The First Sunday in Lent, March 1, 2020 (Matthew 4:1-11)
The author of the epistle to the Hebrews informs us, He was tempted in all things as we are, and yet was without sin (Heb. 4:14). Though such temptations happened throughout Jesus’ life, they were especially apparent at the beginning of His ministry and at the end. The beginning was marked by an outward effort of Satan, as recorded in today’s Gospel. The temptation at the end of His ministry was marked by His crucifixion.
The only way the Son of God could be tempted as we are tempted is by becoming man, but that would not be sufficient. He also had to humble himself so He could and would feel and carry the attacks of our misery, pain, trials and ultimately our death. Such attacks tempted Christ to deny His Father—as they tempt us to deny God.
Unlike our temptations, Christ was tempted by Satan to deny His salvation-work of humbling Himself. Jesus was thus tempted to use His powers as the Son of God to escape painful attacks and temptations. Thus when Christ humbled himself and really and truly felt the gnawing pain of hunger, in His humiliation He must not use His divine powers to turn a rock into bread. At the temptations recorded in our Gospel, Satan knew full well that if Jesus even momentarily exited His state of humiliation, His work for our salvation would come unraveled. If anything stopped or hampered His work of humiliation Jesus would have been proven to be a fake, a phony. His self-humbling uniquely consisted of not using His divine powers to personally help Himself when facing trying situations; He had to deny Himself, even to the point of death.
There are several counterfeit versions of the Christian faith that maintain that Jesus never really died, or that He did not feel pain while He was tortured to death. If He did not remain in His state of humiliation this would be reasonable. If Jesus had turned the rock into bread why then wouldn’t He remove all pain from His crucifixion? If the Son of God overrode His humiliation, if He made any effort to miraculously deliver Himself, His work for our salvation would rightly be seen as a sham. But He remained in His state of humiliation, feeling and absorbing our misery and death.
Christ was also tempted by Satan to deny His Sonship. Satan introduced His temptations by stating, If you are the Son of God, then… Did Jesus really believe His Father who just days before had avowed at His baptism, This is my beloved Son? Christ would trust His Father’s word no matter what evil befell Him. We too in our Baptism are told that we are sons of God (e.g. Gal. 3:26,27). The devil will likewise tempt us to deny that we have been brought into God’s family and that we are each children of God. But in Christ we confess, God’s own child, I gladly say it, I am baptized into Christ (LSB 594).
Finally as the Son of God hung upon the cross, deserted by God and man, the tempter again spoke (through godless men): …save yourself. If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross…let Him now come down from the cross, and we shall believe in Him (Mt. 27:40b, 42b). Humbling himself to a selfless death was the only way to carry our misery, pain, trials and death, and then reverse them in resurrection; it was the only way to reverse these horrible results of sin, as well as sin itself.
Now Satan does no less with us. When things go bad we are tempted to think God doesn’t care. We are tempted to doubt whether we really are God’s sons. But even though we falter, we are already victorious. We are baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection. Our victory has been won.