Summary: If we want to be useful for God, we will need to learn to say "no" when our body calls for food or rest in ways that hold us back. When the devil tried to deter Jesus from his mission by tempting him to turn stones to bread when he was supposed to fast, Jesus stood strong.
Perhaps once or twice in a century a truly titanic battle occurs in which the history of earth hangs in the balance. The D-Day invasion might be one. Both armies had invested many thousands of their men, millions of dollars worth of equipment and their very best modern strategies. It was a titanic effort. For quite a while it really was up in the air whether the Germans would be pushed back or the Allies would be wiped out on the beach. But gradually the tide turned. The Germans were pushed back. Without the incredible effort and sacrifice of those men on the beach, history might have been very, very different. But they prevailed. The battle was won.
This morning we look at another titanic battle. This one had no mass armies, just two solitary warriors, face to face. There was no technology involved at all. Perhaps no one on earth besides those two even knew it was happening. But a titanic victory was won for the kingdom of God. The forces of darkness were not yet defeated for all time. But on this day, they were forced to abandon the field of battle and hope for another day.
Last Sunday we saw the launching of Jesus’ ministry. He accepted his calling from his heavenly Father by asking to be baptized by John. The Holy Spirit came upon him in a moment of tremendous affirmation and empowering from God.
You might think that he would be so fired up by these things that he would head straight to Jerusalem to start reforming the temple practices and organizing against the Romans right away. Rent an office in a good location. Order fancy stationery and business cards with a catchy logo. Start building a mailing list.
But the Spirit inside him stirred him up to go a different direction, to fight a different battle first. If he was really going to be able to fulfill his calling, he would be facing tremendous obstacles. Was he ready for that? There would be one sacrifice after another. Was he ready for that? The devil would make every effort to deter him, to pull him off course, to get him to burn up his energy on things that didn’t matter much. Was he ready for that? Jesus’ first battle was not against other human beings, but against himself and the devil.
Would you join me in reading our text for this morning? It is printed in your bulletin. And the way I would like to do it is that I will read the narrator’s part. I’ll ask those on the south side of the sanctuary to read the words of the devil, and those on the north side to read the words of the Jesus.
1 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, 2 where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished.
3 The devil said to him, `If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become a loaf of bread.' 4 Jesus answered him, `It is written: `One does not live on bread alone.'
5 Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6 And the devil said to him, `To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. 7 If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.' 8 Jesus answered him, `It is written: `Worship the Lord your God and serve only him.'
9 Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him. `If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here. 10 For it is written,
`He will command his angels concerning you to protect you,'
11 and 'On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.'
12 Jesus answered him, `It is said, `Do not put the Lord your God to the test.' 13 When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time."
When I’ve read this in the past I’ve always thought of the devil as the aggressor here. But right now, I’m rethinking that. Jesus knew there were battles he would have to fight to fulfill his calling. He could have put them off, delayed as long as possible, started off down the easy road first. But no, he wanted his priorities to be clear, his will strong right from the start. He wanted to be ready for whatever came his way. The Spirit guided him here to confront the devil, face to face, to confront his own bodily weakness at the same time.