If you take on the devil and try to beat him on your own, going toe to toe against him, you’re fighting a losing battle. He is crafty and enticing, savvy and subtle, deceptive and dangerous. Not only that, but he has the sinful world and a host of demons on his side, whereas your own heart and mind are perverted by your native sin and unbelief. So the odds are utterly stacked against you.
The good news, though, is that Jesus has taken on the devil and defeated him on your behalf; for the Lord Jesus Christ is greater than the devil, and He is on your side as your Champion. So has He been tempted in every way that you are, yet without sinning in His thoughts, words, or deeds.
He has no sins of His own, but He has willingly borne your sins in His own body, and the sins of the whole world, and all of their deadly and damnable consequences, to His death on the Cross. So all of your sins have been dealt with and done away with. The innocence and righteousness of Christ cover you entirely, and Satan has nothing left with which he may legitimately accuse you.
That is why the devil was so desperate to sidetrack Jesus away from His purpose — and why he is now so frantic in his efforts to seduce you away from Christ Jesus and the Gospel of His Cross.
When you hide yourself in Christ by faith in His Gospel — when you find your rest in Him — then you dwell in the shelter of the Most High and abide in safety under the shadow of the Almighty; and then that old evil serpent, the devil, lies trampled under your feet, along with sin and death.
For in the new and greater Adam, Jesus Christ, conceived and born of the Woman, St. Mary, God has provided every good thing for you, and all that you need for faith and life with Him forever.
Only do not reach for the fruit that He has forbidden. Do not take what God has not given to you but has warned you against. And do not listen to the voice of the devil, who lies through his teeth and with his forked tongue calls into question the Word that God the Lord has spoken.
Do not listen to the devil, but to every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God. For God is the One who feeds you, by His grace, with the Bread of Life, which is the Word-made-Flesh. Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son, He is your Meat and Drink indeed. But be aware and understand that He feeds you from His Cross, by the ways and means of His Cross, often with adversity and sorrow.
Meanwhile, in contrast and competition with this Food of the Cross, the devil presents you with such delectable and desirable fruits, which appear to be so good and wise and advantageous.
So, then, what are you hungry for? And what do you pick and choose to eat? Do you reach for the Tree of the Cross, or for the knowledge of good and evil?
How often don’t you make excuses for yourself, and rationalize your wants, and conspire to make or take bread for yourself which God has not given? You suppose that you know better than God; or that you can take the heat, and handle it, and come out okay; or that you are the exception to the rules. So you take and eat what God has forbidden, and with it you lay hold of death and the devil.
Repent of your misplaced appetites and your gluttonous idolatry. Hunger instead for the Lord your God, for Christ Jesus and His Word. Seek first His Kingdom and His Righteousness, and all that you need for life everlasting will be yours in Him, although it is given to you by way of His Cross.
Hunger for the Lord your God. But receive Him by His grace, through faith in Christ, according to His Word of the Gospel, and not by any efforts of your own to scale the heights of heaven.
Bear in mind that works righteousness and self-righteousness within the church — by way of your personal piety and religious zeal, by all of your activities and efforts, charity and offerings, when you attempt to justify and save yourself in this way — is just as bad or worse than pagan idolatry.
Of course you should be pious and faithful in prayer and devotion. You should by all means be in church as often as you are able, and you should support the Church and Ministry of the Gospel with a significant portion of your income, in addition to the tangible mercy that you provide for the benefit of those in need. You should volunteer, assist, and serve in the life of our congregation, with whatever gifts the Lord has entrusted to the stewardship of your body and life.
You should do all of these good things, as the Lord enables, because they are good and right, but not as though by doing so you will atone for your sins or redeem yourself in the presence of God.
So, too, the way you are to live in the world is not by your own design or choosing. Live, rather, in the way that God has called you, in the place where He has stationed you, whether glamorous or mundane, tedious or exciting. As a disciple of Christ Jesus, take up the Cross in faith and bear it in love for the neighbors God has given you. Honor your father and mother. Love and cherish your husband or wife, and be faithful in all things. Serve and support your neighbor’s body and life, his household, home, and family. Do your job. And be satisfied with what you are given.
Your life is sanctified by the Lord Jesus Christ, by His Word and Holy Spirit, by faith and prayer in His Name; not by impressing the world with your grand accomplishments. It is not what you do and achieve, but what you receive from Christ that avails before His God and Father in heaven. It is the righteousness and faithfulness of Christ Jesus that sustain you, unto the life everlasting.
Don’t trade that gift of God in Christ for anything else in heaven or on earth. Not for a bowl of porridge, and not for all the kingdoms and the power and the glory of this whole world.
You should know better. You should know that the wicked devil, the sinful world, and your own covetous flesh are lying to you. But why, then, do you fall for it? Why do you buy into the scam?
Why do you keep on reaching for that which God has told you not to touch? Why do you bend your knee and give your body over to the ruler of this world, while refusing to humble yourself under the mighty hand of God? Why do you bow down and worship the toys and entertainment, the frivolity and self-gratification of man? And why do you sell your soul to the devil for treasures on earth, which not only perish and decay but take you along with them?
It is because your heart burns with desire for that which God has not given, and for that which is not God. It is because you want to be in charge, and call the shots, and make a life for yourself.
It is because, within your sinful heart and prideful mind, you want to be God.
So it is that you set yourself against the one true God, although He is your Maker and Redeemer. And you harden your heart against your neighbor, as well, because you perceive everyone as your opponent and competitor. Your stomach twists and turns with envy and jealousy. You resent what God has given to your neighbors, even to your fellow Christians. And what is worse, you crave what your neighbors have acquired by their sins. You love such things more than you love God.
With such a covetous heart, you are no match for Satan. It really is a losing battle, and you’ve already lost before you’ve begun. The serpent so easily entices you to sin, and then he stands the first in line to accuse you and press charges. You are left naked and afraid, guilty and ashamed.
You try to run, but you can’t escape. You try to hide from God, but there’s nowhere you can go.
Thank God! Thank God that He searches you out and finds you, that He exposes you to His light and confronts you with His Word. You would be lost and gone forever if He did not. You are not better off without Him. Though His Law judges and condemns you and punishes your sins, His Law is not His last or final Word concerning you. He crushes the devil’s head, not yours. And He does so — He beats the devil for you — by taking all your guilt and punishment upon Himself!
He has taken your nakedness and shame upon Himself. He has suffered your death and damnation in your stead. All of this upon the Tree of His Cross. Though He alone is without any sin; though He has not succumbed to any temptation, He suffers and dies in perfect righteousness, innocence, and blessedness: in steadfast faith toward God, and in absolute love for God and for all people. He willingly goes to the Cross, in humble obedience to His Father, in order to save you and all.
So now it is from His Cross that He washes you with tender care and cleanses you within and without, in body and soul. It is from His Cross that He clothes you with Himself, so that you are decked out like a beautiful bride, and truly radiant with the glory of this most handsome Prince.
It is from His Cross, which is the Tree of Life, that He feeds you with His Body and His Blood. These good Gifts are the Fruit which God has not forbidden, but which He gives to you freely for the forgiveness of all your sins and for the strengthening of your faith, that you may live forever.
He knows that you are frail, weak, and helpless. He knows that you are weary and worn, burdened and beleaguered. He is such a great High Priest who sympathizes with you, because He has been in your shoes, in your wilderness, in your long hot forty days, and in your dark and dreary nights.
He has been there for you, and He is still here with you. Not simply to help you, though He does, but actually to save you. He stands beside you on the plain with His good Gifts and Spirit. It is no angel but the Lord who ministers to you. He forgives your every sin, every fall into temptation.
He returns you to the waters of your Holy Baptism, and to the Word and promises of God. For you are a beloved son of God in Christ. His Father is your Father, and He is well-pleased with you.
Don’t look at your sins and failings, for He does not. Don’t listen to the devil, but hear the Word of Christ Jesus. He will never leave you nor forsake you. He will not lie to you nor fail you.
In Him you shall not die, but live.
See here how He feeds you. Take and eat. Drink from His Cup of Salvation. It may not look like much, but this is true Wisdom. It is the best of Foods, the finest of Wines. It is given and poured out for you, so that the Lord Himself abides in you, and you abide in Him. Hence, the wicked foe shall have no power over you. For as great and many as your trespasses have been, these gracious Gifts of God in Christ are greater. Here the Lord is your refuge, the Most High your habitation, and in all your going out and coming in, henceforth and forever, He is your Mighty Fortress.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.