Jesus is Your Perfect Substitute
In the Name of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh.
Matthew 4:1-11: Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “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.’” Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’“ Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’” Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
And so it begins: Your road to the resurrection. It begins in a desert where Jesus fasted and the devil tempted. It’s a road filled with highs and lows, from the acclamation of Palm Sunday, to the hatred of Good Friday. But along the way God reminds us that this is His saving purpose and plan. He reminds us that this road ends gloriously: empty tomb, empty linen clothes, resurrected and glorified Living Savior.
Today we focus on this desert where the devil faced Jesus at a moment of incredible human vulnerability. And what happened is the beginning of the end, for in the desert Jesus conquered the devil, and showed Himself to be the perfect God-man and our perfect Substitute. JESUS IS YOUR PERFECT SUBSTITUTE: HE WAS TEMPTED FOR YOU, HE TRIUMPHED FOR YOU!
Jesus became like us in every way. Since we have flesh and blood, He has flesh and blood. He shares our humanity. He shares also our temptations. The Bible tells us that He Himself suffered when He was tempted. But there’s one important difference between our brother Jesus and us – where we fall, He stands tall. He was tempted, yet was without sin. He was without sin, because He was both true man and true God. And this was His mission. He was sent by God the Father to be obedient to God’s law – perfectly, continually, completely – and thus to buy us back from our sins. What happened in the desert during these 40 days demonstrated that Jesus is the God-man and our Savior from sin.
And you’d think the devil would be smarter. After all, he’s been around for thousands of years. He knows God’s promises. He knows Jesus. When he says in the first temptation, If you are the Son of God, he isn’t questioning Jesus’ divinity. But, he plows forward and tries to get Jesus to imitate Adam, to wonder, “Did God really say…?” The devil insinuated that the Father wouldn’t provide for His Son.
In the second temptation, the devil tries another tack. Whisking Jesus to the highest point of the temple, a dizzying height of almost 500 feet, he tells Jesus to jump. After all, “Didn’t God say that His angels…will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone”? Rather than doubt God, the devil wants Jesus to trust that God will save you, even when you do an incredibly reckless thing.
Then the devil says, “People love power. It’s yours…if you worship me.” The devil asks the Son to abandon His Father and worship the fallen angel. Again, the devil should know better. He has nothing to grant. He has no right to claim the worship due only our Triune God. But the devil sought to divert Jesus. Jesus was not an earthly king, surrounded by glory, freeing people from the oppression of occupying armies. Jesus is the suffering servant of God. His kingdom is not of this world. And the devil works to derail that.
These are good temptations. We’ve heard them too. “God said that He would work out all things for your good. Look at your life, how can that be true?” The devil encourages us to doubt that God is the Provider He says He is. Dedicate your lives to work, work, work, to the almighty dollar, because if we accumulate enough money we’ll gain everything we need! After all food and clothes and cars and homes and kids cost money! Turn those stones into bread…the devil said. “Turn this time into money…” he says.
Or the devil says, “Jump! He’ll catch you!” This temptation leads us to say, “If it’s my time, it’s my time. There’s nothing I can do, if God wants it to happen, He’ll make it happen.” But God hasn’t said, “Jump from a building and I’ll catch you.” What He says is that He will work out all things for our good. What He says is that He has given us talents and treasures to use to take care of our life and those around us. This isn’t a lack of trust in God, but recognition that God has indeed already provided.
Finally, the devil lays all his cards on the table and asks us to disobey the first commandment, “You shall have no other gods before me.” Satan promises us power and glory. He promises success and money. The devil whispers in our ear, “Work double shifts on Sunday, you need the time and a half more than the spiritual food of God’s Word.” Satan says, “Go ahead, cheat off your classmate’s test – you need the ‘A’!” He says, “You love her, don’t you, do it!” But the devil is a liar. He lied to Adam and Eve. He lied to Jesus. He lies to you. Like Adam and Eve, we fall for Satan’s lies. We love ourselves. We love the world. We love our sinful flesh. Because it feels good, we do it! We do it, because we ignore the clear Word of God. We ignore, “You shall have no other gods.” We ignore, “The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.” We ignore, “Honor your father and mother.” We ignore, “You shall not commit adultery.” For all these sins, we end up right where the devil wants us – not ruling over a vast and glorious kingdom, but burning in hell, suffering the same torments he suffers.
That’s not a happy-go-lucky message. Because it’s the Law, it’s God’s Law. And God’s law always accuses. It always shows us our sins and the devastating truth that we have fallen short of God’s requirements. But, there is more to this story. Because remember, Jesus is your Substitute. He does something for you. He stands in your place. JESUS IS YOUR PERFECT SUBSTITUTE! HE TRIUMPHED FOR YOU!
Where we fall, Jesus stands tall. There was no chance that Jesus was going to give in. He’s the God-man, the perfect Son of God who took on human flesh to be our perfect substitute. And this is important, because we need a substitute. We give in to temptation; we sin. And the wages of sin is death. God requires holiness and perfection to get into His heaven. We lack that. Somehow we have to get it. God gives it to us – through Jesus. He stands in your place. He lived for you. He was tempted for you. He conquered temptation for you. He obeyed God’s commands and laws for you. And when He died on the cross, He died as your sin. And so God gives you the holy and perfect life of Jesus as a shirt to wear. Not only that, but now, as people of God, children of God, sons and daughters of God, God gives you the ability to withstand temptation. You are no longer bound to fall into sin when you are in Christ.
You’re free, forgiven, saved – by Jesus’ living and dying in your place. But you’re not free of the devil’s temptations. However, Jesus shows you the incredible weapon you have to fight the devil. It’s the Word of God. Look at Jesus’ response to each of the devil’s temptations: It is written. Jesus used the holy and powerful Word of God to destroy the temptations of the devil. “Turn stones into bread,” the devil says. “Our true bread is the Word of God. It feeds us,” Jesus replies. “Jump and God will catch you,” the devil says. “Don’t test the Lord your God,” Jesus replies. “Worship me,” the devil pleads. “There is only one God we worship and adore and it is the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” Jesus thunders. And the devil flees, as He must. James wrote, Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
“But I can’t do it,” you cry out. “I’m tired, and weak, and worn!” And you’re right. Alone, you can’t do it. But you’re not alone. This is no sad Valentine’s Day for you without a card from your special someone. Jesus Christ is the greatest and best Valentine there ever was. He is your Valentine through your Baptism in water and the Word. And by God’s promise that water saves you. You can say with Luther, when your sins or conscience oppress you, “But I’m baptized! And if I’m baptized, I have the promise that I shall be saved and have eternal life, both in soul and body!” Through Jesus! He conquered sin and death by dying Himself. He conquered the devil by the power of His Word. He broke the devil forever. You aren’t facing the King of Hell; you’re facing an inmate. The Bible reveals his fate: And the devil, who deceived them was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur…tormented day and night for ever and ever.
“One little word can fell him.” That word is Jesus. Jesus is your conquering hero, who makes you conquerors, and more. His work as your Substitute means that there is nothing that can separate you from your God and His Son. He marched triumphantly through hell proclaiming His victory over sin, death, and the devil. He rose gloriously to show you and the whole world that He is the Son of God. You are declared innocent. You will live forever. He was tempted for you! He triumphed for you! That is what He has done for you, in your place. JESUS IS YOUR PERFECT SUBSTITUTE!
May God be praised through Jesus Christ! Amen.