Matthew 4:1-11; 1 Samuel 17
✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠
We didn’t sing “A Mighty Fortress” today just because it’s a favorite Lutheran hymn (or even because the Martin Luther brass choir is here). “A Mighty Fortress” is the appointed hymn of the day because this season of Lent that we have just entered is all about battle and spiritual warfare. We often think of Lent as being primarily about Jesus’ suffering–and that’s certainly a part of it, especially later in Lent. But the first three weeks of this season focus especially on our battle against the devil and demons. Lent reminds us who the real enemy is. For too often we get caught up in the wrong fights. St. Paul reminds us, “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” The enemy is not simply the politicians or the criminals or the cultural elites or China or Russia. The enemy is Satan and sin. They are the real threat which we need to be defended against and which must be defeated for us.
Humanity was devastated in this war when we first fell into sin in the Garden of Eden. Our very humanity was ripped away from us as our first parents were lured away from God, enticed into thinking they could become like God themselves. Stepping outside of the protective, life-giving fortress of God’s Word, the devil ravaged and plundered them and all of their descendants, right down to us. By causing you to rebel against God, to go your own self-serving way, the Goliath Satan won a big battle. As the hymn said, “On earth is not his equal.” He loves to taunt you and terrify you with the death you deserve because of your sin.
However, then suddenly there appears someone new on the field of battle, the Son of David. He comes to fight on your behalf. “But for us fights the Valiant One, whom God Himself elected. Ask ye who is this? Jesus Christ it is. Of Sabaoth Lord, and there’s none other God. He holds the field forever.” Jesus stands in for you and fights off all the onslaughts of the devil in your place and conquers him decisively.
It’s all prefigured and foreshadowed and prophesied for us in the fight between David and Goliath. The children of Israel lived in fear of the Philistine army because the Philistines had this soldier more than nine feet tall on their side, who wore armor heavier than most men could even manage. For 40 days this Goliath came out and taunted the Israelite soldiers, challenging them, “Send someone out to fight me. If he defeats me, we will be your slaves. But if I defeat him, then you will be our slaves.” No Israelite soldier could be found willing to fight Goliath.
But then a young man named David heard this giant who blasphemed God and mocked God's people. And with the permission of King Saul, David went out to fight Goliath, bringing with him only a slingshot and five smooth stones. The giant man laughed when he saw David, who was little more than half his size, and tried to intimidate him with some trash talk, “Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks? . . . Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and the beasts of the field!” But David relied not on his own strength, but on the strength of God. He said, “I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts . . . The battle is the Lord’s, and He will give you into our hands.” As the Philistine moved towards David, David ran towards the giant, putting a stone into his sling. And he slung it and struck Goliath between the eyes, so that the stone sank into his forehead, and the Philistine fell on his face to the ground.
You are like the army of Israel, intimidated by the devil’s threats, unable to overcome him, unable to find anyone who is worthy to fight the Goliath Satan. But then the Son of David steps forth, Christ Jesus, to do battle with the blasphemous giant. He appears to be no match for the devil, for He is there in weak human flesh with no weapons but the five smooth stones of the books of Moses. Christ fights not with human power but with the power of the living God. After 40 days the devil rushes in to attack, and with each onslaught Jesus slings back the smooth stone of God’s Word. Satan says, “Forget this silly self-denial that your Father has placed upon you. Command that these stones become bread.” But Jesus responds, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’” Satan says, “Come on! Let’s see if the Scriptures are really true. Put on a little display to prove it. Throw yourself down from this temple.” Jesus answers, “It is written, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God.’” Again, Satan says, “You can skip the suffering and get right to being the glorious ruler of the world if you just fall down and worship me.” But Jesus gives the final rebuttal, “Away with you Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only shall you serve.’” The Son of David reaches into the five books of Moses, and each time he slings the single stone of Deuteronomy. And the stone sinks into the forehead, and the Goliath Satan falls with his face to the ground, defeated. Those who refuse to bow before the Lord in life will most certainly bow with their faces to the ground in death.
When the Philistine had fallen to the earth, David ran and took the giant’s own sword and used it to cut off his head. In the same way, Jesus, the Son of David, uses the devil’s own weapons to bring about his eternal defeat. Satan’s favorite tool is death and the fear of death. He tries to scare you into all sorts of false belief and idolatry to try to get you to evade or ignore death. In particular he thinks that by crucifying Christ, he will be victorious over Him. But in fact, it is precisely through death that Jesus brings about Satan’s downfall. For through the cross the Lord takes away the sin that gives Satan his deathly power over you. Then Jesus rises to life again to break sin’s curse. It’s no longer “dust to dust” but “dust to life” for those who trust in Christ. Your death is now simply a precursor to your bodily resurrection with Jesus. For He came forth from the grave eternally triumphant over death and the devil for you. Satan falls into His own death trap. Jesus, by His cross and resurrection, has fulfilled the Old Testament prophecy and crushed Satan’s head. Like Goliath, the devil is decapitated by his own sword. No longer can the devil cause you any lasting or eternal harm. For you have been baptized into Christ the conqueror. The serpent may still hiss and squirm and convulse in his final perishing twitches. But ultimately he can’t touch you; you have the victory in Christ.
Finally, when the Philistines saw that Goliath was dead, they fled in fear. And the Israelites pursued them and routed them. In the same way, in Christ you now have the power to send the hordes of hell into retreat in the final skirmishes that must yet be fought. You have the means to master and vanquish the foe. For the Lord says, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” “Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you.” “Put on the whole armor of God . . . Take up the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.” When you are in the wilderness–tempted to feed your own desires rather than to be faithful to God, enticed into putting God to the test to make Him prove Himself to you rather than trusting the promises of His Word, lured to seek after the approval of this world rather than the approval of God–you have at your disposal the very same things that Christ did in the wilderness. He gives you His righteousness and His salvation as a shield and armor to protect you from the blows of the evil one. You have the saber of the Word, with which you can run the devil through. For the Word of God is living and powerful, sharper than any two-edged sword. And when you call upon Christ in prayer and faith, you are calling upon one who can sympathize with your weaknesses, one who was in all points tempted as you are, yet without sin. He will certainly hear and answer your prayers. God will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape for you into the mighty fortress of Christ.
Jesus went through all this testing and temptation not just to be your example; He did this in your place, on your behalf. Here is the key point: Christ has carried your human flesh into temptation, and He has triumphed. He has prevailed over sin, over the devil, over death, all for you. Where Adam was defeated in humanity’s first battle, Jesus the Son of David is victorious; in Him the war is won. And He gives you His victory as a gift through faith in His name. In Him, the words of the Psalm come true, “You shall tread upon the lion and the cobra; the young lion and the serpent you shall trample underfoot.”
Truly then, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” And today you receive not just bread alone, but bread which is Christ, the Word made flesh. In His preaching and His supper, He Himself comes to dwell within you and strengthen you. Fellow Christians, in the midst of your testings and temptations and battles, never forget what the Word says, “The battle is the Lord’s.” “Greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world.”
✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠