“In the ninth year of Hoshea, the king of Assyria captured Samaria, and he carried the Israelites away to Assyria and placed them in Halah, and on the Habor, the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes.” That’s how 2 Kings chapter seventeen describes the end of the northern kingdom of Israel.
God’s Word then goes on to explain why this happened. It says, “And this occurred because the people of Israel had sinned against the LORD their God, who had brought them up out of the land of Egypt from under the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and had feared other gods and walked in the customs of the nations whom the LORD drove out before the people of Israel, and in the customs that the kings of Israel had practiced.”
Israel had continually worshipped false gods. Yahweh had tried to call them back to himself. We learn: “Yet the LORD warned Israel and Judah by every prophet and every seer, saying, ‘Turn from your evil ways and keep my commandments and my statutes, in accordance with all the Law that I commanded your fathers, and that I sent to you by my servants the prophets.’ But they would not listen, but were stubborn, as their fathers had been, who did not believe in the LORD their God.”
You will notice that while this describes the end of the northern kingdom of Israel in 721 B.C., the text also mentions that Yahweh had sent prophets to Judah, the southern kingdom. In the end, the result there was no different. They too ignored God’s prophets. They listened to false prophets who said that everything was fine, even as the nation worshiped idols. And so in 587 B.C. the Babylonians destroyed the temple, tore down the walls of Jerusalem, and took the people into exile in Babylon.
At the start, things could not have begun better. God demonstrated his love and care for Israel by rescuing them from slavery in Egypt. He identified Israel as his son such as when he told Moses: “Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the LORD, Israel is my firstborn son, and I say to you, Let my son go that he may serve me.’”
God had rescued Israel in the Passover and brought them through Red Sea. He had taken the people into a covenant, and told them, “Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”
But Israel had failed to be a faithful son. Rather than being a light to the nations bearing witness to the true God they had brought shame upon God’s name. God had used the Assyrians and Babylonians to punish them. As Yahweh made clear through the prophets these empires were merely his instruments. But in the ancient world it was assumed that the nation who won had the greater god, and the defeat of God’s people made it look as if Yahweh was no god at all.
In the prior chapters in Matthew, the apostle had made it clear that Jesus is the Son of God. Joseph had been informed by the angel that the child conceived in Mary was by the Holy Spirit and we have learned from Isaiah that he is Emmanuel – God with us. At his baptism, the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus and God the Father said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
Jesus Christ is the Son of God in the flesh, true God and true man. But at the same time we have also learned in the Gospel that as the Messiah – the descendant of King David – he is Israel reduced to One. He is God’s son Israel. Matthew tells about the return of Jesus from Egypt: “This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, "Out of Egypt I called my son.” This statement which in the prophet Hosea is about the history of nation of Israel is true because, Jesus is Israel. And we see this point made yet again in Jesus’ baptism which precedes our text because the Father’s words taken from Isaiah identify Jesus as the Servant of the Lord. Yet in Isaiah God also says, “Israel, you are my servant.”
Israel passed through the water of the Red Sea into the wilderness, and there her history of unfaithfulness showed through. Now Jesus has passed through the water of his baptism and we learn in our text: “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” Jesus Christ has taken on the role of Israel, and now God has placed him in the setting where he will be tempted and will have the chance to prove that he is a faithful son where Israel was not.
We are told, “And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.” So the devil came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” The devil’s point was simple: You are hungry. You are the Son of God. Show this. Use your power to feed yourself.”
However, at his baptism Jesus had taken on the role of the Servant of the Lord. He was the suffering Servant sent to serve others. This is the role that God had given to him with the word, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” Jesus was not here to us his power to serve himself. That would be to deny and fail in the ministry God had given to him. So, Jesus responded, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
Next the devil took Jesus to 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 told Jesus to make God perform a dramatic miracle in the midst of the temple. That would get people’s attention and draw them to Jesus! He even quoted Psalm 91 to justify it.
But Jesus had been sent by God to carry out a work of service and suffering. He was here to obey the Father’s will, not to force God into some action that brought Jesus worldly glory. And so our Lord responded, “Again it is written, 'You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.”
Finally, the devil took Jesus to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. He said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” The devil offered Jesus the easy way to power and glory. He would have it all, if he would just worship the devil. But Jesus had been sent to serve the serve the Father’s will. So Jesus said, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’”
Where the nation of Israel, God’ son had failed, Jesus the Servant of the Lord who was Israel succeeded in remaining faithful to God. This is good news for us, because we are no better than Israel. Again and again, the devil takes us down with ease. When we face hardships and challenges he tempts us into doubting God’s love and care. He uses our pride to tempt us into putting ourselves ahead of others. He sets before us all of the wonderful things of this world: the money, the luxuries, the travel, the glory in sports and tempts us into putting them before God. He runs circles around us, just like as he did with Adam and Eve in our Old Testament lesson, as he tempts us into committing sin against God.
The devil did that to Israel. He does that do us more of than we would care to admit. But he was not able to do it to the Son of God, Jesus Christ. In his baptism, Jesus had taken on the role of being the Servant of the Lord – the suffering Servant who would bear our sins. As God, Jesus has almighty power, but he never used it to serve himself. Instead, he used it to serve, help, and heal others. His goal was to follow obediently the Father’s will that led to the cross – the goal towards which this season of Lent is moving.
The devil didn’t cease his attacks and temptation of Jesus. Immediately after Peter had confessed Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God,” Matthew tell us, “From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”
Peter reacted by taking Jesus aside and saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” Jesus rebuked him saying, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” Jesus Christ had set his mind on the things of God. He said, “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” He did this all the way to the agony and suffering of the cross, where even there we can hear the devil’s temptation in the words of the crowd who said, “If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.”
Jesus remained faithful to the Father’s will all the way to the cry, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He received God’s judgment against our sin in his suffering and death. Crucified with criminals, his dead body was placed in a tomb. And at that point it looked like the way of faithfulness had been a pointless failure.
But on the third day – on the Easter which we will again celebrate after Holy Week – God raised Jesus from the dead. God demonstrated that the way of faithfulness had won forgiveness, and now resurrection for us. The devil had offered Jesus power and glory if he would just worship him. But after carrying out the Father’s will, the risen Lord was able to tell his disciples: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”
Jesus spoke those words before instituting Holy Baptism. Through baptism we receive the forgiveness that Jesus won on the cross. As we confess our sins and continue to turn in faith to God’s gift of baptism, we know that our sins are forgiven. We know that we belong to Jesus, the One who defeated the devil in his temptation, and who conquered him forever by his death and resurrection. Christ has given us his Spirit through baptism, and so daily we take up the struggle against sin. Yet when we fail, we need only speak four words to know that we are forgiven and that Christ’s victory has been given to us: “I have been baptized.”
Jesus’ victory of forgiveness, resurrection, and eternal life has been given to us. But it is not meant only for us. Instead our Lord said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
The authority that Jesus possesses as the crucified and risen Lord serves as the reason that now we are to share the good news about what he has done with others. Whom do you know who needs to hear that Jesus Christ died on the cross and rose from the dead to give them forgiveness and life with God? This is the good news that all need to hear. Because while the devil does succeed in tempting us, Jesus Christ was faithful to the Father’s will and defeated the tempter. He was faithful all the way to the cross of Good Friday. And then he was raised from the dead by the Father in victory on Easter. He is the One to whom all authority has been given. And through baptism, his victory over sin and death is yours.