wants us to think that all the good things we have tried to do were a waste of time. Nobody appreciates us. Nobody cares. Nobody would really notice if we weren’t here. These temptations can be severe, shaking us to our core and dropping us to our knees. Jesus suffered like this too, but He did not reject His Father’s will. He carried on in faith, and He promises to help you do the same. “For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted” (Heb. 2:18).
Jesus Gives Grace in Every Temptation. He “provide[s] the way of escape.” And what is that way? It is the way of the cross. Jesus did not avoid suffering; He did not try to go around it. He went through it all the way to His death. He suffered, but His suffering was not pointless. It was not wasted. His suffering secured your salvation. The verse before today’s reading says, “For our sake [God] made [Christ] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2Co. 5:21). Jesus took on your sin, all the times you have given into temptation and broken God’s Commandments, and He gave you His righteousness, His flawless record, His perfect life.
His grace toward you is the reason Paul writes, “Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” Jesus loves you today just as He loved you yesterday and just as He will love you tomorrow. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb. 13:8). Even though you have not always patiently endured temptation, even though you have sinned, your Savior has not changed His mind about you. He does not regret suffering and dying in your place or joining you to Himself in Holy Baptism. He is glad to have you eat His body and drink His blood in His Holy Supper. You are precious to Him. You are not a nobody.
This grace strengthened Paul and his fellow co-workers to take up their crosses and do the work the Lord had given them to do even if it meant suffering. This grace so encouraged and comforted Paul that he hardly seemed to notice the trouble. “We are treated as impostors, and yet are true,” he said; “as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.” Those are not the words of someone whom the devil has overcome. Those are the words of one who lived in and by God’s grace alone.
The problem with “God will not give you more than you can handle,” is that it could make someone think he has to handle the problem, he has to draw on his own strength. The reality is that there is really nothing we can handle on our own. We are weak. We certainly cannot and will not prevail if we stand alone against the devil and the world. Our ability to “handle” the temptations and suffering that come our way is only by the grace of Jesus. He must come and fight for us. He must save us.
This is what He does through His Word and Sacraments. He comes to “provide the way of escape” from our temptations. He comes to carry us through our suffering. He comes to bestow His grace, so that we are kept in the saving faith through the troubles of this life and finally enter His glory.
“[W]e appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain,” writes Paul. Don’t think you have to “handle” everything on your own. Don’t let the devil convince you that you are all by yourself. Rather lean on your fellow Christians whom He has given for your encouragement and consolation. And most of all rely on His unchanging grace, His great love for you, which will carry you through every distress, every affliction, and every pain. Then with Paul you can say that by the grace of God, though dying, you live; though sorrowful, you rejoice; though having nothing, yet you possess everything.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.
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(painting is “The Temptation of Christ by the Devil” by Félix Joseph Barrias, 1822-1907)
Festival of St. Michael and All Angels – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Matthew 18:1-10
In Christ Jesus, whom the holy angels gladly serve and obey, dear fellow redeemed:
If you could be an angel for a day, how would you spend your time? I’m guessing you would want to fly around a bit, testing your wings, maybe visiting some interesting places around the world. Of course you would want to have a good look at heaven and take in all the sights and sounds. Maybe you would even go to a place of major conflict to work on putting a stop to the fighting. You and I would want to do big things, things that were fulfilling to ourselves or helpful to a good many others.
But none of this describes the chief responsibilities of the holy angels. They are not interested in pursuing things that are personally fulfilling. They are content to take direction from God and carry out His will. They don’t spend their time sight-seeing; they spend their time serving—including service to the least in the world. They are perfectly devoted to the Almighty God who gave them life.
They are exactly opposite from the fallen angels—the devil and his fellow demons. These fallen angels were proud. They did not want to serve at God’s command. They did not want to worship Him alone. They wanted to be gods. They wanted all creation to bow to them. So they rebelled against their Creator. They led a revolt in heaven, which we heard about in today’s Epistle lesson (Rev. 12:7-12). They lost this battle and were thrown out of heaven. But they still operate on earth.
How exactly do they pursue their wicked agendas on earth? When we compare our day with the New Testament, it seems like the demons were much more active back then. We don’t observe obvious cases of demon-possession today like what we read about. But the demons haven’t given up. They aren’t taking a break. They are still active, most often in ways we don’t perceive.
When we face situations where we are tempted to sin, there is no doubt the demons are involved in it. They want us to put our own desires first and to rebel against God like they did. You know how intense these temptations can be. You are tempted to do something that you know you should not do. You are tempted to look at something that is not for you to see. You are tempted to repeat something about someone else that you know is unverified or unkind. You are powerfully pulled in the direction of the sin. You try to resist, but the desire grows more and more intense.
The devil and demons put the thought into your head that carrying out the sin is the only way to resolve the desire. They try to convince you that you can stay in control of the sin. “No one will find out,” you think. “It isn’t really that bad. Everybody does it.” But there is no excuse for sin. You and I do not have to sin. The demons cannot make us sin. They can only tempt us. The sin comes from our own hearts. Even those who are demon-possessed cannot say that the devil made them do bad things, because they are the ones who let the devil in in the first place.
Jesus warns us in today’s text about temptations to sin. He says that temptations will come. The world is sinful, and we are sinners. All of us have fallen for temptations many times. But we must not become comfortable with sinning. We must not let down our guard. Getting comfortable with sin has led many children of God to abandon the faith. They choose the pleasures of the world over the promises of God’s Word.
But Jesus says that it would be better to lose a hand or foot or eye in this life if they lead us to sin, than to enter hell with all members intact. We must fight these temptations to sin. And we stay vigilant and watchful not only about things that may tempt us, but also what may tempt those in our care.
This is particularly important for parents and grandparents to understand. Children are not aware of their vulnerability or of how hard the demons are working to destroy their faith. Children are trusting, and they may be tempted to trust the wrong people. They desperately want to be accepted and fit in, so they may spend time in bad company. It is a gross shirking of responsibility when parents or guardians let children decide who to hang out with or how to spend their time.
Besides peers who exert a bad influence on your kids, how else do you suppose the devil and demons try to tempt them? What would your children or grandchildren do every waking moment at home if you let them? That’s right, they would use a smartphone or other digital device like it was glued to the palm of their hand. If you want to know where the demons are most active today—and not just against the youth—look no further than the endless temptations to sin online.
If you were a fish, you could find some good food on the internet, but you would also find millions of worms dangling off shiny, sharp hooks. Those are the temptations to sin. You can find pleasure online. You can find material to fuel your hatred, your worries, and your doubts. You can find distractions, which do not seem bad in and of themselves, but which keep you from your Christian callings. If you have spent any time online, you know this from personal experience. It is shocking how easy it is to find bad things you weren’t even looking for in the first place.
But as active as the demons are in trying to destroy our faith, our reputation, and our very life, the holy angels are active too. If the holy angels were not fighting on our behalf, we would already be ruined. The devil and the demons would certainly overcome us.
This is clear from the account of Job. Job was a believer who was richly blessed by the LORD. When God and Satan conversed about Job, Satan said that Job had prospered only because the LORD had “put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has,” and “blessed the work of his hands” (Job 1:10). So the LORD gave Satan permission to attack everything Job had. In a matter of hours, all of Job’s oxen, donkeys, sheep, and camels were either stolen away or destroyed, and his ten children died. That’s how quickly the good things we have would be taken away from us if God did not send His angels to protect us.
It is a remarkable thing that the mighty angels so willingly serve us lowly sinners. It is not because they have decided we are worth the time and effort. It is because they honor God and want to obey His will. And it is God’s will that these “ministering spirits” should serve “those who are to inherit salvation” (Heb. 1:14). The humble angels do just that. They encamp around those who fear Him (Psa. 34:7). They guard them in all their ways (Psa. 91:11). They turn back the constant assaults of the devil. They never grow tired of serving. They never take a break. They watch over us day and night.
Jesus says the angels are devoted to us because they are devoted to God. He says that the little children’s angels “always see the face of My Father who is in heaven.” This means that whatever the angels do for us, they do because God directs them to do it. Their protection of us is His protection. Their care is His care. This is why we don’t pray to the angels. They don’t need or expect our thanks. All the glory is God’s.
Some people think that their loved ones who die become angels and watch over them. But that is not the case. The souls of believers go straight to heaven. God does not send them to help their loved ones. He sends the holy angels. Like the angels who look to God, we should too, so that we are not led away from what the Lord says in His Word.
When we have ignored the Word and given into temptation, it is not because the angels failed to do their job. God chastens His children when they sin, so that they are humbled and return to Him. He may let the devil do some damage, so that we become aware of our pride and repent. And when we repent, Jesus tells us that there is great joy in heaven, “joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luk. 15:10).
The angels rejoice because they know there is forgiveness for sin. They know what God did for mankind. He took on our flesh, so that He could be our Substitute. He suffered and died, so that every temptation into which we had fallen—every sin we had committed—would be blotted out.
That includes your sins and mine—sins committed in the public eye, and sins committed in the privacy of our homes. Jesus died for sins of the past that burden you and trouble your conscience even now. You can be freed from the guilt of those sins. Repent of them and believe Jesus’ word of absolution. He paid for that sin too. He forgives all your sins.
There is nothing you have done that the angels assigned to you have not witnessed. They have seen it all. But they are not ashamed or reluctant to serve you because of your sins. God loves you, so they do too. They marvel at God’s love for sinners. They rejoice that He is such a good and merciful Lord, and they want nothing more than for each of us to join them in God’s glorious kingdom.
This is why the Lord sends them to us. He wants the angels to do their part in humble service to Him, so we are not tempted away from the faith, but so that we retain a childlike faith in Him our Savior.
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(woodcut by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld, 1794-1872)
The First Sunday in Lent – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Matthew 4:1-11
In Christ Jesus, who bore the dreadful curse of sin and death to save our souls, dear fellow redeemed:
What if there was a way for your dreams to come true, even the ones you could never imagine happening? What if you could go wherever you wanted, have whatever you imagined, and do whatever you liked? You could have a mansion by the ocean filled with all sorts of good things. You could become a stronger and better athlete than everyone else. You could become a famous actor or singer. You could be established as the leading intellectual authority in every academic discipline. You could be a world leader—maybe even the world’s king. Imagine what fun you could have, and what good you could do!
But suppose you didn’t have a fairy godmother to grant your wish like Cinderella did, or come across a magic lamp like the one Aladdin found. What if you could have anything you wanted, but you had to give up something to get it? What would you give up to see your dreams fulfilled? There are some—perhaps many—who would take this deal. They would give up just about anything to see their dreams fulfilled. But what about their soul? Would they wager their eternal soul for a lifetime of success and pleasure?
There are reportedly some who have done this. Legend tells of people who rose to prominence because they “made a deal with the devil.” The most famous story involves a man named Faust, who supposedly lived in Germany around the time of Martin Luther. Faust grew tired of being a nobody, so he offered his soul to the devil in exchange for great knowledge and power. More recent examples involve virtuoso musicians, who were rumored to have “sold their soul” for unparalleled musical abilities.
Setting aside the factualness of these accounts, they do highlight certain truths. First, they show how the sinful nature works. If we want something bad enough, we will stop at almost nothing to get it. Second, these legends underscore how the devil and demons are constantly tempting us to sin. They will promise the world if only they can draw us away from Christ and possess our souls.
Their malicious work among men started with our first parents, the crown of God’s creation. After failing in his attempt to overthrow God, the devil set his sights on Eve. He slithered over to her and told her she could have more and better. “[Y]ou will be like God,” he said. “All you have to do is eat this fruit” (Gen. 3:5). She did, and gave some to Adam “who was with her” (v. 6). But it was fruit from a tree God told them to stay clear of. In their bid to control their own destiny and obtain something beyond the perfect life they enjoyed, they lost everything.
Why should the devil stop there? If he could tempt the first two people to give up everything for a foolish dream, why couldn’t he continue to turn God’s people against Him? So he tempts us. He tempts us to fulfill every fleshly desire. If we have been blessed with plenty, he tempts us to be prideful about what we have and to think we deserve more. If we are blessed with little, he tempts us to be bitter and discontent and to covet what others have. This is why the Proverb says, “[G]ive me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’ or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God” (Pro. 30:8-9).
The devil also tempts us to recklessness. He wants us to become bored with the responsible life. He wants us to take unnecessary risks, even if they endanger ourselves or others. What matters overall is that he gets each of us to focus on what makes us happy, what we want, what others should do for us. His goal is to get all creatures to reject their Creator, just as he did. He tempts us to believe the lie that we don’t have to answer to anyone, and that we should fear, love, and trust not the one true God, but the god of self.
And the devil has often succeeded. In fact, there is no one here who has not fallen for his temptations. So when he saw the man Jesus head into the wilderness following His baptism, why shouldn’t he have success against Him too? For forty days, Satan tempted Jesus (Mar. 1:13, Luk. 4:2). We do not have record of all those temptations, but no doubt the devil employed his full arsenal. Hebrews 4:15 says that Jesus “in every respect has been tempted as we are.”
What is recorded today appears to be the devil’s last, best effort—at least for the time being. Jesus had now been fasting for forty days and nights, which corresponds to the length of our season of Lent. Think how you would feel after just four days of fasting. You would be weak and probably have a pounding headache. It would be hard to focus—this, after just four days. Jesus fasted for forty.
Seeing His physical weakness, the devil now attacked Jesus’ claim to be God. What sort of God suffers? What sort of God is weak? “If You are the Son of God,” he said. “If You are the Son of God, You shouldn’t be suffering. If You are the Son of God, You shouldn’t be hungry. Why don’t You just turn these stones into bread?” And why shouldn’t He? It was because Jesus had not come to serve Himself but His Father. He later said to His disciples, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work” (Joh. 4:34). So He told the devil, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
This is why God might allow us to hunger at times and to struggle along. It is not to drive us away from Him, but to teach us to trust His Word. Moses explained this to the Israelites after their forty years of wandering in the wilderness. He told them that the LORD “humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD” (Deu. 8:3).
The fact that Jesus quoted from this passage shows that His forty days in the wilderness had something to do with the Israelites’ forty years in the wilderness, and also with our own time of wandering in this world. What the Israelites and we do with doubts and complaining, Jesus did perfectly on our behalf, never succumbing to the devil.
Hearing Jesus quote from the Scriptures, the tempter devised a plan to use God’s Word against Him. He took Jesus to the top of the temple, that place of God’s holy presence, and urged Him to throw Himself into the arms of the angels. After all, hadn’t God said that He would send His angels to protect His people? Again, Jesus quoted words that Moses had spoken to the Israelites: “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test” (Deu. 6:16).
Then the devil tried once more. From a high mountain, he showed Jesus “all the kingdoms of the world and their glory.” “All these I will give You,” he said, “if You will fall down and worship me.” Setting aside the question of whether or not the devil could actually deliver these kingdoms to Jesus, what he was really asking for was Jesus’ soul. But it wasn’t just the soul of Jesus he hoped to gain; it was the souls of everybody.
If Jesus had done this, the devil would have won. He would have unseated God from His throne. He would have made the Creator bow to him, a fallen creature. Then the universe would have a wretched and diabolical overlord instead of a merciful Savior. But your soul is worth more to Jesus than that. Your soul is worth more than all the power and glory the world can offer. Jesus would not be tempted to abort His mission. Speaking once again words that Moses spoke, He said, “You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve” (Deu. 6:13).
So Jesus succeeded against the devil where you and I have so often failed. He did not give in to temptation. He did not compromise His soul. As the last part of Hebrews 4:15 tells us, Jesus “in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” I do not say this just for comparison’s sake, to show that you are a sinner but Jesus was not. I say this for your comfort. Jesus lived a sin-free life for you. He withstood temptation for your sake.
There are many times you have put your soul on the line to pursue what the devil and your sinful nature wanted. The devil had you right where he wanted you. But Jesus took your place in the scales of justice. He set His perfect life against God’s righteous demands, and the scales were balanced. Then He offered up His holy life in payment for your sins. In this way, He redeemed your soul. He bought it with His precious blood, so that you would be joined to Him and not the devil.
If Jesus should think so much of your soul, you should too. No amount of riches, glory, and power in the world is worth the loss of your faith. No “deal with the devil” is worth the cost of your eternal soul. Jesus told His disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or What Shall a Man Give in Return for His Soul?” Let it be your whole purpose to commit your body, soul, and all you have to Jesus, who has already secured for you the eternal glories of heaven.
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(painting is “The Temptation of Christ by the Devil” by Félix Joseph Barrias, 1822-1907)
The First Sunday in Lent – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Matthew 4:1-11
In Christ Jesus, who chose suffering and the cross over glory and ease, so that sinners could be saved, dear fellow redeemed:
127 years ago, Pastor U. V. Koren preached this: “The age we live in is a difficult time for the church. There is a great apostasy. Many teachers are retreating step by step—they give up one truth after another—so it seems nothing will be left except a powerless Law-doctrine. Each person wants to be saved by his own beliefs, if they ask about salvation at all” (U. V. Koren’s Works, Vol. 1, Sermons, p. 130). They are words that are just as fitting today. The situation has not changed. In fact the Church has been suffering and stumbling along ever since Eden, when Adam and Eve gave in to the devil’s temptation.
God’s creation had a good beginning. Everything was peaceful and perfect. But some of the angels decided they did not want to serve the almighty God. Led by the devil, they rebelled against their Creator and were condemned to eternal torment. These fallen angels are called “demons.” Their entire scheme and activity is to promote wickedness and unbelief in the world, so that many people are condemned along with them.
We sadly see the great success they have had, starting with Adam and Eve. But they have not succeeded in overrunning and overturning all that is good. They still have not done—and will never accomplish—what they set out to do, which is to defeat their Creator. “[T]he devil has been sinning from the beginning,” but the Lord would not let this wickedness go unchecked. God the Father sent His Son to take on human flesh, so that He would “destroy the works of the devil” (1Jn. 3:8).
Jesus publicly stepped into the devil’s crosshairs when He was baptized in the Jordan River. It was an impressive beginning to His public work. Immediately after His baptism, “the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased’” (Mt. 3:16-17). How could the devil accomplish anything against the beloved Son of God, who was anointed with the Spirit of God?
But what followed is not what we would expect. Jesus did not embark in the power of the Spirit on a victory tour through the world. He did not immediately subdue the forces of wickedness and cause every knee to bow to Him. He did not make a public spectacle of Satan and bind him in unbreakable chains, so he could do no more harm. Instead, “Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” The evangelist Mark indicates this was no optional journey, writing that the Spirit “drove him out into the wilderness” (1:12).
For forty days and forty nights, Jesus went without food. The amount of time was not a coincidence. It rained for forty days and forty nights when no believers were left on the earth except Noah and his family (Gen. 7:11-16). Moses was on Mount Sinai for forty days and forty nights, during which the LORD engraved His Ten Commandments on two stone tablets. After Moses found the people worshiping a golden calf, he returned to the mountain for another forty days and forty nights to intercede for them. Moses neither ate nor drank while in the LORD’s presence on the mountain (Ex. 24:18, 34:28; Deut. 9:9, 18).
Because the Israelites did not trust God to give them the land He had promised, they were forced to wander in the wilderness for forty years. Their punishment was one year for each of the forty days the spies had seen the goodness of the land of Canaan and rejected it (Num. 14:28-35). Much later, Elijah returned to the area where Moses had received the Commandments of God. Before starting his journey there, an angel gave him food and drink that sustained him for the forty days and forty nights of travel (1Kin. 19:5-8).
In each case, the forty days and forty nights reflected a period of disobedience and sin against God. Jesus now fasted in the wilderness for forty days and forty nights in perfect obedience to His Father’s will. He came to cover in righteousness what the human race had done in sin. No man could go so long without food under his own power, but Jesus was the God-Man. As God, He could go as long as He wanted without food. But as Man in His state of humiliation, He became hungry.
The devil saw an opportunity. “If You are the Son of God,” he said, “command these stones to become loaves of bread.” Why should Jesus deny Himself? If He was hungry, He should eat. It was as though the devil were saying that whatever Jesus was trying to accomplish by fasting in the wilderness, it wasn’t worth it. He could just as well have said that whatever He thought He needed to do on earth in general, that wasn’t worth it either. “Throw yourself down from the temple”—then everyone will know who you are. No need to be patient. No need to wait. “Fall down and worship me”—no need to stick with the plan. No need to suffer for sinners. Jesus, they aren’t worth it!
Satan tempted Jesus with a cross-free life, which is exactly how he tempts us. “Why suffer?” he says. “Why deny yourself? Why miss out? If you desire it, do it. If you want it, take it. Steal that money. Take those drugs. Down that bottle. Eat what you want. Look at those pictures. Jump in that bed. Tell some lies. Blame someone else.” What the devil wants us to do is exactly what the world says we should do. This should come as no surprise. The devil reigns in this kingdom of darkness. He is “the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience” (Eph. 2:2).
But if we acted on all our desires and pursued everything our flesh wanted, this would not lead us to greater joy and contentment, but rather to greater pain and suffering. The idea that a life of self-indulgence, immorality, and worldly pleasure is the best course a person can take is a lie. The world swallows this lie, hook, line, and sinker. This is why no one wants to admit sin anymore, or take responsibility for their own actions, or recognize that how they feel should have no bearing on what they do.
Adam and Eve did not want to take responsibility for their sin either, the very first sin. They wanted to pass the blame. They tried to plead ignorance. They tried to hide. But there was no escaping from the holy God. There was no way that they could justify sinning against God. There is no justification for our sins either. The devil can only tempt us to sin; he cannot make us do it. If you and I have sinned, the responsibility and fault is our own.
But God promised to send a Savior, a Substitute, One who would take responsibility for the irresponsible, who would pay the price for the unworthy. Contrary to the devil’s temptation, Jesus did not take the easy way out. The easy way out—and a just way—would have been to punish sinners for their wrongs in the eternal fires of hell. That is exactly what you and I and all sinners have earned and deserved.
But Jesus chose the way of suffering and the cross to save sinners. He endured immense anguish and agony, so that the wrath of God against sin would be satisfied. He was nailed to the cross, so that your sins would no longer be counted against you. By removing sin, He removed any claim the devil had on you. If the devil accuses you and points out your sin, you can point to Jesus. He paid for your sins with His holy, precious blood. He chose to suffer your death and hell, so you would have His life and heaven.
Your salvation is why Jesus was willing to “go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (Mt. 16:21), as He told His disciples. Peter did not like the sound of that. He took Jesus aside and told Him to stop thinking and talking that way. Then Jesus said to him, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” (v. 23).
The way of God is the way of love and sacrifice and self-denial. This is how Jesus calls His followers to live. “If anyone would come after me,” says Jesus, “let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” If we aim for pleasure and fulfillment in the world, we will join the devil in eternal destruction. But if in humble repentance and faith we follow after Jesus, we will enjoy the eternal victory He won for us.
Satan Tempts with a Cross-Free Life. But Jesus would not hear of it, and neither should you. The way of the world’s glory is meaningless and short-lived. The way of the cross is the way of trouble and difficulty in the world, but it is also the way of life and hope. It is to follow after Jesus, to be blessed by His constant presence and care, and finally to receive from Him the crown of everlasting life.
In this forty day season of Lent, remember that you are not alone in the wilderness of this world. As Luther wrote, Jesus is “by our side upon the plain / With His good gifts and Spirit” (ELH 250, v. 4). He is “with us in the fight” (251, v. 4), and He will not let the devil overcome any who trust in Him. Jesus would not give up His mission no matter how the devil tempted Him, and He will not give up on you, for whom He willingly took up His cross, died, and rose again.
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(picture from a woodcut by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld, 1794-1872)
The First Sunday in Lent – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Matthew 4:1-11
In Christ Jesus, who knows how perplexed we are by the devil’s temptations and faithfully defends us, dear fellow redeemed:
The devil excels at the use of trickery and half-truth. Notice how he engaged Eve in the Garden of Eden. He opened the conversation by attributing a statement to God that He never said. The devil asked in a manner dripping with sweet innocence, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” Eve took the bait. She had to set the record straight. “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” And then the devil did what he does so well. He planted doubt in Eve’s mind. He said, “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.”
Nothing more needed to be said. The serpent had accomplished what he set out to do. Eve thought the fruit looked tasty, and she certainly did not want to miss out on this mysterious knowledge that the devil talked about. She ate some fruit and offered it to Adam who gladly followed his wife’s lead. Then the Bible says that “the eyes of both were opened.” What the devil said had come true, but not how they expected. They now knew the difference between good and evil firsthand, but they had become nothing like God. In fact they had moved further away from Him. Before their sin, they enjoyed the perfect image of God. They had true knowledge of Him and perfect righteousness. But that was now lost. Oh they learned the difference between good and evil alright. They had been good, and now they were evil (see Gen. 3).
Satan had succeeded in his quest to drag the world into his darkness. He had gotten the very crown of God’s creation—man and woman—to deny their Creator. And that was just the beginning, the start of his terrible work. He has sown the seeds of evil in every generation and in every heart. No one has successfully withstood his temptations. All have fallen for his lies and sinned against God—all except for One. But why shouldn’t the devil have success with Him too?
Jesus did not look like the God who told the devil he was cursed to slither along on his belly and eat dust for the rest of his existence (Gen. 3:14). Jesus looked weak. He looked hungry—Ah, there’s the opening! “If You are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” And what would be the harm in it? Jesus was hungry, His body needed nourishment, and He certainly was God, so why not turn stones into bread? But Jesus had absolutely no obligation to indulge the devil’s request. The devil did not actually want Him to eat; he wanted Him to doubt the love of His Father. Because if Jesus was God’s Son, then why was He suffering there in the wilderness?
Jesus did not take the bait. He quoted the Word of His Father, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” The Word was primary. If Jesus could go forty days without bread, He could go still longer. We do not pass that test as well as Jesus. We know His promise that if we “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness,” then He will surely provide for our earthly needs as well (Mt. 6:33). But the devil so often turns that around in our minds. He wants us to judge God’s faithfulness by how successful and happy we are in this life.
If we are suffering with a lack of food or other necessities and having trouble paying bills, Satan wants us to think that God must be punishing us or does not really care about us. On the other hand, if we are doing well and have all that we need, he tells us that we are just fine on our own; we don’t really need God. Whatever the devil can do to keep us away from the Word of God, he will do. He knows how powerful the Word is. It is the sole reason why he cannot claim the entire human race as his own. He wants everyone to live eternally with him in hell, but the Word brings sinners forgiveness and life.
Of course, the devil is willing to utilize even the Word if it suits his diabolical purposes. After Jesus silenced his first temptation by quoting Scripture, Satan thought he could see another opening. Taking Jesus to the top of the temple of Jerusalem, the holy dwelling place of God, he said, “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.’” These words do come from the Bible, from Psalm 91:11-12, but there is a problem with the way the devil used them.
He conveniently left out the last part of verse 11, which says, “For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.” He did this because he knew “in all your ways” does not include every sinful and reckless thing we do. God does not promise to protect us no matter what. If I climb up to the top of the steeple of this church and then jump off, I have no promise from God that He will keep me from severe injuries. This would be a foolish thing for me to do. It would be a sin against the Fifth Commandment, which tells us not to harm one another or ourselves. God does promise to send His angels to protect us when we walk in the ways He has commanded. But when we deliberately go against His will, then Jesus’ response applies to us as much as it did to Satan, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.”
The devil also tempted Jesus with fame, fortune, and power. He had successfully enticed many, many people to chase after these things, so why wouldn’t it also be effective on Jesus? But Jesus brought his temptations to a close by saying, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve.’”
Our encounters with the devil do not play out like the Lord’s encounter with him. We might stay strong for awhile, but Satan keeps chipping away at us. He bides his time. He does not mind waiting. He gently nudges and pulls us away from the Word. He points us toward other things that promise pleasure, but are never what they seem (ELH 182, v. 1). He prepares unique temptations for everyone. He might tempt the lonely with the comfort of the bottle, the discontented spouse with the arms of another, the greedy with riches, and the proud with an uncharitable and judgmental attitude.
No one has to give in to these temptations. “The devil made me do it,” is not a valid excuse for sin. The devil cannot make you do anything. He can be sent packing, as Jesus shows us. But we do not have the power to stand up to him on our own. He is an expert tempter with thousands of years of experience. By comparison, we are novice Christians. But we have something on our side that Satan does not have. We have Jesus. He is not one “who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15). He knows firsthand what the devil is capable of. He also knows his limitations.
Jesus knew what was waiting for Him those forty days in the wilderness. He knew He would face every manner of difficulty and experience every sort of suffering. He knew that the devil would seek to tempt Him from the truth, because “he is a liar and the father of lies” (Jn. 8:44). This is the way it had to be if sinners would be saved. There was no other hope for mankind. Jesus was the One promised by God immediately after Adam and Eve’s fall. The LORD told the serpent, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Gen. 3:15). The eternal Son of God was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary so that He could free the world from Satan’s death grip.
Hebrews 2:14-15 says, “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.” Jesus’ sights were set on ruining the devil’s plans once and for all. The Apostle John writes that “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (1Jn. 3:8). Satan has power, but it is limited. He wilts in the presence of Jesus. He can do nothing against Him. This is because Jesus conquered the devil’s two greatest allies. He paid down the debt of sin by His death on the cross, and He defeated death itself by His resurrection on the third day.
How can the devil threaten you if the LORD no longer counts your sin against you, and if your death no longer has staying power? Satan can do you no harm as long as you remain in Christ by faith. Jesus is your Refuge. He is the Savior from your sins, the Healer of your wounds, the Strength in your weakness, and the Hope in your difficulties. In Him, you have immunity from the devil’s accusations, and freedom from sin and death. He also sends His angels to protect you from the devil’s schemes.
Whenever you do fall for Satan’s temptations, the LORD reaches out to you with compassion, and He cleanses you of your sins. As focused as He was on winning your salvation, He is just as focused at keeping you in the saving faith. He Will “Guard You in All Your Ways.” Therefore, “Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him, and he will act” (Ps. 37:5). He will protect you, and He will see you through your trials.
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