Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, "If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread." But he answered, "It is written, "' Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'" Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, "' He will command his angels concerning you,' and "'On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.'" Jesus said to him, "Again it is written, 'You shall 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 glory. And he said to him, "All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me." Then Jesus said to him, "Be gone, Satan! For it is written, "' You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.'" Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him. (ESV)
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Dialog With the Devil
Monday of Advent 1
2 December 2012
How easily we humans may be trapped by despair! The devil weaves a thousand wiles into a snare with which he might deceive us into hopelessness, despondency, and gloom. He can even employ Scripture itself against us, as he did in the threefold temptations of our Lord Jesus Christ (Mt 4:1-11). Scripture, even rightly quoted, might be an occasion for great temptation. Satan's accusations may be entirely correct according to the law. We are all the things he says we are. We have done all the things he says we did. We have thought all the wicked thoughts he accuses us of. But he is right only according to the law, which is not the final nor decisive word of God over against us, God's children.
He can point out our weakness, our spiritual ineptitude, our tendency to doubt, our penchant for looking somewhere other than to God for help. All of that too, is lamentably true. But it's just not the final divine word. In Christ God has established a decisive word over against every sin, accusation, despair, dereliction, and guilt. The gospel teaches us that God has remitted our sins and all their penalties, placing them on Christ, our Lord. He became the final substitute for all sinners, that we might be acquitted of our crimes and offenses against Him.
Yes, all the accusations of Satan are true. They just aren't the whole story. Our God's righteousness is revealed from faith to faith. For faith believes that God's Son has become for us the Lord our righteousness (Jer 23:6). If, then, it is asked what is your righteousness, you may answer by faith, "It is the Lord's own." What greater holiness, what more powerful bulwark against the devil, what more certain antidote to sin and death could there be? Satan may howl however he will, no matter how true his accusations, they cannot overcome the work of Christ to redeem us poor sinners and to rescue us from sin and death. The dialog with the devil is always ended by the last word of Christ to us sinners: "I forgive you."
"Christ wished to humble Peter, for he wasn't content to ask once but asked again and again, 'Peter, do you love me? Feed my sheep (Jn 21:15-17) and lift them up without the severity of the law. Toward others, however, employ the severity of the law because they are not sheep, for I suffer and do all things for humble sheep.'
"In the light of nature and reason the highest wisdom is the law. When Satan speaks according to the law and says to you in your heart, 'God doesn't want to forgive you,' how will you as a sinner encourage yourself, especially if signs of wrath, like illness, etc., are added?
"The devil says, 'Behold, you are weak. How do you know, therefore, that God is gracious to you?' Then the Christian must come and say, 'I have been baptized, and by the sacrament I have been incorporated into Christ. And moreover, I have the Word.'
"The devil objects: 'This is nothing, for many are called, but few are chosen' (Mt 22:14).
"Reply: 'They lose what they were baptized for. They don't accept it. They fall away again. They hold on to the law and forget Christ. Therefore, they are not of the elect.' So Duke George, Margrave Joachim, and the bishop of Mainz were called and have baptism, the sacrament of the altar, and Christ the same as we do, but when you get right down to it they rely on their monastic cowls and other works.
"But a Christian remains firmly attached to Christ and says, 'If I'm not good, Peter wasn't either, but Christ is good.' Such are the elect. Others say, 'God is gracious to me because I hope to amend my ways,' but this is only a gallows repentance; the heart isn't in it. Although the wicked sometimes have compunctions, as they call them, that is, they promise themselves that they will be good, they soon depart from the straight path and seek to merit a reward from God. But a Christian says, 'I wish to do as much as I can, but Christ is the bishop of souls. To him I will cling, even if I sin.' It is in this way that one has assurance."
Martin Luther, Table Talk, 501
Lord Christ, I confess that I am a sinner, like the great saints. Be the bishop of my soul. Send Your Spirit that I might trust You. When I sin, cling to me. Amen.
For Ilyse Lehmann, that the Lord Jesus would grant her strength and that her heavenly Father would watch over her and guard her
For Jenny Wagner, that the Lord would be with her and that He would continue to strengthen those who minister to Jenny's needs
For Wayne Galler, that the Lord Jesus would grant him healing and a full recovery from heart surgery
Art: WEYDEN, Rogier van der Annunciation Triptych (c. 1440)
© Scott R. Murray, 2012