The names put on Jesus at His baptism were Son of God and Suffering Servant. With those names came what was His to do. The voice from heaven spoke words from Psalm 2 and Isaiah 42. “Son of God” was used to describe the people of Israel; the people of Israel are gathered up in their king. The Davidic title, Son of God, is put on Jesus at His baptism, which is His anointing to kingship. “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). “Beloved” and “with whom I am well pleased” were said in Isaiah of that Son of God, that Servant of God. We will hear the names “Son” and “Servant” again at Jesus’ transfiguration as He stands with Moses and Elijah, speaking of the death that He would accomplish.
Then we are told Christ would make Himself a sacrifice for sin. He will make many to be accounted righteous, for He will bear their iniquities. Such is the Son, Servant of God, the King who stands for His people, the Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” The next thing that Matthew tells us is that
Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted
by the devil. And he fasted forty days and forty nights, and
afterward 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 proceed
from the mouth of God.’” (Matthew 4:1-4 RSV)
The last words from the mouth of God to Jesus were “This is My beloved Son, in whom I well pleased (Matthew 3:17). The tempter cast doubt on these words: “If You are the Son of God.” This is similar to the first temptation that involved us all: “Hath God said, ‘Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?'” (Genesis 3:1). The devil is saying, “Doesn’t God want you to have food? Doesn’t He want you to have what is good for you? Doesn’t God love you? So take the fruit.” Eve did take the fruit. And with her sin, her taking, her unbelief, she brought all her children into bondage, one from which, try as they may, they can never get free. All their efforts bring them deeper into slavery, no matter how many styles of fig leaves they try.
In Jesus’ temptation, when everything that is wrong with us hangs on Jesus, He did not sin. The words of God come first and are sure: “It is written: Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). Jesus’ victory is not with some magical blast but in the strength of the words of the Lord. The same words have been give to you too. Jesus was tempted to slip away from the words of God, away from the cross, into the bondage and slaveries of power. For Him to grasp power as the way of being a Servant/Son/King would make bad news out of the Good News. It would mean that is indeed the way everything goes. Everybody wants power, even God. Those who look for a big power god get that kind of god. The ways of power and coercion and necessity. God does not want to deal with us with coercion. That is not His saving way with us in Jesus. Jesus came to set us free—no whip, no rope, no slaves. (p. 86-87)
Religion comes in the next temptation. And what could be more religious than the temple and its pinnacle? The devil knows how to behave himself in church. A telling word of Scripture would be just the thing that is called for. He has one, but one fixed to fit his purpose. No captive is more delicious to the devil’s taste than one he captures by using the words and the name of God. Verbal inspiration is not his primary problem. The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose, says Shakespeare. And every heretic can too, says Tertullian. So Satan tempts: “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down, for it is written, ‘He will give His angels charge of you, and on their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone'” (Matthew 4:6 RSV). You can trust God’s promises, can’t you? Satan certainly sometimes sounds like s reasonably good Lutheran, doesn’t he?
Jesus sees it straight because He says God’s word straight. There won’t be any tempting of God, calling Him up for a miracle, or all those more subtle ways in which we try to get in on God’s power and use it to our purpose–even good purposes, perhaps. But with us, getting control of God, binding Him, is the native meaning of the word religion. Thant can be a dirty word.
Jesus, who refused to do a spectacular miracle in the temple, could not be taken captive there. A few years ago it was quite the thing to say, “You won’t find Jesus here in church. He is out there in the world doing what people need to have done for them there. That is the real Jesus.” Satan seems to follow something of the same line of thought. The devil took Jesus to a high mountain, showed Him all the kingdom of the world and their glory, and said to Him, “All these I will give You if You will fall down and worship Me. You can be king of the lot, Jesus. All the power that is mine I will put at Your disposal. The two of us together can hardly fail, if You will only do things a bit more my way.” (p. 88)
Satan’s sort of king is not the one who hangs on the cross, the one who resists temptation on His way to the cross. Along that way we follow again with Jesus this Lent, deeply rejoicing in what He does for us, in what is only His to do, in what He does that counts for us, in what He does on the cross by which we come to be forgiven and righteous. “By one man’s obedience. . . shall many be made righteous” (Romans 5:19). Only God (who doesn’t have to prove He is God) does it. So hidden, so human, so weak, so hungry, so declining to make it big in the church or in the world. Here is the way of the cross. That is the way Jesus does it.
One expectation of the Messiah would be that He would be invulnerable. Nothing could hurt Him, not even a fall from the pinnacle of the temple. Now there is a sensible sort of Christ. And Satan rides along on our natural way of projecting God and getting maximum mileage with our “religion,” No wonder they had no use for a man who got Himself crucified! There was never such a way of being a king before, of being God’s Son, the Suffering Servant, of being Christ, of being Savior, of being Jesus for you, even to His body broken and His bleed shed—for you. Amen. (p. 89)
Select Sermons of Norman Nagel
First Sunday in Lent
Concordia Seminary (1995)