Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. 2 After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” 4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” 5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. 6 “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.’” 7 Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 9 “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” 10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’” 11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him. (Matthew 4:1-11)
Did you ever hear the story of Orgar and Edgar? I’m going to assume that you probably haven’t. It happened a really, really, REALLY long time ago. 1096 to be precise. Orgar accused Edgar of treason, that he falsely claimed to be to be the rightful heir to the crown of England. Treason was punishable by death in those days, so Edgar, of course, vehemently denied it. There were no other witnesses, so it was a case of he said/he said. How were they going to decide who was right? Oh, that’s easy. They would do trial by combat.
Ever heard of this way of dispensing justice? It was used back in the Middle ages in order to determine the ‘judgment of God.’ The accused and the defendant would face off in a duel and essentially fight to the death. The thinking was that God would intervene on behalf of the innocent party and cause that person to win. So, that’s what Orgar and Edgar were set to do. But there was just one problem. Edgar was old. Far too old to fight. So, a champion, named Godwin, was brought in to fight in Edgar’s place. The bloody combat began and Godwin did well. So well, in fact, that even though his sword broke in the middle of the fight, he still won the day. As Godwin placed his foot upon his conquered foe in victory, Orgar confessed to his lie. And just like that, Edgar was freed from the charge and saved from certain death.
What do you suppose would have happened if there was no champion to fight for Edgar? How do you think he would have fared against his much younger, more able, and more powerful enemy? Probably not so well. Unless some divine intervention actually took place, he most definitely would have been cut to pieces. It would not have mattered how much he trained, how much he wanted to win, or how hard he would have tried. On his own, he would have been struck down and destroyed.
In our Gospel today, we heard of another battle, another duel taking place. At first glance it may seem like it wasn’t much of a fight at all. But let us not pretend this was easy for Jesus. Imagine what it would like to go the next 24 hours without any food at all. How would you feel if you skipped lunch and dinner? How loudly would your stomach be growling tomorrow morning? What if you extended that another day? A week? A month? By that point would you even be able to stand? Whatever you imagine this hunger to be like, Jesus felt it. He was made to be like us in every way. How does Satan’s temptation sound to you now? ‘If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.’ How hard must it have been to say no?
Yet even as exhausted as Jesus was, he was confronted with more. Ever had a moment where someone challenged you to do something stupid, and they just wouldn’t quit? They kept nagging and nagging you. ‘Come on, jump that fence! Come on, race me!’ Eventually you say ‘Fine!’ just to shut them up. By this point the Devil had been hounding Jesus for all of these forty days. An endless barrage of challenges and trials. And then he hears, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down.’ He knew Satan was up to no good, but how much do you think he just wanted to put him in his place. ‘Fine, I’ll jump, just to prove to you who I am!’ How hard must it have been to say no?
Then again, Satan comes at him. Ever had a moment where you knew, ever so clearly, which way was right and which way was wrong? And in that moment, did you ever find yourself still desiring the wrong because it was easier, because it was quicker, because it wouldn’t hurt so much? That’s what Jesus faced. He had given up everything to come down to this earth. He would get it all back, but only after he suffered for it. And now he hears, ‘All this I will give you, if you will bow down and worship me.’ Think of the temptation! No fuss, no mess. Everything that is rightfully his, without any cost. The book of Hebrews tells us, ‘he was tempted in every way, just as we are,’ and that, ‘he himself suffered when he was tempted.’ How hard must it have been to say no?
So, how do you think you would fair in this kind of battle against Satan? Would you be able to survive against this onslaught of temptation? No, the devil won’t ask you to change stones into bread. But he does invite us to stop trusting in God and take matters into our own hands. He loves to suggest that we change our offering commitment to the LORD into a larger commitment to ourselves. And all too often, we agree with him. No, he won’t take you to the top of the Capital building and tell you to throw yourself down. But he does invite us to test the LORD. He loves to suggest that we see just how far we can push the limits of God’s Law and still get away with it. And too many times, we like his ideas. No, he won’t offer us all the kingdoms of the world. But he does invite us to bow down to the idols of riches and success. He loves to suggest that doing what makes you happy is far more enjoyable than doing what God says is right. And time and again, we believe his lies.
The truth is we have battled against Satan again and again in our lives. And we have the lost the battle against sin over and over. Just like our first father in the garden of Eden we have followed after the Devil’s lies. Adam’s curse has been passed down to us and so we have earned for ourselves condemnation and death. As much as we would like to think that there’s still a chance for us to come out on top, it is nothing but a fool’s errand. It does not matter how much we may train, or how hard we may try, or how much we may want to conquer sin, it simply cannot happen. We cannot win. On our own, the battle is lost even before it begins.
Are you beginning to see why Jesus was there in the desert? Are you beginning to understand why he was led by the Spirit into that desolate place? It seems so strange that his Father would put in him this position, to give him such a hard road to travel. But it was for good reason. It was all for you. Jesus was sent there to take our place, to defend our souls, to do what no other person could ever do. He went into battle with Satan to be our champion!
What a perfect champion he was! Even with his body weakened by hunger, he did not bite on the temptation to forsake his trust in God. And so, he covered over every moment in which we threw that same trust away. Even with the nonstop barrage of temptation coming at him, he did not give in to the goading of his enemy. He would not challenge his Father’s plan or question his love. And so, he made righteous every time we tested the LORD and crossed over the boundaries of his Law. Even though he knew just how awful and painful his path would be to take his rightful place at his Father’s side he would not take the shortcut to save his own skin. And so, he transformed all of our love of this world and made it holy in God’s sight. By deflecting every one of Satan’s attacks Jesus was earning perfection for us, preparing a robe of righteousness that we would wear for all eternity.
Jesus was no hired gun, fighting only for his own fame and fortune. No, he is our champion fueled by love, a warrior willing to sacrifice everything to save his people. That is why he kept going after this battle was ended. Even through years of rejection by his countrymen. Even through days of harassment by the authorities. Even through hours of agony on the cross. He would not stop until he had completed the mission and won the victory. His innocent life was given, his holy blood was shed. And because of this, victory is ours. We will face no condemnation. We will not suffer the torments of hell. Instead, we will sing forever in heaven, ‘For us fights the valiant one, whom God himself elected…Our victory is won; the kingdom’s ours forever!’
It was quite a battle that took place in the wilderness. It was a fight not for the ages, but a fight for the masses. It was the Son of God and the Devil warring over countless souls to determine their eternal fate. And while the battle has ended with Christ’s complete victory, skirmishes still take place in our lives every day that we must fight. Jesus may have physically left this world, but he did not leave us empty-handed in our struggle against the dark forces of this world. If you go back to that battlefield in the desert you will find the one thing Jesus used to beat back the Devil and cut him down to size. You will find the sword of the Spirit, the word of God.
With this fierce weapon in our hands we can then take our stand against the evil one. We are not destined to fall into every trap the devil lays. We are not bound to follow after every lie that he tells. We are equipped to know the truth, and for that truth to set us free from sin. When we feed on the Word we will remember that it is our source of life, and that nothing matters more than the grace it gives. When we read the pages of Scripture we will take to heart what God has commanded and will love to follow his will. When we study the Bible over and over we will learn that all the riches of this world mean nothing in comparison to the riches that our champion has won for us. And so, we will love and worship him above all else. With this ultimate weapon in our hands there is nothing the Devil can do. One little word can fell him.
How scared Edgar must have been to think that he would have to fight his battle alone. How relieved he must have felt to see his champion rise to the challenge and defeat his foe. To think of us trying to defeat Satan all on our own would terrify us down to our very soul. But what joy we have to know that our Champion has defeated the old evil foe. Jesus is our Champion! May this truth bring you confidence in all your daily battles, and give you the most blessed hope of peace forevermore. Amen.