People love competition. Last weekend the Super Bowl became the third most watched broadcast in television history with 111.9 million TV viewers. Can you guess the top two most watched shows of all time? The Super Bowls the previous two years! And it’s not just the commercials people tune in to watch… it’s the competition. We can’t get enough of it… The NFL, the NBA, Major League Baseball, Premier League soccer (sorry… Premier League football for you fans out there), and on and on the list goes… people love competition.
And not just in sports either! There’s a reason that the Scripps Spelling Bee is broadcast every year on ESPN… there’s a reason people throw Oscar parties with their friends… there’s a reason American Idol has been on the air for 15 years… and that comic book geeks everywhere are excited for Batman vs. Superman and Captain America Civil War to be in theaters this year… people love competition… We like seeing people square off with each other… whether it’s on an athletic field or in a movie or a book or a singing contest… whatever! We love it… we love the showdown… we love the contest… we love watching to see who will come out on top.
Well, if you wanna talk about the ultimate showdown… you’ve come to the right place today. You heard in our Gospel reading about the showdown in the desert between Jesus and the devil… the Prince of Peace vs. the prince of darkness… the Lord of Life vs. the liar doomed to death… And maybe you can tell I’m already tipping my hand as to who came out on top… but you all know how this ended too… you heard the account… you know that Jesus comes out on top here… the thing is… it wasn’t as simple as we might make it out to be after the fact.
Yes Jesus is true God… yes Jesus had been anointed by the Holy Spirit in his baptism just prior to this… but remember… Jesus was really, truly a human being too… in fact during his life on this earth he set aside the full and frequent use of his divine power and glory… when he was tired and hungry and worn down… well… he was just like us. He was left relying on his Father in heaven. Not once in his life do we hear of him performing a miracle to alleviate some personal difficulty or suffering. No… that’s not why he came… he came to go through those things… He came to be our substitute… our stand in… and if he was going to stand in our place he would have to face the same things we do… including the temptations of the devil.
We heard in our 2nd Lesson today from Hebrews that [Jesus was] tempted in every way, just as we are (Hebrews 4:15). In that same letter to the Hebrews we’re also told that [Jesus] suffered when he was tempted (Hebrews 2:18)… It wasn’t easy… And that’s just what we see in our sermon text as Jesus faces off with the devil. Jesus didn’t get a bye week because of who he was… he faced Satan’s assaults as soon as he began his public ministry… and he didn’t face him at full strength either… no Jesus faced the devil when he was at his weakest point physically.
Luke tells us that for forty days [Jesus] was tempted by the devil… Which might not seem that incredible since we’re tempted by Satan every day… but Luke goes on to say that Jesus ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry (Luke 4:2). I don’t know about you but I’d be at my wits end if I went 40 hours without eating… much less 40 days… There have been studies done on people who’ve gone without food and for the most part it seems 40 days, give or take, is about the limit for most people… but even if you survived the 40 days I can’t imagine you’d be in any position to put up a fight with the devil… But that’s exactly what we see Jesus do. After tempting him throughout this 40 day period of trial the devil now puts on the full court press when Jesus is at his weakest… 40 days after Jesus heard the Father acclaim him at his baptism – “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:22). – 40 days later now comes the devil whispering… “Are you really the Son of God?” “Does the Father really love you?” “It’s kind of hard to believe that he actually cares for you seeing how he’s left you to starve in this god-forsaken wilderness… What you need to do is take matters into your own hands… command this stone to become bread… prove you really are his Son after all…”
And Jesus’ response? He turned to the Word. Quoting from Deuteronomy 8:3 Jesus turns back the devil telling him: “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone.’” (Luke 4:4).
The old evil foe was not dismayed though… he fired right back at Jesus… “So… you live by the Word of the Father…? You realize, don’t you, that you will also die by the Word of the Father? That Word you so quickly turn to, it also promises suffering and a cross for you… unimaginable agony… all for what? For a world of ingrates… a world who will mostly ignore whatever you do for them anyways? Where’s the love in that? I’ve got a better option for you… you see all the kingdoms of this world? All their power… all their glory? Well guess what? It’s mine… but it could all be yours… and I don’t ask a painful cross for it, just bow down your tired bones for a moment… worship me, and you can have the crown without the cross…”
And Jesus’ response? Resting once more in his Father’s Word he quotes again from Deuteronomy: “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’” (Luke 4:8). Luke then records one more temptation… this time the tempter transports our Lord Jesus to the peak of the temple in Jerusalem… and since Jesus has made it clear that God’s Word is his weapon in this fight, the devil decides it’s time to turn that weapon against him. “So, I see you trust the Father’s Word… well… if you really do trust it then why don’t we put that Word to the test? He promises to protect you doesn’t he? Why don’t we find out for sure, Jesus? Throw yourself down and let’s see him and his angels get to work for a change rather than allowing you to suffer!”
And Jesus’ response? Turning to the Word once more he quotes from Deuteronomy: “It says: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” (Luke 4:12).
Every time the devil came calling… Jesus turned to the Word… That liar wanted Jesus to prove his Sonship by displaying a lack of trust in his Father… and Jesus didn’t give in… he turned to the Word. That liar offered an easier path to glory than the cross… and Jesus turned to the Word. That liar even tried to quote Scripture to challenge Christ’s faith… but Jesus saw through the lies… and turned again to the Word – letting Scripture interpret Scripture.
As you see this battle unfold it certainly leaves you in awe of Jesus who comes out victorious… but if you’re like me maybe it also leaves you feeling a little low… After all, we have the same weapon Jesus used in his battle against temptation… we have the Word of God… and yet our record when it comes to our showdowns with the devil… well… it’s embarrassing… shameful really.
How many times has the devil come offering so much less than he offered to Jesus… and we fall for the trap…? He offers us the momentary pleasure that’s available right now on your computer… telling us that the acceptance we seek… the release we need… is only a few clicks away… and instead of turning to the Word… we believe the lie. He offers the promise of rest and relaxation at the bottom of a bottle… and we drink down his poison until we lose the will to fight…
How many times has that snake come hissing … telling us that if we want happiness in our relationships, we’d better make sure we have the upper hand… we better keep track of all the ways people have wronged us… and make sure they know we’re keeping track… after all… forgiveness is for chumps… you know that if you forgive someone they’ll just walk all over you…
And how many times has that liar comes whispering in our ear… telling us that God can’t be trusted… after all… he’s allowed how many crosses to come into your life? How much pain and suffering have you gone through? You really believe him when he says that this is for your good? You know better than that don’t you…?
Wouldn’t it be great if we could say that every time Satan came calling we were able to shout that one little word that can fell him – “Liar!” “Devil – you lie! And the proof is right here in God’s Word!” Wouldn’t it be great if that was us…? If we had the record of perfect battling on the field of sin and temptation so that the devil always wound up running from us defeated – his lies, like his head, crushed beneath God’s truth? Wouldn’t that be great?
Well good news today my friends… you already have that record! In your ultimate showdown with Satan the victory is won… the kingdom is yours forever. Because you see our Lord Jesus Christ did not go into battle in the desert for himself… no he went for you. And not just during those 40 days in the wilderness… but throughout the 33 years he walked this earth Jesus faced down the blistering attacks of Satan and he held the field for you. He held the field so that you and I could be clothed with the breastplate of his righteous record… This! This is the glorious truth that is held before us every year on the first Sunday in Lent. Lent has hardly gotten underway and suddenly we see before us the life of our Lord Jesus that clothes us in his holiness, just as Lent will end by holding before us the death of our Savior that washes us from our filth and failure. Jesus is our champion in the battle with temptation. He has already won the victory for us.
This means that the next time Satan comes calling… whispering to you… “You call yourself a child of God? Don’t you know that your life is littered with countless defeats in battle against me? You do know how God really sees you, don’t you?” When this happens… what will our response be? We’ll turn to the Word – to the Lord our righteousness, and say to our enemy, “Devil, you lie!” And resting in the Savior… we’ll find our triumph over temptation… and our strength to keep up the fight this side of heaven… a heaven that is ours because of our champion – Jesus Christ, the Word of God made flesh. Turn to him! Turn to the Word! And enjoy the victory! Amen.