The Undisputed Champion Over Temptation

Sermon 1733 Luke 4.1-13 February 21, 2021

This is a fight town. In the not so old days boxing was king. Heavy-weight championship fights drew sellout crowds and lucrative pay per view deals. Then along came some feisty pugilists from the Philippines and Mexico and all of a sudden the little guys were making money as fast as they could land punches against their opponents. Olympic trials were even held in town. So it wasn’t surprising, when the UFC was born in our fair metropolis billionaires and millionaires were born, as lots of happy fans discovered another mano a mano spectacle. This is a fight town.

The Sunday School story before us today, The Temptation of Jesus, should be a favorite in this town. It is a fight story. The biggest of the bigs, Jesus and the devil, square off against each other in a matchup destined by heaven itself. Don’t spill your soda. Don’t leave your seats. Keep your eyes glued on the action in the ring until we hear the announcer proclaim Jesus,

The Undisputed Champion Over Temptation

1. Disciplined (1-4).

2. Hard-working (5-7).

3. Confident (8-13).

“Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the desert, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry (1-2)”

There is nothing worse in boxing than having a boxer fail to make weight. Failing the physical is one thing. Training for a lucrative prize fight is hard. The body, no matter how expertly coached, can only take so much abuse. The blows add up. Muscles can stretch only so far. Failing to make the physical, it happens. Better for the safety of the fighter. We want to see a fight, not a slaughter. But failing to make weight! Inexcusable! Good money has been spent. Hours and hours of coaching have been ignored. He lied and cheated on what went into his mouth. He broke empty promise after empty promise. The bum.

Jesus shows up for the match. There is no danger he won’t make weight. It looks like he’s fighting up a few divisions. It is not a match of his choosing. He did not volunteer for it. His manager and agent set it up. Luke tells us the Holy Spirit led Jesus into the desert. Luke also tells us it must have always been the Holy Spirit’s intent to do this, for Jesus was “full of the Holy Spirit.” The Holy Spirit had equipped Jesus, trained Jesus, for this very showdown.

But what training went on! And what a battle! In the Olympics, they only go three rounds, with three minutes per round. Then the fight is over. The professionals, six, eight or twelve rounds, depending on how seasoned the fighter is. The better trained, the longer the fight. At most, we are talking under an hour from start to finish. How about a fight that lasts forty days! That’s no fight--that’s a war! Jesus was tempted by the devil for forty days in the wilderness and all during that time, Jesus ate nothing. Now the sparring is over. Now the feeling out your opponent has come to an end. Now is the time to land the knock-out blow. The devil moves in.

“The devil said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.’ Jesus answered, ‘It is written: “Man does not live on bread alone (3-4)”’”.

Jesus is starving. Forty days into a fast and the fat (if Jesus had any to begin with) is all burnt off. Forty days into a fast and your body is consuming itself. Your body is burning muscle. Catabolysis, they call it. Your body is breaking down. You are a step away from death.

The devil approaches to draw out Jesus. He challenges Jesus’ identity. “If you are the Son of God.” The devil pretends to be not so sure. He is trying to get Jesus off-balance. The devil would like proof. It shouldn’t be too hard for the starving Jesus to convince the devil. And when Jesus lunges, the devil will hit him right between the eyes, laying him out horizontally before he even hits the canvass. Eight, nine, ten, the devil by a knock-out.

“Tell this stone to become bread.”

Jesus did not pick this fight. Jesus did not choose these forty days in the wilderness. God chose it. The Holy Spirit landed him here. A good coach takes care of his boxer. A good agent sees to it that his boxer has everything he needs for his physical life. The boxer has more important things to do—focus on the fight! Training table decisions are not Jesus’ responsibility. He depends on God the Father. Yes, he had the power to change a stone into a round of sour dough bread. But that was not God’s will. Jesus shows he is disciplined. Jesus doesn’t take the bait. He ignores the personal slander the devil throws his way. He gets down to business. He answers the devil directly as to why he doesn’t need to turn a stone into bread. “Man does not live on bread alone.”

Man lives by the will of God. You can die of a heart attack in the middle of a Friday night crab leg and lobster buffet. Food is not the issue. God’s will is. Doing God’s will is the most important thing in Jesus’ life. Food can wait.

I will not belittle the suffering Jesus felt in these temptations by comparing them to the hardships we face. With shame I tell you those Snicker commercials, the one where the hungry character acts like a whiny, pain in the neck diva because they are a little hungry, but a Snicker bar can turn them back into the good friend they really are, those Snicker commercials land a knock-out blow on me every time. Forty days. I am out for the count if supper is delayed forty minutes. Talk about undisciplined! Jesus wasn’t.

The undisputed champion over temptation. Jesus is hard working.

“The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, ‘I will give you all their authority and splendor, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. So if you worship me, it will all be yours.’ Jesus answered, ‘It is written: “Worship the Lord your God and serve him only (5-8).”’”

There’s an easier way this fight can go. The devil will lay down his gloves, admit defeat, surrender the title to the whole wide world and give it to Jesus.

No, this offer is about as honest as a champion dancing around the ropes offering his chin to his opponent. As soon as the haymaker is launched, the champ bobs and weaves out of the way. The opponent swings at empty air and the champ has a blow to his opponent's body on the way. “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof” the psalm says. Not a sparrow falls from the sky without our Lord’s knowledge Jesus reminds us. If the devil has any ownership of this world it is a stolen claim, a counterfeit deed. Beelzebub is a liar who doesn’t even own the dung heap he calls home. As for giving the glory of this world to anyone he wants, he can’t give anyone anything. He offered Adam and Eve wisdom and they thought they could hide from God behind a bush. He offered King Saul a dynasty and Saul takes his own life after a battle so badly fought the crown prince, Jonathan, is killed.

But look what Jesus would avoid! He could dodge the cross. He would not have to suffer the curse of God over the sins of the world. Stricken, smitten and afflicted? Not this smart cookie! And all the devil asked, all the devil requested, was but a moment for Jesus to drop to his knees and worship the devil as god. No thirty long years of an impoverished life. No three and a half hectic years of public ministry, burning the candle at both ends. No arrest. No condemnation. No shame. No scourging. No execution. No death.

I am sure many look at us Christians like we are the biggest chumps in the world. Why do we make it so hard on ourselves? Why don’t we just go with the flow and take the path of least resistance?

We follow our Savior. He is a hard worker. He knows what is in store for him and he embraces it. Sleepless nights. Impossible expectations. Constant interruptions from those who claim to be on your side. Constant backstabbing by those who have no intention of ever really listening to you. This is the life God the Father prepared for him. A body, you have given me. To do your will, O Lord, is my delight.

We do the hard work. That’s what Lent reminds us of. What did Luther say our baptism means? “That the old Adam in us should be drowned by daily contrition and repentance, and that all its evil deeds and desires be put to death.” That’s hard work. It’s hard work to stare reality in the face every day and admit we are wrong. It’s hard work to go before our God, not to cut a deal or drive a hard bargain, but to plead for his forgiveness for the sake of Jesus’ innocent sufferings and death.

“It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’”

The undisputed champion over temptation is confident.

When champions meet in the ring they adapt, they adjust. That’s why a memorable fight changes as the rounds progress. Each fighter recognizes what the other has and adjusts to it, even adopting the other’s style if need be.

“The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. ‘If you are the Son of God,” he said, ‘throw yourself down from here. For it is written: ‘He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone (9-11).”’”

The devil recognizes Jesus has been relying on the Word of God. That is his source of strength! Attack that, get Jesus to doubt that, and the devil will have Jesus at his mercy. Get him to doubt the Word he is so depending upon.

The devil knows Scripture, too. Why do you think there are so many false preachers around? Why do you think there are so many terrible interpretations persisting in the world? Maybe the devil even recognizes there is a power in the Word he can misuse.

But the devil can only imitate. He can only counterfeit. He can only ape and mimic Jesus’ strength. He knows nothing of God’s forgiveness. He knows nothing of an obedience called forth by God’s undeserved gift of love. He tears his Bible passage out of context. The full quotation is, “He will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.”

Jesus counters, “It says: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test (12)’”

God will watch out for each one of us in our normal and daily routines. He will defend us from all danger, guard and protect us from all evil in every situation he permits us to face, whether it is fire or flood, a heart attack in the living room or a baby born in the bathroom. We, in turn, don’t dare God to protect us by acting in a reckless or criminal fashion.

Before we close, perhaps there is a question in some minds. Was the fix on? Was the fight real? Many times in the past wise guys made sure somebody took a fall or milked the fight on through the desired number of rounds so they could win a big bet. Was the temptation of Jesus real? As God, Jesus could not fall into temptation. That is clear. God is not tempted. But Jesus is also a human being. Human beings can be tempted and human beings can fall into temptation. These temptations were real. The Bible says Jesus was tempted in every way, just as we are. I am a preacher, not a theoretical physicist. I will leave conjecture and hypothesis to scientists. Preachers deal with reality. The Bible also says Jesus suffered when he was tempted.

Let’s draw an analogy. The extended family gets together for Easter Sunday dinner. One of your siblings is political to the max, maybe because they are the only one in your family who regularly and loudly votes for that party’s candidates. They go on a tear at the table. There is no real way they are going to convince any of you to change your party affiliation. There is more of a chance that you will lose your temper and get into a fight, but you restrain yourself. It is a fine meal and you love these people, no matter how flawed they are. But you suffer. You suffer from their boorishness. You suffer that the family gathering was less than it could be. You suffer, but you do not sin.

Jesus suffered when tempted, yet he did not sin. Not once.

Jesus is confident in the weapons at his disposal. Even though the devil is mouthing Scripture, Jesus keeps with what is working. He delivers a crushing blow. The devil can no longer respond. Before the bell of the final round can sound, the devil ducks under the ropes and sprints for the exit. The referee doesn’t know how to call it. It wasn’t a knock-out. Technically the devil didn’t finish the fight. A decision implies it was close, but when the ref looks at the score cards presented to him, the devil won not one round. He hadn’t even landed a single punch. The announcer leaps into action. Jesus is

The Undisputed Champion Over Temptation

1. Disciplined (1-4).

2. Hard-working (5-7).

3. Confident (8-13).

There will be a rematch at a time the devil sees as opportune.

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