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“Satan’s Temptation Triangle”
Luke 4:1-13


Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
First Sunday in Lent—February 21, 2010

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

The traditional Gospel Reading for the First Sunday in Lent is the story of Jesus’ temptation by Satan.  Hebrews tells us that Jesus “was tempted in every way, just as we are—yet without sin.”

What does it mean for you that Jesus did not succumb to Satan’s temptations?  Paul explains the significance for you in Romans: “Just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one Man the many will be made righteous.”

The bad news is that through Adam and Eve’s fall into sin, the entire human race was made sinners, right down to and including you and me: “Through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners.”  David testifies to this in Psalm 51, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.”  Paul puts it this way in Romans, “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God.  All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one. . .  all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

But, the Good News is, “Just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one Man the many will be made righteous.”  What does it mean for you that Jesus did not succumb to Satan’s temptations?  It means your forgiveness, your salvation, your assurance of eternal life.

Peter says, “You were redeemed . . . with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.”  Jesus’ perfect life made him worthy to offer himself as a sacrifice to pay for the sins of humankind, to pay for the sins of you.  As Paul says in Ephesians, “Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a offering and sacrifice acceptable to God.”

“Through the obedience of the one Man the many will be made righteous.”  On account of Christ’s perfect obedience, you are made righteous in God’s sight.

In the story of Satan’s temptation of Jesus, we see “Satan’s Temptation Triangle,” the pattern Satan originally used to tempt Adam and Eve, the pattern he used to tempt Jesus, and the pattern he still uses to tempt you.  As Peter warns, “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the Devil prowls around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour.”

Satan’s Angle #1: Worldly Things

Satan has always had the most success tempting people with worldly things, and so that is how he strikes first.  He tempted Adam and Eve with the fruit God had forbidden them to eat.  He tempted Jesus to turn a stone into bread.  In the same way, Satan’s first angle in his attempts to lead you astray is to tempt you with the things of this world.

Paul warns about this in 1st Timothy: “Godliness with contentment is great gain.  For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.  But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.  People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction.  For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.”

The worst example of straying from the faith for the sake of material things is Judas, who betrayed the Lord for thirty pieces of silver.

Jesus tells us the right attitude: “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed, for a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”  “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money. . .  But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.”

Satan’s Angle #2: Worldly Glory and Power

If his first angle, temptation with worldly things, doesn’t work, then Satan tries his second angle: Tempting you with worldly glory and power.  “The serpent said to the woman, ‘When you eat of the fruit your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God.’”  And to Jesus he said, “I will give you all the authority and splendor of all the kingdoms of the world, if you will worship me.”

How does Satan bring this angle to bear in your life?  You’ve heard the phrase “go along and get along”?  So often the price the world demands for you to get along is for you to go along with things that are against God’s will and God’s ways.  In your work, you may be pressured to do things that are unethical and dishonest.  In the academic world, there may be beliefs you hold as a Christian that are not “politically correct.”  For younger people, you may think you must give in to peer pressure to be accepted, to be with the “in” crowd.  In one way or another, Satan and the world are continually demanding, “Bow down and worship me.”

Even Peter fell into this trap.  Three times he denied even knowing Jesus so that he could fit in with the crowd out in the courtyard while Jesus was on trial.

But so much more important than being accepted and approved by the world is being accepted and approved by your God.  “For the world in its present form is passing away,” Paul tells us.  “Therefore set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.”  “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

Satan’s Angle #3: Rejecting God’s Plan

If Satan’s first angle, temptation with worldly things, doesn’t work, and neither does his second angle, tempting you with worldly glory and power, then he tries his third angle: Tempting you to reject God’s plan.  “The serpent to the woman, ‘Did God really say, ‘You must not eat it?’ . . .  ‘You will not surely die.’”

To Jesus he says, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here.”  This really is a temptation for Jesus to avoid the cross and reject God’s very plan of salvation.  For the people had warped ideas about the Messiah.  They thought the Messiah would be like a great magician who would use his miraculous powers to overthrow the Romans who occupied their country and set up an earthly kingdom.  Doing something like throwing himself from the highest point of the Temple in Jerusalem was just the kind of thing they were looking for.  If Jesus had done this at the beginning of his ministry, it would have only confirmed their mistaken notions about the Messiah, and ended up thwarting his real mission.  For if he swooped down and landed before the cheering crowds, they would have carried him off right then on their shoulders to Pontius Pilate’s palace and installed him as their earthly king. 

Now, God did intend for him to be crowned in Pontius Pilate’s palace, but with a crown of thorns.  And God did intend for him to be enthroned at Jerusalem, but upon a cross.  When Satan says, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here,” he is really tempting Jesus to reject God’s plan by avoiding the cross.

Like Adam and Eve, and Jesus, Satan tempts us to reject God’s plan.  In the Ten Commandments God sets forth his plan for a happy life.  But so often we are tempted to think that happiness will come from doing the exact opposite of what God commands.

“Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the Devil prowls around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour.”  Don’t get caught in “Satan’s Temptation Triangle.”  When he tempts you with worldly things, remember how he tempted Adam and Eve with the forbidden fruit, and he tempted Jesus to make a stone become bread.  When he tempts you with worldly glory and power, remember how he tempted Adam and Eve with being like God, and he tempted Jesus with the kingdoms of this world.  When he tempts you to reject God’s plan, remember how he tempted Adam and Eve to disobey God’s command, and he tempted Jesus to avoid the cross and reject God’s plan of salvation.

How can you defend yourself against these onslaughts of the Devil?  How can you escape from “Satan’s Tempatation Triangle”?  Jesus shows us how: “It is written.”  Each time he is tempted, Jesus turns to God’s Word, God’s command.

When you are being sucked into “Satan’s Temptation Triangle,” do not follow the example of Adam and Eve, who also had a Word, a command from God, but disobeyed it.  Instead, follow the example of your Savior, who each time he was tempted fought back with the Word and command of God.  As Paul says in Ephesians: “Be strong in the Lord and in the power of his might.  Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the Devil’s schemes.  For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.  Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.  Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.  In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.  Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.  And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.”

That is how to escape “Satan’s Temptation Triangle.”

Amen.

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