When I was in middle school and high school my parents used to refer to how “the creature was coming out.” They used this phrase to describe the fact that when I got really hungry, I wasn’t very pleasant. To this day, I usually eat on a regular schedule. On school days, breakfast is about 7:15 a.m. Lunch is between 12:00 and 12:30 p.m. Dinner is usually somewhere around 5:30 p.m. If it can be avoided, I don’t deviate much from this because I know that I still don’t function all that well when I am hungry.
Now for some people this is not an immediate and pressing issue. As long as I have known her, Amy has been able to miss meals altogether and then just eat something later in the day. I know this goes back to her many years working as a nurse in hospital settings. When things got very busy in patient care, eating just had to wait.
But like all of us, there are limits to how far she can push this. At some point hunger gets to all of us. We get crabby. We get short. We react in ways that we normally wouldn’t.
The devil is working this angle against our Lord’s human nature in our Gospel lesson today. Our text begins by saying, “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.” The word “then” picks up on what has just happened in Matthew’s Gospel. Jesus had been baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan River. The Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus and God the Father said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.
Jesus is baptized and then goes into the wilderness to be tempted. If we are listening carefully, these events should sound familiar. It is the same thing that the nation of Israel had done. They went through the water of the Red Sea and then after disobeying God by refusing to enter the promised land, they wandered for forty years in the wilderness.
Jesus went into the wilderness to be tempted. He fasted for forty days and forty nights. Jesus was – and still is - true God and true man. In the incarnation he became like you in all ways except sin. We learn that at the end of these forty days of fasting, he was hungry. Well of course he was. You would be too.
The devil chooses this moment to tempt Jesus. Remember, the devil has been playing this game for a very long time and he is very good at it. His temptations will target you where and when you are vulnerable.
He said to Jesus, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” The devil’s point was “So you are the Son of God and you are hungry. Well, then do something about it.” He invited – he challenged Jesus – to use his power to help himself.
However Jesus answered, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” Jesus quotes a verse from Deuteronomy that talks about how God used hunger with Israel in the exodus. It says, “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.”
Not long after Israel had passed through the Red Sea, they realized that they were running out of food. Finally, in response to their complaints God promised that he would provide manna for them – the bread from heaven. Moses says that God used this hunger to teach the nation that they had to rely on God’s word.
Jesus didn’t need reminding. At his baptism, Jesus was designated as the “Servant of the Lord.” Repeatedly the prophet Isaiah identifies the Servant as Israel. Jesus is Israel – he is Israel reduced to one. He had come to be the Servant sent by God. He was here to serve God the Father by carrying out his saving mission. He was here to serve us by offering himself on the cross. He wasn’t going to use his power to serve himself. And in this we begin to see that he is the faithful Son that Israel never was.
The good news for us is that in his letter to the Galatians St. Paul calls Gentiles “the Israel of God.” The bad news is that we are just like Israel. We are not willing to trust God’s word of love and care. We are not able to live according to every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.
Having failed in his first attempt, the devil took Jesus to Jerusalem and set him on the pinnacle of the temple. He said, “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.’” The devil invited Jesus to force God’s hand by making him perform a dramatic rescue right there in Jerusalem.
Jesus answered, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” Israel had tested God when they ran out of water. They had not trusted that Yahweh would care for them. Jesus trusted the Father’s will. He would not test God. He would not deviate from the path that the Father had set before him. Jesus’ action in the city of Jerusalem would not be a spectacular event in which he forced God’s hand. Instead, it would be the humble and lowly death on a cross.
Finally the devil took Jesus to a high mountain showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. It must have been a breathtaking sight! And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”
Here was the offer of the easy way. Jesus could have it all. There would be no suffering. There would be no cross. All he had to do was worship a false god. Israel had done this all the time. They fit in with their pagan neighbors by worshipping their gods.
When offered the choice between the cross and worshipping a false god, like Israel you often choose the latter. Rather than facing the world’s rejection, you put the ways of the world before God. In the way you view sex; in way you view money and possessions you follow the world instead of him.
However, Jesus did not. We learn, “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.’” Jesus would only serve the Father. He was making his way to the cross and he would not turn aside to pursue an easier way that was sinful.
Jesus Christ was in the world to be the Servant of the Lord that Israel never was. He had come to be the faithful Son that Israel never was. Four times in this Gospel Jesus predicts his passion. In chapter twenty he tells the disciples, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem. And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day.” And then just a few verses later he adds, “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Because Jesus was the faithful Son and Servant of the Lord he received God’s judgment in your place. He has won forgiveness for you and made it possible for you to be sons and daughters of God. He has set forth the way you are to walk as you live by the word of God; as you do not put God to the test; as you worship and serve God alone.
Jesus told the disciples ahead of time that the way of the cross led to the glory of the resurrection. On that mountain the devil offered Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and their glory if he would just fall down and worship him. Jesus obtained that and more, but he did so by obeying the Father’s will. After his resurrection, Jesus stood on a mountain in Galilee. He told the disciples, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”
Through baptism Jesus’ Spirit has given you the status of being sons and daughters of God. You are now called by Jesus to follow him – to walk in his ways. As our Lord talked about his death he said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them.
It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Following Jesus means struggling against sin. It means seeking to fear, love and trust in God above all things in what you do and say. It means loving your neighbor as yourself in what you do and say. Jesus Christ did this in his temptation in the wilderness as he overcame the devil. He did it all the way to the cross. Now in the risen Lord we find forgiveness for the ways we fail. And by his Spirit he gives us strength to do and say those things that are only possible because of what he has made us to be.