Tempted to Believe


In our text, the Man Jesus is tempted to believe His prayers are futile; His heavenly Father won't give Him His daily bread; His kingdom won't come, and God's name won't be hallowed. We too by this text are tempted to believe but what?

I'm tempted to believe that Jesus' temptations are ours. Hebrews does say, "He was tempted in all ways just as we are." Ergo, these temptations must be mine in some way. Luther believed that, "Even up until our hour of death, the temptations of Satan will not depart from us" (Peters, Lord's Prayer, 196). He said on a sermon for this Sunday. "As long as we live, we can expect all three of these temptations" (Klug, House Postils, I, 320). If you don't recognize these temptations, if you don't see that you're tempted to despair of God's care; take shortcuts against God's Word, and test God's promises, that's worst of all. Luther said "the greatest temptation is" to "find yourself so hardened, hardhearted, and insensitive that no trouble moves you"(LW, 44, 63).

The temptations go on for the entire 40 days. Literally the text says, "He was led by the Spirit in the wilderness 40 days while being tempted under the Devil." We're tempted to believe that the only kind of ongoing temptation we're confronted with is sensual. Popular music gives you that impression. From Jay and the Americans' mouth watering attraction, to Springsteen's being on fire, to "Midnight at the Oasis", to "Wild Thing", to the Devil showing up in blue jeans or a blue dress, the world thinks 6th Commandment temptations are the main ones. Luther agreed that "the young man is especially tried by sexual desire." But he thought the mature man was tempted more by ambition and pride and the old man by greed (LW, 27, 80). I'm tempted to believe he's wrong. Even young people have to go through a lot of other temptations before getting to the Sixth. Second, Ecclesiastes is about old people. The last chapter ends with an aged person dying. The ongoing temptation expressed in the book is all is futile, empty, meaningless. And finally, Luther's own Catechism confesses the path of tempting we all take: We are mislead into false belief, then despair, and finally we act in great shame and vice.

The Devil tries this approach in our text. At Jesus Baptism the Father declared from heaven, "You are My Beloved Son." The Devil says are you now? Out here hungry, tempted, alone? In your Baptism, the Triune God also claimed you as God's own child. Are you? Hungry for health, food, love? "Tempted by the fruit of another" falling into one burning ring after another. When the Devil fails to lead Jesus to misbelief and despair, he offers a deal. There is another way for Jesus to get the Lordship of the fallen world. Adam first gave it up by giving into to the devil's lies. Satan is now the god of this world (2 Cor. 4:4) and the ruler of this world (Jn. 14:30). Jesus came to cast him out as a Man for us men and our salvation by keeping all of the Law's requirements and paying all the penalties due us. The unkept laws and unpaid for debt gave Satan standing in heaven. Here Satan says Jesus doesn't need to be obedient or suffer to get what He wants. Likewise, Satan tempts you with shortcuts to happiness, love, money, power, health that don't involve suffering, sacrificing, patience, faith, or hope. I'm tempted to believe this is the height of temptation.

Not so fast. Luke puts last the temptation to test God's promise and power. Luther calls this the Divine Devil because he quotes Scripture, but in reality, he is misquoting it. The Lord's promise in Psalm 91 is as the insert has it: "to guard you in all your ways." When the persecutions do come, you're going to be tempted to believe that unless you confess from the mountain tops, storm the gates of hell itself, you're not really a Christian. This despite the fact Jesus Himself says, "When they persecute you in this city, flee to another" (Mt. 10:23). After predicting the fall of Jerusalem, He told His Church, "let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains." Again when Paul is persecuted in Damascus, he doesn't confess till death but flees to Jerusalem. The Lord promises to keep you in all your ways not to keep you when you purposely put yourself in harm's way.

I am to believe that Jesus' temptations are mine, but I'm also tempted to believe that what I see Jesus doing I can do. After all, doesn't Jesus defeat the Devil as a Man? He doesn't use His divine powers. He is led by the Holy Spirit into these temptations. He is literally tempted under the Devil. And He is led from mountain top to the holy temple by the Devil much like Scrooge is led by the spirits of Christmas. This parallels your life doesn't it? By Baptism, you have the Holy Spirit. He leads you in life to your vocation, to your spouse or not, to these particular children or not. It's not "luck", "chance", "fate" or "fortunate" that you were born in a "Christian" country rather than in a Muslim or Buddhist one. If you're married, you were joined by God to this particular person. The kids you have or not are all by His grace, gift, choice. And the temptations you encounter says Paul are only "what is common to mankind (I Cor. 10:13).

So, it is tempting believe Jesus did it why can't I? He parries the Devil's temptation with 3 quotes from a sermon of Moses in Deuteronomy. Twice Jesus stands on God's Word as once written and forever being true. And when the Devil switches to that exact same way of citing the OT as being authoritative still, Jesus responds, "It forever says." It's not only a written Word, but a living, active Word. The Word always says that man shall not put God to the test; make Him prove Himself to you. "If God really loved me, He would give me this, that, or this." "If God really cared for me, He would do this or that." Or, the most demonic of all I hear and I'm tempted to believe myself: "I've asked God to deliver me from this besetting sin; I'm still falling to it. It must be His fault then." So I am tempted as Jesus was, so why can't I just quote Scripture the way Jesus did? I'm tempted to believe I can.

Luther says do not do that. He says flatly, "Do not argue at all with the devil and his temptations or accusations and arguments, nor by the example of Christ, refute them. Just keep silent altogether; turn away and hold him in contempt. For no one conquers the devil by arguing with him, since he is incomparably more clever than all of us" (LW, 10, 182). C.S. Lewis too saw how wily the Devil is. "He is perfectly content to see you becoming chaste and brave and self-controlled provided, all the time, he is setting up in you the Dictatorship of Pride" (Mere Christianity, 112). Again, "[T]he devil loves 'curing' a small fault by giving you a great one" (Ibid., 113). So, instead of quoting Scripture and entering an extended contest with him as Jesus did, Luther often commended the way a nun handled the tempting Devil. When sorely tempted by the devil and he wouldn't leave her she said nothing more than "'Christiana sum'". "'Listen carefully, devil, I am a Christian.' And when the devil heard it, he immediately fled from her" (LW, 58, 185).

We know what happened to the perfect Eve in Eden. She dialoged with the Devil. She tired to parry his words with God's, and ended up stabbed by them. "Did God really say," Satan asks? She responds, "Yes He did say, 'Thou shalt not eat or even touch the tree in the middle of the garden or you will die.'" Then Satan quickly moves from questions, just asking, just wondering to statements which, reinforced by her own eyes, she fell for: "'You certainly will not die. In fact, God knows that the day you eat from it, your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.' When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was appealing to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took some of its fruit and ate" (Gen. 3:1-6).

How quickly she fell and then Adam followed. And when the Lord came looking for Adam what was the only answer to the whole mess? What was the solution to mankind forsaking God's Word of command and promise? Don't be tempted to believe the solution is the curses that followed. As consequences of the Fall, God announced that womankind would be cursed with pain in the reproductive processes, and mankind would be cursed to live in a creation that no longer served him but worked against him. These consequence are neither the solution of nor the payment for the Fall. The incarnate Word is both. The answer from the Fall on is Jesus, the Promised Seed. He would be born of woman, so True Man, but do what even perfect man could not, crush the head of the Serpent Satan. He does this by keeping the Law. He was tempted and sinned not. But then He suffers, sorrows, sighs, and dies as if He broke every one. We're tempted to believe that the path to being saved is not Jesus but following Jesus.

Follow me. If all the Law does is bring us to the point of excusing why we fell or begging for another chance, it hasn't done enough. If what Jesus went through for 40 days, His hungering, tempting, and suffering is to be any good to us, we have got to see we can't but fall to Satan's temptations. The only answer to our fallenness is Jesus who He is, incarnate God, and what He is, our substitute. Like Johann Gerhard advises: "We should set this sad picture before the eyes of our heart...See, there in Pilate's judgment hall stands another Person. He took my place. He took upon Himself the punishment of my sin. He was disfigured by the scourging and streaming of blood for my sake, so that He would be seen as a squashed, bloody worm and no longer be recognized as a Man" (History of the Suffering, 201).

The Devil's mission, said C. S. Lewis \, is to distract men's minds from the simple truth of who Jesus is and what Jesus did" (Screwtape Letters, 125). The mission of the Liturgy in general and Lenten services in particular is to do the opposite. Focus you on Him and what He did. Not train you to do it for yourself. The ancient renunciation formula of the Christian Church was not as we have it. Do you renounce the devil and all his works and all his ways, but "'all his vanity'" (Worship in the Name of Jesus, 319)? It is vanity to believe I can do what Jesus does in the Great Temptation, but is meet, right, and salutary, to believe that what He did there He did in my place. Amen

Rev. Paul R. Harris

Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas

First Sunday in Lent (20220309); Luke 4:1-13