Pastor James Hopkins preached this sermon on the first Sunday of Lent 2/21/2021. The service was broadcast live on Facebook at 11am, and is now available on the FLC youtube channel. To follow along from home, the bulletin is available as a PDF: Lent1 Bulletin
The texts for the sermon were the day’s gospel and Old Testament lessons. To read the Bible texts for the first Sunday of Lent, click here.
Lent has long been a season of increased prayer and meditation on God’s Word. And so, it is fitting that on the first Sunday in Lent, Jesus puts on a Bible Study.
Satan, of course, already thinks himself knowledgeable and wise in this area. After all, he had no problem deceiving Eve with his new, hot take on God’s Word. And he expects a similar result with Jesus.
But Jesus is not Eve. He has not accidentally found Himself isolated and disarmed. In fact, the Holy Spirit has led Jesus into the wilderness for this very purpose. Jesus has come in order to be tempted by the devil – and by suffering that temptation, to do battle with him on your behalf. But this battle does not only cause the old, evil foe to flee. The blows he deals to Satan are also meant to both correct and comfort you.
As you listen to how Jesus teaches His Word, you will not only understand the meaning of the texts in question, you will better understand the entire Bible, because you will better understand Jesus, and what it means to say that He has kept the law for you.
The devil’s first shot at temptation is to turn the stones into bread. This isn’t just about fasting and being hungry. This is about Jesus being faithful where God’s people were not faithful.
See how Jesus retells the history of His people, Israel, Stepping into the role Himself, and effectively altering both their past and their future.
Just as Israel passed through the waters of the Red Sea and entered the wilderness, Jesus entered the wilderness having just passed through the waters of the Jordan. It was there, on the banks of the Jordan river, that the Holy Spirit who descended on Him immediately led Him into the wilderness. Mark uses even more forceful language than Luke. Mark says that the Spirit ἐκβάλλω (‘d) Jesus. That He cast Him out to do battle. There, Jesus would do what Israel failed to do. They thought it would have been better to die in Egypt than starve in the wilderness. And so, they grumbled against God for all the 40 years of their sojourn. Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness corresponds to Israel’s 40 years. By this, the same Spirit who sent Jesus into the wilderness shows us that Jesus is Israel reduced to One.
Jesus endures this temptation, then, as the whole people of Israel. Jesus endures this temptation on their behalf and on your behalf. If you know history well, you might have already guessed at that connection. But Jesus made it explicit when He rebuked the devil:
It is written, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”
He is quoting Deuteronomy 8, where Moses is recalling Israel’s history:
[Y]ou shall remember the whole way that the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. Deuteronomy 8:2-3
Jesus knew what Israel had failed to learn. Satan told Him that “if” He was the Son of God He ought to make the stones bread. But God had already spoken:
“This One is My beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased.” Matthew 3:17
Jesus will not use His power to reject God’s will and purpose, like Israel did. Jesus will not act like the gods people make for themselves – those deities who simply act the way we would like, except with more power. Instead, He willingly suffers the time of hunger and temptation, perfectly keeping the Father’s Word and will; not for Himself, but for you.
This is what is taught in the epistle to the Hebrews, which was just read. Jesus, your great High Priest, has not acted like all the false gods of fallen imagination. Instead, by taking on your flesh, and entering the fray for you, He has humbly suffered your temptations, weaknesses, and pains, only without sin – not to lord it over you, but so that you would draw near to His throne confidently. Because He suffered these things in your place, because He kept this law for you, His keeping of the law, His own righteousness, is credited to you, and God honors it.
The next temptation is where Satan tries to take over as teacher. Having been rebuked by the Word of God, he shifts the strategy and tries to play along. He quotes Psalm 91:
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.” verse 6
Sometimes Satan is able to get people to use this Psalm as an occasion to tempt God. He tries to get them to turn it into a magical incantation or a spell. But to try a trick like that on Jesus is remarkably stupid.
He thinks Jesus won’t notice that he has omitted a significant line. Satan omitted the attached intent and promise: “to keep you in all your ways.” That is, to protect His people as they live according to the ways He has taught them; and not to put on a show, or to double-dare God to honor recklessness.
Again, Israel did not learn this lesson. At Massah, which means “to test,” Israel quarreled with Moses, doubting God could provide for them. And they tested God, saying “Is the LORD among us or not?” Exodus 17:7
Here, we see that Satan is happy to test God and tempt others to do the same. When Jesus says not to test the Lord your God, He means that He will not test God. This is not only because Jesus desires to keep God’s law, but because He actually trusts God and will not dishonor Him with insincere tests.
You don’t get to just jump off a building reciting Psalm 91 on the way down. That’s a violation of the fifth commandment (you shall not murder), and it will not work out.
Likewise, you may not use this command against tempting God as a reason to avoid all the risks in your life. There are many things you have to do in your various callings: as Christians, as parents, as students, workers, et cetera. And every one of them has associated risks, all the time.
Again, no one should hear this as a call to carelessness. It is a reminder to make prudent and faithful decisions, trusting in God’s providence, His provision, and living confidently in His promises.
The final temptation is the crassest. It fully reveals Satan’s desire along with his limited imagination. The kingdoms of this world are not his to grant to Jesus or to anyone.
In reply, Jesus could have pointed to the first commandment, recorded in Exodus: “You shall have no other gods.” And that would have been more than enough. But the point is not only that to have any other god is wrong, we’re also to see that Jesus endures this specific temptation in place of Israel and us.
Just as the kingdoms of this world are not Satan’s to give, neither was the Promised Land. That was a gift to be given by God alone. Recognizing this, His people were to have no relationship with false gods and idols.
This is why Jesus instead points to the Word of God given through Moses, as he prepared them to enter into the land that the LORD had given them. They had and would look to false gods to meet their immediate needs and wants, and so, they need to be rebuked and corrected. There is something here for the Christian as well.
Whatever your anxiety, whatever your fear, whatever your uncertainty – you are look to God’s own providence, His own provision, for your relief. This is not a prohibition on going to doctors any more than it’s a prohibition on buying groceries, as if you should be waiting for God to send angels to fill your refrigerator.
God has always been pleased to work through means. The point is about worship, faith, and trust. To place your faith and trust in anyone or anything other than God is idolatry.
But what is the outcome of all this? Jesus, having kept the law for His people; Jesus, having kept the law for you, vanquishes Satan. The Word of God causes him to flee. He didn’t use His divine powers. He didn’t call down a miracle from heaven. He suffered in your place as a Man, as the New Man, as the New and greater Adam. He continued this active obedience to God’s law throughout His earthly ministry, until the time of His passive obedience to God’s law: upon the cross, He suffered the penalty for Israel’s disobedience and for yours.
But Jesus, Israel reduced to One, and in the place of all humanity, is alive. He lives and reigns to all eternity even now.
He who shares your flesh has also made Himself your Ally, Defender, and Brother. He gives you His own righteousness and beauty, His keeping of the law, as a gift. It is yours in Baptism, the Jordan’s waters made pure. It is yours in the proclamation of the Gospel, which puts Satan to flight. It is yours in this Holy Supper; that Food which the world cannot see and knows nothing about, served by God’s angeloi, His messengers.
This is not bread alone, by which you live; but it is bread filled with the Word of God by the Word of God.