Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Matthew 4:1-11 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4 But he answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'” 5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple 6 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.'” 7 Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.'” 8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. 9 And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10 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.'” 11 Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him.
This history was written for us both for doctrine and for admonition. For doctrine, so that we would know how Christ has served and helped us with his fasting, hunger, temptation and victory. And for admonition so that according to this example we would gladly suffer scarcity and temptation in service to God and for the good of our neighbor as often as necessity requires it, as Christ has done for us.
The temptation was like this. It is all very beautifully pictured for us in Christ. First, he was led into the wilderness. He was left alone by God, angels, humans, and all creatures. What kind of temptation would it be if we were not forsaken and left alone? It does hurt when we feel that there is no way out, such as when one must nourish himself but has no money and there is no help from others. That is what it means to be led out into the wilderness and left alone. But whoever has his pantry full, his bank account overflowing, and security of job has not yet been driven into the wilderness or left alone. He does not feel the temptation.
But Jesus in midst of the wilderness had nothing to eat for forty days and forty nights. Hunger set in, and that is when the devil stepped up to attack him with the same worry about the belly and with unbelief in God’s goodness and says, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become bread.”
It is with similar thoughts that the devil tempts everyone who experiences scarcity. “If you were really God’s child, he would love you, and you wouldn’t feel loss or scarcity or need.” He would convince you that your need and necessity are because God does not love you, or God is not powerful enough, or perhaps, there is no God at all. He would have you believe that you haven’t been good enough and God is displeased with you. Many preachers preach today on TV and in the pulpits, “If you were really obedient to God and serving him, you would be blessed with success, riches, and abundance.” “If your congregation was doing all it could, it would be growing and prosperous.” But you are poor, you are lacking, you are struggling because you are not truly committed believers. God must not love you. You have some unrepentant sin in your life. And many, many people fall for this lie.
Now look at Christ’s attitude toward this temptation of his belly and how he overcame it. He looked around and saw nothing but stones and nothing to nourish himself with. But, he clung to the Word of God, strengthened himself, and knocked the devil down with it. Thus, all Christians should valiantly make use of this saying when they see that there is lack and scarcity and everything has become stones. You should say, “So what if even the whole world were bread? Nevertheless, man does not live by bread alone. Something more is required, namely, the Word of God.”
These words are so powerful that we must not rush past them. Christ takes these words from Moses who said that God let the people hunger in the wilderness and fed them with manna, “that they might know that man does not live by bread alone, but by all that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” (Deut 8:3). We too must have this mind and attitude. Since you hunger and yet remain alive, you should certainly catch on that God nourishes you through his Word. Now, whatever we have said about eating and nourishing should be understood also about drinking, clothing, house, job, bank account, family, friends, good weather, good government and all necessities for this life here. We are using bread and nourishment here as a metaphor for all bodily needs.
What is the word he nourishes you with? It is that he is our God and wants to be our God. He wants to supply your needs. He longs to nourish you. As he willingly desired to suffer scarcity for you in the wilderness, and even to die for you on the cross, so he desires to nourish you with all that you need. He wants to be your God. And this provision for you he does through vocation and work, through your neighbor, your employer, your family, good weather, and the vocations of others.
This brings us to the second temptation, which is in contrast to the first. For the second temptation is to put God to the test.
This is the next arrow the devil shoots at us when he finds a heart of faith that trusts God, even in times of scarcity. The devil must find some other way to tempt us, so he then convinces us that if we have such great faith we should be completely spiritual and say, “We are supposed to believe God. I will not eat bread, but wait until God sends me manna.” The devil tells us: Don’t labor for food or drink or house or home. Forget your work and pay no attention to how much you have in the bank, if you can afford something or not. Spend all you have. God will provide. God will see to it that bread falls from the sky.
This is not merely a physical temptation, but also a spiritual one, which deals not with the belly, but with the soul. Satan convinces you that the angels guard you from falling and that your works are pleasing to God. These people do not look to the means of grace, but think God merely drops His grace from the sky in the beauty of the fields, the majesty of the mountains, or in their own struggles in prayer. They say in their hearts, “You don’t have to go to church to be saved. God just pours forgiveness and salvation on you from the heavens.”
But, there God is not found. He wishes to come to us only in His Word and in the sacraments. Outside of word and sacrament, God is a stern ruler, governing the universe by law, and meting out justice, and punishing the evil doer. But in the word proclaimed and the word joined to water in baptism and bread and wine in the Communion, His grace and mercy are present. His love is poured out on you, you are washed and cleansed and made acceptable to God by the voluntary sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.
The third temptation is the exact opposite of the first. Whomever the devil cannot overcome and cause to doubt God through poverty, scarcity, need and misery, he attacks with riches, favor, honor, pleasure, power, and the like. The devil prowls round and round, and if one temptation doesn’t work, he tries another until he wins. He shows Christ all the kingdoms of the world and offers to give them. This applies to all those who seek after honor and power, so that they may have good days here, or who pervert their faith in such a way as to eliminate the cross from their lives so that their honor and power remain. “Have your best life now,” is the cry we hear today. “Do this and you will have success. Do that and you will prosper. If your church would only do such and such, it would grow and flourish.”
These heretics cause sects and factions among Christians in matters of faith, so that they may be haughty before the world and live in honor, showing how splendid their glory and fame is. The first temptation is a temptation of misfortune by which we are incited to anger, impatience and unbelief. The third is the temptation of prosperity, by which we are incited to pleasure, honor, joy, and whatever is high and noble.
Now these three temptations taken together are difficult and severe and represent the full spectrum of the devil’s temptations. They attack faith through external and physical things, such as food, clothing, money, power and fame. They attack faith in spiritual things such as perceiving that we are pleasing to God by our works, or that God is not pleased with us on account of our sins and failures.
But, in the end, the angels came and served Jesus. This happened bodily so that they brought him food and drink and all other needs. This serving happened externally to his body, just as also the devil appeared in bodily form. He did not come in the form of the devil, for he becomes very beautiful as an angel of light when he wants to lie and deceive (II Cor 11).
Now, this is written for our comfort so that we would know how many angels come and serve us when the devil attacks. If we fight valiantly and stand firm, God does not let us suffer scarcity, but angels must first come from heaven and become our bakers, cooks, and serve us in all our needs. This was not written for Christ’s sake, for he does not need it, it was written for our sake and for our comfort. If the angels serve Christ, then they can and should serve us too.
This is written for our great comfort and admonition. Comfort that Jesus willingly suffered such great scarcity and temptation for us. He gave himself totally. He kept nothing for himself. He looked not after his own interests. He joyfully and willingly suffered for us and died for us on the cross. Such love we cannot fathom. Human reason cannot understand or grasp that anyone should make such sacrifice. But this is love, not that we have loved God, rather, that God first loved us. This is the most precious comfort for us. That all the torment, agony, bloodshed of the cross Jesus suffered purposefully. He was not the victim, we are not to look upon the cross with sorrow for what he suffered, but with the same joy he had in going to the cross for us. We must see in the cross, not his suffering, but our sin which is laid upon him. We must see our sin carried away by Jesus and lifted up on the cross as our redemption from sin and death.
And in this love we see an example of the love we are to have for others. Not seeking our own interests, but those of our neighbor, asking nothing in return, expecting nothing in return, only forgiving the offenses of others and willingly suffering want and scarcity for them whenever it is needed.
O holy and most merciful Savior, deliver us not into the bitter pains of eternal death! Amen.