The Ever-Effective Weapon Against the Devil (Matthew 4:1-11)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR
First Sunday in Lent + March 5, 2017
Text: Matthew 4:1-11

Doctors who fight infections are all too aware that having just one weapon isn’t enough.  Viruses and bacteria each respond differently to medication.  Sometimes a strain comes along that refuses to respond to treatment.  Then, newer, stronger, and more innovative means must be developed.
But this is never the case with the Word of the Lord!  Thanks be to God for that!  His Word always accomplishes its intended result (Isaiah 55:11).  The chief spiritual enemy we have is the devil.  But no matter how cunning he is, he will never grow resistant to God’s Word.  The Word will always cause the devil to flee, as we hear today in the Temptation of Christ.
Context is important for the Temptation.  In all three synoptic Gospels—Matthew, Mark, and Luke, the Jesus’ temptation comes immediately after His Baptism where He is declared to be the Son of God.  Satan comes not to congratulate Him or bow down before Him, but to try to make Jesus fall like he had made the first man and woman fall.  The Serpent had gotten all mankind to fall by appealing to their reason—“sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned,”[1] The tempter instead chooses instead to appeal to Jesus’ divinity—command these stones to become bread, throw yourself down, and gain the glory of the kingdoms of the world.  Do it for your own glory, and don’t trouble yourself with this human race.  They won’t appreciate what you do for them much anyway.  But Jesus, the Son of God, wouldn’t have it that way.  “if many died through one man’s [Adam’s] trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many.”[2]  The devil was not successful in making Jesus fall, and that victory is given to all who are in Him.
The devil tempted Jesus because He is the Son of God, and he cannot stand to have a child of God not be condemned to sin and death.  Satan likewise tempts everyone else who is a son of God through faith.[3]  “Woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!”[4]  It’s not much comfort right now, but one way you can know for certain that you have a true faith in Christ is that you will be assaulted by the devil.
The devil is a truly powerful enemy over humanity.  It may be—even as children of God with the gift of the Holy Spirit—that we don’t notice the devil overtly.  In our weakness, we probably won’t be able to put our finger on the temptation the way Jesus does in the Gospel.  Nevertheless, the effect of the devil’s work is still evident.  Just like many diseases are identified by their symptoms, the devil’s temptations can be seen by their resulting sin.
The Tempter draws the Lord’s children away from the Word—the only medicine that can heal them and drive Satan away.  You might hear someone say they had a falling out with people at church. Yet, when the end result is them not hearing the Word you know who’s really behind it, causing those emotional wounds to fester.
When your children’s future seems like such a noble goal that you would rather see them at tournaments where scouts are than in the Divine Service where Jesus is, remember that Satan promised Jesus the kingdoms of the world and all their glory.
One of the devil’s favorite tricks is to convince you that you’re so strong in your faith that you can leave any kind of Bible study or devotions behind.  You got confirmed, so you don’t need to pick up a Bible again, right?  Trouble is, there’s no end to the things he can convince you to believe when you only think you know what God’s Word says.
The devil’s tactics have not changed from the time of Adam and Eve, to the Temptation of Christ, to this very day.  He is still the same evil angel who aims at the destruction of all who cling to God by faith.  But just the same as that hasn’t changed, God’s Word is still the antidote against his temptation.  St. John tells us, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.”[5]  The work of the devil is seen in doubt and unbelief, robbing us of the salvation which Christ brought into the world for sinners.  But in His birth, His Baptism, and yes, His temptation, Christ destroys the works of the devil.
He destroyed them that day by overcoming where Adam and Eve had fallen, and standing in our place as the faithful and holy one.  He won the victory for all who believe through His innocent suffering and death, breaking the sting of sin and the power of death.  He continues to overcome through the Holy Spirit in you, bringing that Almighty, life-giving Word to your mind and heart.
It’s not that you’ll be inoculated by a single dose of the Word of God, but in each temptation the Lord will show you His power to save you even in your filthy weakness.  Mark how the Lord responded to Adam and Eve: He didn’t tell them they would do better next time, but that He alone would save them: “He will bruise your head and you shall bruise His heel.”[6]
So it is true for you as well, as a dearly beloved, baptized child of God.  The devil is strong, but the Word within you is stronger—“The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart.”[7]  Arm yourself with that Word.  We can’t praise the Lord enough for how accessible His Word is to us now.  Study it, meditate on it, learn it by heart.  Study your catechism.  It may seem like the very basics, but it is the very Word which sends the devil running.  You will be blessed, not because you can suddenly go toe-to-toe with Satan, but because he will flee from you when you have God’s Word guarding your heart.  May He grant such a victory even to us, through Jesus our Lord.  Amen!
[1] Romans 5:12
[2] Romans 5:15
[3] Galatians 3:26
[4] Revelation 14:12
[5] 1 John 3:8
[6] Genesis 3:15
[7] Romans 10:8