Worship Theme: Jesus Conquers Satan
Sermon Theme: Lord, Why This Battle?
God never said life on earth would be easy. Challenges and troubles, changes and temptations will come. Matthew 4:1-11 answers the question, “Lord, Why This Battle?” February 26, 2023.
I didn’t read about the celebration? Where’s the Scripture reference to the parade, the military escort? I didn’t read anywhere in the Gospel accounts after Jesus’ baptism about a special luncheon or an invitation-only dinner or a grand ball. You’d think there would have been! For centuries and centuries, the promise of a Savior had been dangling in front of Israelite eyes like a raspberry Bismarck and bacon on a stick. For Mary it had been three decades. She would have been more than thrilled to clink her glass with a dessert fork, rise from her chair in her formal robe, and regale a banquet crowd, “That starry night Joe and I searched and searched for a place to stay. The contractions were nine minutes apart. We finally found an animal shelter. No time for a midwife. Thankfully the little guy entered the world without any complications. Plenty of crying he made. Then, a bunch of breathless, scruffy shepherds showed up, wide-eyed in wonder because an angel told them what we knew all along. A Savior has been born. A few weeks later we moved to a cozy VRBO cottage, made it to Jerusalem for the baby’s required fortieth-day temple presentation, heard the songs of a kindly gentleman and an elderly woman, thanking God for seeing their Savior. A year later, scientists from far away showed up with gifts fit for a king. Not long after that an angel told Joe, ‘You better get of our Dodge to dodge Herod’s sword.’ Eventually we got back to our village up north. I could tell you lots of stories about him as a boy, his teens, his voracious study of Holy Scripture, his time with Joe in the carpenter shop. But I won’t take up any more of your time. Let’s raise our glasses in a toast and thank God. Let’s celebrate Jesus’ inauguration at the Jordan this morning. You heard the voice of his heavenly Father. You saw the Holy Spirit float in on dove’s wings. Here he is, my son, who is also God’s Son, now publicly introduced as the Messiah, the world’s Savior!”
But no! No speech from Mary, no fancy dinner, no military escort, no parade. Right after his inauguration at the Jordan, the account writer, Matthew, simply says, “Then.” At that time, at that moment, no waiting around, right then, Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. I’m flabbergasted. How about you? Lord, why this battle?
You’ve always been filled with confidence and certainty in your life, right? Every step of the way, every moment of every day, you’ve had that sense, that feeling, “I’ve got this. I know how this will turn out,” right? Walking into the classroom for the semester exam and the teacher plops in front of you not the multiple choice series you expected but a blank sheet with one line calling for a short essay; sitting in the doctor’s exam room for ten, fifteen, twenty minutes after she said, “I’ll be back to discuss with you the test results;” meeting colleagues and the manager your first day on the job; wrestling with, “Can I afford this mortgage on my income, or should I continue to rent?”
After fasting forty days and forty nights, [Jesus] was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” “Jesus, your senses are dulled by this senseless starving under the hot sun. Take care of yourself. Everything you taste, touch, see, and hear should be for your pleasure. You’re supposed to be the great Messiah-King. Get to it! The very least you should do is satisfy your basic needs. Change these stones to bread. You shouldn’t go hungry. Feed your face. Fill your stomach.” But the Savior responded, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ ”
Satan wants us to focus on seeking happiness right now (some call it “instant gratification”) by satisfying our senses with every possible pleasure and at the very least figure that, as we provide for our basic needs, we are in charge not God. He tiptoes on your shoulder and whispers, “What you put in your mouth is your business, and if you want to go beyond nourishment and stuff yourself or go beyond moderation and get a buzz or try out what some states are declaring legal so you can alter your state of mind, go ahead. It’ll feel so good going in and going down.” Then when it gets dark, he whispers, “You’re in love. Go ahead and make love. Marriage can wait.”
When the devil tempts you to spend all your energy on happiness now, don’t trust yourself. You’ll be disappointed. Don’t pant over what feels good. Tingling feelings melt like April snow piles. “Lord, why this battle?” God answers, “I sent Jesus to beat back the devil for you. Look at the battle he won in the wilderness. That’s just a sampling of the whipping he gave the devil in the war on the cross. Jesus won, and you are on his side. Because of him, I will give you happiness beyond your wildest dreams. You can withstand Satan’s tricks and trust me more than you have in the past because of Jesus’ victory during his wilderness-temptation-battle.”
Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written: ‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’” Satan figured, “He may have pushed aside pleasures and maintained the purity of his humanity, but he’ll have to defend his deity.” “Jesus, you don’t look like what you say you are. You claim to be God, but you’ve got cotton-mouth. Your shoulders are stooped. You’re wearing down. If you are the Son of God, prove it. Throw back your shoulders. Stick your chest out. Take a leap. Show your power.”
But Jesus replied, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ Yes, I am God. Yes, I have power. But I have to keep it under wraps. I have to struggle against letting it rip and wiping out those who will oppose me. I have to let them taunt me, abuse me, and even kill me. I have to hold back my power to suffer the penalty that all sinners have coming so that the penalty does not fall on them.”
Satan aims at people who want to be humble, who want to open doors for others, who want to serve. But when we step back into the shadows of humility, he worms his way into our mind, getting us to do those things with a different motivation, not so much to help others but so we look good, which is a short step away from, “I’m going to maneuver circumstances and people so I come out smelling like a rose. No way will I take the blame for anything that goes wrong. No way am I going to take flack.”
When the devil tempts you to gain the upper hand over others so you look better, get control, feel more in charge, don’t trust yourself. You’ll be disappointed. “Lord, why this battle?” God answers, “I sent Jesus to beat back the devil for you. Look at the battle he won in the wilderness. That’s just a sampling of the whipping he gave the devil in the war on the cross. Jesus won, and you are on his side. Because of him, I will give you the strength to counter self-importance and inflating your own head like a balloon. You can withstand Satan’s tricks and trust me more than you have in the past because of Jesus’ victory during his wilderness-temptation-battle.”
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” Doesn’t this temptation seem silly? Jesus already owns everything. He didn’t need to have the devil give it to him. But this was a temptation to take the easy way out. God’s plan to make Jesus the King of kings included trudging up Mt. Calvary. That meant Jesus would have to lose everything. That meant he would be stripped of all possessions and separated from everything, everyone, and even from his heavenly Father. He was going to suffer hell.
But Jesus responded, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’” Even though Jesus could have snapped his fingers and had all the riches of every past, present, and future Fort Knox at his disposal, he prioritized the will of God and the worship of God.
Satan loves to hint, “Here’s a shortcut to avoid hardship and headaches and get what you really deserve in life. Just cheat a little on the test, and you’ll save yourself the disgrace of failure and the consequence of having listened to me last night when I tempted you not to study. Just steal a little passion, and you’ll feel happy and loved. Just chisel a little at work or on your taxes. After all, everybody does it, and you deserve a break once in a while. Just send that message on social media and cut that person down to size. They’ve got it coming, and people will learn not to mess with you.”
When the devil tempts you to grumble about life’s troubles and wallow in your pity pot, don’t trust yourself. You’ll be disappointed. “Lord, why this battle?” God answers, “I sent Jesus to beat back the devil for you. Look at the battle he won in the wilderness. That’s just a sampling of the whipping he gave the devil in the war on the cross. Jesus won, and you are on his side. Because of him you have all you need to endure hardship, rejoice in suffering, and live in confidence that I will work out all things, even the bad and crumby things, for your eternal good. You can withstand Satan’s tricks and trust me more than you have in the past because of Jesus’ victory during his wilderness-temptation-battle.”
God never said life on earth would be easy. Challenges and troubles, changes and temptations will come, but all for one big purpose, all for our looking up from our wants and woes to the eternal joy and fun that he has in store for us forever. “Lord, why this battle?” is our question. Unpacking this account puts the answer on your lips and on mine, “Jesus fought this battle for me!” Amen.
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