Tempted in the Wilderness for You

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“And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil” (Luke 4:1-2).
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
The first Sunday of Lent brings us to the temptation of our Lord in the wilderness, and it is good that we take some time and reflect upon what He does for us there. I’ll tell you this from the start: This is a text that should humble you and me, and rightly so, for we can hardly be proud of our ability to resist temptation. But there is also Good News: As we understand our weakness the Lord’s strength for us grows all the more apparent and all the more comforting.
It is no accident that Jesus finds Himself in the wilderness for forty days after His Baptism. The Holy Spirit has led Him there, because this is part of His journey to the cross. This “forty days” is part of Christ’s active obedience for our sake. He is living the perfect life that you and I cannot. He is resisting the temptations that you and I are unable to resist in our fallen state.
Throughout the forty days, Jesus fasts and He is tempted by the devil. Remember, that although he is far too clever for us, the devil has a losing hand. He is called “the Accuser” because all he can really do is point out the sin of people. For a while, as we hear in the book of Job, Satan could stand before God in heaven like a prosecuting attorney standing before the Judge and accusing people of their sin. On account of Christ, however, Satan has lost that forum. He can no longer accuse us before God. However, the devil can still accuse people of their sin in their own conscience so they feel that God could never love them or forgive them.
Of course, before Satan can accuse people of their sin, they have to have sins to be accused of. This is why the Accuser tempts us to sin, so that he can gain leverage for his accusations against us.
But this is why Satan is at a distinct disadvantage in out text—because Jesus is without sin. Therefore, the devil has no accusation to make unless he can get Jesus give in to temptation. So the devil tempts for those forty days. He tries out temptations of physical appetites, wooing Jesus to turn the stones into bread and fill His aching stomach. But this is against the Father’s Word and will for His Son in the wilderness, so Jesus refuses the devil’s suggestion.
The devil tempts Him with power, promising to give Him all the kingdoms of the world without the suffering on the cross. This shows how weak the devil’s hand is, trying to dish out the lie that Jesus needs his help for power.
And the devil tempts Jesus to pride, telling Him to test His Father by throwing Himself off the temple. In effect, Satan challenges: “Instead of all this suffering Servant stuff, Jesus, wouldn’t it be a lot easier to make God save You? Show everyone right now how important You are, and then they’ll all follow You.”  
But once again, the sinless Son of God says no. He is not about taking the easy way or power or pride. He has become flesh for humble self-sacrifice and servanthood. The Accuser leaves as a loser for all of his efforts. Jesus has resisted all temptation and has no sins to be accused of, so there’s no use in hanging around. As our text tells us, “the devil… left Him until an opportune time.”
Three years later, Satan will still have no ammunition against God’s Son, but he’ll opt for Plan B. He’ll accuse the consciences of sinners so badly that they’ll want the Savior destroyed. The “father of lies” will induce them to speak all sorts of lies so that the Son of God—the Way, the Truth, and the Life—is put to death.
You know, of course, that the devil loses on Calvary. He wants Jesus dead, but the Lord dies of His own will. Jesus gives up His own life. No one takes it from Him. Furthermore, Christ dies as the sinless sacrifice for us, dying our death for sin so that we don’t have to. At the climactic battle, your Savior is the clear winner, and His victory is demonstrated three days later as He rises from the dead.
For His death and resurrection, we give thanks, acknowledging that Jesus has defeated the devil for us. But do not skip quickly past this temptation in the wilderness; for already here, Jesus deals the Accuser quite a blow. By resisting temptation there, He remains the perfect, sinless sacrifice. This means that, while His crucifixion hasn’t yet taken place, the devil’s defeat is already secured.
Hear this Good News: in the wilderness, Jesus perfectly resisted temptation, and He did so for you. He did this so that, along with the forgiveness of sins, He could give you the credit for His perfect resistance to temptation.
In other words, imagine a scene where the devil gets to accuse you before God one more time. “God, do You see those people at St. John’s? They’re a sinful bunch—sinful enough where they don’t deserve Your favor or help. Therefore, because of their sin and on the basis of Your Law, I demand that You condemn them to hell.” It’s a frightening prospect, for God’s Law declares that we deserve such condemnation. It’s true, isn’t it? We just confessed those very sins and iniquities for which we justly deserved God’s temporal and eternal punishment.
However, God’s Law is only half the story. So this would be the Lord’s response: “Satan, I see those people at St. John’s, and I tell you this: My Son has died their death, suffered My wrath and their hell. As they hear the absolution and receive My Son’s body and blood, by those means I forgive them for all their sins. Not only that, but I give them the credit for My Son’s perfect resisting of temptation. So when I look at them, I don’t remember their sin; I see My Son’s righteousness. I see no sin, but perfect resistance to temptation.”
Again, this is the Good News of this text: Jesus resisted temptation so that He could credit you with His perfect resistance. This is important, because so often it has been taught as Law rather than Gospel: “Jesus went into the wilderness and resisted the devil to be the example, to show you that it could be done. So you get out there and resist that devil. That’s what being a Christian is all about.”
If that was the message of this text, then it has no comfort for you. The notion that you can do whatever Jesus did is ludicrous from the start, as you are not the sinless Son of God. No, you have that sinful nature that still clings; and so often, you’ve given in to temptation before you even know you’re being tempted.
No, if the entire message of the text is “Go resist temptation like Jesus did,” then it only sets you up for failure. If being a Christian is all about resisting temptation and you keep on giving in to temptation, it would mean you’re a pretty lousy Christian. But Jesus did not go into the wilderness to set an example that He expects you to live up to. He went there and resisted all temptation because He knows full well that you can’t, and He wanted to do it for you.
Of course, your old sinful nature wants to twist that statement as well, so that you cheapen God’s grace. It gets you to say, “I can’t resist temptation perfectly, so Jesus has done it for me. So, why even try? I’ll just go ahead and give in and sin, because the Lord will bail me out.” If that’s your understanding, you’d better hear some more Law. Think about it. This is what you’re really saying: “Since Jesus resisted temptation for me, I’ll just go ahead and sin.” That’s real smart. It’s like saying, “Since they’re having such good success treating AIDS these days, I think I’ll just go ahead and share a needle with Charlie Sheen.”
Both lines of reasoning have something in common—both hurt your life and intend your death. The Lord commands you to resist temptation and flee from sin for a reason: Every temptation and sin is an attempt by the devil to destroy your faith. If you just go ahead and willingly give in to that temptation, then you’re getting hooked by a sin that you apparently find attractive. The more attracted you are to a sin, the less you want to confess it and be forgiven. After a while you’ll start telling yourself it’s not really a sin—at least not a “bad” sin. You’ll convince yourself that it’s just part of who you are. Eventually, the sin becomes so important to you that you’re willing to abandon faith and forgiveness to keep it.
Like the frog-in-a-kettle scenario, it happens gradually, so that the next temptation doesn’t seem that much worse than the one before, and the next sin doesn’t seem so bad. Therefore, when temptation comes, resist the sin; it is at work to destroy you. Furthermore, your Lord has shed His blood to set you free from sin. Do you consider His death to be so insignificant you will freely indulge in the sin from which He died to set you free? Such a willful sin is a grave offense to God.
Of course, the Old Adam in you might make you take the opposite approach as to why it’s okay to sin. It goes like this: “It’s easy for Jesus to resist temptation, being the Son of God and all. But if He were in my shoes, then He’d really know what temptation was like.” If this is your reasoning, please consider a point that C.S. Lewis brought up a while back: You really don’t know what temptation is.
What does this mean? It means this: The one who gives in to temptation right away doesn’t need to be tempted very much; therefore, he only knows a little temptation. The one who resists for a little while longer will be tempted a little bit more before he sins. Only the one who resists all temptation perfectly knows just how bad temptation can really be. So, you really don’t know much about temptation. But Jesus understands perfectly. The fact that the Lord did not, that He could not, sin does not make the temptations He faced any less real or tempting. Only He knows just how strong temptation can really be!
There is another variation to this offense, and one that sounds so much more pious. It sounds like this: “I do try to resist temptation, but it’s just too much for me. I fight as much as I can, but I’m still overcome. Nevertheless, God must give me some credit for at least trying.” If you are tempted to comfort yourself in this way, then you’re in need of some specific Law from 1 Corinthians 10:13: “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.”
By the grace of God, you have all the strength you need to resist temptation. So do I. If we are doing better at resisting temptation, that’s nice; but the fact that we still sin shows that we give in. If you seek to comfort yourself that you give in to temptation less than others, then you are seeking to say that you are saved by Christ and by your graded-on-a- curve obedience. This robs Christ of His glory.
The point is this: The Law says to flee temptation, and the Law isn’t there to make you feel good about yourself. It is not there to enable you to say, “Look, I’m sinning less than before,” but to tell you, “You’re still sinful and sinning.” The Law is there to show you your sin and your need for forgiveness.
Therefore, when you examine yourself to check your record in dealing with temptation, don’t use this self-examination to make yourself feel better. No, use this examination to rejoice in Christ all the more. For this truth remains: Christ has endured all temptation for you. He resisted the devil in the wilderness with all the temptations that were thrown at Him there. He resisted the cries to come down from the cross and save Himself so that He might remain there to save you. And with the forgiveness of sins, He gives you the credit for His perfect obedience.
Jesus has washed away your sin in the waters of Holy Baptism. Where the devil seeks to accuse you, the Lord absolves you, declaring that you are not guilty for His sake. Where you are still plagued with the temptations of a sinful heart and flesh, He gives you His perfect, sinless body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins. That’s your hope. It’s a far better hope than, “I don’t sin as much as I used to.” It’s far better because it declares that Christ did not sin, and He gives you credit for His not sinning. Yes, you still face temptation, and yes, you will give in to it even today. But you need not despair. The One who has resisted all temptation declares specifically to you: “My righteousness is your righteousness. You are holy and blameless. You are forgiven for all of your sins.”

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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