The Sermon for Sunday, February 26th, 2023, the First Sunday in Lent
The Lessons: Psalm 51:1-12; Genesis 2:4-9, 15-17, 25 – 3:7; Matthew 4:1-11
The Text: Matthew 4:1-11
Robert Browning’s famous poem the “Pied Piper of Hamelin” was based on a story centuries old. Hamelin, a little German town in the duchy of Brunswick, was overrun with rats. Every home was full of rats, as were the shops and streets.
An odd-looking stranger entered town, promising to rid the town of rats for the sum of one hundred guilders. He was quickly hired, and pulling a small flute from his pocket, he began to play a shrill tune. As he played, the rats came tumbling out of the houses and shops. As the piper played, he marched toward the river and the rats followed him in an ever-increasing mass until they were all led into the River Weser and drowned.
But the mayor refused to keep his end of the bargain, not wanting to pay the guilders.
Without a word, the piper left the mayor’s office, took out his flute, and began playing a different song. This time, the sound wasn’t shrill, but sweet and low and dreamy. Instantly, the children of Hamelin came tumbling out of the houses, shops and schools, and, to the horror of the onlookers, they followed the piper to a mountain which opened up as though it were a door and all the children trooped inside and were never seen again.
All but one little boy who was lame on one foot and unable to keep up. He escaped the fate of the others and told what he had heard. The piper’s tune, he said, was about a land where all things were beautiful, the people were good, the rivers were clear, the flowers were brighter, and the sky was brilliant. In this land, dogs ran faster, bees didn’t sting, horses flew with eagle’s wings, and no one was ever sick.
Its lure was virtually irresistible, and with this sweet, subtle, soft delusion, the piper led the crowd toward their doom.
The Devil has a temptation for every occasion. He knew just how to appeal to Eve’s desire for knowledge and immortality, and to entice her to disobey God, and he also knew that once Eve had succumbed to temptation, Adam would eagerly eat anything his wife gave him without asking questions.
When Satan came to tempt the Lord Jesus Christ after his forty day fast, he tailored his temptations to appeal to the Son of God. Each of these three temptations appealed to a sense of power that he was trying to make Jesus use independently of God’s will.
THE FIRST TEMPTATION
In the first of these temptations, Satan uses at least two ploys of speech to tempt Jesus. “If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread” (Matthew 4:3) can imply two things: either “If you really are the Son of God, but prove it by turning these stones into bread,” or “Use your power as Son of God to turn these stones into bread, since you really have the right to satisfy your hunger in this way!” Both appeals are to Jesus to use his power to do such a miracle for his own sake, and not at God’s command. Jesus replies to this with a quotation from Deuteronomy 8:3 to the effect that man does not live on food alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord. This was the lesson that God had taught the nation of Israel in their wilderness wanderings. Every word that the Lord speaks to his people is at least as important as, or more important than, food. Later in his ministry, the Lord Jesus affirms this same truth when asked by the disciples to eat some of the food they have bought: “My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work” (John 4:34, KJV). From this we see how important it was for Jesus to listen to God the Father, so as to know and do his will. The word of God spoken gives life and sustains us even more than food does, as Jesus reaffirmed in response to his first temptation in the wilderness.
THE SECOND TEMPTATION
The second temptation was also for Jesus to misuse his power. A pinnacle of the Jewish temple, the most sacred place for the Jews, the center of their daily worship, was surely where God would honor his Son by protecting him if he threw himself down from such a great height. The Devil quotes Psalm 91:11-12 to Jesus to assure him of angelic protection. Make use of your right as God’s Son to be protected from death by falling from such a great height. After all, Scripture assures you of God’s protection. Again the challenge comes, if you really are the Son of God, prove it by throwing yourself down from a pinnacle of the temple. God will take care of you. Our Lord’s response to this was a quotation from Deuteronomy 6:16 to the effect that one must not put the Lord God to the test. For the sake of a public demonstration of God’s power, one must not test, or tempt, God. An example of falling into this trap is a snake-handling evangelist, who handles snakes while preaching in front of a congregation to try and prove that God will protect Christians from snakebite. Of course, there might be a few times he will not get bitten by a snake, but eventually one will bite him and expose his foolhardiness.
THE THIRD TEMPTATION
Just as Satan tries to deceive Jesus by displaying before his mind’s eye the alluring prospect of stones turned into loaves of bread, and of angels catching him after he throws himself off a pinnacle of the temple, so in the third temptation he tries to convince Jesus that he will give him power over all the kingdoms of the world if only Jesus falls down and worships him. It’s unlikely that Satan would make good on his promise. But Jesus rejected power over kingdoms of the world gained only by worshiping Satan. Instead, he counters this temptation with God’s command to Israel in Deuteronomy 6:16 that only the Lord God is to be worshipped.
In all three temptations, Satan attempts to persuade Jesus to do things for his own satisfaction, and in all of his replies, the Lord Jesus quotes commands from Deuteronomy that emphasize man’s relationship to God. The aspects of this that the Lord emphasizes through his replies to Satan are firstly, man’s dependence on every word of God for sustenance; secondly, man’s reverence for God so as not to put him to the test; thirdly, man’s worship of God alone. Whereas through the temptation of Adam and Eve, the knowledge of good and evil, a knowledge independent of the knowledge God had given them, was made to look attractive by the Devil, the Lord Jesus Christ’s replies to Satan’s temptations clearly point the way to how we should return to the knowledge God intended man to have, a knowledge that is rooted in the love of God.
Considering how the Lord Jesus Christ overcame the temptations of the Devil, what insights from the Bible will you use to help you overcome the temptations that you regularly face?
 p.726, Robert J. Morgan: Preacher’s Sourcebook of Creative Sermon Illustrations. Dallas, TX: Thomas Nelson, 2007.