Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt
Is Jesus God? Is He the second person of the Holy Trinity? Is He of the same substance with the Father, by whom all things were made? 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? Can Jesus sin? No.
The forgiveness of sins earned by Jesus’ perfect sacrifice were never in doubt. Jesus being God means that He could not sin. He’s perfect.
So when we read of the temptation of Jesus by the devil, we need to understand that we don’t have to hold our breath and hope He makes it.
Rather, we rejoice in our Lord who has come to save us from all the assaults of the devil.
Context will help with this:
“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.” (Mt. 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.
The same Holy Spirit who, one verse ago, descended upon Jesus like a dove, now drives Him into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.
God is strange, sometimes, and this takes the cake.
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 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 trying to do (save the world) with what the devil is trying to do (accuse it and fill 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.” (Mt. 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 He’d have enough bread for the world to eat.
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 what could it profit the world to gain a full stomach today and, tomorrow, forfeit eternal life?
It’s His Father’s will for Jesus to endure temptation. It’s His Father’s will for Jesus to be presented with an easy way to provide food for the whole world.
And it’s our Heavenly Father’s will for us to realize here, that Jesus didn’t have to die to feed the world, but He did have to die to save it.
That’s the first temptation. God wants to feed the world, but He feeds it with the Body and Blood of Jesus shed on the Cross.
Jesus came to feed sinners by saving them, by dying for them, so we don’t hold our breath and hope Jesus passes the test—we rejoice that Jesus chose our salvation over our stomachs being full.
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” (Mt. 4:4).
Truly this is the Son of God who must suffer and die so as to feed the world with life eternal from his pierced hands and bloody side.
“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’” (Mt. 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.
I think people ask for signs—not really wanting them.
Because if God strikes you blind, as He did Paul, you have to listen or stay blind.
People ask for signs, but what they really want is for their heart’s desire to receive God’s approval.
Everyone wants a sign, but no sign will be given except that of the prophet Jonah.
A handy phrase for evangelism and missions is this: what you win them with is what you win them to.
Win a person to your congregation with a rock band or free coffee, and you’ll lose that person when the congregation up or down the road has a better band or stronger or sweeter coffee.
Win a person with the Gospel, and nothing better can come along.
Jesus’ death and resurrection are the only sign we need.
And get this, the devil quotes Psalm 91, verses 11 and 12, 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” (Ps. 91:9-10, 13).
The devil’s own quotation defeats him, if we bother to look it up. Christ has made His Father’s will His dwelling place—the Most High, His refuge. The evil one scowls fiercely and plagues Him with temptation, but Christ tramples that ancient serpent 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 second temptation seeks to remove the Cross from Jesus’ shoulders, but Jesus doesn’t put the Lord His God to the test.
Truly Jesus is the Son of God, the Lamb of God who must die in Isaac’s place, and ours.
We don’t hold our breath to see if Jesus makes it.
We rejoice—seeing our salvation, Christ the Lamb, 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’” (Mt. 4:8-9).
All men want power. And God wants His kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. But the devil overplays his hand.
Jesus made the mountains out of nothing and by a word.
The kingdoms and their glory, such as they are, exist only because God has instituted them (cf. Rom. 13).
I’m sure the devil could make a good show of it, but what he offers to give belongs already to God.
The third temptation seeks to divide God, so Jesus responds with the boldness reserved for blasphemy.
“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 Jesus 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, so as to buy you back to God our Father.
All this He does in obedience to our Father’s will—to break, hinder, and defeat satan—and to fulfill the Word:
The devil bruises the heel, but Christ crushes that 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. Heb. 4), Jesus has compassion.
So 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 Cor. 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 is the muzzle satan wears forever.
For though we’re tempted, and though we sin, and though we die, Jesus says, yet shall we live.
In Jesus’ name, Amen!