For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities;
but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.
(Hebrews iv. 15)
Monsignor Knox reminds us that the whole story of the Temptation is misconceived if we do not recognize that it was an attempt made by Satan to find out whether our Lord was the Son of God or not. (The Epistles and Gospels, p. 89) And perhaps this is our question too. To be sure Satan tempts Jesus, but so do we from the inmost regions of our being. We want to know if He is the Son of God. We want proofs that provide certain knowledge; we want evidence. And today on the First Sunday of Lent we are given good evidence that He is, at least, moving towards revealing this truth to us. After all, proofs aren’t bad things; and in this case we can thank Satan for making explicit what we might always have wondered or even doubted in our own hearts.
So we begin with our Gospel lesson for today, remembering that we have accepted Jesus’ invitation to go up to Jerusalem. Presumably, then, we are going up up not merely to be recognized and registered as pious pilgrims, but to find out for ourselves just who this Jesus of Nazareth really is. So we read that Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungred. (St. Matthew iv. 1,2) From the historical record of Saints Matthew and Luke we learn that Jesus was alone. Having fasted for forty days, being truly and fully human, He was hungry. So the Devil starts in on him where He is weakest as a human being. Jesus is famished, and the nearest things in appearance to bread in the desert are stones. And so Satan says to Him, If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread. (St. Matthew iv. 3) Jesus knows that God sent Him not to destroy nature but to redeem it. So why not ensure that the natural man is well fed before He moves on? Jesus the Man needs to eat. But natural men need also to be redeemed. Stones are stones, and bread is bread. He can feed the multitudes by multiplying the loaves and the fishes after they, with Him, have made a spiritual journey. And besides, the poor ye have with you always, but the Son of God ye have…always. (St. Matthew xxvi. 11) The Son of Man is the Son of God that through Him men might hunger and thirst for [God’s] righteousness. (St. Matthew v. 6) Things Divine must take precedence over things mundane and natural. Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, that….all [other]….things may be added unto you. (St. Matthew vi. 33) Jesus remembers who He is truly, and that He has meat to eat that Satan does not know of and that His meat is to do the will of Him that sent…. Him.(St. John iv. 32,34) Jesus is tempted here to sacrifice the Son of Man prematurely to the needs of His body. But He knows that, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. (St. Matthew iv. 4) Man is made to eat spiritual food, God’s Truth, here embodied in the Son of Man’s hunger to be the Son of God by feeding first on His Word.
So Jesus’ physical hunger is overcome by His spiritual longing to eat and digest the bread of God’s will. The devil sees before him a spiritual man. So in His physical weakness and exhaustion, Satan thinks, let Him be wholly spiritual. Perhaps this Jesus is called to be a supernaturally inspired ascetic, perhaps some kind of mystical Desert Father, who in denying the body completely can become a kind of incarnated angel! He has denied the good of the body,Satan thinks, so let this man dispense with his body entirely, cleaving as he does to this ‘Word’ of God. He trusts in God, then let Him deliver Him now, if he will have Him: for he said, I am the Son of God. (St. Matthew xxvii. 43) Then the devil taketh Him up into the holy city, and setteth Him on a pinnacle of the temple, And saith unto Him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou thy foot against a stone. (St. Matthew iv. 5,6) Satan tempts Jesus to provoke God to reveal His anointing by sending angels, pure spirits, to rescue His soul and body. The soul is the seat of unity with God; from the ground of the soul man chooses freely to worship and obey his Maker. If you cannot perform a miracle with regard to the body’s hunger, prove your unbreakable unity with God through the mind or the soul, Satan suggests. Cast yourself down; surely God will not let one perish who places the good of his soul above that of his body. Jesus, however, knows that this is no way for the Son of Man to reveal that He is the Son of God. Man’s soul is in a body. God doesn’t intend for us to prove the good of one by destroying the other. The Son of Man must reveal that He is the Son of God by taking on the whole of human nature. That He is the Son of God will require much much more than sparkling and dazzling supernatural Divine interruptions designed to startle men out of their dull spiritual stupor. Men must follow the Son the Man along the hard path of suffering that alone can bring belief. Their minds were made to be redeemed and reconciled to God not through supernatural magic, but through the common and familiar mode of pondering, wondering, studying, exploring, investigating, questioning, and finally assenting to what lies hidden in the heart of the Son of Man! Christ has come to redeem souls through faith, and not to compel conversion by force. To compel and force God to prove Himself can never perfect creaturely man’s faith. Belief can never be forced. It must be elicited and carried forward as it discovers God in the heart of the Son of Man, the Father in the life of the Son, and the Spirit at the root of both. Satan and his minions demand signs and wonders. Men of faith will see a sign and wonder in the Love of the Son of Man, who rather than throwing down His life will allow it to be hoisted up by others. Jesus said unto him, It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God. (St. Matthew iv. 7)
We come to the final temptation. Satan guesses that if the Son the Man will not prove that He is the Son of God by worshiping the needs of His body or exaggerating the excellence of His soul, there is but one option left. Surely if He is the Son of God as flesh, He can still be tempted by the will to power. Jesus has come to save all men, to be sure, but only in so far as the Son of Man is held captive to His Father’s will as the Son of God. His last temptation is to despair of His reconciliation with God through obedience. Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; And saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me. (St. Matthew iv. 8,9) Satan is perfect desperation, and is thus the prince of despair. The temptation here is for Jesus to sever himself from his Father’s will precisely because He can resist all temptation. That it should be a temptation to Jesus at all surprises us. How does it make sense? Well, here we find that Jesus has forsaken all for God and His kingdom. He has rejected both bodily and spiritual threats to the free operation of His will. His act of will in submitting to the Father seems to have rendered Him utterly powerless. His sense of impending impotence is weighing so heavily upon Him in the face of long, hard road lying ahead that He is tempted to give it all up –to do evil that good may come of it. (Idem, Knox, p. 65) Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve. (St. Matthew iv. 10) The Son of God is God’s only perfect child. As God the Father rules the whole of creation, so He speaks through His invisible Word into the flesh of His Son. That Word has neither meaning nor significance apart from the Father who speaks it. His speech is obeyed as a command, willingly, in the humanity of the Son. Then the devil leaveth Him, and, behold, angels came and ministered unto Him.(St. Matthew iv. 11)
That Jesus is the Son of Man has never been doubted. Sane men know too that God alone should be worshiped and served. The Sons of Man are born to become the Sons of God. What the Son of God reveals to us is that the one must be sacrificed to the other because Man must die for God to be made alive. The Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many. (St. Matthew xx. 28) In the end of our Gospel lesson for today we read that, Then the devil leaveth him, and, behold, angels came and ministered unto him. (St. Matthew iv. 11) Luther tells us that the angels came down from Heaven to feed Him. This is the proper order and nature of God’s provision. The Son of Man is hungering and thirsting for the righteousness as the Son of God. God the Father feeds His Spirit, nourishes His soul, and now cares for His body. He has become an inferior being as the Son of Man in order that all men might partake of His superior nature as the Son of God. The superior creatures now honor and worship the inferior Son of Man, feed Him and equip His Sacred Humanity for more of the same devilish assaults that will contrive to construct a Cross for His Love. For out of that Cross the Son of Man will reveal to men of faith what the Son of God will do to win back the love of His people. Amen.