“Jesus full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil.”
As we have prayed this morning, the Psalmist declares: “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.” The promise is made for those who are faithful, those who have been given the privilege to be in the presence of the Lord God. This is no small thing! For the Lord God Almighty, the Lord of Hosts, chooses to give His protection, to defend His people from all things that assail them.
Listen again to several of the promises that have been sworn by the Most High God: “He will cover you with His pinions, and under His wings you will find refuge; His faithfulness is a shield and buckler. . . . A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you. . . . 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.” Think upon what this means: the Lord God has promised to be a place of refuge and protection from disaster. For this reason the Psalmist declares: “I will say to the Lord, ‘My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’”
But what does this defense look like? How is it given? The Temptation of Jesus answers those questions. What Jesus undergoes, what He experiences in the midst of this struggle, shows how the Lord God makes Himself a trustworthy sentry for His people. The Evangelist tells us about the setting in which Jesus suffered the spiritual assaults of Satan: “Jesus full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And He ate nothing during those days. And when they were ended; He was hungry.” From the description, Jesus is vulnerable, subject to attack. He is exposed in the elements. He suffers from the lack of earthly provisions. Jesus is like the travelers along the rural roadways or desert highways, out in the open to whatever lies in wait.
And lie in wait, Satan did! The Evangelist records three specific temptations that Jesus underwent. Each time, Jesus is tempted to do things that He had the ability to do or receive. Satan reminds Jesus of His empty stomach and tells Him to manipulate creation, so that He can eat. The Nazarene carpenter is shown all the authority and wealth of the world and urged to take it in exchange for a simple bow and kiss of the ring. The Lord of Hosts is tempted to test just whether the angels under His command will protect Him. All three could be done with little effort. Out in the wilderness, with no one around to see, no one to know just exactly what happened, Jesus faces these temptations.
But the incident in the wilderness ends without sin, without Jesus’ succumbing to Satan’s wiles. So how is He able to withstand them? How is Jesus able to keep from forsaking His identity and role by not falling victim to Satan? It is so because Jesus’ will is perfectly aligned with God the Father’s will. Everything that the Eternal Father set down to be good, right, and salutary is what the Eternal Son also determined to be good, right, and salutary. His desire is to fulfill everything that He Himself had instituted and promised. It is what the Holy Spirit leads Him to accomplish. Because this is so, Jesus is not led astray from the way that had been designed for Him. Even though He is exposed to assault, Jesus can withstand it. And so, He can take up the role of being the Spotless Lamb of God who bears upon Himself the sin of all the tainted creation.
That is how the Lord God becomes a help for you. It is why you can pray with the Psalmist: “I will say to the Lord, ‘My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’” The One who is not victimized but victorious over Satan is your eternal ally against your great foe. The One who wandered in the wilderness and faced the Tempter is with you as you do the same. The One who has a perfect will for you works to fulfill it. It is why the Church prays on this day: “Guide the people of Your Church that following our Savior we may walk through the wilderness of this world toward the glory of the world to come.” It is why the Psalmist declares: “He will cover you with His pinions, and under His wings you will find refuge; His faithfulness is a shield and buckler.”
Because Jesus is not defeated by Satan, He is able to be a help for you. This is how the promises of the Psalm actually are fulfilled. A promise of protection is no good, if the protector cannot withstand what assails you. Armor is no good against an armor-piercing shell. An inflammable garment gives no defense against fire. A vaccine is worthless if it cannot inoculate a patient against a disease. But you rely on One who was tempted by the Tempter, but did not sin. That is a trusty shield and weapon to trust in!
But Christ’s Temptation shows you more than the identity of your Protector. Certainly the bona fides of Jesus are on display. Yet, there is more. You are shown how your Protector also arms you against your opponent. Think again about what St. Luke records: “Jesus full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the
What the Apostle states is indeed true: “‘The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart’ (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” Because this is so, you wander in the wilderness of this world, but are not unarmed. No, you have a great armor to wield along the way. That is what Jesus demonstrates to you in the events of His temptation.
Remember the ways that Satan tempted Christ: “Command this stone to become bread. . . . If You, then, will worship me, it will all be Yours. . . . Throw Yourself down from here. . . .” All of the Tempter’s assaults sought a weakness in Jesus. Satan tries to find something that will lure Jesus into sin. He probes to find something that Jesus would desire but that the Father condemns. But notice how Jesus is able to parry these attacks and defeat His assailant: “It is written . . . . It is written . . . . It is said . . . .” Each time, Jesus wields the greatest of armaments—the Divine Word which carries the full authority of the Lord God and accomplishes what it says. Though facing an opponent with deep guile and great might, Jesus holds the field victorious. Satan fights with great resolve and great strength, but one little word subdues him.
That word—“the word [that] is near you, in your mouth and in your heart”—is what Jesus has given to you. It is how He equips you for your journey in this life. In the events of His Temptation, Jesus shows how to use it. By doing so, He fulfills what the Psalm promises: “You will tread on the lion and the adder; the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot.” And tread and trample, Jesus does! It is done in part in the Trans-Jordan wilderness, as Jesus overcomes Satan with the Divine Word. It is finished on the
But until that day, you are on your journey. You are on the pilgrimage to the New Jerusalem. And Satan lies in wait to strike you down and take the treasure that your Lord has given you. But you are not left alone; you are not left unprotected. No, the promise has been given to you by the One who has already defeated your enemy: “He will cover you with His pinions, and under His wings you will find refuge; His faithfulness is a shield and buckler. You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the destruction that wastes at noonday.” You are protected and armed: you have the Holy Spirit in the holy word—the very thing that your Champion used to emerge victorious against the old, evil foe.
So you are equipped again this day. You are reissued your armaments for the expedition. You are given provisions for the journey. “‘The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart’ (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” Saved you will be, even against this world’s prince. For the promise made to you concerning the Serpent is true: his head will be crushed by the Christ who defeated him in the wilderness. And because of that, the other promise is true: “You will tread on the lion and the adder; the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot.” So it will be for you who have Christ’s Word, call upon Christ’s Name, and walk with Christ’s guidance toward the glory of the world to come.
T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.