If It Were Up To The Devil...

Text: Matthew 4:1-11

In the name of Jesus: Amen.

The day that you were baptized was the day that you became an enemy of the Devil.  Yes, being a Christian is not rose peddles and long walks on the beach, but warfare against the Devil, the world, and the sinful nature.

Now, if it were up to the Devil, he would end this war by seeing you hung a cross like Jesus.  He would rejoice in your destruction.  However, since the Lord God has not permitted this to happen and has preserved you from these blatant attacks, well, the Devil then resorts to a more subtle way of trying to rip you and me away from Jesus and our baptisms.  And that method is to tempt us. 

We usually think of temptation as desiring something that we don’t already have, or maybe even something we know we shouldn’t have.  But that is actually greed.  And for us as Christians, greed is usually too easy to recognize. 

So knowing this, the Tempter – that is the Devil – does not always come to us in a way that seems threatening.  He does not always come with a noticeable red cap, pitch fork, and a grimacing laugh.  In other words, his temptations do not always take the form of something we may even think we want.  More often he carefully offers us a counterfeit of what is right in front of us, of what God has already graciously given.

For example, the Lord gives us our daily necessities and nourishment for our bodies.  He gives us food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, farm, fields, livestock, money, property, spouses, children, peace, health, and good friends.  He does this out of His great benevolence and graciousness to provide for our daily needs.  However, the Devil comes to tempt the appetites of our belly and our desires for riches.  He comes to us and whispers,

“God has forgotten you; he does not care about your well-being.  He doesn’t want you to have a full belly.  He does not want you to have good things.   He might even be a bad God. You know, come to think of it, you spend too much time with faith and too much time in church; you need to get what is coming to you.  You need to reach out and seize all that money and possessions to be had.  You deserve it.  God will not become angry with you since you are only taking what is rightfully yours.” 

And so, we give in to the temptations of the evil one.  We fail to realize the gifts that the Lord has already given to us, and then we convince ourselves that we must fight for our daily bread and hoard everything we have.  We convince ourselves that coveting and hoarding are not sin because somehow the Lord God does not care for us.  In the end, our faith shifts away from the Lord and His good gifts to ourselves and everything that we are lacking.  We shift from gratitude to being a coveting hoarder who goes through life acting like a victim who never has enough stuff, which is exactly what the Devil wants.  You see, if we are fearing, loving, and trusting in ourselves and material things, we are not fearing, loving, and trusting the Lord.  

Now, if the Devil is not able to tempt us to give into the desires of our belly and the desires for riches at the expense of leaving the Lord and His Word, he then tries to see whether he can make us proud and reckless enough to rely on our righteousness.  You see, the Devil knows how to behave in church.  He knows how to quote Scripture.  In fact, all heretical false teachers can quote Holy Scripture, and they do so to the damnation of their listeners.  So, the Devil uses Holy Scripture, not to bless and edify God’s people, but to tempt them away from the truth.  The Devil cites Scripture in a way that he adds and subtracts from it so that you end up saying to yourself,

“God will be with me no matter what I do, so I can do whatever I want.  I’m o.k. I fine. No problem here. I can throw myself into whatever sin I want, and the Lord’s holy angels will protect me so that I will not dash against destruction!”

If the Devil is still unsuccessful, then he pulls out all the stops and promises power and dominion, only if you do things his way.  In other words, if you and I only do things his way, we may just end up getting power and glory as we journey towards the jaws of hell.  It is like this; we are already citizens of the powerful kingdom of God.  We have the Lord Jesus Christ who is all-powerful and sits at the right hand of the Father and will come someday to judge the living and the dead.  But the Devil comes along and speaks of a greater glitter.  He says,

“You have that good Bible stuff and that baptism and that bread and wine things, but if you will just make a few adjustments, not really big ones, then you too can strike it big.  Yeah, that baptism and Bible are pretty neat, but wouldn’t you like to be an enormous church?  Wouldn’t you like to be the popular people in town that everyone wants to be with and wants to be like?  Wouldn’t you like to be a super growing church?  Well, if you just follow me and do it my way, like maybe not focusing so much on that Lord’s Supper get in the way, then things will really grow. After all, that eating and drinking of Jesus’ body and blood is kind of weird to most people.  Yes, if you just follow me and not talk so much about the Ten Commandments or the Apostles’ Creed or the Lord’s Prayer, then you will rise to the top. People will want to be just like you. We can rise to the top together!” 

Dear friends, this is the way of temptation.  The Tempter offers us an imitation of something that we already have.  It is the promises of fully bellies, riches, contentment, and popularity, if we just do it his way and not God’s way.  The Devil makes promises to us for things we already have by faith in Jesus Christ.

You see, the Devil uses temptation as a tool to divide and conquer, to create doubt in God’s promises and gifts.  He offers a counterfeit of the very things we already have.  Keep in mind that the Devil cannot create, so he perverts God’s gifts and lies.  All the love, warmth, happiness and fulfillment the Tempter offers is already there in front of you, waiting to be nourished. 

We have to admit though that the Devil is pretty clever, getting us to think that we are lacking and then offering us a fake substitute for something we already have.  But that’s how temptation works.  The Devil wants to fool you into putting your trust in him, to turn your back on the blessings of God, and most of all to turn away from the gift of forgiveness and eternal life that is already yours through Jesus Christ, through Whom God has given us every good gift.

That is what Satan tried to do to Jesus.  St. Matthew writes:

“Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil.” 

Our Lord went to face the Tempter in our place.  To do what we are unable to do.  To face the very same trials of temptation that we do, to suffer them to the end and to be victorious in our place.

Three times the Devil tempted Jesus with very real temptations to lead Him into sin and to turn Him away from His Father’s promises.  But in all of those temptations, Jesus held on to the promises of His Father given in the Scriptures.  That He really is God’s Son, that His Father really will take care of Him.

Jesus knew and believed that everything the Devil was offering was already His.  There was truly nothing the Tempter could give Jesus, and even though the Devil made it look so enticing, those temptations were only counterfeits of what already belonged to the Lord, and so also to you by faith in Jesus.

Funny isn’t it, how the Devil repeats himself throughout human history?  How he tempts us with what’s already ours.  It is the most subtle and one of the last temptations any of us would see coming.

But remember, Satan has nothing to offer you except death and damnation.  He has nothing for you, except to turn you away from God and His gracious blessing of the forgiveness of your sins through faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  The Devil cannot make your wildest dreams come true or fill you with happiness, pleasure or contentment.  The greener grass is always plastic.

Because in your Baptism you are made a child of God, there is no reason now to look to the supposed greener grass.  Temptation truly has nothing to offer.  We have already been given everything because we are baptized into Jesus Christ.  And in Him, we are given everything that God has to offer. 

The Lord gives the gift of faith for the forgiveness of our sins.  He gives eternal life and His Holy Spirit.  And He fills our lives with His real genuine blessings and gifts: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

And even though we will still be tempted and at times fail and walk into sin and death, we are graciously reminded in the reading from Hebrews,

“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.”

Jesus knows what it is be tempted as we are, and in love for you He overcame that temptation when we could not, so that He could be your Savior and you can approach His throne of grace with all confidence to receive forgiveness for all your sins and failures, no matter how deeply you have walked into temptation with your eyes open.

And that throne of grace is right here in His church, where your Lord Jesus is seated in His word of absolution, in His very body and blood given and shed for you.  This is where you are filled to overflowing with His real gifts of grace and forgiveness.  And as you are filled, you are so equipped with every good thing to resist the Tempter and his tools of temptation.

In the name of Jesus: Amen.    

Note: The second portion of this sermon is indebted to Rev. Joshua Reimche.  

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