“Beware of the Dog” the sign on the fence read. And behind that fence, stood a huge dog house, with the name “Killer” emblazoned across the top. And lying in the doorway? The biggest, meanest-looking rottweiler you’ve ever seen. None of the neighborhood kids were dumb enough to jump the fence and try to pet “Killer.” They valued their lives too much.
And yet there is a threat out there worse than “Killer”. The Devil likes to come off as a harmless pup, but once he has you in his jaws, it is next to impossible to escape. In our own daily battles with temptation, how many times have we been stuck in the grip of his temptations? If anyone needs a “Beware of…” sign, it’s the Devil.
And yet what does Jesus do? Does Jesus “beware” the Devil? No! He faces the Tempter head on! He chooses to face Satan’s attacks with the same level of protection that we have, with His divinity “tied behind His back” to make it fair. Only where you and I fail, Jesus succeeded! He won the victory! Because He relied on the greatest weapon against the Devil: the written Word of God! And since Jesus overcame the Devil’s temptations with that written Word of God, we also can rely on God’s Word for victory in our own daily battles with temptation.
1. Over the Devil’s seeds of doubt.
The Devil is crafty, like a grand master chess player. For his opening move, the Devil waited till just the right moment. After forty days of not eating, Jesus was hungry! And wouldn’t you know it, that’s when the Devil showed up, and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread” (v. 3).
Now do you see what the Devil’s doing here? He was trying to plant seeds of doubt in Jesus’ heart. Doubts about whether or not God was going to take care of Him and provide for His needs. Here You are, Jesus, stuck in the desert with no food. You can’t expect that Father of Yours to come and help You. Why don’t you just tell that stone to become bread? It will be okay, this one time. You have the power; go ahead and use it!
It’s the same opening that the Devil’s been using for thousands of years. He used it on Adam and Eve in the Garden when he asked Eve, “Did God really say…?” And he’s still using it on us. He wants us to doubt God. To doubt God’s will for our lives. To doubt who we are as God’s children. To doubt whether God will keep taking care of us. And once he fills us up with doubts, then the rest is easy. Our doubts justify whatever we’re doing. “Does God really care about that third helping of butter brickle ice cream? Does it really matter?” “I know God said sex outside of marriage is wrong—but I love this person! Wouldn’t God say that it’s okay?”
And yet, did you see how Jesus relied on God’s Word? He said, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God’” (v. 4). He’s quoting from Deuteronomy, from God’s answer to the children of Israel when they themselves were wandering in the wilderness, wondering where their next meal was going to come from. And that one Bible passage puts everything else in perspective. Bread doesn’t give life; God’s Word gives life. It’s God who by that same almighty Word grants us everything we need every day. And it’s God who promises us in His Word that we can cast every care on Him because He cares for us (1 Peter).
And we can rely on God’s Word for victory over the Devil’s seeds of doubt. When we’re wrestling with doubts about God’s will—or even God’s love—we can answer just as Jesus did: “Man shall not live on bread alone” (v. 4). That’s what our Old Testament reading was all about. There can be no doubt at all: we didn’t get where we are in life all by ourselves; it’s God who has carried us to this point and given us all that we needed along the way. Our lives are meant to give praise and thanks to Him!
2. Over the Devil’s false promises of glory.
Any good chess player has more than one strategy. And the same is true of the Devil. After Jesus cut of his first attack, Satan had another plan all ready to go. When He can’t plant seeds of doubt, instead he goes to false promises of glory.
From there, the Devil led Jesus up on a high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and said, “I will give you all this power and the glory of these kingdoms, because it has been entrusted to me… So, if you worship me, it will all be yours” (v. 6-7). He promised Jesus a shortcut. He wouldn’t have to suffer; He wouldn’t have to bear the cross. All He would have to do is commit idolatry, submit to the Devil, and the whole world—the world He came to save—would be His. Quite the promise, isn’t it? Satan makes those kind of promises all the time, promises of glory—if we would just follow his shortcuts. But what happens when you take the Devil’s shortcut? We can just ask Sammy.
Sammy Sosa, slugger for the Chicago Cubs, had come out of nowhere to chase Mark McGwire for the single season home run record back in the mid 1990s. But how did Sammy do it? He cheated. Performance enhancing drugs. But the thing about cheating is: you become a slave to it. And so, in the early 2000s, as his career was beginning to slide, he was caught cheating again by using a corked bat. Sammy bought into the Devil’s shortcut. “You’ll hit more home runs. You’ll be more popular. You’ll make more money.” But since his retirement from baseball, Sammy Sosa’s pretty much been in a self-imposed exile. Nobody in the Cubs organization wants to have anything to do with him.
How many times have we been like Sammy? How many times have we bought into the Devil’s shortcut—his promise of glory? And yet, it’s a false promise. The Devil lies. And he’s still lying. How many times has he promised us freedom, only to make us his slaves?
Yet Jesus relied on God’s Word for victory over the Devil’s false promises. He said, “It is written: ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and serve him only’” (v. 8). It all goes back to the First Commandment, doesn’t it? When we’re tempted to put ourselves first and be in charge of our lives, God in His Word reminds us that He comes first, that all authority in heaven and on earth belongs to Him—and not to us. And that’s a good thing! Especially when we remember that He sent His Son, Jesus, to free us from our slavery to the Devil—our slavery to sin.
3. Over the Devil’s twisting of the truth.
The Devil had one more strategy up his sleeve. Twice Jesus had answered his temptations with “It is written.” And so now the Devil had his own “It is written” for Jesus.
He led Jesus to Jerusalem and had Him stand at the highest point of the temple. He told Jesus that if He’s the Son of God, He should jump off the top of the temple because, as the Devil said it, “It is written: ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you.’ And, ‘they will lift you up with their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone’” (v. 10-11). Satan quotes Psalm 91! But something’s not right. He’s twisted the meaning of the verse to make it sound like jumping off the temple would be the sign of someone who trusts in God. “Go ahead, see if God’s Word is true! Jump!” He likes to twist the truth of God’s Word to convince us that doing something wrong—like killing yourself—is really an act of faith. We might say it’s wrong to jump, but Satan will answer, “You’re not trusting in God enough!” The Devil misuses Scripture to get us to do what he wants.
Yet Jesus could still rely on God’s Word for victory! He used the clear Word of God to clarify what the Devil had muddied up. He points Satan to Deuteronomy 6:16, where it says, “You shall not test the Lord your God” (v. 12). In other words, real faith trusts that God’s with us all the time. So, we don’t need to take foolish risks and ride the razor’s edge of danger, just to prove that God is real.
But did you see what Jesus did here? He let a clear, simple Bible passage define a passage where the meaning was a little more difficult. And that’s how you and I rely on God’s Word for victory over the Devil’s twisting of the truth. We let Scripture interpret Scripture; we let clear Bible passages speak for Bible passages that are less clear. We always seek to quote Scripture in its context, and let it speak for itself.
And you and I can rely on that Word of God for victory over the Devil—even in the midst of our own defeats! Every day the devil comes at us with both barrels of his lies and temptations. And our skill at wielding the sword of the Spirit often leaves a lot to be desired. So, we fail. There are times when we’re weak, when his temptations get the better of us and we sin.
And yet we still rely on the Word of God for victory! On the Word that declares to us that the War is already won, that Jesus has already defeated Satan for us—not only here in the desert, but at the battle of the cross. He crushed the serpent’s head by the power of His sacrifice, so that the Devil no longer has any power over us. “One little word can fell him.” And that word is Jesus.
And it’s His victory over the Devil—the victory of the living Word of God—that we rely on. Join the Savior in the battle. Join Him in fighting against the Devil’s lies and misdirection. Join Him, relying on His Word to give us the victory, knowing that the victory—His victory—is already ours by faith. Amen.