Invocabit – First Sunday in Lent
“Our Savior is the Stronger One”
Paul Norris, Vicar
St. Matthew 4.1-11; Hebrews 4.14-16; Genesis 3.1-21
20 February 2022
Grace, Mercy, and Peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
In his book, ‘The Sky is Not the Limit’ popular scientist Neil DeGrasse Tyson wrote, “I simply go with what works, and what works is the healthy skepticism embodied in the scientific method. Believe me, if the Bible had ever been shown to be a rich source of scientific answers and enlightenment, we would be mining it daily for cosmic discovery.” (pg. 188) DeGrasse goes on in another interview to dispel the “myth” of the Devil saying, “For centuries, epilepsy was the exact expectation of someone being possessed by the Devil. There was no better explanation, and it allows you to admit the existence of the Devil. If there’s a Devil, that means there’s a God.”
Among the various doctrines of the Church which are under assault from the world, it doubts and questions the existence of the Devil or Satan. To the world, the reality of the Devil is easy to mock and question. It regards the existence of the Devil as just superstition and a figment of the human imagination invented to comfort weak-minded people who experience temptation or evil. The world does not want to admit the existence of the Devil because admitting the existence of the Devil requires one to admit the existence of God.
What is more inexcusable are those among Christians who profess to believe in Scripture, and yet do not believe there is a Devil who can work among and tempt men. Christendom is not immune to the poison of unbelief and skepticism which has infected so many people who claim to not reject Scripture, but they doubt Devil’s existence within it. This is a sin, for all of God’s Word is true. One cannot pick and choose which parts of Scripture he or she wants to believe in. “Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.” (Proverbs 30:5) Do not be deceived. Just as sure and certain that God tells us in scripture of His creation, His protection, His judgment, and His promises – He also tells us of the existence and reality of the Devil.
Our Old Testament lesson shows us Satan’s influence upon the first man and woman when the serpent tempted Adam and Eve in the Garden. The Devil questioned the Word of God, and this is the first lie recorded in Scripture. Adam and Eve succumbed to the Devil’s temptation and allowed themselves to be misled and renounced their obedience to God. With their sin, they fell into the kingdom of the Devil’s darkness. It is in the original sin of Adam and Eve that all of mankind, including you and me, inherited our inborn sinful nature. From that point forward, sin, death, and darkness have been our natural state. The Devil has not discontinued his quest to mislead as many people as he can into his kingdom of darkness, including Christians.
Scripture teaches that the Devil is the prince of this world and he tirelessly seeks to spread sin, error, blindness, misery, and darkness among us. “…Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” ( 1 Peter 5:8) And, “…we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:8). But God’s Word also reveals the mightiness, love, and promises of God. Scripture reveals to us that we have been redeemed by Christ and delivered from the Devil’s kingdom of darkness. We have been brought by the death and victorious resurrection of Jesus Christ from darkness and into God’s kingdom of light.
Our Gospel lesson today records the battle between Christ and the Devil. The temptation of Christ comes after Jesus is baptized where God the Father revealed the mystery of the Holy Trinity. In Jesus’ baptism the Spirit of God descended upon Jesus like a dove, the heavens opened and God the Father said, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” (Matt 3:17) Jesus, who had just been baptized and had the glory of heaven open over him is now rushed and assaulted by the power of Hell and the Devil himself. Jesus could have stopped all the temptations of the Devil with one little word, but to fulfill all scripture Jesus permits himself to be led around and tempted by the Devil. The Devil acts as though he is powerful, but he is powerless before God. The Devil is only allowed to appear before and to tempt Jesus because Jesus, the second person of the Holy Trinity, allowed it.
The Devil tries to manipulate the Son of God to prevent God’s salvation plan for mankind in his first temptation. The Devil is trying to beat Jesus before he goes to the cross and his goal is to get Jesus to avoid the cross and move directly to his glory. Jesus who is both God and man has been fasting and wandering the wilderness for 40 days. Of course, Jesus was hungry and the Devil seizes the opportunity when he thinks Jesus is weak to tempt him to use his divine powers to turn stones into bread. But Jesus responds with the sharpest weapon of all, God’s Word, and quotes Deuteronomy 8:3 to the Devil, “It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” The first temptation is of the Devil is resisted.
It seems that the Devil is still a little salty from his first failure to tempt our Lord Jesus to sin. So much so that the Devil has used popular music to misquote scripture to make it seem as though Jesus turned stones into bread. Perhaps some of you remember the 1985 song ‘We are the World’ written by Michael Jackson. This song was a celebrity virtue signaling project to end hunger in Africa. In that song, Country singer Willie Nelson sings a line, “As God has shown us, by turning stone to bread.”
Brothers and Sisters in Christ, nowhere in Scripture, not once, not in the Old Testament or the New Testament, did God ever turn stones to bread. But yet the Devil, a very real being who is working hard to subvert the Word of God, has twisted this scripture to convince people that God did something he never did. The Devil has not given up on his lie to Adam and Eve in the Garden. It is the same old lie of the serpent, “…Did God really say…” (Gen 3:1)
The Devil continues to tempt Jesus to alter the Father’s plan of salvation and temps Jesus to throw himself off the pinnacle of the temple so that the angels will save him. Jesus answers the Devil with Scripture, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.” (Deut 6:16) Jesus resists the second temptation.
But the Devil does not give up. In his third and final temptation of Jesus, the Devil takes Jesus to a high mountain and tempts Jesus with earthly glory if Jesus will only worship the Devil. The Devil is still lying. He speaks as though he were the rightful ruler of all these kingdoms, and as though God had given him this rule. The Devil is an illegitimate ruler who has usurped God’s authority – He has no mandate! The Devil’s presumption that he can give these kingdoms to anyone he desires is a lie. Again, Jesus answers with Scripture, “…You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.” (Matt 4:10) This time the Devil is sent away for good. Jesus never lost faith in the Father’s plan of salvation, and the Father sends his angels to minister to Jesus after these temptations.
The assault of the Devil upon Jesus Christ recorded in the Gospel lesson is just the opening salvo in the larger battle for our salvation. In his earthly ministry Jesus is tempted by the Devil to sin, and every time our Savior triumphed, showing the Devil that a Stronger One had come. Ultimately the Devil will not, and does not prevail. Christ Jesus fulfills the Gospel promise of Genesis and crushes the ancient serpent’s head upon the cross. Christ declared the final victory over sin, death, and the Devil in his descent into hell, his resurrection, and his ascension. Jesus would not have been able to do this if He had succumbed to the temptations of the Devil in the Gospel reading. The temptation of Christ was necessary for our salvation and the fulfillment of all scripture. Christ was born under the Law, and Christ resisted the Devil and perfectly kept the Law.
St. Matthew records the temptations of Christ not to show us Jesus as an example, but to clearly demonstrate the work that Jesus accomplished for you. Your Savior is the Stronger One! Jesus has done battle with the Devil in your place and won. You have a Savior who is able to sympathize with all your trials and temptations. Jesus Christ, who was fully God and fully human, was tempted by the Devil and he perfectly withstood his temptations. Jesus experienced all the mental and physical stresses of human life and he knows exactly what you endure here on earth and all the temptations you face.
What weapons is the Christian to use to resist temptation? They are faith in the Word of God, baptism, prayer, and the communion of the Saints. St. Augustine wrote of temptation, “I cannot keep a bird from flying over my head. But I can certainly keep it from nesting in my hair, or biting my nose off.” We cannot keep temptation from coming to us, but by prayer and the invocation of divine assistance, we may certainly defend ourselves and keep them from overcoming us. (W 2, 124- E 21, 222- SL 7, 813)
For what you cannot do perfectly, Christ Jesus has done perfectly. Christ, in perfect obedience to the Father withstood the temptations of Satan, and went to the cross for you. Jesus, the innocent Lamb of God, bore all your sins and is your propitiation. On the third day, Jesus rose victoriously from the grave and destroyed sin, death, and the Devil forever! The Devil has no claim or power over God’s children. It is because of the cross and resurrection of Jesus from the dead that we who are lost in the kingdom of darkness, can draw near to the throne where we find grace and help in our time of temptation. The Devil is real, but so is our perfect Savior who is the Stronger One!
In the name of Jesus. Amen. The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.