The unseen battle for your soul
Matthew 4:1-11 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil. 2After he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3The Tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become bread.” 4But Jesus answered, “It is written: Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes out of the mouth of God.” 5Then the Devil took him into the holy city. He placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6and he 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 they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.” 7Jesus said to him, “Again, it is written: You shall not test the Lord your God.” 8Again the Devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. 9He said to him, “I will give you all of these things, if you will bow down and worship me.” 10Then Jesus said to him, “Go away, Satan! For it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’” 11Then the Devil left him, and just then angels came and served him.
The Vietnam War was very different than any other war that the United States had previously fought in. Our U.S. soldiers were often confused and frustrated during the Vietnam War because there was no clear line of battle. The soldiers never knew who their enemies were and where they were located. Enemies could be men or women or even children. Enemies would appear as if from nowhere, emerging from secret tunnels and disappearing in them once they lost their cover. This meant that the U.S. soldiers could rarely take the offensive. They mostly discovered their enemy only when they came under attack.
This is how it is in our daily lives. The devil and his demonic forces are hidden from us. They attack us on all sides. The devil even masquerades as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14). There are no clear lines of battle that join us with our allies and separate us from our enemy.
Whether you realize it or not, you are constantly under attack from the devil. He will use various attacks from multiple angles to accomplish his goal. His goal is to get us in hell. At times, the devil may mount a full-frontal assault on us by attacking our faith in Christ. We see these types of assaults when our boyfriend invites us to sleep with him; or when our coworkers badger us about our Lutheran Christianity; or when the government threatens to close our bakery or photography shop because we hold to the biblical values of marriage.
If that doesn’t work on us, then the devil will move his forces to ambush us from behind. This type of ambush usually employs cutting us off from our Christian brothers and sisters. Perhaps he creates a wedge between our children and their classmates, so that we are all up in arms against fellow Christian parents. Or he knows our weakness for anger, so he fuels our temper just before we come home from work, so we lose our temper with our spouse and children. Or he knows our appetite for lust, so he maneuvers situations so that we can satisfy that lust on the computer, instead of creating a healthy sexual relationship with our spouse.
What we sang earlier about Satan is correct: “deep guile and great might are his dread arms in fight; on earth is not his equal” (CW: 200 v1).
Luther wrote in his Large Catechism about these attacks by the devil: “The devil is such a furious enemy. When he sees that we oppose him and attack the old man, and the he cannot topple us over by force, he prowls and moves about on all sides (1 Peter 5:8). He tries every trick and does not stop until he finally wears us out, so that we either renounce our faith or throw up our hands and put up our feet, becoming indifferent or impatient” (Large Catechism, Part V, par. 26).
The strategy of Satan is simple. It is the same strategy that he employed in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve and that he tried against Jesus in the desert. The strategy is to separate you from God and the truth of His Word. Like a clever general, Satan aims to cut us off from the Word, since it our spiritual supply system, our lifeline. The battle, therefore, is fought over God’s Word and its work in us.
Since Satan cannot destroy the Church, he sets out to destroy its disciples. Us.
On our own, we are helpless and hapless victims of this spiritual oppression. We will eat the forbidden fruit dangling before us by the ancient serpent (Genesis 3:16). We will be devoured by the roaring lion (1 Peter 5:8). We will be led astray by the great dragon (Revelation 12:9).
“But for us fights the valiant one whom God himself elected” (CW: 200 v2). Christ is our champion. He has already defeated the devil. He gives His hard-fought victory to us to use in our daily battles against Satan’s frontal assaults and sneaky ambushes. We wield the name of Christ as our weapon in the face of battle. “One little word can fell him” (CW: 200 v3). That one little word is “Jesus.”
God’s Word is our main offensive weapon in spiritual combat. When that Word is preached and taught, the demons are banished (Mark 3:14-15). They flee screaming. We hear the Word and read it. We speak it and meditate on it. We use it in prayer and praise. We trust in it to judge and justify us. And, where does this most often take place? Right here in the Divine Service. From the invocation to the benediction, the demons are exposed and driven away. In the words of absolution and the words of institution, the work of Satan is undone. In the Scripture readings and sermon, Christ’s holiness covers over our unholiness. In the various prayers said in church, the efforts of Satan are thwarted.
God’s Word is the sword of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 6:17). It is the two-edged sword of Law and Gospel that the Spirit uses to judge and save, to cut and heal, to remove what is evil and place the balm of forgiveness on our wounds (Hebrews 4:12-13).
In Baptism, we, who were once helpless, hapless victims of spiritual oppression, are enrolled in Christ’s militia as soldiers of the cross. We have been enlisted to “fight the good fight” (1 Timothy 6:12). The battle is personal and cosmic, human and angelic, demonic and divine.
When St. Paul encourages us to fight the good fight of spiritual warfare, he does not summon us to go out in a crusade to conquer the world for Christ. That has already been done.
Still dripping wet from His baptism in the Jordan River, Jesus marched into the desert of temptation. Heaven and hell were about to exchange blows. Jesus goes toe-to-toe with the heavyweight champion of hell.
But, we are not mere spectators in the stands. Though we were made one with Adam by his trespass, so we were made one with Christ by His righteousness (Romans 5:15). “For just as through the disobedience of [Adam] many became sinners, so also through the obedience of [Christ] many will become righteous” (Romans 5:19). You are not in the audience; you are in the desert, for you are in Christ.
As you see Satan attacking Christ in the desert, you see the familiar assaults. They are the same ones the serpent used against Adam and Eve. They are the same assaults Satan uses against you. He tries to get Jesus to rely on something other than God’s Word.
The Tempter came and said to Jesus, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become bread.” Satan takes his first swing at the empty belly of our Lord.
But Jesus easily blocks Satan’s jab. Not with will power or argumentation, but with the Word of God. Jesus answered, “It is written: Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes out of the mouth of God.”
The temptation was not simply to turn rocks into food; Satan lured Jesus to turn from the trustworthy words of His Father to the fickle feelings of the human heart. But instead of turning stones into bread, Christ stuffed the solid rock of His Father’s Word into the devil’s open, tempting mouth.
Having failed in his initial assault, Satan circled his opponent, planning his next attack. This time he went for the jugular. “Then the Devil took him into the holy city. He placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, and he 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 they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.” If Satan cannot succeed in robbing us of our confidence in God, he will go to the other extreme and try to make us arrogant and daring.
Jesus said to him, “Again, it is written: You shall not test the Lord your God.” Jesus blocks another of Satan’s blows by reminding Satan and us that we cannot abandon God’s Word for our own twisted thinking.
Having now been defeated in the first two rounds with our Lord, Satan stepped forward for one final swing. In the first temptation, the devil held adversity and pain in the face of Jesus; here, he holds prosperity and delight before him. “Again the Devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. He said to him, ‘I will give you all of these things, if you will bow down and worship me.’” The devil knew that Jesus knew what sufferings awaited Him, so he says, “You who claim to be God’s Son are not worthy of this miserable life; see the riches, view the honor, covet the glory I would bestow upon you! All this and more I will give if only you will get on your knees before me.”
But our Lord came not to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many – as a ransom for you. And if He came not to be served, certainly He came not to pursue wealth, fame, and glory. He came to fear, love, and trust in God above all things, and in so doing, to fulfill the Law for you. So, He said, “Go away, Satan! For it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’” Then the Devil left him, and just then angels came and served him.
When St. Paul calls for us to engage in spiritual warfare by fighting the good fight, he does not summon us to go on a crusade and march in the streets conquering the world for Christ. We see in Jesus’ defeat of the devil in the desert that has already taken place.
As soldiers of Christ, we engage in a defensive rather than an offensive warfare. We fight the battle in our daily vocations. As mothers, we zealously guard the precious few minutes we can spend each day in Word and prayer, so that we can be a help to our husband and a blessing to our children. As fathers, we ward off the attacks of the world on the male role model, and we carry out our God-given leadership position by bringing our family to worship, leading them in prayer, and instilling Christian virtues in our children. As employers and employees, we fight every moment not to be swallowed up by the pessimism, hostility, and drudgery of the workday. Instead, we find quiet time each day to repent before God and receive Christ’s forgiveness. This gives us the renewed strength and spirit to go to work and return home each day as a confident Christian.
There is no glamor or glitz in this. There is no glorious crusade. It is the humdrum life of an ordinary, everyday Christian. But it is a Christian who wakes up each morning, looking for the various frontal assaults and sneaky ambushes of that ancient Deceiver. It is a Christian who goes to bed each evening, confident that Christ has already one the victory over the devil. And through Him, we have, too. At least for another day. Amen.