You Call This Tempting?
You call this tempting? There's more tempting going on in "Devil in Blue Jeans," "Sympathy for the Devil," and "The Devil Went Down to Georgia," then there appears to be in our text.
Hasn't that thought crossed your mind too? We know what tempts us: sex, money, power, and living forever. In literature and movies, that's what the Devil normally tempts with. The guy or gal sells her soul to win the love of another, to be rich and powerful, to live forever. Such tempting spirits cross our paths every day. If we're young, the demon of lust stirs us. If we're middle age, it's the twin demons of money and power. If we're old, it's probably the demon of living forever. If these things were going on in the text, then we would see real tempting going on.
But they are. The sharpest temptations bring about physical reactions: a racing heart, a watering mouth. You know such temptations, so did Jesus. If you don't think Jesus' heart quickened and His mouth watered at the mention of bread, then you've never been real hungry. The text says, "Jesus ate nothing for 40 days, and at the end of them He was hungry." "Tell these stones to become bread," says the Devil, and when Jesus looked at the bread-shaped stones the Devil pointed to, He saw steaming loaves of bread and smelled them too. A starving man will be tempted by food more than by lust, and the temptation is just as sharp, intense, and real.
Money and power are waved before Jesus too and not just some, not just Donald Trump or Bill Gates money and power, but the kind of money and power only known in the ancient world. A man ruling as God. The Devil shows Jesus all the kingdoms of the world in a moment in time. See them go whirling past in kaleidoscope fashion: the pyramids being built, the glory of Rome, the rise of Britain, Hitler's war machine, the nuclear age, the space age, and more. It doesn't matter how little or how much you have, everyone is tempted by more. More than what they have. With Jesus, the Devil puts before Him all the power and money of all the kingdoms of the world and says, "Don't you want it?"
You've watched enough science fiction to know that in the end the grizzled, withered, rich man who's gotten every woman he ever was tempted by and all the power and wealth he could lust after wants only one thing: more life. He'll trade his fortune, his lover, his very soul to live longer. The Devil dangles before Jesus the prospect of not being able to die. He promises, based on God's Word, that if Jesus throws Himself off the temple, He not only won't die, He won't even stub His toe. To put it in the terms this temptation comes to you today: the Devil says Jesus can have no risk factors for dying. Jesus doesn't need to take a pill, exercise, or eat right to eliminate a risk factor, but by testing God He can eliminate them all.
Okay so the things I'm tempted by are in the text, but where's the temptee? James 1:13 clearly says, "God cannot be tempted by evil." Jesus is True God. He is the Second Person of the Godhead. He is co-equal with the Father and the Spirit. So how can you call this tempting? You can tempt me with lust, money, power, and living forever, but how can God the Son be so tempted? Isn't this battle between the Devil and Jesus more like a Hollywood fight staged by stuntmen with fake knives or swords? The intensity you see on their faces is all a put on. Doesn't God the Son know He's going to win because God can't be tempted by evil?
James 1:13 does say God can't be tempted, but Hebrews 4:15 says God in Christ was. "He was tempted in all things as we are yet without sin." Jesus knows the watering mouth temptations you know. Jesus knows the aching need to have more, better, different that you do. Jesus knows the yearning to live longer, to escape death, to bypass dying because "Jesus was tempted in all things as we are."
What's more, Hebrews says Jesus can "sympathize with our weaknesses." Caught up in temptation you feel all alone. No one understands. In fact, you don't understand. How can your whole life collapse into this one desire, lust, and must have? Like a black hole all things are condensed to only what's tempting you. There is nothing but you and your temptation. Not so fast. Jesus is there too, not lashing you to do better, not demanding that you "get a hold of yourself," but "sympathizing with you weakness." It's true I don't know the intensity, density, or high definition of what tempts you, but Jesus does.
Wait; how do we reconcile, "God cannot be tempted by evil" with Jesus, God the Son, being "tempted in all the ways we are?" God doesn't call us to reconcile one Scripture with another, but confess both. God can't be hungry, yet Jesus hungers here. God' cannot be led around by the Devil, yet he leads Jesus around here to a mountain and temple. God can't be tempted, yet Jesus is tempted here.
In order to redeem you Jesus had to take your place. But God could not take your place under the Law because God is under no laws. Whatever God does by definition must be lawful. So God became a Man born under the Law. Likewise, Jesus had to take your place under the punishments of the Law. God can't suffer and die, by definition, a being that can suffer or die cannot be God. So God becomes a Man able to suffer and die. In Christ, God suffers and dies. His suffering and death, because it is divine, is worth more than all the suffering and dying the kingdoms of the world should do for their sins.
You call this tempting? Yes, I do. Here are all the things that tempt us, and here is Jesus being tempted in all the ways we are. Okay, so where's the tempter now? Defeated by a Man for all mankind. Though Jesus is God in flesh and blood, He doesn't use the weapons of God against the Devil but the weapons available to flesh and blood. Jesus could have defeated Him with divine power. He could have smoked him the moment he showed up. But Jesus isn't fighting for His sake, for divinity's sake, but for our sakes, for humanity's sake. Jesus didn't need to overcome the Devil as God since God was never under the Devil's power. We were.
So Jesus battles the Tempter as a man. He parries the Devil's words with God's Word. The Devil stabs at Jesus' sonship with "a real Son of God wouldn't hunger," and Jesus blocks the blade with, "Bread doesn't keep man alive." The Devil thrusts with false promises of power and glory and Jesus deflects it by childlike faith in God. The Devil lunges with, "If you're a true child of God, you can do anything you want," and Jesus knocks the spear of rebellion out of the Devil's hand with, "I don't want to test God."
Of course, this wasn't the last battle. The text says the Devil "left Him until an opportune time." The Devil shows up again in Peter tempting Jesus not to go to the cross, in Judas, His friend, betraying Him, and at the cross in the temptation to prove He was the Son of God by saving Himself. This last one was the hardest one. In our text, Jesus defeated the Devil by actively keeping God's Laws. On the cross, Jesus could only defeat the Devil by passively suffering. Jesus needed to do both for us because we can do neither. We can't defeat the Devil's tempting by keeping God's Laws or by suffering blamelessly for our sins. Our victory over temptation can only be in Jesus' actively keeping the law and Him passively suffering for our not keeping it. But why are we tempted at all if Jesus already defeated the Devil?
This is our big temptation. It haunts the corners of your mind when you're in the midst of a battle with the Devil. If the Devil is defeated, why's he allowed to tempt Christians? He's still booking rides on that long black train that leads away from redemption into eternal death, and you see that train pull out with casualties daily. You feel like a USO worker in early 1945 who wrote home saying that everyone knew Germany was defeated, and so she was saddened all the more for the American boys who would yet die even though the war was really over. You've felt that way? If the Devil is really defeated why am I so tempted? If God in Christ really did crush the serpents head in the desert and on the cross, why does he still slither away with souls?
At last you're face to face with the Devil's grand temptation. The fleshy temptations you feel when you are young, the worldly temptations you feel when you're middle age, and the temptation of eternal youth you feel when you're old, are nothing compared to this one. The grand daddy of all temptations is that your struggling, suffering, and enduring of temptation are pointless and meaningless. How can they add to Jesus' victory if He has already won? What does your struggling to remain faithful matter? What point is there to bearing the ache that comes with not giving in?
Your conflict is not meaningless nor pointless. The battles go on even though the war is over for the sake of souls yet to be gathered. Don't make the mistake of counting God's patience as laziness or even worse as inability to bring the victory home. Peter writes, "The Lord is not slow to fulfill His promise but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish but that all should reach repentance." Should the Lord end your tempting right now by casting the Devil into hell forever, at that point those held captive by their lust, their greed, their unbelief would be forever lost. We struggle on against temptation not because our salvation is at stake but because that of others is.
We're all tempted to believe that Jesus' temptation wasn't the real deal, and that His victory over it is not a done deal for us. It was the real deal, and it is a done deal. When tempted we run to the real deal of Jesus' temptation where we see He really knows the battle we're enduring. When we fall we run to the done deal of Jesus' victory. From inside our victory we can, as Luther advised, make fun of the Devil. The Devil can't stand ridicule or mocking, so when he comes to us with lusts for more, better different, we can respond, "You call this tempting?" Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
First Sunday in Lent (20070225); Luke 4: 1-13