There’s more to the temptation of Christ than what we, at first, see.
If the choice really is either the devil or an empty stomach, that’s an obvious choice.
If the choice really is either the devil or an eventual death, that’s an obvious choice.
And if the choice really is either the devil as our god or the lack of worldly riches, even that’s an obvious choice.
If that’s how satan tempts us, with obvious Either/Ors, we should be glad to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from the faith.
But there’s more to temptation than simply having “God or…”
The devil wants you to have, “God and…”
Think of the temptation in the Garden of Eden. In Genesis, God says, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:16).
God gives a positive command—eat of every tree—and a prohibition—but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat.
How does the devil respond? He takes God’s Yes and God’s No and invites you to believe it’s “God and…”
“Did God actually say…?”
He casts doubt on the word of God.
He contradicts the Word of God, “You will not surely die…”
And then, here’s the “God and…” part, he says:
“For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
You can have your forbidden fruit and be like God.
That’s what the devil wants you to think.
He doesn’t correct Eve when she adds to God’s command, saying “neither shall you touch it.”
The devil rejoices in such additions.
He wants you to think that God can be your God and you can depart from His Word. God and.
If it’s put to us as a clear Either/Or, it’s an obvious choice. But when it’s “God and…” temptation is at its worst.
And that’s how Jesus is tempted.
It’s necessary to note that Jesus can’t possibly sin. The temptation of Jesus isn’t a battle between Good and Evil as though they were equal but opposite and we don’t know who’ll win. Rather, the temptation of Jesus shows us the mind of God—what He’ll endure to earn our salvation and even what He’ll allow us to endure to receive it.
“Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread’” (Matthew 4:1-3).
There’s more going on here than the temptation of a hungry man.
That’s the easy Either/Or part.
If the choice really is either the devil or an empty stomach, we should be glad to go hungry.
But not only does the devil tempt a hungry Jesus with earthly food, he’s also tempting a loving God with being an apparently loving God.
It’s as if the devil says, “If you are the Son of God, command these and all stones to become loaves of bread and feed and care for all people everywhere.”
“If you’re a loving God, you don’t want people to starve, so care for and feed your people.”
The devil tempts Jesus with being God, essentially saying, “If you are the Son of God, prove it—feed all people everywhere. Be God—and—prove it.”
But: ”Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).
God has a plan. He is God. He does prove it.
But He doesn’t dance to the devil’s tune.
There’s more to God’s plan for you than a full stomach.
And thanks be to God for that, because even if you always had a full stomach, bread without sweat, as it were, even then, the rest of you would one day give out.
Knowing this, God feeds you bread from heaven, the living bread. He strengthens you, body and soul, to life everlasting. Depart in peace!
Out of His mouth He gives you His Word, and on that you can live forever.
“Then the devil took [Jesus] to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, 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 4:5-6).
There’s more going on here than the temptation of a mortal man
That’s the Either/Or part.
If the choice really is either the devil or an eventual death, we should be glad to one day die in the faith.
The devil here tempts God with being God a second time, because if Jesus jumped from the Washington Monument, and the angels swooped in and caught Him up, ”lest he strike his foot against a stone,” the people would see it and believe, even in Washington.
That’s what the devil wants you to think—that all it would take is a miraculous sign and the world would believe—but they would not.
The world has Moses and the prophets, but it doesn’t hear them. The world has Jesus, but neither did it believe when He rose from the dead.
Here, again, Jesus is tempted with being God.
It’s as if the devil says, “If you want people to believe—if you are a loving God—be their God and give them a sign! Save them! Be God—and—do it this way.”
But the world has been given a sign, the sign of the prophet Jonah. And since “they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead” (Luke 16:31) or be saved by swooping angels.
“Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test’” (Matthew 4:7).
There’s more to God’s plan for you than glorious, marvelous, spectacular sights, signs, and wonders.
Even when those things happen—or are claimed to have happened—they don’t endure.
Seemingly miraculous things are popular only until the ink on the book or movie deal is dry, but Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
The truly miraculous—the Word of God that endures forever—is at work by the Holy Spirit to bring us out of darkness and into God’s marvelous light.
God applies His name to us. He marks us as ones redeemed by Christ the crucified. He cares for us as a Father cares for His own dear children.
And we rejoice.
The Word of God—not signs and wonders—is a certainty. It creates and sustains faith in the Lord Jesus.
So we don’t put the Lord our God to the test.
Then, ”Again the devil took [Jesus] to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, ‘All these I will give you, if you fall down and worship me’” (Matthew 4:8-9).
There’s more going on here than an attempt to get Jesus to worship a different god.
That’s the easy Either/Or.
If the choice really is either the devil as our god or the lack of worldly riches, we should rejoice to be poor.
But here, it’s as if the devil says, “If you’re the Son of God, be the Son of God. That won’t change. Be the Son of God and worship me. And I’ll give you all the world, its riches, its power. If you’re a loving God, rule the earth benevolently. Wouldn’t you do better than me?”
He says this as though God doesn’t already reign. He says this as though God’s will is not already done on earth as it is in heaven.
The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.
It’s not the devil’s to give.
For the third time, the devil tempts Jesus with being God, but Jesus said to him: “Be gone, satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve’” (Matthew 4:10).
There’s more to God’s plan for you than earthly, temporal glory, riches, wealth, power, and food.
Why store up your treasure where moth and rust destroy and thieves break in and steal?
Why trust in things that do not endure?
The devil rejoices when you love God—so long as it’s “God and…” that you love.
But thus says the Lord our God: “You shall worship the Lord your God… [Period.] And Him only shall you serve” (Matthew 4:10).
Jesus is Lord and God, and this is His plan:
In the midst of a culture of insatiable hunger and thirst, the One Who refused to live by dead and dusty bread gives you His own flesh to eat: Living Bread that never dies but strengthens and preserves your body and soul unto life everlasting.
Jesus was tempted with food that could’ve fed you. He resisted, that you would be fed by the Word, that you would hear, believe in Him, and live forever.
Food is important. Obviously.
We should feed those who are hungry, not counting as Korban what could go to our neighbor. Obviously.
But ours is the God who looks to our needs eternal. He would rather we suffer for a little while and be carried by the angels to Abraham than, feasting every day, depart to the unquenchable fires of hell.
To accomplish this, the One Who refused earthly, satanic power lay down His life for us, crushing the serpent’s head under His own pierced feet.
He gave up earthly glory to raise you to life eternal.
Jesus was tempted with life that you would’ve enjoyed. He resisted, so that all who believe in Him would rejoice forever.
In a culture of pluralism, unionism, and syncretism the One Who refused to bow the knee to false gods, false doctrine, and false unity preaches to you the Gospel, the Words of the Eternal Way, Truth, and Life.
God doesn’t Walk Out.
And Jesus was tempted with power that would’ve made our earthly lives a breeze. He resisted that, promising that as the world hated Him it would also hate us.
You’ll pick up your cross daily and follow Jesus with much toil and tribulation here on earth, but all this He did so that you would one day set down your cross, pick up your crown, and serve and reign with Christ the King forever.
Ours is the God who looks to our needs temporal and eternal. He gives us this day our daily bread and delivers us from death and devil.
”These things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ the only Son of God. And that by believing you have life in His Name” (John 20:31).
“Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to Him” (Matthew 4:11).
Behold—the devil has left you. He was cast out when you received the Holy Spirit.
Now, we go to the Lord’s Table where angels and archangels and all the company of heaven laud and magnify God evermore, saying, “Holy, holy, holy…”
Here, today, now, we receive for our body and soul’s good, for our temporal and eternal good, God’s plan for our salvation.
Come Lord Jesus.
In Jesus’ name, Amen!
Invocavit (Lent 1) Sermon, 2021
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt