Victory over Satan and Temptation
You and I know what it is to experience earthly trials such as sickness, ill-will from others, budget strains and the like. As with Job, such episodes come not directly from the hand of God but by the devil's designs on us. He wants to lead us to despair of God's presence and help and to destroy our trust in God and His promise of good through all things.
We are likewise plenty familiar with the power of advertising and television, for example, to test us, break our resolve and seduce us into compromising situations and sin. Peer pressure is also a potent force in encouraging drug experimentation, starting rowdy rumbles and all kinds of questionable activities.
Whether it be trials and affliction, subtle testing of moral faithfulness or direct enticement to break God's Law, Scripture puts it all in the same camp with the one word: "TEMPTATION." It comes in all kinds of sizes and forms, giving the devil tools beyond counting to weaken or kill our trust in God's goodness and love. Satan will use any means possible to wedge us away from a faith relationship with God.
Christian people want to hold fast in their faith and the gift of life that comes through it. If we are truly Christian we have renounced and want to gain victory over Satan and temptation. With that as our theme, VICTORY OVER SATAN AND TEMPTATION, there are three areas to which today's Scripture Lessons lead our attention...and the first is that...
COURTING TEMPTATION INVITES DISASTER
So often those in their youth refuse to listen to any voices of age or experience, wisdom, authority or reason. They insist on having their fling and sowing their rebellious oats, so to speak. Always there are consequences for the immaturity and irresponsibility that flirts with temptation. Full adulthood doesn't necessarily mean freedom from Satan's snares, though. Even grown-ups may actually nurture fantasies, grudges and vices, excusing them as personal weaknesses which are just too ingrained to change anymore, rather than to continue to turn to God for help.
" In the last days...(many will) hold the form of religion but deny the power of it," Scripture says, "burdened with sins and swayed by various impulses, who will listen to anybody..."
The Apostle James wrote: "..Each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin; and sin when it is full grown brings forth death." That's what God warned from the very beginning, that courting temptation invites disaster!
Because they did tease with it, Eve's and Adam's desire overpowered them. They became an example of Isaiah's words: "Your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God..." They tried to hide from God in fear. They now distrusted God. And they reaped the consequences of what they had sown, including death: death to their relationship and life in God, such death to all their offspring, and eventually physical death to all as well.
The Epistle Reading for this first Sunday of Lent states in different ways and a number of times its opening statement that "sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and ... death spread to all..." God never revoked but has repeated the threat: "The soul that sins shall die." There exists no tougher or more serious statement! Courting temptation still brings the ultimate disaster!
CHRIST IS VICTOR OVER TEMPTATION
Our only hope in the face of God's decree is to be rooted in Jesus Christ as the Victor over Satan and temptation, and so the second point here is to look to Him as the Victor.
Not only was Christ's power over Satan shown in His casting out demons or even only by His descending into hell as Victor, but also in how Christ dealt with personal temptation while here on earth as one of us. Although the specific temptations mentioned of Christ's time in the wilderness may appear to have no relation to temptations that touch us (turning stones to bread and expecting to jump safely from a high building top, for example), they ARE like ours. Jesus was being encouraged to doubt God's care, turn away from Him, and dare God by disregarding Him and going off on His own. Examine each of His temptations closely and you'll conclude that He “in every respect has been tempted as we are!”
In each category Jesus faithfully submitted the situation to God's Word, stopping Satan cold! He didn't toy around in His mind or invite Satan to keep after Him, but immediately cut off each temptation clean, didn't He?
Many were the times the devil devised to detour Jesus away from the Cross as well. Through Peter came the subtle invitation to keep away from Jerusalem and its scribes and pharisees and certain death, but Satan was behind the suggestion. Even at the Cross, reflecting Satan's words in the wilderness, the mocking mob taunted, "If you are the Son of God, come down from the Cross."
Jesus did not come down, though! It's true that He died there. It is likewise true that He did nothing to merit God's decree of death as we have. He gave no ground to temptation. He committed no sin. And yet He died, but not as Satan's hapless pawn. He rather gave Himself into death to break Satan's power over us and to answer the decree held over us. Although Satan bruised His heel, so to speak, Jesus crushed Satan's head and domination over us. He brought forgiveness for our sin, which is the final blow to Satan in regard to us! Because against every temptation to the contrary Jesus obediently submitted to even the humiliating death of the Cross, despising its shame but holding out for its result, the final outcome was God raising Him bodily back to life and exalting Christ with Lordship in heaven's home of glory, with the Name that is above every name.
Jesus is victorious in every way: over sin, over temptation, over Satan, and even over death! And He is the Champion and Hero who has broken those powers over us... which brings us to the third consideration...
THE MEANS AVAILABLE TO US FOR VICTORY
Jesus guarantees that only "he who endures to the end will be saved." We want to resist Satan and endure through every trial and test and temptation, therefore, so as not to lose the life and victory already given to us by God's grace in Christ. And really it's not us being left to fight the battle on our own now, but rather, all that is needful is for us to be availed of all that God has given to maintain Christ's strength and power and victory for us.
It begins with our baptisms and living daily in them, which means drowning Adam's old sinful nature in us day by day through contrition and confession of our sin (as Luther teaches) and rising to the new life of righteousness given in Christ every Day. Whoever lacks baptism lacks the assurance of God's seal against Satan and his ways.
Another safeguard is afforded in receiving the Lord's Supper. Given to strengthen and preserve us in faith, whoever therefore does not learn to rightly examine himself and be availed of Christ's life-giving Body and Blood deprives himself of the assurance and power Christ has promised in it.
There is furthermore the gift of prayer through which God always will respond to the true needs of His children. Jesus teaches that in these last and perilous times we are to watch and pray to be ready for His coming. And He invites us to specifically pray the words: "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil."
Even more, God dwells in His children personally by His Holy Spirit, who first plants and then works to nurture and preserve saving faith. He is ever at work interceding in every Christian heart!
The sacraments and prayer and God's Spirit are each potent means to thwart Satan and his powerfully seducing ways, but coupled with and foundational with all of them is simply the power of God's Word! If we're not abiding in it constantly and learning it and living by it, we again deprive ourselves of that power that makes Satan tremble and flee. When Jesus used the Word in the wilderness the devil left Him!
Listen to all the defenses God gives in St. Paul's words to the Ephesians, Chapter 6:
10Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. 12For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
Paul also assures us in Corinthians that: "God... will not let you be tempted beyond your strength, but with the temptation will also provide a way of escape, that you may be able to endure it." Don't cut yourself off from His provision for you!
One last thought, though, is that 'an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.' Paul says to us in Romans: " Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh to gratify its desires." Keep trained on Christ, and sinful desire and self-serving pleasure will lose such great attraction in the power of His magnetic love.