3/6/22 – Invocabit (First Sunday in Lent) – “Spiritual Warfare and Temptations” – Matthew 4:1-11

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

1. When I was a boy, there was something about heroes that always enamored me. Not superheroes—I’ve never cared much for superheroes. I don’t have any superpowers. I was just an ordinary boy who related better to “ordinary” characters. I preferred a movie like the Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, where Aragorn leads an army of men to fight Sauron’s army at the Black Gate against all the odds. They knew that they were all probably going to die, but they bravely fought anyway. I preferred a movie like Star Trek: Nemesis, where Commander Data bravely sacrificed himself to save Captain Picard and the crew of the Enterprise. I also loved the stories like that of Davy Crockett, who lead an army of men to defend the Alamo, where they would eventually die. I don’t know precisely how to articulate what it is about these sorts of stories that enamored me so much. There’s something that is hard-wired into me that loves these stories and that has caused me to dream about being a hero from a young age. I think this same thing is hard-wired into all men and boys. God has given men the innate desire to be a leader and provider, to stand up and fight against the odds because it’s the right thing to do.

2. Most of you ladies probably will never fully understand this, but I think this is why so many men and boys love the story of David and Goliath. We love the story of little David standing up to big Goliath and defeating him against all of the odds. David is the kind of hero that most men and boys have always dreamed of being. Most people think that this story is meant to encourage us to “be the hero” in our lives. There are two problems with that. First, if you’ve ever tried “being the hero” by standing up to a bully or doing the right thing against the odds, I suspect it didn’t turn out well. The desire of men and boys to be a hero is God-given. It is good, so long as it is used properly. There is a time and a place to stand up for what is right and “be the hero.” Just remember that the hero doesn’t always come out on top. This leads to the second problem. Even if David is the hero of the story, which is a debatable point—it’s the Lord who provides him the victory. Even if David is the hero of the story, the point of this story is not to encourage young boys to “stand up against the giants of their lives”. The point is that the Lord has defeated the archenemy of his people. David stands as a type of Christ, who as we know, defeated the archenemy of God’s people for us. The real point of the David and Goliath story is to show Christians that Christ alone is our hero.

3. This is particularly true in matters of spiritual warfare, as we see in our Gospel Reading where we read of the temptation of Jesus from Matthew 4. The text begins: At that time, Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil (Matthew 4:1). Notice that it is God’s will that Jesus goes to the wilderness, and it’s also God’s will that he be tempted there. It’s not like Jesus was just wandering around when all of the sudden the devil showed up out of no where. Jesus was sent to the wilderness for the purpose of battling the devil’s temptations. The first of these temptations is to meet his own human needs. He has been fasting for forty days, so naturally Jesus would be quite hungry. So, the devil tempts him to turn stones into bread to eat. Jesus replies by saying: It is written, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). Temptation number one is done. So, the devil tries again. This time he takes a Scripture passage out of context, twisting its meaning to tempt Jesus act wrongly as God’s Son by throwing himself off the top of the temple, trusting that his Father would save him. Jesus responds: Again it is written, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test” (Matthew 4:7). Temptation number two is over. So, the devil tries one final time. This time, he’s not hiding his intentions any longer. The temptation is simple: “Why don’t you avoid all of the pain and suffering that human life brings. Just bow down and worship me and I will give you all the kingdoms of the world.” Jesus responds: Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve” (Matthew 4:10). Temptation number three is over, and the devil leaves. Jesus has defeated the devil, and so, angels came to minister to Jesus. But in Luke’s account of the temptation of our Lord, we’re told: “And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time” (Luke 4:13). Even though Jesus had withstood the three temptations of the devil in the wilderness, he would return. Jesus’ battle with the devil was not yet over.

4. The devil did return at an opportune time to tempt Jesus yet again. And, interestingly enough, he used this same pattern of temptations when he returned. In Matthew 26:63-64, we’re told that Jesus was crucified precisely because he is the Son of God—the very thing the devil was challenging in his first temptation from our text. In Matthew 27:40, the onlookers at Jesus’ crucifixion tempt him to act wrongly as God’s Son, just as Satan did in his temptations. Those onlookers said: “Let him save himself if he is the Son of God” (Matthew 27:40). As we know, Jesus will be victorious over these temptations too. After he faithfully resisted these temptations, Jesus embraced the pain and suffering of the cross. As he breathed his last, he yielded up his spirit (Matthew 27:50). And ironically, at that moment the devil thought he had won. But he hadn’t. After three days, Jesus rose from the dead. And, lo and behold, angels show up again. But this time the angels weren’t ministering to Jesus, they were ministering on his behalf by announcing to the women the good news of Jesus’ victory over death and the devil. It is only through his suffering and death and his subsequent resurrection that Jesus finally defeated the devil.

5. But until Jesus returns on the last day to destroy the devil once and for all, we are caught in the midst of a spiritual war. Until that day, we need to know how to deal with the temptations and spiritual warfare that we face every day. It has been suggested that Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness and the way in which he deals with the devils temptations ought to be a model for our own fight against temptations. The logic goes: Jesus repelled the devil with the Word of God, so if also we study the Scriptures and quote the right Bible verse at the right time, we will be able to fend off the devils attacks. I don’t want to discourage you from reading and studying the Scriptures, but there’s a fatal flaw in this logic. You’re not going to be able to repel the devil’s temptations with your wit and knowledge of the Scriptures. In maters of spiritual warfare, you will never be the hero—Christ alone is our hero. Jesus is not our model or example in how to battle the devil. Jesus is our hero who has stood in our place and defeated the devil because we are unable.

6. But that doesn’t mean there is nothing to be learned from Jesus’ encounter with the devil in the wilderness. In fact, I suspect that perhaps Jesus does give us the template here to fight temptation. It’s not to quote the right Bible verse at the right time though. Rather than following Jesus’ example, we should listen to the content of what he says in his rebukes of the devil. Jesus gives us three ways in which we can allow him to fight our temptations for us. First, we cling to God’s Word: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” This is very different than quoting Scripture at the devil. When we are tempted, rather than searching internally to fight against it, we ought to grab a Bible (or Bible app) and start reading (and reading out loud helps). Read Matthew 4. Read Ephesians 6. Read from the book of Proverbs. Let God fight through his Word for you against your temptations. Second, we trust in God: “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.” Trusting in God is just the positive way of saying, don’t put him to the test. Now, don’t get me wrong—this one can be difficult. But a practical way to increase your trust in the Lord when you are battling temptation, anxiety, or any other struggle is to remember. Remember all the ways in which the Lord has cared for you and delivered you in the past. Then pray that he would help you to trust that he will continue to provide for you in your present struggle. Finally, we worship God alone: “You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.” Might I suggest that rather than waiting until after the temptations come to use this tactic that you be proactive and come to worship the Lord with your brothers and sisters in Christ at every opportunity. Then, when you are faced with temptations, it will be second nature to you to sing a hymn, recall part of the liturgy, or simply praise God for his goodness, as you are so used to doing. When worshiping the Lord is a part of who you are, worshiping someone or something else will be much easier to resist. My friends, the devil and his demons are all around us. He is constantly tempting us so that we will turn away from the Lord. Don’t let him win. Resist temptation by clinging to God’s Word, trusting in him, and worshiping him alone because in so doing, you invite our hero, Jesus, to stand with you in the face of your temptations and to repel the devil on your behalf. Know too that you will fail in this. There will be times when you give into temptations and you won’t know how or why it happened. You are a sinner. Jesus knows that you are not perfect. His death on the cross atoned for that sin as well. Get back up, dust yourself off, and get back at it. Jesus still fights for you and is with you no matter how many times you fall. Thanks be to God that his grace is greater than our sin.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.

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