Is Jesus the second person of the Holy Trinity? Is He of the same substance with the Father, by whom all things were made? Is Jesus God? Yes, of course.
Could Jesus have sinned? Be careful. You just said that Jesus is God, of the same substance with the Father.
Can God sin? Could Jesus have sinned? No.
The forgiveness of sins earned by Jesus’ perfect sacrifice was never in doubt. Jesus being God means that He could not sin. He’s perfect.
So when Jesus is tempted by the devil, we don’t have to hold our breath and hope He makes it.
Another way to ask all this is: what’s the opposite of God? The answer is: nothing.
The devil is not the opposite of God—that would mean the devil is as powerful just opposite, as knowledgeable just opposite, applying his all-powerful, all-knowing evil against the goodness of God.
The devil is not that powerful, he doesn’t have that much knowledge.
The all-powerful, all-knowing, and good God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, He fights for you.
Our God promises to deliver us from evil.
Context will help us understand:
“And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” (Matthew 3:16-4:1).
That’s the immediate context of today’s Gospel lesson: Jesus is baptized, God the Father identifies Jesus as His Son, and immediately Jesus is driven into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit to be tempted by the devil.
The same Holy Spirit who descended upon Jesus like a dove, now drives Him into the wilderness to be tempted.
God is strange to us, sometimes. This is Exhibit A.
Right after telling the world that Jesus is His Son, that He loves Him and is well pleased with Him, our Heavenly Father has the Holy Spirit drive Jesus into the wilderness for forty days of fasting and temptation by the devil.
This strangeness only makes sense if you contrast what God is doing (saving the world) with what the devil is doing (accusing the world, filling it with unbelief that it would be condemned with him).
Our Heavenly Father has said, “[Jesus] is my beloved Son,” but “the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” (Matthew 4:3).
And the devil has a point. In His ministry, Jesus performs miracles, feeds the hungry, heals the sick, and raises the dead. In the Old Testament, God fed His people miraculously all the time, bread from heaven, water from the Rock, oil and flour that never run out.
Hunger, to the Creator of all things, is a simple problem. Jesus could very easily speak a single sentence, “Let there be bread,” and the world would have its fill.
The devil knows Jesus is hungry. He knows God wants the world to have food. He knows God promises to provide our daily bread.
But it does not profit the world to fill its stomach today and, tomorrow, lose eternal life.
After the Fall into sin, Man must sweat to eat. By the sweat of your brow you will eat bread. And life became toilsome hardship. Jesus—elsewhere in His ministry—multiplies bread without sweat, undoing the curse of the Fall.
It’s nothing for God to miraculously feed the world.
But Jesus doesn’t have to endure temptation to feed the world. He doesn’t have to bear the sin of the world to cross and death and grave if His goal is to feed the world. But if He has come to save the world, He must.
That’s the first temptation. God wants to feed the world—and does. He gives us the Body and Blood of Jesus.
Jesus came to feed sinners by giving them His flesh to eat and His blood to drink. We don’t hold our breath and hope Jesus passes the test—we rejoice that Jesus chose our everlasting salvation over the eradication of world hunger.
And don’t hear me wrong, the temptation is real: “in every respect [Jesus] has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). But temptation is not sin. You don’t have to sin when tempted. In fact, when you know you’re being tempted, that’s the perfect time to remember that Christians can defeat temptation, and this is how:
Jesus responds with the only tool that always defeats the devil, the written and spoken word of God:
“Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).
Truly this is the Son of God who must suffer and die. By His stripes—the world is fed—and we are healed.
“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).
The devil proves that his knowledge of Scripture is better than ours. No man wants to die, so satan tries to find a verse that will keep Jesus from death. More than that, the devil’s found a way to convert the world by signs. God wants to save the world. And the world wants signs.
Imagine if Jesus jumped from the temple and angels swooped in to save Him. All those friends of ours demanding signs would get one, and they’d believe.
At least a while.
People who ask for signs don’t really want them. They ask either for what they know won’t happen, so they can continue unabated in their sin or they ask for what they know will happen to falsely confirm their heart’s desire as divine.
We talked about this in Sunday School today. [If you’re reading this online, click here for the handout that was used during Sunday School.]
Everyone wants a sign, but no sign will be given except the sign of the prophet Jonah.
Not as an accusation against any but as a warning for all: what you win them with is what you win them to.
Win a person to your congregation with a dog or a discount, and you’ll lose that person when the dog dies or the discount runs its course.
Win a person to the Gospel, and nothing better can come along.
Jesus’ death and resurrection is the only sign we need.
And get this, the devil quotes Psalm 91, verses 11 and 12: “He will command his angels concerning you” and “On their hands they will bear you up lest you strike your foot against a stone.” But he forgets to quote verses 9, 10, and 13, which say this: “Because you have made the Lord your dwelling place—the Most High, who is my refuge—no evil shall be allowed to befall you, no plague come near your tent…You will tread on the lion and the adder; the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot” (Psalm 91:9-10, 13).
That ancient serpent, the devil, is defeated by his own misquoted Bible verse. The Lord is the dwelling place of the Son—the Most High, His refuge. The evil one scowls fiercely and plagues Him with temptation, but Jesus, the Christ tramples him underfoot.
And there’s more.
The temple, the location for this temptation, was built on Mount Moriah, according to 2 Chronicles chapter three, and Mount Moriah was where Abraham was to sacrifice Isaac, according to Genesis chapter twenty-two.
From there, we read that Abraham called the name of that place “The Lord will provide,” for a ram was provided there in place of Isaac
Well, that’s still true: on the mount of the Lord the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world is provided. Moriah is to Abraham what Golgotha is to God, the place where the Lord provides the unblemished ram for the sacrifice.
The second temptation seeks to remove the Cross from Jesus’ shoulders, but Jesus doesn’t put the Lord His God to the test.
Jesus truly is the Son and Lamb of God who dies in Isaac’s place and ours.
We don’t hold our breath to see if Jesus makes it.
We rejoice—seeing our salvation, Jesus Christ the Lamb of God, destroy death and hell.
And: “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 will fall down and worship me’” (Matthew 4:8-9).
All men want power. And God teaches us to pray that His kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. Our God made the sea and the dry land, the world and all that’s in it.
I’m sure the devil could make a good show of it, but what he offers to give to Jesus belongs already to God.
The third temptation seeks to divide God, so Jesus responds with the boldness blasphemy deserves.
“Be gone, satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve’” (Mt. 4:10).
And the devil obeyed.
Jesus serves His Father by enduring from the devil temptations that seek to keep the Christ from the Cross.
Jesus wants bread, and God wants us to eat.
Jesus wants life, and God wants us to believe.
Jesus wants His Father’s kingdom established on earth, and God wants to rule on earth as in heaven.
The devil doesn’t mind any of those, so long as Jesus goes against His Father’s will.
But the Word and will of God can’t be broken.
Our Heavenly Father has said of Jesus, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Mt. 3:17).
We’re not holding our breath here.
Jesus obeys, submits, and serves God and us all by putting Himself last. He didn’t come to be served but to serve and to give His life, to lose it, and to buy you back to God our Father.
All this He does in obedience to our Father’s will—to break and hinder the devil—to beat down satan under our feet—to fulfill the Word:
The devil bruises the heel, but Christ crushes the ancient serpent’s head (cf. Gen. 3).
We can never endure temptation as faithfully as Jesus did. But our High Priest has mercy.
Tempted in every respect as we are, yet without sin (cf. Hebrews 4), Jesus has compassion.
When you’re tempted, know that Jesus fights for you and provides the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it (cf. 1 Corinthians 10).
You can. You will.
Even more, God has the last word and silences our accuser forever.
In the crucifixion of Jesus, all sin was crucified.
In the tomb of Jesus, all sin stays buried.
So in the resurrection of Jesus, you and all believers in Christ are raised, too.
The resurrection of Christ muzzles satan forever.
For though you’re tempted, and though you sin, and though you die, Jesus says, yet shall you live.
In Jesus’ name, Amen!
Invocabit Sermon, 2020
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt