The Way out of the Devil’s Power. Invocabit 2015
Invocabit, The First Sunday in Lent
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. Matthew 4:1-11
February 22, 2015
“The Way out of the Devil’s Power”
In the book The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien a group of adventurers is on a journey to recover an ancient hoard of treasure. But the treasure is guarded by a great dragon named Smaug. The dragon knows every last piece of treasure belonging to him. And he sleeps in it. Anyone wanting to take any of the treasure must get past him. But he is wise and clever as an old serpent. He can breathe fire and his scales are practically impenetrable by any weapons. If anyone wants to take Smaug’s treasure he must first confront him.
That’s the way it is with this world and the devil. The devil has taken ownership of the earth and the people in it and he lets nothing slip from his power. If a person is going to be set free from the devil’s control the devil first has to be confronted. But we have no power to confront Satan. The old evil foe/ Now means deadly woe/ Deep guile and great might/ Are his dread arms in fight/ On earth is not his equal.
But our Gospel reading records the confrontation of a man with the devil who had the power to defeat him. That man, of course, is Jesus Christ, the true Son of God and son of Mary. He is led by the Holy Spirit out into the desert so that He may engage in this contest with Satan to release us from his power.
What we should see from this is that there is no escaping the kingdom of the devil without experiencing his attacks, without experiencing suffering, without facing death.
Jesus had just been baptized in the Jordan river. There He was showing that He was one with us. He was coming to free us from Satan’ power. He was making Himself one with us and bearing the guilt of our sin. When Jesus was baptized, the heavens were opened, the Holy Spirit descended on Him, and the Father said from heaven, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.” When Jesus gave Himself in obedience to the Father to bear our sin and undertake our rescue, there was a miraculous opening of heaven, a clear indication that God was with Jesus in His mission.
But right away afterward, the Holy Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness. He fasted for forty days and nights and afterwards was hungry. We may well suppose that He was at the gates of death in His hunger. And at that time of great weakness He was attacked by Satan.
If that is what happened to the author of our salvation, why do we assume that the way of salvation will be something different for us? Something different than a walk in the desert hounded by the attacks of the tempter?
No, the way out of Satan’s kingdom leads through the attacks of Satan, through a wilderness, even through death. It means trusting God’s Word not only when there is food on the table and a smile on your face, but also trusting God when you are at the gates of death.
Consider the devil’s threefold temptation of Jesus. First he tempted Jesus to command the stones of the desert to become bread. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “why are you starving out here in the desert? Make the rocks become food.” It hardly seems like an unreasonable temptation to us. After all, doesn’t God want us to eat? But Jesus refused to use His power to put an end to His suffering. He waited on God to provide Him with sustenance.
And the second temptation. The devil tempted Jesus to throw Himself off the top of the temple. “After all, if You are the Son of God, the angels will catch You and won’t allow You to stub Your toe against a rock.” It was a temptation to try to make God prove that He was with Jesus by a miracle. How often we long for God to prove that He is with us by doing some kind of miracle! But Jesus refused Satan’s temptation and clung to God’s Word that said He was with Him.
Finally the devil offered Jesus all the kingdoms of the earth if He would bow down and worship Satan. We long for this too. How much easier it would be for Christians if the world was Christian and supported us instead of being indifferent to us or persecuting us! But Jesus responded with the Word of God: “You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only shall you serve.”
We think that if God is with us, He will prove it by external things. That’s the way the world thinks, and the flesh of Christians thinks it too. Instead, the example of our Savior shows us that following Jesus in the way out of the kingdom of hell leads through spiritual and physical suffering. If we follow Jesus’ story all the way to the end, we see the way out of Satan’s kingdom also leads to death.
But human nature can’t accept this. Our reason thinks we have God when He puts food on the table and doesn’t let us suffer. We think we have God when we always know when the next check is coming. In the church we are tempted to believe that God is with us when there are a lot of people attending church and enough offerings coming in that we don’t have to worry about how we will pay our bills. Or we are tempted to believe that if God works great miracles, that will prove that He is with us, whether those miracles are of healing or something similar, or in the form of great emotional revivals of religious feeling.
Our flesh is confused. It is idolatrous. We think we have God when we are gaining the world and the things of the world, not when we are losing them.
That’s why no one is able or willing to walk the way out of Satan’s kingdom or confront Satan alone. By nature we don’t even know who God is and where to find Him. We think we are finding Him when we feel Him near or He provides for us, but the feeling of God’s presence and His earthly gifts are not God. We may lose those things and still have God if we have His Word.
Thanks be to God Jesus walked the way out of Satan’s kingdom. He went the way of trusting wholly in God’s Word. He did not let the devil turn Him aside or try to satisfy His soul with bread or miracles or power. He clung to God’s Word that declared Him God’s well-pleasing Son. He clung to God’s commandments and obeyed them rather than the devil’s temptations to twist Scripture or guide Himself by reason instead of God’s Word.
This road that Jesus walked led surely and certainly to death. That was the way God had marked out for Him—the way of obedience unto death in payment for our sins. Jesus did not take any shortcuts. Though He was God’s Son, He did not refuse hunger, poverty, humiliation, and pain. He did not even refuse death and God’s wrath.
In walking that road to its end Jesus brought us out of captivity to Satan. He obeyed the Father perfectly in our stead and offered His life as a ransom for us. Now Satan may tempt us to find proof that God is with us in gaining the world, but we know that God is with us because He has given His Son for us. When we were baptized into Him, He gave us the whole of Christ’s life—His obedience, His resistance to temptation, His death in payment for our sins, and His resurrection. Now Satan may tempt us to despair about the many times we have fallen under his temptations, but Jesus gives us His body and blood that redeems us from all our falls. We wear His perfect obedience, His perfect resistance to Satan.
It is a great consolation to us that we have this high priest, Jesus Christ. We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with us in our temptations. He was tempted in every way, just as we are. He suffered when He was tempted. Yet He also overcame all the assaults of the wicked foe and gave His life as a ransom for us that sets us free from all Satan’s accusations.
As we walk through the wilderness of this world, we are beset by many temptations. Christians often feel like it’s “one thing after another.” And we seem to be losing rather than winning—losing the world, losing our lives.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, take heart and do not despair. The mighty Lord is with you with His victory. He has already overcome Satan. His victory is certain. And He gives it to us. Our dying and suffering is not proof that we are not sons of God, but proofs that we are. When we lose, we win. Jesus is giving us Himself along with the cross and temptation, and in Him we are more than conquerors of the world, death, and the devil.
Soli Deo Gloria