The last verse of Matthew chapter three reads: “And behold, a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased’” (Matthew 3:17).
“Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil” (Matthew 4:1).
That is to say, God the Father led Jesus the Son into the wilderness by God the Holy Spirit to be tempted by the devil.
The temptation of Christ is a Trinitarian act.
Matthew, Mark, and Luke all record the temptation of Jesus this way, and I think that’s a bit of trouble for us, because temptation is bad—we’d do away with temptation altogether, if we could, “God tempts no one” (James 1:13)—and—here, God leads Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He leads Jesus into a place of demonic temptation. He leads Jesus into temptation—in chapter four—and then, in chapter six, Jesus teaches us to pray, “And lead us not into temptation…” (Matthew 6:13).
Now here’s a problem.
Jesus teaches us to pray that our Father would lead us not into temptation right after our Father, with the Holy Spirit, drives His beloved Son, with whom He is well pleased, into the wilderness in order to be tempted by the devil.
Is this a pious hypocrisy? Does our Father in heaven lead Jesus into temptation so that we’ll do as God says but not as God does?
The temptation of Jesus has always been fascinating to me. Somewhere I picked up this image of the Holy Spirit beating the bushes around Jesus, chasing Him into the wilderness, towards the devil. That’s how Mark records it: “The Spirit immediately drove [Jesus] into the wilderness” (Mark 1:12).
Drove Him. Herded Him.
The temptation of Jesus is strange to us if we think that God would never or could never do such a thing as lead us into temptation.
And the Lord’s Prayer, in its simplicity, seems to say as much, so clearly, that we have no problem moving right along.
But here’s what’s going on in the temptation of Jesus: He’s showing us how he delivers us from evil—by beating down satan under his own feet—so that satan is even beat down under our feet.
Here’s what I mean, and I know I’ve brought this up before, but this is really important: when Jesus teaches us to pray, “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matthew 6:13), He’s not teaching us to ask God never to put us in a position to be tempted.
To do that, to ask God to prevent us from ever being in a position to be tempted is to ask God to prevent us from ever being able to put our faith into action.
Consider the times you’ve witnessed of Christ to your friends or family. When your friends, your children come into town over the weekend, and you say, “I always go to church. We—leave at 9:30.”
Are you not tempted in those moments to say, “I usually go to church, but…”
To pray, “Dear Father, never give me the opportunity to confess you before men,” is to pray “out of” and not “in” the name of Jesus.
If you look at it all together, it’s not a lack of temptation that we’re to pray for but a deliverance from evil. And that’s what Jesus has us pray next: “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matthew 6:13).
It’s as if Jesus says—it’s as if He means us to pray—“Lead us not only into temptation but most especially deliver us from the evil one.”
That’s honest. That’s true.
We face temptation every day. Every visit from family and friends.
Don’t raise your hands, but this Easter—who plans on having family over? Who expects company? Who’s already thinking about the BBQ, the drinks, the Cadbury Crème Eggs, or those frightening pictures of children with gigantic, man-sized rabbits?
Now, who plans on hearing the Word of God and receiving the forgiveness of sins on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, at the Easter Sunrise service (7am), and again at the Resurrection of our Lord (10am)?
Will it be “I always go to church” or “I usually go to church”?
Especially when you are tempted, pray that God deliver you from the evil of agreeing with that temptation.
That Jesus is driven into the wilderness in order to be tempted by the devil shows us what He’s fighting for, what’s at stake.
What standing does the devil have?
Where does he stand with you?
In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus beats down satan under His feet. Hear again how Jesus responds:
“’If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’ But [Jesus] answered, ‘It is written, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by ever word that comes from the mouth of God”’” (Matthew 4:3-4).
“’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.”’ Jesus said to him, ‘Again it is written, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test”’” (Matthew 4:5-7).
“’All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve”’” (Matthew 4:9-10).
There is no more perfect rebuttal, retort, or refutation of satan’s use of scripture than the pure word of God.
The devil has no standing with you, he can accuse all he wants, but he’s potsherd dry, his teeth are broken, his strength is cut off.
Jesus is led into temptation, and He delivers defeat to satan.
So that when we’re led into temptation, we can remind satan of how our Lord and Savior, our God, our Christ has already delivered us from every evil.
“Dear Father in heaven, lead us not only into temptation, but most especially, remind us of our deliverance for Christ’s sake. Deliver us from evil.”
“Then, the devil left [Jesus], and behold, angels came and were ministering to him” (Matthew 4:11).
The devil leaves.
Angels minister to our Lord.
Because now is not the hour for the Son of Man to be glorified. That hour is yet to come, when the Son of God is lifted high for all the world to see—that all the world would be saved.
Today, this Lent, and every day, bind yourself to Jesus the Christ. He endures temptation, cross, passion, and death that you would be spared the wrath of God against sin.
Believe what’s true, and you will be saved.
In Jesus’ name, Amen!
Invocavit Sermon, 2019
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt