IN THE BATTLE OF GOOD VS. EVIL, TEMPTATIONS HAVE MET THEIR MATCH

fields-of-battle-lent-a

Matthew 4:1-11

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.

 

History is full of fights.  Now, some of these are better than others.  What I mean is Coyote vs. Road Runner is not necessarily as important as The United States of America vs. England in the Revolutionary War.  Ali vs. Frazier might be a favorite of a boxing historian and Olympic fans might recall 1980 USA vs USSR hockey – the Miracle on Ice – but those fights don’t carry as much influence as the Axis vs. Allies in two World Wars.  We could bring up so many more; history is full of battles.

In our Sunday worship series during Lent (the next 6 weeks), we will see the epic war of good versus evil play out on many different fields of battle.  This is the one fight that means the most for us.  Today, God’s Word takes us out in the desert where the devil takes aim at Jesus.

Jesus had just been begun his public ministry. Before this, Jesus had been living in Nazareth where he was known as the carpenter’s son. But the time had come.  John the Baptist had paved the way.  Jesus had been baptized in the Jordan where God had announced to the people just who Jesus was.  And then, the first thing Jesus had to do was face the devil for forty days in the desert.

I remember when my public ministry started back in August , 2011.  If my first job was to go mano y mano with Satan himself for the first month, I think it’s safe to say I wouldn’t be a pastor anymore.  But that’s where Jesus and I are different.  His job on earth was to face off against the devil every day.  He was here for battle, battle against our sin, battle against temptations, battle against our old evil foe. On top of that Jesus was God on earth.  If anyone could go toe to toe with the devil, it was Jesus.  But that didn’t make it easy for Jesus.  His fight wasn’t a walk in the park. Remember, he was God and also man.  Being on earth means that he gave up full use of his divine characteristics.  It meant he would face what we face.

The devil is cunning and crafty.  He knows how to bring the right kind of temptations at the right time.  When you are feeling healthy, comfortable and content the devil knows you aren’t desperate so he’s not going to tempt you with something simple like bread, although he can sure find ways to make even things look tempting when it isn’t needed, right?  But then there are times when we are starving spiritually, emotionally, even physically, and the devil knows what to do then, too.

That’s the first temptation we hear about in our lesson. “Hey Jesus, if you are the Son of God, you’re going to have to prove it.  Sure, the baptism was cool with the Holy Spirit as the dove and the heavens torn open with God’s voice of approval, but now you have to do something for me.  You’re hungry, so make these stones bread for yourself.” By the end of those 40 days, Jesus was hungry. Who wouldn’t be?  So notice how the devil made this temptation specific for Jesus at this specific time.  And it’s so reasonable: bread for a starving man.  What could be wrong with that?  But Jesus wasn’t sent here to do miracles for the devil.  The only reason Jesus did miracles was to help people and confirm his powerful saving message.  There was nothing he could do to help Satan.  Plus, Satan already knew who he was.  But that’s how he works; he’s tricky and opportunistic.

He knows how to do that against us, too.  He knows your weaknesses.  If your weakness is worry, then he’s going to find all sorts of things for you to fret about.  If your weakness is lust, there a plenty of tools at his disposal to stoke the fire.  If your weakness is anger, every day he will find something to ignite your temper. If your weakness is selfishness, he will find ways to make you feel more important than you actually are.  But these are not reasons to give in to him or to stop fighting against his temptations.  We can’t just say, “Well, it’s my weak spot, there’s nothing I can do about it.” Is that what faith in Jesus says? I just don’t think you’ll find anywhere in the Bible where God says, “Oh well, at least you tried.”

How about the second temptation? “Hey Jesus, I’m not sure about you. If you are God’s Son then God should keep his promises for you.  He’ll protect you against harm, right? Here’s a Bible passage to prove it. So jump, Jesus.  Take a leap of faith and let’s see what happens.”  In this fight, the devil knows your doubts and fears.  He will come convincing you that God doesn’t care about you, that he can’t seriously be listening to you all the time, that his power has a limit, or that he could never love someone like you.  The devil is even willing to twist Scripture.  He’ll question your footing on the rock-solid truth of God.  He’ll question everything God says to try to change your view.

Then there is the last temptation. “Hey Jesus, you are a powerful person.  You should have power here in this world. Bow down to me just once and I will make it happen.”  During our battles, the devil knows your desires, too.  He knows the things you want – even the good, God-pleasing desires.  The thought that Jesus should rule the world is not a bad thing.  Jesus had every right to rule the earth as King of kings.  He made the world, after all. There’s nothing wrong with Jesus ruling.  But to receive the throne by worshiping Satan?  No way!

Sin has a way of warping the good desires we have.  Yes, it is good to be happy.  Yes, it is good to be fulfilled and content.  Yes, you should enjoy this life that God has given you.  Those are good desires.  It’s just that sin and temptations want you to arrive there by taking the wrong route.  Happiness is not found in a bottle or in shopping mall.  You don’t find fulfillment by breaking your marriage vow. You can’t find contentment by filling your bank account.  And no matter what you think, this world is not a personal amusement park for you and your toys.

But that’s what Satan wants us to think. And to get us thinking this way, he makes promises that he cannot deliver. Because as soon as we give into sin – every time – we see how we have lost the fight against the devil.  We realize that he is lying.  The bottle doesn’t bring happiness, just the sad reality that you have found a new master for your life. Breaking your marriage vow doesn’t bring fulfillment but leads to empty hearts and empty homes.  A bursting bank account doesn’t bring contentment but creates more cravings that can never be satisfied.  Thinking that this world is a great place for me and my toys directs us away from the joys of heaven.

The devil makes these promises, and he cannot deliver them.  Did you notice how he does that to Jesus? He speaks as if he is the owner of all the kingdoms of the world? “All this I will give you, if you will bow down and worship me.”  No, that wasn’t true. And all too often, we find out that his half-truths are empty and destructive.

Satan is fighting hard against Jesus here, and he fights hard against every one of us.  I think we all realize that the battle we have against Satan often doesn’t happen the way it should. I’m not sure we always put up much of a fight against the devil and his temptations. Sadly, rather than fighting off temptations, we give in.  And we may even start to like some of them.

Today, I would love to give you a guidebook on how to get the devil out of your life.  I’d love to have a booklet that you can pick up after church giving you the 7 steps for fighting off temptations. But I don’t have that.  I don’t have a promise for you that if you just believe enough, pray enough, and do enough good you will be able to fight off all the devil’s temptations.  I don’t have a guidebook, a self-help manual, or an empty promise for you.

I have something better.  I have someONE better. He’s able to keep every commandment and fend off every temptation. He’s the one who came to fight our battles against sin.  He has the love and the power to save you.

There was a time when our perfect life and perfect relationship with God was lost because a man and his wife lost the battle against Satan.  They ate what the devil wanted them to eat.  But this time it was different.  Jesus didn’t give in.  He used the Word. “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every Word that comes from the mouth of God.” That was the first shot in the historic battle against the devil.  Jesus was here to change things.  He was not going to give in.  Jesus was here to rescue the lost and bring life to this place of death.

When the second temptation came, the devil tried to use God’s Word against him. Jesus said you can quote Scripture all you want, but you can’t change what it means or twist what God says.  Jesus made it known that he would follow God’s plan to the end and he would follow it perfectly.

When the third temptation came, Jesus knew that Satan was making an empty promise. Jesus was going to sit on the throne and rule all things, but it wouldn’t happen because of an unholy alliance with the devil.  He would take his rightful spot after he finished his work on the cross and rose triumphantly from the grave.  Jesus said, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’”  That is the place where a Christian has power and peace, in the Lord’s presence in his house.

These were the first shots that Jesus took in this historic battle to prove the devil wrong.  He came to do what we couldn’t do.  Jesus came to be what we couldn’t be.  And God says the Jesus did it all in our place.  The victory that Jesus won against the devil that day, God gives it to you.  You can fight all your temptations knowing the Jesus fought them for you.

But the war wasn’t over on that day.  There is more to come as we look at different fields of battle, but we know who is fighting.  Jesus Christ is God in flesh.  He is the Savior and substitute.  He is the one that the devil fears.

With that kind of Savior doesn’t that change the way you fight against temptations.  Knowing that your Savior fought that battle, doesn’t it help?  But he didn’t just fight that day in the desert, he won!  And it wasn’t just one battle that he fought, he fought them all, and he won!  All the times when the devil’s temptations took advantage of weaknesses, all the times when you doubted God’s power, all the times your desires were used against you – for all your sin, Jesus’ victory over the devil was given to you.

Today, we see Jesus at war against the devil and his temptations. We see the battle of good vs. evil, and temptations have met their match.  That’s not just true for Jesus.  It’s true for you.  Jesus went to war against the devil’s temptations as your perfect Savior.  Jesus went to war for your forgiveness. And he won!  He’s the strength and courage you need in your battles, and he’s always with you.

Amen.

 

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