Matthew 4: 1- 11 – Facing the Enemy
4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'”
I know what it’s like to live on bread alone. In 1976 I moved into an apartment which I shared with two other guys. I think I was earning about $200 per month. I had to pay my rent in advance and I owed my Dad rent money in arrears, so when I got my paycheck I had enough to pay off my debts, buy my bus ticket for the month, leaving me barely enough to buy groceries.
Because I was an alcoholic, I had a difficult choice for that first month. I could spend my money on beer and whisky, or I could purchase food each week. It was a no brainer for me. I kept my money for drinking in the pub each night and bought a loaf of bread each week. Just a loaf of bread – no butter, no cheese, and no jelly. I lived on dry bread and alcohol for a whole month. It was awful. It was stupid. And it was also dangerous. In all of my life that was the slowest month I have ever experienced and the dumbest. I never ever want to go back to letting alcohol make my decisions for me. I never ever want to experience the hunger that I knew then.
When I read about Jesus being tempted in the wilderness and facing His enemy the devil, I feel some of His hunger and struggle. He was doing it to bring Himself closer to God, not to satisfy His addiction like me. He was focusing on the three year ministry ahead of Him, and not on the here and now. If fasting and being isolated for forty days could help Him remain obedient to God and fulfill His mission, then it was something that Christ needed to do.
But the devil had different ideas. He wanted Jesus to wrestle with temptation and fall under his satanic power. His purpose was to thwart Christ from fulfilling His God given role. If this demon in the desert could conquer Christ right at the beginning then God’s work of salvation would end. Satan would triumph and humankind would be lost forever. Any hope of redeeming the world would be eternally gone.
On February 10, 1968 the hopes and dreams of the U.S Winter Olympic rested upon a young eighteen year old from San Jose, California. She was competing in the Women’s Single freestyle skating and had the whole world on her shoulders. Seven years earlier, in a plane crash, the entire US Skating team had been killed on a trip to Prague for the World Skating Championships. Peggy Fleming was eleven years old at the time and her coach was on that plane. All her hopes and dreams seemed to be over, but Peggy persevered, working out for herself her own routine that would one day make her a champion.
Peggy was hungry to win, but not for herself. She wanted to win for her dead coach and all those skaters who tragically lost their lives. And so, in Grenoble, France, she skated her heart out and won the first ever Olympic skating gold medal for the United States. Her performance wasn’t perfect, but everyone who saw Peggy skate that night were mesmerized by her dedication. She no longer ate the bread of grief and despair; she restored hope and glory to herself, her coach, and to the whole country. Peggy could have given up at the age of eleven; instead she dedicated herself to seven years hard work, determination, and focus that enabled her to face her fears and fulfill her dream.
Jesus also had a dream. A dream of saving the world from the clutches of Satan, sin, and death. He couldn’t give into this temptation. Although He was hungry, He wouldn’t use His powers to satisfy Himself. And so He faced His enemy and told his adversary, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'”
In other words, Christ was telling the devil that His life had a higher calling, a nobler cause, and a divine purpose than making things easy for Himself. His life was sustained by God alone, not bread, or food, or drink.
7 Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'”
But the devil wasn’t going to let Jesus off the hook that easy. If Christ wasn’t concerned about His body’s needs, then Satan wanted to show Him that God was. So he took Jesus to the highest post above the temple and dared Him to jump. After all, God had a mission for Christ that had to be accomplished. If Jesus leapt off the temple’s roof, angels would fly down from heaven to make sure that He didn’t have a crash landing. This was God’s Holy Son, in whom He was so pleased. God would do anything to keep Christ from harm. All Jesus had to do was to dynamically show Satan and the entire world that His divine claims and powers were real. If Christ would do something spectacular, then everyone would see and believe He was for real.
Once again, Jesus faces His arch enemy. He confronts Satan’s misuse and abuse of scripture by reminding the devil one of the most holiest commands God had given to His people: “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'” In other words, don’t make God into a flying genie or spiritual superman who sorts out all of our problems and reckless choices. God doesn’t exist to be pestered by our wants and wishes, demands and deceits. People, including Jesus, were meant to honor and serve God. If Jesus gave in to this temptation then He would be putting God’s faith in Him on the line. Christ’s ministry was not about God’s faith in Christ; it was, still is, and always will be about Christ’s faith in His Father.
On February 10, 1546, the great reformer Martin Luther wrote his last letter to his wife Kate. His health was deteriorating and she was worried about what the future would bring for her and their family. She was also concerned about the movement that Luther had begun almost thirty years before. Her husband in his usual pragmatic and practical way offered his beloved Kate this spiritual advice in his letter:
Pray, and let God do the worrying. Pray, and let God do the worrying.
In other words, place your fears and worries into God’s hands. He’ll take care of them.
And that’s precisely what Christ is saying to the devil during this moment of temptation. Satan is trying to entice Jesus to take a short cut in his ministry, to begin with a glorious, momentous spectacle that will have the whole world talking and then flocking to see Him. By jumping off the roof of the temple and surviving, Christ will display His divine power and status in a way that people have never seen. And when the angels fly down swiftly to His aid, it will be a wondrous and unforgettable scene to behold.
But Jesus doesn’t fall prey to this grandiose delusion. He will place His life and ministry into God’s hands, but not in the way that the devil would like. Christ will faithfully obey God’s word and fulfill His work of salvation in whichever way God wants. Jesus will not tempt or test God to make a false start or presumptuous act of infamy. Christ will honor God by sticking to His Father’s plan, not the devil’s fame and success for dummies program.
10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.'”
So the devil uses one last strategy and reveals his satanic purposes. In an instant, he shows Christ all the kingdoms, nations and powers of the world. “I can give these to you,” the devil insists, “if you will only bow down and worship me.”
The Lord of flies and prince of darkness shows his contempt for God and the world that He created. Satan believes that he controls the planet and that it is his to give away to Jesus. The wily serpent shows how absolutely deluded he is. He knows who Jesus is; he knows where Christ came from, and yet the devil deceives himself into believing that the world belongs to him. Scriptures, like Psalm 24, tell us that the earth is the Lord’s and all that is contained within it. Satan believes his own tabloid publicity, so that when he stands beside Christ, he shows himself to be so foolish, so stupid, so out of touch with reality compared to Jesus. If ever there is a moment in history when we should feel sorry for Lucifer, it’s at this third temptation. He is offering to Christ that which God alone can give. The devil is duping his own deceitful self.
We are all faced with similar delusions. We keep thinking that life belongs to us, our resources are our own, and that we have the personal power to make ourselves better than we actually are. There’s even a book that some of you may have read, which is full of this nonsense. It’s called “the Secret” and it’s all about attracting power, wealth and success just by positively thinking about it. In other words, we take away the origin, source, and glory of our blessings from God and give them to our own personal ego. We fall into the trap of magic and superstition by giving it new names of personal attraction and positive influence. We steal it from God, just like the devil and we end up deluding ourselves, just like Satan.
Peter Marshall, the Scottish Chaplain to the US Senate prayed it this way: ‘Save Thy servants from the tyranny of the nonessential. Give them the courage to say “No” to everything that makes it more difficult to say “Yes” to Thee.’
Ten years ago today, on the thirtieth anniversary of her gold medal win at Grenoble in France, Peggy Fleming was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her response was magnificent and highly encouraging. She stated: “Life is full of challenges. And it’s all about how you face them, how you come through them.”
Faced with what she called “another Olympics, a life Olympics”, Peggy decided to share her experience with the public so that other women would be strengthened. Promoting breast cancer awareness has become extremely important to Peggy, and her appearances on “20/20”, “Oprah”, and other programs have given hope to many cancer patients. That wee eleven year old girl from San Jose, who was devastated by the loss of her coach, mentors, and heroes in the skating world, is now a beautiful grandmother, advocating encouragement, support and survival for millions of breast cancer sufferers throughout the US. She is facing her enemy and in the process enabling and inspiring others to do the same.
Jesus finally dismissed Satan for his contemptuous behavior towards God. Christ wouldn’t listen to his deceitful words anymore and cast him from his presence. His temptations in the wilderness were over and His ministry was due to begin. His focus was upon pleasing God and not Himself, something that we are called to do with our own lives, and especially throughout this holy time of Lent.
We live by the word of God and are sustained by Him alone.
We seek to please the Lord and try to refrain from dishonoring Him.
And we worship the One, Triune and Living God, devoting our hearts and lives to the service of His Kingdom in this world, which only belongs to Him. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.