March 11, 2019 A+D
St. Matthew 4:1-11
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
There are at least two things we ought to learn from the temptation of Our Lord. In the first place the temptation of Christ is a significant part of the Atonement. He did this for us, in our place. He faced Satan and defeated Him for us. He has done what we failed to do and it counts for us. Secondly, that the Bible is the Sword of the Spirit. It is wielded against the devil. Even as it drives him away from us, it also instructs us as to what is real and true. Through it God gives us endurance in the battle and encouragement that we might have hope.
The first temptation reenacts the temptation of Adam in the garden but without the failure. Satan attempts to use food to cause Our Lord doubt His Father’s goodness. Jesus rebukes him with a passage from Deuteronomy.
This was not a temptation to eat something forbidden but to act according to His own interests and doubt His Father. He had a right to bread. Everything in the world belongs to Him. Why should He lack? He provides daily food all over the world for mostly ignorant and ungrateful men. He has the power to provide bread for Himself and there is historic precedence. He is the fulfillment of Israel whom He fed with like bread in the same place.
But He will not seize His equality with the Father but He denies Himself in order to suffer as all men suffer and worse. He trusts that His Father loves Him. The Father, by the Spirit, had anointed Him in the Jordan and then sent Him into the wilderness. He is the scapegoat. He reverses the course of Israel, suffering the punishment of their sins. Thus He doesn’t go through the Jordan into the Promised Land but even as He came down from heaven so He goes through the Joran out of the promised land and into the wilderness. He is expelled with the weight of the world’s sins upon Him and handed over the Satan. He has been there for forty days without food. The Father has supported Him, keeping Him alive, but not without hunger or pain. “Now,” Satan says, “enough is enough. Why should you suffer so for such unworthy people. You’ve done enough. Take up your power and reign.”
The devil is a fool. This sort of thing is effective on sinful men for we are always seeking our rights and privileges and we feel every deprivation and insult deeply. But Our Lord does not look to bread for sustenance but to do the will of His Father. He cannot entertain the idea that His Father is not good for even an instant. He knows His Father loves Him. He knows His Father will keep His Word. No matter what Christ endures, even when He is on the cross and forsaken by His Father, He will remain loyal and true to His Father. He will not doubt Him or fail Him. He expects the resurrection and vindication. He never considers the blasphemous thought that His Father might not be good or all powerful.
He does more than simply resist the temptation. He also rebukes the devil and sends him away. In perfect faith, Christ responds by saying: “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
He wields the Sword of the Spirit, the written Word of God. He could have spoken God’s Word Himself. He is the One who says, “Truly, truly, I say to you,” and “You have heard it said thus but I say to you this” and the like. He is the Word and His Word is the Life of the World. But He is waiting on His Father. He does not consider His equality with His Father cause to seize authority or power. He waits and endures and believes. As a Man, for a time, He denies Himself, His Divine rights and attributes including here the authority to speak God’s Word. He relies instead on the written Word. He battles the devil not with supernatural strength and Divine power but as a mere mortal, with fewer resources than we have. He knows that He will not be spared His Father’s wrath, yet He loves His Father with perfect love and loves His Word.
That Word clearly reveals that bread has never kept men alive. All men live by the Word and will of God whether they know it or not. Jesus knows this because the Bible says so. He beats back the devil and wins the victory for us, as our Husband and Protector, doing for us what Adam failed to do, by using the Bible. Rather than doubt God’s Word, He doubles down. He will stick to God’s Word.
He does this three times. Then His Father relents. The devil is sent away. The Holy Angels come and minister to Him, comforting Him, almost certainly feeding Him. Thus strengthened He is ready to go to Jerusalem. There, on the night in which He is betrayed, He leaves His last Testament to the Church. Eat this Body hidden in Bread and live. We fell by means of eating. Thus He gives as an antidote to the forbidden fruit Food that forgives sins and strengthens faith. Bread doesn’t keep men alive, but the Holy Communion isn’t just bread. It is the risen Body of Jesus which was lifted up from the earth. It is a holy medicine, the staff of Life, a Holy Communion with God. The life it gives it isn’t just life. It is eternal life, a life that undoes the power of death and brings men into the Divine presence to behold the beauty of the Lord in His Temple. It is where the holy angels minister to us.
Again, we see that the temptation of Christ is a significant part of the Atonement. He did this for us, in our place. So also we see that the Bible is the Sword of the Spirit. It is wielded against the devil. Through it God gives us endurance in the battle and encouragement that we might have hope.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.