The YMCA has a lending library of members’ discards and this title has been almost screaming at me the last month: “How to Be a Really Nice Person”. It has subtitle “Doing the Right Thing: Your Way”. Isn’t that the sum of the devil’s temptations of our Lord in the desert: Doing the right thing: YOUR WAY? No, It is about the doing the right thing, the Lord’s way. Is love getting things your way? This book title is the classic definition of pride and selfishness, but it sounds good. It is a self-help book and after all isn’t it good to get help in times of need? That kind of question is the devil’s best work as we shall see. It is the Holy Spirit who leads Him into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil so the devil tries and tempts Him to do the good for Himself.
God is so led by God, the Holy Spirit leads Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. But why does the Lord have to be so tempted and tried?
First: So that He won’t sin. Oh, but He had a big advantage, He is God. No, that is His biggest disadvantage. In Lord of the Rings: the Fellowship of Ring, when Gandalf and Frodo realize that the ring Frodo possesses is the Ring of Power, read, the devil, Frodo offers it to Gandalf. No, his face darkening, I would use it to do good. Gandalf’s good, doing it his way. This is the same bill of goods that the devil did sell the first man and woman in the Garden: you will be like God controlling good and evil. But mortal man can not. Jesus is true God but also mortal man, flesh of our flesh, bone of our bone. He could have fallen and the darkness would have been: there are no words. You see we are all tempted, the thing is not to fall into the temptation, into the abyss.
Second, He is tempted and tried so that He won’t sin to make it clear that when He bears the sin of the world, Behold, the Lamb of God, it is not His sin that He bears but yours and mine.
Third, Jesus is tempted so He won’t sin, and so that we have help in the time of need of our temptation and trial. God is so led by God so that Jesus, as it is written:
Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.18For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. (Hebrews 2)
and again from Hebrews
15For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
And from 1 Corinthians 10:
No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.
Temptation is common to man and to the Man, Jesus Christ. He is your ready help in time of trial, fear and need when you want to do it your way. When it might feel good, when you want to get you ahead at the expense of others, when you think, well no one’s looking. He has been there and knows the temptation from the inside out, and so is truly what we heard at Christmas, Emmanuel, God with us, God is with you. Or the devil drives you to despair, If you really were a Christian, you would be a better person, these things would not be happening to you. Tell me something I don’t know devil. In the Gospel for today, Matthew uses the world ‘devil’ but Jesus calls him Satan, satanos, the accuser. Driven into the self, the Lord in His Word leads you out. Emmanuel knows the accuser, If you are the Son of God.
And so fourth: His temptation and trial in the wilderness shows that life in God in this world till the new heavens and new earth is a struggle.
Every Christian must endure such great, grievous perils and attacks—grievous enough even if they come one at a time. As long as we remain in this vile life, where we are attacked, hunted, and harried on all sides, we are constrained to cry out and pray every hour that God may not allow us to become faint and weary and to fall back into sin, shame, and unbelief. Otherwise it is impossible to overcome even the smallest attack.To experience attack, therefore, is quite a different thing from consenting to it or saying “Yes” to it (Luther).
A sword has been thrust into our lives, the strife of the Spirit by which the Lord arms us with His Word to forgive, guide and be with us. In Ephesians 6, it is written, the sword of the Spirit is the Word of God. Only God in man made manifest could teach us to pray: Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil, and know what He is praying from the struggle for us and for our salvation. The prayer petition from the Our Father can be translated, Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the evil one. And the Lord will.
If you look at the bulletin I chose this clip art (see top of post) because Jesus is dramatically pointing to the Scripture: it is the Word of God by which Jesus defeats the devil. He does not do so by His own inner resources, His spirituality, His religion by only by God’s Word. Three times He says, It is written. He can not save Himself His way! He knows His Bible, HIS Bible quite literally. But as a boy and a man at home and in synagogue He had to learn it and put it to memory. His Father and Mother taught Him. In the time of trial and temptation, there is no self-help book that can help us. No. Our help is in the Name of the Lord, Who made heaven and earth. Psalm 124. No self-help book will help. He could only rely on the Lord’s help Book, the Bible. From this the devil wanted to snatch Him away. After all, the devil had a good track record till then. In the garden He was able to snatch a husband and wife away from the Lord’s Word and faith in Him by the first question recorded in the Bible: Did God say…? Doing the right thing your way turns out to be doing the wrong thing, period. Whole Christian denominations have so succumbed to the devil’s question. The Lord provided the way out: His Word, His infallible, never failing Word, written, spoken and incarnate, in the flesh, yours and mine, but many chose not to follow it. No, it is not easy to so follow. Yet, paradoxically it is, because it is utterly not our word, but His grace, mercy and peace, from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ who has made us His own in the waters of Holy Baptism.
Yet, this portrayal is a little bit too, well, nice. He had fasted 40 days and 40 nights. We are succinctly told, And He was hungry. I don’t think the scene is so nice and clean. Temptation is of three kinds, the flesh, the world and the devil. So temptation first comes in the stomach and Jesus is hurting. He would hurt even more. He is not doing His way but for our salvation, all the way through, what even the Law can not do. This is divine love. He came to the place where Adam is. For if many died through one man’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. (Romans)
His grace is for you in your place in your heart, in your soul by His Word which is ever near right here, right now. We don’t have to go up to heaven to get it: call upon Him as He is near.
“It’s so nice to be nice to those who are nice”, Frank Burns, TV show, MASH, sure it’s true, yet, 7And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? (Matthew, Sermon on the Mount)
“Have a nice day.” “No thanks, I have better plans.” And the Lord has a better plan, a better day than we can plan: His grace and peace in the Lord Jesus Christ for you, the day of your forgiveness in His death and resurrection and the Day of the resurrection to eternal life for all those believe and are baptized.
“Thou shalt be nice”, said the TV character, Ray Barone, “Everyone loves Raymond”, as he said it was God’s command. Of course even Ray the TV character knew there was no such ‘commandment’, but, and Ray said, “There should be”.
My favorite was Pr. Lou Smith’s screen saver: “Nice is the enemy of the good.” The Lord’s commandments are not about being nice but doing and living the good. But we don’t, we want to but we don’t, we end up doing the very thing we hate and so God sent His Son into the place of temptation to do it “my way” His good is His grace in Jesus Christ, forgiven in Him, In the Name of the Father, and of the +Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.