Pastor Paul Waldschmidt delivers a sermon entitled “God IS on Your Side!” based on Matthew 4:1-11 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.
Delivered on Sunday, March 1, 2020
Do you ever wonder if God is on YOUR side? There’s no doubt what the Bible says. But then things happen in life that make you wonder. You pray sincerely that he’d take away a bad behavior from your life or a corrosive attitude from your heart—and then it doesn’t happen, things don’t change and you wonder “Whose side are you on?” You daily pray for daily bread, but at the end of the month there are more bills than bread to pay them. And you wonder, “Whose side are you on?” You pray desperately for a spouse or a grown up child to have faith, to value the very things that you value so much. But the only response you see from that person is skepticism, cynicism and “mind your own business-ism”? And you wonder, “Hey God, I thought I wanted what you want. Whose side are you on, anyway?”
If you’ve ever wondered if God is on your side, the simplest answer is to just watch Jesus and what he does, how he is. That’s good advice every week, but it’s especially true in the word of God before us today. In Matthew 4, we see more proof that God is indeed on your side. Today, we’ll see how…
Jesus went hungry for you.
Jesus tuned out the devil for you.
Jesus gave up everything for you.
You get some insight into the way the devil works as you watch how he tempts Jesus. 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.” He knows that we’re just not ourselves when we’re hungry. In other words, we’re prone to act out of selfishness when our physical needs are crying out for attention. Jesus is human. And hungry. So the devil says, If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become bread.
The temptation is not about Jesus using his power to make food where there was none before. That’s not a problem—he changes water into wine, he changes few loaves and fish into a meal for 5000. Turning the stones into bread wasn’t the temptation. The temptation was using his power to serve himself rather than God or others. If he had listened, turned one pebble into poundcake, one stone into sourdough, that little act of self-centered, self-service would’ve brought down the whole plan of salvation.
We needed him to be perfect in his self denial. Because his job was to do perfectly all of the things that we do terribly. Ever since Eve’s stomach overruled her brain in Eden, her children have followed in her footsteps, letting appetite trump obedience. Isn’t that the sin at the heart of every adultery? At the heart of every eating binge, every spending binge, every hateful word volley launched at laser fast speed toward someone who dares cross us? Don’t we all hearken back to Eve? “I knew it was wrong, but it was what I wanted so I took it.”
Every descendent of Eve learned quickly how to sing that song. Until One stepped into our world who could break the cycle, (finally!) one who could leave the stones as stones and defeat the devil in the heat of temptation’s battle. Jesus denied his physical needs so that his perfection in your place could remain untainted and unbroken. You wanna know if God is on your side? Jesus went hungry for you.
In the second temptation, Jesus tuned out the devil for you. Which doesn’t seem like all that big of a deal. I mean, they’re enemies right? Who has any difficulty tuning out the person whose voice is like fingernails on your chalkboard to them? But remember that the devil doesn’t come to us like fingernails on a chalkboard. He knows that won’t work. He comes to us with sweet and beautiful music, a siren’s song that will draw us in.
For Jesus, the sweetest sound is his Father’s word. So when the devil wants him to test God by living dangerously, throwing himself of the temple, the wicked snake cites a passage from God’s Word in his rationale. “He will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways,”
But Jesus wasn’t fooled. He knew that it’s the Father’s job to command the angels. Not ours. We shouldn’t put ourselves in situations where we’re in danger because that’s effectively saying, “I command your angels concerning me to guard me in all my ways.” So Jesus responds, “You shall not test the Lord your God.”
The devil talks a good game. He can even twist Scripture to get us to listen to him. And we do. We fail to see that he’s playing us. Drawing us in close and getting us to step over God’s lines. And when it’s over, when we’ve fallen again, suddenly our former good buddy is nowhere to be found and we have to bear all the shame, all the repercussions, all the guilt alone.
Well, actually that’s not true. Because even though the devil goes away at those times. Jesus is right there. He says, “Here’s my perfection. Let it cover over you. Did you forget? I won. I did it for you. I tuned out the devil for you.”
After trying twice and failing twice, the desperate devil pulls out all the stops. He shows Jesus a vista of all the kingdoms of the world, and all the power, money, women, popularity, food and drink that goes with them—if only the King of Kings would bow down to worship him.
Do you see the temptation? You can have all the pleasures this world has to offer, without the hard work of obedience, without the humiliation, without carrying a cross or shedding any blood. Everything, everything will be yours, Jesus, if only you will listen to me.”
Jesus didn’t want everything. He wanted you to be his own. He didn’t want an easy way out for himself. He wanted heaven for you. And the only way to accomplish that was through obedience, through humiliation, through a cross, through the shedding of blood. It’s true in this story, but it’s also true of Jesus’ story in general. He had everything. He was everything, but Jesus was willing to give up everything for you.
So if you’re wondering, look to Jesus in the wilderness and be reminded once again: God is really on your side. The fact is, he loves you. And he likes you, too—with a genuine affection that a perfect father has for his dear children. God is on your side.
And we live like people who are on his side. How does this text teach us to do that? First of all, the text teaches us that the devil is a nasty enemy, who takes his daily battles with us seriously. So don’t let your guard down. I read this on a blog called Bread for Beggars this week, and thought I’d share it with you.
At the end of World War II, the night before the Allies hit the beaches at Normandy, U.S. paratroopers were dropped behind enemy lines to cut off Hitler’s reinforcements. Moving through the dead of night, alone or in small groups, the paratroopers had orders to fight an enemy they couldn’t see or predict.
The commanders, though, were unhappy with some of their troopers. Too many had hunkered down in hedgerows to await the dawn; a few had even gone to sleep. Pvt. Francis Palys of the 506th saw what was perhaps the worst dereliction of duty. Hearing “all kinds of noise and singing from a distance,” he and his men sneaked up on a farmhouse. In it was a mixed group from both American divisions. The paratroopers had found the Calvados barrel in the cellar and “they were drunker than a bunch of hillbillies on a Saturday night wingding” (D-Day Illustrated Edition: June 6, 1944: The Climactic Battle of World War II; p. 245, 246). These men knew they were at war – but they refused to act like it. Do you always realize that you are at war? Do you always act like it?
The devil doesn’t just mean to do you harm. His first priority is to lull you to sleep. Don’t let your guard down. And don’t forget to use your weapons. We didn’t mention it when we were walking through the text, but did you notice that for every temptation, Jesus had an answer? For every one of the devil’s fastballs that caught the meaty part of the plate, Jesus was ready with the Louisville Slugger of God’s Word?
And if you think, “Well, that’s just too easy, too simplistic, Pastor. To think that running to my Bible is going to help me when tempted, that’s just naive.” If you think that, consider the possibility that that’s exactly what the devil wants you to think. He wants you to leave your best player on the bench. He wants you to walk into battle with him without your sword and shield.
So just try it. Be in the Word always, but especially the next time Satan turns up the rhetoric. Find this story in your Bible in fact—Matthew 4—and learn from the best how to send the devil running. Using the Word to fight off temptation worked for Jesus. Now you fight, too using the same weapon. Because you know that Jesus is by your side. And you know God is on your side. Amen.