St. John’s – East Moline 02/17/13 Intro.: As children we learned to chant, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never harm me” all the while knowing that it just wasn’t true. Wounds of the flesh made by knives can heal quickly, but those of the soul inflicted by sharp words can be far more lasting, even lethal. In today’s Gospel reading of Christ’s temptation in the wilderness it becomes clear that WORDS ARE WEAPONS.
I. Words Are Weapons Used By Both Sides.
A. The devil, more than any other creature, knows how to use words as weapons. He used them so effectively against humanity in the lush Garden of paradise that now we have all inherited a legacy of death, disease and destruction. With deadly accuracy he used the grumbling words of the people in the barren wilderness to lead them to doubt God’s promise and goodness, to the point that they were ready to return to slavery in Egypt. They were preparing to take things into their own hands and turn away from God’s revealed will for them. Still today, words are the devils greatest weapons against us, and he is an expert at using them to kill souls and destroy faith.
B. But the devil is not the only one who can use words as weapons. In our Gospel for today the devil meets his match and gets a foretaste of his ultimate defeat when Jesus uses God’s Word as a mighty shield and weapon to foil the attacks of the evil one and send him running off with his tail between his legs. We have all been given this same weapon, also. The Holy Spirit offers this [Bible], the sword of the Spirit, to us for our protection. So that as Luther writes in his great battle hymn, “[The old evil foe] can harm us none. He’s judged, the deed is done. One little Word can fell him.”
C. The devil may be insane, but he is not stupid. He knows the power of God’s Word against him, so he makes it his goal to disarm us. He tells us that studying God’s Word with our fellow believers is not important. He tries to convince us that we have the minimum required amount of God’s Word to get into heaven, so we don’t need any more. He knows that our memories are not perfect, that we will forget what we learned in Sunday School and in Junior High catechism; that in time we will forget the teachings of Christ. He also knows that without God’s Word our faith will fade over time. He knows that, if we starve ourselves from God’s Word, he can easily insert his own deadly words and destructive ideas and disguise them as good things. Over time, without God’s Word, the devil can even make us think that his ideas are actually God’s ideas. And then it is easy for him to use his favorite weapon, his lying words, to strike the final blow.
Transition: We can learn a lot about the spiritual battles that are fought with words from what happened between the devil and our Lord in the wilderness. It shows us the value of God’s Word as a weapon to overcome the devil and to force him to let us go. But best of all Christ’s victory over temptation teaches us that He, Himself, is God’s ultimate weapon, because
II. Jesus Has The Words And Is The Word That Wins The Battle For Us.
A. God’s plan for our salvation called for His Son to become human so that He could take our place in living the life God demands and in dying the death our sins deserve. It was up to Jesus to be tempted like us in every way and yet remain sinless. And it was up to Him to then offer Himself as the innocent sacrificial Lamb for us on the altar of the cross.
B. But in order to fully take our place, Jesus had to be just like us. While He could use His divine powers to help others He could not use them for himself. He could use His divine powers as a sign to show others that He was the Messiah sent from God, but he could never, ever use them to overcome the sufferings that go along with being human or to cheat the challenges we all face in living under the law. When He took our place, He could only use the resources that God has given to all people.
Transition: The devil, on the other hand, could use every power at his disposal. Remember, if he could get Jesus to sin just once, the plan of salvation would fail. If he could get Jesus to use divine power to help Himself just once, then the devil would win. That brings us to the first temptation in today’s Gospel.
III. Jesus Defeated All The Devil’s Temptations.
A. It tells us that Jesus “ate nothing during those days. And when they were ended, he was hungry”. The devil does not play by any rules, does he? He has no problem attacking us at our weakest. In fact that is his favorite time to do so. Jesus in His state of humiliation was as hungry as anyone could be after 40 days of fasting, so the devil used food as the bait for the first temption. He said, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.”All Jesus had to do to satisfy His hunger was to make some bread, but that that would break the rules of engagement and Jesus would lose.
But there was more to the temptation than the mere satisfaction of physical hunger. Trust in and obedience to God’s Word was at stake. The Holy Spirit had led Jesus into the wilderness right after His baptism, when the Father said to Him“You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
When the devil tempted Jesus he was using words as a weapon to challenge God’s Word. He says, “If you are the Son of God …” The devil was trying to lead Jesus to doubt what He had heard or if what He heard was true. Would God let His Son starve in the wilderness? If He were really God’s Son, shouldn’t the Father be taking better care of Him? Did God really say,“You are my beloved Son?” The devil was using the same doubt that he used in Eden when he said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?”
“Did God actually say …” Those are the words that mark the beginning of every temptation. The devil’s hope is that we will eventually forget what God really said or rationalize away what God really said. The first happens when we stop studying God’s Word, and the second when we look at God’s word and give it our own meaning. Instead of God putting His words in our mouths, we try to put our words into His mouth. Either way, if we allow Satan, the world and our own sinful desires to do all the talking and do not get a steady diet of God’s Word we will soon be outgunned and overpowered. In no time at all we will find ourselves cooperating with the devil and convincing ourselves that almost any sin is the right thing to do. We will consider ourselves free to do anything to help ourselves, if God is too slow or too impractical for our liking. In the end we will exchange the truth of God’s Word for the lies of the devil. Jesus has given us His Word as a mighty weapon to protect us from such temptations, so why aren’t we using it?
Look how our Lord, Himself, used the Holy Scriptures to stop the devil’s temptation. He reached back into the same Deuteronomy that you and I have in our Bibles, and answered him, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone.’” He used the same word that you and I have in our Bibles as a weapon against the temptation of the devil.
B. The next temptation was the temptation of global domination. After all, isn’t that what Jesus came to do, redeem the world. This is when the devil played the ends justifies the means card by tempting Jesus with a short cut. He shows Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and tells him: I will give you the whole world. You created it and gave it to Adam and Eve and then they delivered it to me. Now I want to give it back to you; all you have to do is worship me just this once. It’s just a little thing, and you don’t even have to really mean it. Right here and now You can have the world and the icing on the cake is that You don’t have to go through all that suffering and death stuff. You don’t have to do it the way it was planned and promised. Take the easy way. It’s a win-win situation.
Jesus, again, put a stop to the temptation with words that are written twice in Deuteronomy. Jesus answered him, “It is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.’” Once again, Jesus defended Himself against the devil’s temptation and struck back using the same Word of God that you and I have in our Bibles.
C. The devil still had another trick up his sleeve though. This time he decided not just to use His own words; obviously Jesus was onto His lies. Instead, He chose to use God’s own Word to make his assault. He demonstrated a trick that he has taught many people since. They first decide what it is they want the Bible to say, and then pick and choose verses out of context in order to twist the meaning to their own advantage. We have the actual verse in today’s Introit. But listen to how the devil twists it and strikes Jesus with it. “If you are the Son of God,”He said, “throw yourself down from here, for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,’ and “‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’” The devil left a few words out, though didn’t he? It says He will “guard you in all your ways.” In other words, in all the ways that God has laid out for you.
Jesus’ ways laid out by God from the beginning were leading Him to Golgatha. He would preach and teach for a few years and then take the sins of the world to the cross. There He would suffer and die for you, for me, and for all people. Yes, God promised to command the angels to guard Jesus in all His ways, that led to the cross and to our salvation.
The devil was, obviously, trying to get Jesus to forget His way – God’s way, just like he tries to do to all of us. The devil twisted scripture out of context and tried to tempt Jesus into a shortcut to glory – a shortcut that would avoid the cross. Jesus was ready, though. Again, He went to Deuteronomy. Yes, the same one we all have in our Bibles, and “Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
D. Today’s Gospel tells us that when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time. Jesus had a short break, but the devil would not give up. For the rest of His life, the devil would tempt Jesus. Sometimes the temptation would come through enemies. Other times even friends would tempt Him, like when Peter spoke words that again tempted Jesus to avoid the cross. But Jesus knew where those words came from and turned to him and said, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
Even while Jesus was on the cross, we hear the devil speak through others saying: “If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” There is that phrase of doubt once again:“If you are the Son of God …”Even at the cross, the devil still tried to sow seeds of doubt. He never stopped tempting until Jesus was dead. And yet, Even when Jesus was dying He fought off the devil’s temptations with the word of God. His last words were from the psalms: “Into your hand I commit my spirit.”
Concl.: Throughout His life, Jesus never turned away from God’s will or the way that God had laid out for Him. He was temped in every way, just as we are, yet was without sin. He took our place – our place in obedience and in judgment. He had the words and is the Divine Word who overcame temptation and the devil for us, by dying and rising again in glory. And from that cross He gave us a wonderful Word and a mighty weapon for victory. “It is finished!” Now, when the devil comes with His lies and temptations we may boldly say, “Get behind me, Satan! It is finished!” When Satan comes to accuse us of sin, we can respond, “you have nothing on me, I am forgiven and clothed in Christ. It is finished!” When he leads us to doubt whether we are actually the children of God, tempts us to take things into our own hands, to seek our own way to glory, or to put God to the test, we can use this wonderful weapon that we have been given and pronounce Christ’s judgment upon Him: that is “It is finished!” one little word in the Greek, and one little word will fell Him. Amen.