By Paul Koch –
Before our Lord heads off into the wilderness, led by the Spirit to be tempted by the devil, before even his baptism in the Jordan by John when the Father declares, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” before his parents fled to Egypt to escape the wrath of Herod, before the arrival of the Magi who came from the East to worship the King, before even his birth in the little town of Bethlehem, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. The angel assures Joseph that he should indeed take Mary as his wife for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. And then he says this,
“She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
Now look, I know this isn’t Christmas, I know the church calendar has taken us far from the story four Lord’s birth, but I fear that we often forget one of the crucial and fundamental truths about our Lord’s coming in the first place. As we move from the story of Mary and Joseph and the little town of Bethlehem we forget that none of this, none of this great story of our faith and salvation is by accident and even his name, the name “Jesus” is a testimony of what he is about. “You will call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” The name Jesus actually means, “Yahweh Saves.” His name designates him as the one who will carry out the saving work of God.
What this means for us is that we ought to remember that what our Lord came to do was wage a war for our salvation. That is he came to save us from our sins, he came to deliver us then from Sin, death, and the power of the devil. He didn’t come to be just some great teacher, or to be a moral leader. He didn’t come to be a model on how to live a more holy and fulfilling life. He came to defeat our great enemy; he came to restore mankind to the Father, to make you human again, so that you might be what God had created you to be. But to do that meant that there would be great opposition, it meant that there would be blood spilt, it meant that there would be battle.
This then sets the scene for Matthew 4:1-11. This cosmic battle between good and evil, between the God of creation and the ancient serpent of the garden is what is being carried out as our Lord heads off into the wilderness. So after fasting for forty days and forty nights the tempter comes to Jesus and says, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” In the wilderness Christ is tempted like Israel was, will he trust in the care or provision of his Father or will he take matters into his own hands? Then he is taken up on to the pinnacle of the temple in Jerusalem and here the tempter doesn’t question whether he is the Son of God but rather as God’s Son will God use his power to protect and save his Son and whether Jesus would trust in the promise that he would. Just jump off and we will all know for sure what God will do.
Finally, as the great climax to it all, a move that eerily echoes the ancient attack in the garden, the Devil shows Jesus all the kingdoms of the world. Remember how after the Serpent’s words Eve noticed that the fruit was good for food and a delight to the eyes, and it was to be desired to make one wise. And so if he will only worship Satan then all this could be his, if he only thinks of himself and sees God as the enemy, why then there would be no stopping him. It could all be his! But no, each great temptation each great trap set by the Devil is overcome by our Lord. Jesus will not fall as the rest of mankind fell. Jesus will only serve and worship his Father in heaven, he will not put him to the test he will live off every word that flows from his mouth. In the end the Devil is cast aside as ineffective and so is conquered. “You will call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
So we see our Lord endure the trials unleashed by the devil, we watched as spectators as time and again he turns back the Evil Ones attempts to triumph over him. And it is easy for us to think of our own lives to the times that we too have faced temptation. Think of all the times that you have sought to do the good thing, to do what you know God would have you do and yet how often have you failed? And how often do you go right ahead and do what your God has forbidden you to do? The battle that our Lord heads out into the wilderness to fight, the cosmic battle between heaven and hell is a battle that we all feel right within us. There is a struggle within, a battle for our own hearts and souls.
And this struggle is real, isn’t it? I mean this isn’t just academic we all feel it, haven’t you ever wondered about yourself, haven’t you ever doubted your own salvation? Have you ever caught yourself in the midst of some blatant sin, something you know full well that you shouldn’t be doing, and yet you do it any way and you wonder, “Man, what is wrong with me? How could I possibly be a child of God and continue to do such things?” And since the struggle is real and ongoing we begin to reach out for a way to solve it ourselves to answer the problem to fix what is broken. And one of the greatest ways to do that is to look to our Lord as an example of how to do it better.
And this text today is the greatest example of how to do it, right? After all this is our Lord face to face with the tempter himself. We witness him quoting Scripture left and right to support the faith to turn back the temptation and we think, ah that’s the ticked, that’s the way out of it. If only we could master the Word if we could be better readers and speakers of the Bible then surely we would stand a better chance of resisting the temptation. Jesus becomes for us a model who gives us the method to beat back the temptations. But when we go down that road my friends I fear we have stumbled on the path to defeat not victory. For there is no man, woman or child of our fallen race that will secure their own salvation by the efforts and works of their own hands. In fact the greatest teachers and readers of the Bible that I have ever had the privilege to know will be quick to assure you that they haven’t outwitted Satan. In fact they will often tell you that the greater their use of the Word the greater the temptations become.
But this story isn’t about our Lord as a model, he isn’t engaging Satan to give us a method of spiritual warfare, this is a story about our Lord defeating him on our behalf. He goes out into that desert to engage in battle and become victorious. He goes out to do what you could never do, to gain victory for you.
Jesus isn’t just some guide, some spiritual guru showing you a better way, he is your champion. He defeated the Devil in the wilderness and he defeated him again on the Cross and through the empty tomb. This means that the struggle that is fought within you this day is part of a war that has already been decided; in Christ you are already victorious. In Christ your redemption is sure, for you have already died and risen with him. Remember the words of the angel, “You will call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” And so he has, and so you are.