The Son of God had entered into the world on a mission to free humanity and creation itself from the devil and sin. This was as rescue mission because the devil had ruled since the Fall. He had ruled since he deceived Adam and Eve into doubting God’s Word. He convinced them that they could become more than they were. He deceived them into thinking that God was holding out on them.
He tempted them with the hope of becoming more, and now they and all people have lost what we had. We have lost the image of God. Instead, sin now defines our existence from the moment of conception. The devil is lord over fallen people. He enslaves. He is a murderer, and sin now brings suffering and death. And this is true not just for us. Instead he has brought disorder upon the whole of creation. It is now a place that is red in tooth and claw – a world of predators and prey. It is a place of kill or be killed – a world of suffering.
In the our text, the Son of God and the devil meet in combat. Now given who they are and what is at stake in this struggle, we would expect a spectacular scene. We expect something like what we find in Revelation chapter twelve where John tells us: “Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world--he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.” We expect a spectacular battle that Hollywood would produce using incredible special effects created by the latest computer generated imagery.
That’s what we would expect. But that’s not at all what we find in our text this morning. Instead, this is something very different. Jesus is the Son of God. He is true God and true man. As true God, he is the One who created everything. After all, the apostle Paul says in Colossians: “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities--all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”
Jesus Christ has all power, and yet in our text he doesn’t use any of it. He is the Son of God who exists in eternal communion with the Father, and yet he does not use this relationship for his benefit. At first glance it seems like a very odd way to face off against the demonic overlord of the fallen world.
Our text begins by saying, “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” There are three things in this sentence that are important. First, is the world “then.” “Then” ties our text to what has just happened – the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist.
As we saw during the season of Epiphany, Jesus submitted himself to a baptism for repentance – a baptism that others received confessing their sins. After Jesus had been baptized the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him, and the Father said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
The Father’s words identified Jesus as the Servant of the Lord – the One upon whom the he had placed the Spirit. But the Servant of the Lord is also the suffering Servant of Isaiah chapter 53. At his baptism Jesus identified himself with sinners. He began the role of the Servant who would bear the sins of all. The mission given to him by the Father was to be the One wounded for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities. From the time of his baptism, Jesus’ life and ministry was directed towards one goal: the cross.
The second thing we note is that the Spirit who had just descended on Jesus at his baptism now leads Jesus into the wilderness. And finally, we are told that the purpose of this journey was to be tempted by the devil. Through the work of the Spirit the Father sends the incarnate Son – the Servant of the Lord – into the wilderness to face temptation.
Jesus Christ has received a mission to carry out. He is to suffer and offer himself as the sacrifice to atone for our sin. Now he faces the temptation of the devil. The devil had led Adam into sin. He had lead Israel into sin. Now he will attempt to derail Jesus’ mission.
We learn that after fasting forty days and forty nights, Jesus was hungry. And so the devil came to Jesus and said, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” The Father had just called Jesus his Son. Jesus was hungry. And so the devil told Jesus to do the obvious thing - the easy thing. He should use his power to help himself – to serve himself.
However, Jesus refused and answered using the words of Deuteronomy as he said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” The word that had come from the mouth of God had identified Jesus as the One who would serve. He was not here to use his power for personal gain and comfort. That would have been a betrayal of his mission exactly as the devil desired. Instead, Jesus would be obedient to the Father and serve us.
Next the devil took Jesus to Jerusalem and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “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 tempted Jesus to force the Father to provide a spectacular rescue that would bring attention and fame to Jesus. He even quoted part of Psalm 91 to support this idea.
But Jesus replied, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” The Father had given Jesus his mission to carry out in order to save us. In obedience to the Father he would walk the way of suffering and service. Jesus would not test God and seek glory for himself.
Finally the devil took Jesus to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. He said, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” The devil went all in. He offered Jesus the easy way that involved no service and suffering. But 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 would not attempt to side step the mission he had been given. Rejected for a third time, the devil left him, and angels came and were ministering to Jesus.
In his temptation by the devil, Jesus Christ wins. He wins, not by using his power and might. He wins by remaining obedient to the Father as he continues in the way of service and suffering. We need Jesus who is the winner, because time and again we are losers when tempted by the devil. We crave things of this world – the shiny things that go far beyond daily bread – and these desires guide our decisions instead of God’s Word. We don’t trust God and his will for our life. We worship the false gods of wealth, success, and the world’s praise.
Jesus Christ defeated the devil by remaining faithful to the Father’s will all the way to the very end. The attacks of the devil did not stop in the wilderness. Even as Jesus hung on the cross we hear it in the words of those who passed by deriding him as they said, “You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.”
Jesus did not come down from the cross because he is the Son of God. As the Servant of the Lord – the suffering Servant – he gave his life as the ransom for us. He did not use his power to serve himself. He obeyed the Father’s will. He served and was obedient all the way to death and burial in a tomb.
But the tomb was not the end. Jesus mission led him to suffering and death. Yet our Lord had also declared that it would result in resurrection. Just before he entered Jerusalem during Holy Week he told 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.”
On the third day – on Easter – God the Father did raise Jesus from the dead. The devil had promised the kingdoms of the world and their glory if Jesus would worship him. Instead Jesus was faithful in service as he carried out the Father’s saving will to bring forgiveness and salvation to us. And so as the risen Lord Jesus declared: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”
Jesus Christ has all authority. He is the winner. Through baptism and faith he has called us to be his disciples, and has given us forgiveness. And he has also told us that his way of winning does not look like anything the world expects.
Jesus won the victory for us by serving. And now that describes the way that we walk in his winning footsteps. Our Lord told his disciples: “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.”
Because of Jesus, we serve our spouse, our parents, our siblings, our congregation members and all those whom we meet in the vocations where God has placed us. We do this as the forgiven people of God who walk by faith. And that walk of faith is the walk of service and love towards others. It is, because this is what Jesus Christ has done for us. And in our Lord’s resurrection we have seen that this way of faith leads to victory over death and eternal life with our God.