In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
And lead us not into temptation.
What does this mean?
God tempts no one. We pray in this petition that God would guard and keep us so that the devil, the world, and our sinful nature may not deceive us or mislead us into false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice. Although we are attacked by these things, we pray that we may finally overcome them and win the victory.
1. As Martin Luther begins his explanation to the sixth petition of the Lord’s Prayer in the Small Catechism, he cites the apostle James on temptation: “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one” (James 1:13).
And yet, in our Gospel text for this first Sunday in Lent, God the Father wills God the Holy Spirit to drive God the Son into the wilderness so that He might be tempted. This passage is full of difficulties. God is both being tempted and, in a less than indirect way, He wills this temptation. This difficulty may cause us to doubt God—if He tempted His Son, will He not tempt me? To be sure, though, neither the Father nor the Spirit tempt the Son in the wilderness because God tempts no one. God the Father does will His Son to be tempted, and God the Holy Spirit drives our Lord Jesus into the wilderness so that He might be tempted, but God still tempts no one, not even His Son. It is the devil, the tempter, who tests our Lord here in the wilderness, as he seeks to draw Him into sin, away from His mission to redeem lost humanity. And so, God sends His Son, who has taken on our human flesh, to do battle with the devil in the wilderness. The Seed of the woman has begun His duel with the serpent of the garden for you. He goes to battle for you. He suffers for you. He is tempted for you. As the writer of Hebrews says: “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:15-16).
All that our Lord endured, beginning with His temptation in the wilderness and culminating in His death on the cross, was for us men and for our salvation, that He might overthrow the power of Satan and draw us to Himself.
2. Each of the devil’s three temptations of our Lord are designed to accomplish the same end. The devil seeks to tempt our Lord into idolatry. He tempts our Lord to give up His single-minded devotion to His Father’s will in favor of selfish pursuits. And so, the devil appeals to our Lord’s physicality: “Command these stones to become loaves of bread” (Matthew 4:3). The devil appeals to our Lord’s trust in His Father: “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’” (Matthew 4:6). The devil appeals to our Lord’s commitment: Take the easy way out. “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me” (Matthew 4:9). But notice, too, how another temptation is hidden within the first two temptations. The devil appeals to our Lord’s identity, tempting Him to pride: “If you are the Son of God…” (Matthew 4:3 & 6).
3. Does not the devil tempt us to sin in these same ways? He appeals to our physicality, tempting us to indulge in gluttony, immorality, greed, envy, and sloth. Did God actually say you must restrain your sinful flesh? What you do with this body doesn’t really matter that much. You’re going to die and your body will be destroyed anyway. So, why not indulge a little bit. After all, you deserve it. You work so hard. You go through so much. A little bit won’t hurt.
4. The devil also appeals to our trust in the Lord, tempting us to believe that God is not good. Did God actually say that He would provide for you? Life is so hard and so many things are going wrong for you and your loved ones. If God really cared about you, He wouldn’t allow these things to happen. You need to take charge. Pull yourself up by your boot straps and get your life together. You are the only person you can trust.
5. The devil also appeals to our commitment, tempting us to take the easy way out when facing difficulty. Did God actually say that honesty and integrity are necessary virtues. A little white lie here or there isn’t a big deal. In fact, being blatantly honest and rigidly committed to the truth ends up hurting and offending people. Why don’t you just relax a little bit in your inflexible devotion to that Bible of yours. The easy way out is better for everyone.
6. Thus Satan assaults our faith throughout the days of our wandering through the wilderness of this earth. He tempts us in every what that he tempted our Lord. But hidden within all of these temptations is another temptation. Through all temptation, the devil appeals to our identity, tempting us to forget what the Lord has said about us. “I have called you by name, you are mine” (Isaiah 43:1), says the Lord. When the devil tempts us, no matter how trivial it may seem, our eternal identity as a baptized child of God is what’s at stake.
7. And so, the devil tempts us on all sides. He appeals to anything through which he can gain a foothold in our lives, tempting us to abandon our baptismal identity. How, then, do we resist his temptations? How do we, in the words of Luther, finally overcome them and win the victory? As the Proverb says, “Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18, KJV). And so, we must, above all else, forsake pride in favor of humility. You are not Jesus. You might be able to learn a thing or two from Him about how to resist Satan’s temptations, but you are not Jesus. You will not overcome temptation perfectly as our Lord did. As a finite, sinful human being, you are incapable of it. In order to win the final victory over Satan, you must utterly despair of your own ability to receive this grace of Christ (Luther’s Heidelberg Thesis 18).
8. As Satan assaults our faith throughout the days of our earthly pilgrimage, we follow Him who did for us what we and our father Adam so often fail to do. Where we have failed, Christ has conquered. Where we have sinned, Christ has overcome. “For us fights the valiant One, Whom God Himself elected” (LSB 656:2). Our final victory over temptation comes through reliance on Christ who defeated Satan for us and accomplished that which we are unable to do. There in the wilderness, Christ stands on your behalf. God willed that He suffer temptation in your stead. God tempts no one of us because He has allowed His Son to be tempted for us. In Christ, He has taken the evil assaults of the devil upon Himself so that through endurance we might be given the victory through Him.
9. And so, all that’s left, then, is to endure a little while longer. The victory has been won. The serpent who overcame by the tree of the garden has been overcome by the tree of the cross (Proper Preface). And so, our Lord teaches us that “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). When faced with temptation, this is how we overcome and endure—not that we ourselves overcome the temptation, but we cling to the Word of Him who has overcome temptation for us. As we fight against sin, we cling to God’s Word, trusting that He is good. When we give in to temptation and sin, we cling to God’s Word, trusting that He is good. The Word of the Lord is our strength and comfort in spiritual warfare. The Word of Jesus delivers to us every victory over sin, death, and the power of the devil because in the Word is contained the Lord Jesus who crushed the serpent’s head, who faced temptation for us, and who by His faithfulness unto death won the victory for us.
In Jesus’ name. Amen.