The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.  And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him.
Mark 1:12-13 (ESV)
Even Jesus wasn’t free from temptation, temptation being that which would lead to sin against God and away from God if given into. Immediately following His baptism by St. John the Baptist, as according to Holy Scripture, the Holy Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness for forty days where He was tempted by Satan himself. No figure of speech here is meant by that name Satan. The Satan here means none other than the devil himself, the same devil who was thrown out of heaven because he wanted to be like God (Revelation 12:7-9). This is the same devil who as a serpent in the Garden of Eden tempted Eve, the woman formed from the rib of the first man Adam, to eat of the forbidden fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:21-23; 3:1-6). This is that same Satan who attacked Job in the Old Testament book with the same name, that same Job who suffered greatly and suffered much at the hands of the accuser, but who would not give-in to curse God and die (Job 2:9-10).
Satan is a real being, contrary to the results of many a poll in our day that say otherwise. When it comes to matters of truth, numbers and the majority don’t run the show. God’s Word does. Though we do not see Satan, he tries to not only hurt, harm, and tempt to sin, but ultimately he tries to lead us to doubt and to disbelieve God’s promises, that we not trust Jesus for help and hope and find in Him rest for our weary souls, but rather that we despair and find no comfort whatsoever, or that we find comfort in that which is not the true and everlasting comfort of God’s Word (Matthew 11:28-29).
This is where Satan would lead us, not to belief and trust in God’s Son our Savior, but belief and trust in another that is not the true God. Thus would Satan lead us to hell, not to heaven. For this reason, Satan has his eyes not only on us, but during those 40 days that Jesus was in the wilderness, Satan had his eyes fixed on Jesus, not in belief, but for the purpose of bringing about Christ’s downfall. Had he succeeded, no Savior would we have and certainly lost eternally would we be.
That Jesus suffered temptation and yet was without sin (Hebrews 4:15) is a sure testament that temptation, in and of itself, cannot harm us. Here, Dr. Luther’s Words of the Reformation are helpful, for they rightly distinguish between ‘being tempted’ and ‘giving in’ to temptation. There is a distinction, as is recorded in Luther’s Large Catechism,
107 To feel temptation, therefore, is quite a different thing from consenting and yielding to it. We must all feel it, though not all to the same degree; some have more frequent and severe temptations than others. Youths, for example, are tempted chiefly by the flesh; older people are tempted by the world. Others, who are concerned with spiritual matters (that is, strong Christians) are tempted by the devil. 108 But we cannot be harmed by the mere feeling of temptation as long as it is contrary to our will and we would prefer to be rid of it. If we did not feel it, it could not be called a temptation. But to consent to it is to give it free rein and neither resist it nor pray for help against it. (Tappert, T. G. (2000, c1959). The book of concord : The confessions of the evangelical Lutheran church (The Large Catechism: 3, 107-108). Philadelphia: Fortress Press.)
These words hold more than a little comfort for all who are troubled by temptation. It is a sure sign that one is on the right path if one wants to be rid of temptations all together and sees them for what they are. But resisting them by our own strength we cannot do, as even by experience we know. As soon as we believe ourselves strong enough to overcome, we find that we fall. By our own strength, we cannot resist. To the Lord we must cling. It is He who gives His strength that we keep at it, not losing heart, but trust in the Lord for grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:16).
Here, our Lord does not forsake, for No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it (1 Corinthians 10:13). The Lord is faithful, who will establish you and guard you from the evil one (2 Thessalonians 3:3).
It is not the faithlessness of God that leads into temptation, but Each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed (James 1:14). Therefore do we certainly struggle with our own desires which are contrary to God’s Word and will. But here we are not left to ourselves, nor are we old Adam only. In Christ we are new creations. The Old has passed and the new has come (2 Corinthians 5:17). Your sinful flesh has been drowned in the water of Holy Baptism. No longer are we your own. You belong to another, even to the Lord who has redeemed you from your sin and saves you from eternal death. Belonging to Him, we wish not to remain as we once were according to the flesh. We wish to change, living Godly and upright lives according to God’s Word unto Him who calls us to Himself.
And to you does God give strength and preserve you in the faith that you continue in Him. According to His Holy Word does He call you from despair and doubt, and from self-righteousness and pride. He offers you His forgiveness and His body and blood that you believe and eat and drink and so be confident of His grace and mercy, for we know ourselves to still be sinners. He gives you of His Spirit that you live unto Him who is your Head, deny yourselves, and follow Him. And these you do, though feebly on your part on account of your sin that still clings to you. But God in Christ shows you your Savior and Lord, even your Salvation, your anchor and your sure foundation.
Therefore, to Christ flee for refuge. Temptations surely do and will come, even as our Lord says, Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall (1 Corinthians 10:12). Of yourselves and by yourselves, we will fall. But pray to the Lord for help, even as you pray in the Lord’s prayer, “Lead us not into temptation” and “Deliver us from the evil one.” And so our Lord does, through He who did overcome when He Himself was tempted in the wilderness for 40 days and through He who delivers you from sin, death, and the power of the devil through His own death on Good Friday. Amen.
Prayer: Lord, in Your mercy, do not forsake me. Help me to resist temptation and always firmly to believe in You. Amen.