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Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And He ate nothing during those days. And when they were ended, He was hungry. The devil said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone.’” And the devil took Him up and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to Him, “To You I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If You, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only shall you serve.’”
And he took Him to Jerusalem and set Him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to Him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘He will command His angels concerning you, to guard you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”
And Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from Him until an opportune time. (Luke 4:1-13).
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
To properly understand our Gospel for today, Luke 4:1-13, you cannot separate what is happening here from what happens immediately before it: Jesus’ Baptism. Jesus has just been baptized in the Jordan River along with all those repentant sinners who have gathered to listen to John the Baptist. By His Baptism, Jesus takes His place with sinners, bearing their sins as He makes His way to the cross. He is doing so with the Father’s approval, for when He was baptized, His Father said, “You are My beloved Son; with You I am well pleased” (Luke 3:22).
Luke makes it clear that right after Jesus’ Baptism, the same Holy Spirit who came down in the form of a dove, led Jesus in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil (Luke 4:1-2a). But interestingly, Luke inserts the genealogy of Jesus between the two events, tracing Jesus’ legal line through Joseph all the way back to Adam. Why would Luke insert the genealogy between two events that really had no break in between them? What’s the connection?
In the Baptism of Jesus, Jesus is declared the beloved Son by the Father (Luke 3:22). The genealogy ends with “the son of Adam, the son of God” (Luke 3:38). In the temptation, the devil twice tempts Jesus on the basis of His Sonhood: “If You are the Son of God…” (Luke 4:3, 9). The order of events in Jesus’ life (Baptism, temptation in the wilderness) also follows the pattern set by Moses and the temptations of God’s “firstborn son,” Israel (Exodus 4:22) in the wilderness. The references to Deuteronomy (8:3; 6:13; and 10:20; 6:16) strengthen this linkage. Jesus is the “second Adam,” obedient rather than transgressing, and the true Israel, faithful in His calling.
Having fasted for forty days, Jesus is hungry. The devil pounces, sure that his quarry is at His most vulnerable. “If You are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread,” he invites. In Paradise, Adam, the son of God, had fallen for a similar temptation. He ate; he sinned. In the wilderness, God’s “firstborn son” Israel’s lack of faith and their fear of not having sufficient food caused them to murmur and rebel against God. Jesus does not give in. Replying with the words of Deuteronomy 8:3, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone,’” Jesus overcomes this temptation and continues His path as the obedient Son of God.
The devil moves on to the second temptation, showing Jesus all the kingdoms of the earth in a moment of time, and saying, “To You I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If You, then, will worship me, it will all be yours” (Luke 4:6).
The devil promises Jesus that “authority” and “glory” will be His if Jesus will worship him. But the devil’s promises are hollow. The first man and woman found that he cannot deliver what he promises. Satan’s “authority” (such as it is) is over a fallen world, estranged from God. Its “glory” is doomed. To worship the devil and to be given that authority and glory is, as Adam and Eve discovered, to actually lose the authority and glory of being a child of God. When worship is right, people recognize God’s proper authority and glory, and God, by grace, confers authority and glory on the creatures He made to be in His image.[i]
Precisely where Adam yielded and Israel failed, Jesus, Son of God, stands firm. “You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only shall you serve” (Deuteronomy 6:13). Jesus’ response picks up on the theme of worship and proclaims that true worship is to worship the Lord God. For the incarnate Son of God, the Messiah, equality with God is not something to be grasped. His authority and glory come through His obedient suffering and death, Jesus’ ultimate service to the world. The true worship and Divine Service in the new era of salvation is centered on Jesus’ service. This true worship is not conditional. It is not, “Worship Me, and then I will give.” God gives freely by His grace and is then worshiped.
“And [the devil] took [Jesus] to Jerusalem and set Him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to Him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, “He will command His angels concerning you, to guard you,” and “On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone”’” (Luke 4:9-11). Having twice been bested by Scripture, the devil now appeals to it. He poses as the teacher. He imitates Jesus’ quoting of Scripture but it is a cheap and deceitful imitation, quoted out of context.
Many suspect that “the pinnacle of the temple” refers to the corner of the temple colonnade overlooking the Kidron Valley. If so, this would involve a dive of about 100 feet. The devil suggests that, by casting Himself off a high point of the temple, Jesus would compel the Father to save Him in a spectacular fashion. After all, the evil one argues, the Lord promises to guard and protect His faithful ones through the work of His angels. Of course, if Jesus were saved through such a miraculous sign, the crowds of worshipers within the temple would also be duly impressed and might follow Him (though for the wrong reasons). Ironically, Jesus will indeed face danger and death but at God’s appointed time. For, in accord with His mission, the Christ came to suffer and die for others, not to save Himself.
Jesus brings the temptations to an end with a simple proclamation of Scripture: “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test” (Luke 4:13).
In their wilderness wandering, the people of Israel failed to worship and serve the Lord; they put Him to the test. Once again, what they failed to do, Jesus does perfectly. The location of this last temptation in Jerusalem suggests an allusion to the passion. From this moment on, Jesus’ life will be a journey to Jerusalem. There He will face again the temptation to abandon His vocation as the Christ, the Son of God. There He will forego the protection of the Father and His angelic armies (cf. Matthew 26:53). There, authority and power will come not by miraculous rescue but by bitter abandonment and rejection and a shameful death.
After this, Jesus has a brief respite as the devil departs “until an opportune time.” The devil and his minions will continually oppose Jesus and work against His ministry (e.g., Luke 4:31-37; 8:26-39; 9:37-42; 11:14-26). This “opportune time” when Satan renews His onslaught is best taken as a reference to Jesus’ final hours—His betrayal, arrest, trials, and crucifixion (Luke 22:1 ff). There will never be a time when Jesus is more obviously taking the place of sinners than when He’s on the cross, forsaken by God, and condemned for the world.
Baptism, temptation, respite. Did you notice the order? That’s the movement of Jesus’ experience. He was baptized in the Jordan (Luke 3:21-22), tempted in the desert (Luke 4:1-12), and then found a brief respite (Luke 4:13). It is also the movement of the Christian life: Baptism, temptation, respite. Your baptismal life.
You are baptized. Notice, I said are baptized, not were baptized. Your Baptism is not just a one-time event; it is an ongoing reality. You are a child of God, adopted as one of His own dear children, through the water and the Word.
Not only is this a comfort and encouragement for you with forgiveness, life, and salvation, but you also have a new identity and new life that began and continues in your Baptism. What kind of identity and life is this?
Your baptismal identity is not just an individual identity; it is also a corporate identity. You belong to one another as members of the Body of Christ. Your Baptism is the end of isolation and individualism. It is the beginning of community and communion. You have been joined to Christ and His Body, the Church. In Baptism, you have been united with Christ, His death and resurrection.
Your baptismal identity is characterized by newness of life. This new life is free from the punishment of sin, but also from the bondage of sin. You are baptized! Your identity is now caught up with Jesus. He lives in you (Galatians 2:20). His Spirit works in you and through you to live in loving unity with other believers and loving service to all.[ii]
Still, there is temptation. You are tempted, too. Constantly. It’s with good reason that we hear of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness in the first week of Lent each year, because it for us and for our salvation that He endures and resists all temptation. Then He exchanges your sin for His obedience. As the greater and more faithful Son of God, Jesus does what Adam and the Israelites could not do.
Neither can you. “Life in a world beset by sin (within and without) is filled with temptation.”[iii] You’re tempted, too; and many of those temptations will result from the devil’s whispers about the things you have, or don’t have. The failure to thank God for the many good things that you have now, or to grumble about the things you don’t have. Coveting those people and things that God has not seen fit to give you at this time.
Some temptations may cause conflict and discord with your neighbors. In the heat of the moment, you talk back to your parents. In anger, you speak harsh words or strike out physically. You struggle with the temptation to engage in reckless or self-destructive behavior. Your mind and eyes are drawn to pornographic images. You’ve harmed your neighbor’s reputation by gossip, rumors, or betraying their confidence.
Other temptations strike more directly at your relationship with your Lord. After a tough week, it’s sometime hard to get out of the warm bed on Sunday morning and head to worship. God’s name tumbles off the lips more readily with curses than blessing. It’s easier to use His name thoughtlessly than devoting yourself to prayer and teaching about God in accordance with His Word.
All temptations are, at heart, idolatrous. A failure to fear, love, and trust in God above all things.
A word of advice: As you face temptation, you should not imagine Jesus primarily as example to follow. Sermons on this text often become “how to deal with temptation” instructions. “Know and quote the Bible,” the preacher says, “and the devil will flee.” While knowing the Scriptures is good and useful, this focus for a sermon would turn you toward yourself and your own abilities. Instead, I would suggest remembering Jesus’ words in the Lord’s Prayer: “Lead us not into temptation.” Why? Because we can’t handle temptation. Not even with a quiver full of Bible verses. Jesus, the faithful Son who conquered sin and the devil for us, is our only hope in time of temptation. Only He conquered temptation perfectly. We deal with temptations by turning to Him for strength and protection.
And that leads to respite. The respite is almost hidden in Luke 4. The devil departs “until an opportune time.” Did you catch it? If not, that’s okay. In fact, that’s often how it goes in this life. “The respite we experience in this life is always like a halt in enemy fire, as we hunker down in the trenches.”[iv] But we’re still in the trenches. The only respite we have on this side of eternity is the promise of forgiveness and life in Christ. “Despite our inability to withstand temptation, God is gracious and forgiving. He provides rest to the weary and strength for the weak. He forgives those who have faltered and offers life to those who are dying.”[v]
Jesus lived the perfect life that you could not. He endured all the devil’s temptations because you could not. Jesus died on the cross to pay for your sin, for the many times you’ve given in to temptation. Jesus rose again that you might also have new life. Jesus ascended to the right hand of God the Father so that He might continue to intercede on behalf of you and His Church. In Holy Baptism, God has made you His own dear child. Jesus sends His Holy Spirit to call and gather you into His Kingdom, enlighten and sanctify you to life everlasting.
The fullness of this promise will only be realized at His return. On that day, Christ will bring eternal rest and joy for you and all His people. Every instance of respite here and now is, at best, only a glimpse of that eternal day, when there will be no more temptation, no more struggle, no more sin or death.
Until then, keep living in your Baptism so “that the Old Adam in [you] should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.[vi] You are forgiven for all your sins.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
[i] Arthur A. Just, Jr. Concordia Commentary: Luke 1:1-9:50, 1996. Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, p.173
[ii] Gospel: Luke 4:1-13 (Lent 1: Series C) | 1517, https://www.1517.org/articles/gospel-luke-41-13-lent-1-series-c-1.
[iii] Gospel: Luke 4:1-13 (Lent 1: Series C) | 1517, https://www.1517.org/articles/gospel-luke-41-13-lent-1-series-c-1.
[iv] Gospel: Luke 4:1-13 (Lent 1: Series C) | 1517, https://www.1517.org/articles/gospel-luke-41-13-lent-1-series-c-1.
[v] Gospel: Luke 4:1-13 (Lent 1: Series C) | 1517, https://www.1517.org/articles/gospel-luke-41-13-lent-1-series-c-1.
[vi] Martin Luther, Luther’s Small Catechism with Explanation (Saint Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 1991).