Winning the Long Game

March 06, 2022; Rev. Kurt A. Lantz
Lent 1. Temptation-of-jesus.jpg

Winning the Long Game

 

Rev. Kurt Lantz Lent 1 C Luke 4:1-13

March 06, 2022 Resurrection Lutheran Church St. Catharines, ON

 

 

Dear Christians tempted,

 

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

 

 

What did He win? We are told that Jesus was victorious in His combat with the devil during those forty days in the wilderness, so what did He win? He resisted the temptation to turn stones into bread. Yay, Jesus! But He still had no bread and was hungry. He resisted the temptation to bow down before the devil in order to have glory and authority before all the kingdoms of the world. Yay, Jesus! But He still isn’t the acknowledged authority over all the kingdoms of the world. He resisted the temptation to throw Himself down from the temple and have the angels carry Him to safety. Yay, Jesus! But He still had to walk on His own out of the wilderness.

 

“Man shall not live by bread alone,” but he does live on bread and Jesus was truly man. He was hungry and saying “No” to the temptation did nothing about that. We pray “Give us this day our daily bread” because we need it. That is the human condition. We need to eat or we hunger and we die. Jesus said “No” to making stones become bread and then He was still out in the wilderness, hungry.

 

“You shall worship the Lord you God, and Him only shall you serve,” but Jesus was sent by the Lord God to take the throne of David and to reign over his kingdom (Luke 1:32-33). He came to be the King and saying “No” to the temptation didn’t make Him a world ruler. We pray, “Thy kingdom come” because we know that God’s promised kingdom brings forgiveness, eternal life, and salvation. It is what we long for. It is what we are waiting for. Jesus said “No” to the authority and glory that the devil offered Him and then He was still out in the wilderness, alone.

 

“You shall not put the Lord your God to the test,” but we are to hold Him to His promises. Everything written about Jesus in the psalms had to be fulfilled (Luke 24:44), including the verse that the devil quoted about angels carrying Him in safety (Psalm 91:11-12). He came to fulfill all of Scripture and saying “No” to throwing Himself off of the pinnacle of the temple didn’t bring that verse to fulfillment. We pray, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” because we desire and expect God to do everything that He has promised us in His holy Word. Isn’t that what the Christian life is all about? Jesus said “No” to having God prove Himself faithful to His Word and then He was left to stumble out of the stony desert in sandals.

 

What is gained by resisting temptation? Where is the victory? What do you get for the win? Temptation draws our focus to the immediate. What is the problem right now? How can it be solved right now? How we can put an end to this right now? How can we make it happen right now?

 

If Jesus would have given into those temptations, He would have had bread. His hunger would have been abated. His strength would have been restored right then and there that very day. He would have had glory and authority over the Jews and over the mighty Roman Empire, and extending to the Orient and the even to fledgling Britannia. It would have been instant recognition and submission even before He went through the suffering and death of His passion and His glorious resurrection and ascension. He would have had the safety and security of knowing that nothing would ever harm Him in His frail human flesh. There would have been no fear of unexpected danger, no problem if the people in Nazareth did throw Him off of the cliff, or if others took up stones to kill Him in reaction to His radical teachings.

 

There was so much that could have been gained right then and there. Pretty much all of Jesus’ problems would have been solved. He would have a full belly, all civilization bending the knee before Him, and an express air lift out of the desert. But He lost it all. It all fell through His fingers. It slipped out of His grasp. He dropped the ball.

 

That’s the way that it feels for us, too. We share in His flesh and blood. He was tempted in all ways as we are (Hebrews 4:15), and when we say “No” the instant gratification is gone. What we desire disappears. The fix fizzles away. Our appetite is not sated. Our mission remains incomplete. The dangers and risks are still with us. What remains is a hard path out of the desert, with hunger and humility and hurts. Congratulations. You win. What exactly did you win?

 

The victory is hard to see because it stretches out before us for eternity. It is not the immediate, neat little package that has been promoted in our face, filling our field of vision, that thin blue ribbon that waves and flashes in the wind to catch our attention, but fades and frays so quickly. The bread is consumed and it is gone and we need more. Kingdoms rise against kingdoms and each of them falls away. The constant safety net removes all special notice and attention, and God’s extraordinary care becomes mundane.

 

But if we can see past the tempting package pressed up in our face, there is something more glorious, with permanence and substance, stretching out for all of our life in this world and the next. It is a treasure that moth and rust cannot destroy, something that cannot be stolen away (Matthew 6:19-20). The pleasure is not for a day, but for eternity, a crown unfading, laid up in heaven for you (2 Timothy 4:8).

 

These are not like tickets that you win at the arcade so that you can cash them in later when you get to heaven. These are the victories, whose rewards are with you today, but stay with you for your entire life with God. They remain yours not only as long as your belly is full, not only as long as your nation remains free and peaceful, not only in times of stability, but forever and always. They are yours when you are hungry, when you are alone, when you are oppressed, and when you are scared. They are yours in suffering, in death, in eternity.

 

They are the blessings of a life trusting in the care and love of Your heavenly Father. That is what Jesus won in His victory over the temptations of the devil. By rejecting the temptation to turn stones to bread, He trusted that His heavenly Father would provide daily bread when needed. By rejecting the temptation to have glory and authority over all nations, He trusted His heavenly Father to give Him the throne of His father David to reign over the house of Jacob forever (Luke 1:32-33). By rejecting the temptation to make the heavenly Father prove His Word, He trusted that the Father’s will would be accomplished on His own terms, according to His will to provide salvation for all.

 

By resisting these temptations, Jesus has won the long game for us. He has faithfully fulfilled the will of our heavenly Father. He has made His way through all of the suffering and temptations of this life, sharing our frail human nature. He faithfully walked through the wilderness with hunger and humility and hurts. He faithfully walked under the weight of the cross in order to bear our sins of unfaithfulness.

 

The faithfulness of Jesus, trusting in the will of the heavenly Father to save us from sin, death, and that devil with all of his temptations, accomplished exactly what the heavenly Father intended from before the foundation of the world: that we would emerge victorious in the long game. All of our sins are washed away in Jesus Christ. All of our failures to remain faithful are forgiven because He remained faithful unto death and rose again to share His victory with us. We are cleansed from every impurity of falling for the quick fix, the instant gratification, the dazzling desirables.

 

That means that we share in the everlasting prize. We have been given that precious life of living under the love and care of the heavenly Father. He calls us His children and He deals with us compassionately as a father does his children (Psalm 103:13). He teaches and guides and warns and disciplines. He saves and rescues and provides and takes vengeance on all who would try to destroy the loving and trusting relationship that He has established with us through His only-begotten Son.

 

Through our Baptism He has adopted us into His family. He has pledged Himself to us. He inscribed His name upon our own and sealed us with the Holy Spirit to separate us from this sinful world and its evil prince. We are His. The eternal victory is ours.

 

And so, the faithful prayer of our Lord Jesus has become our own. And in every time of temptation and testing, we can confidently pray and put our full trust in our heavenly Father who hears the words of His beloved child: “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done. Give us this day our daily bread.” We have been given the eternal and everlasting prize of life under His loving care. That far outweighs any temporary trinket that the devil might dangle in your face.

 

 

The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.