Begone Satan! Worship the Lord, and Fear only Him.

Sermon notes on  Matthew 4:1-17 (NRSV)

[4:1] Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.  He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished.  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, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Notice it is the Holy Spirit that leads Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted.  We instead pray for ourselves as Jesus taught us, “Lead us not into temptation.” 

Jesus is led by the Spirit – follows the Spirit to his confrontation with the devil.  We want to avoid the devil – to avoid the fight that we must engage in if we meet him?  We would rather avoid the fight than do the battle in order to triumph over him.

The devil is portrayed as nothing more than “the tempter” which is very consistent with the Old Testament vision of the devil.   We are monotheists – there is no equal and opposite to God.  Satan is not a god, nor a god equivalent.  We are not Ditheists – there are not two competing gods, one good and one evil.    And it is not the case that the good Creator God is distant and far removed from the creation which is ruled by an evil god.  These ideas were all clearly rejected by the Church through history.  Satan, the devil, has very limited powers and can do nothing on his own.  He asks Jesus to grant permission that he go into the herd of swine – as we note in our Baptism service, Satan does not have power even over swine.  In the exorcism, we spit in Satan’s face.  That is how little we care about him.

We are not to fear Satan, we are to fear God.  We spit on Satan.

Satan can tempt us, which he does to Jesus.

Jesus’ response to Satan is interesting.   Jesus quotes scripture (“it is written”), but note Jesus does not say we live by every word of scripture.  He says we live “by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”  Scripture bears witness to Christ, but Jesus is the Word of God incarnate.  We do not obey a book, but rather we pay attention to whom the Bible bears witness and to whom the bible points us. 

Sometimes we misunderstand what is meant by “the Word of God” or the bible is the Word of God.  The bible bears witness to Jesus Christ who is the Word of God.  We follow the living God to whom the bible points and whom the bible reveals.  We do honor the Scriptures as God’s Word – we carry the Gospel in procession in Church, but it is a symbol bearing witness to the reality of Christ.  God’s Word is not contained in the scriptures, the scriptures bear witness to God’s Word.

[5] Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying 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, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”  Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

Even the devil can quote the Bible – or read it.  What Satan cannot do is understand the scriptures, nor do they bring him to faith in Christ.  Satan reads the written words, but cannot comprehend the message of the Scriptures.  He is a literalist in his reading, but cannot comprehend about whom the Scriptures speak.

Jesus rebukes the devil by counter-quoting scripture.  We are not to take scripture verses out of context.  We need to comprehend the entire message of Scripture, unlike the devil who can only quote verses, but can’t put the verses together to form the entire picture being offered by God in His self revelation.

[8] Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”  Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’”  Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.

The devil is deluded.  He believes he has such power over all the kingdoms on earth, that they are his to give away, like toys.  The devil is so deluded about himself, that he thinks Christ should worship him!  Satan fails to recognize His Lord but thinks himself greater than God! 

It is worth contemplating the notion that all the kingdoms of the world and all of their splendor are Satan’s – at least so he believes.  While we might think – yes this is true of the Roman Empire, the Third Reich, the Soviet Union, Islamic Empires –  Satan claims that ALL of the kingdoms of the world are his – this would include the United States and all its splendor.  We can ask ourselves – what kingdom do we serve?  God’s or Satan’s?  God’s or ours?  No exceptions were made by Satan about any kingdom.

Jesus dismisses the devil with a word as he has no power in the presence of Christ.  So too we who have put on Christ in baptism have power over the devil and there is no reason to fear him.   What then is our response in the face of temptation?

To turn to God and ask for His mercy and forgiveness and deliverance from such evil..

 [17] From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”