You have heard me speak again and again about what it means to be an evangelist; to go to your neighbors – not arguing or convincing – but simply proclaiming what you know is true – that Jesus Christ died for your sins and was raised from the dead, and by the grace of the Father through faith in Jesus Christ, you are saved from the power of sin and death and will be raised on the last day to live eternally in the glorious presence of God. You have heard me speak of the historical context of the evangelist; the one chosen and sent by the king to proclaim to the city that the king has been victorious in battle. But until now, you have not heard me speak of the city under siege.
You see, when the king went out with his army to battle the enemy, the city prepared for a siege. They would bring all the food they had into the city, make sure they had good supplies of fresh water, and all the people from the surrounding area would abandon their farms and seek safety behind the walls of the city. You see, the enemy’s army would have to eat; they could not expect an airlift or motorized convoy bringing supplies from home. As they moved, they would ravage the countryside taking everything to feed the army. So the people would gather up as much of the crops and livestock that they could and they’d bring it into the city to keep it out of the hands of the enemy and preserve it for their need. And after the battle, one of two things would happen. If the king was victorious, the fleeing enemy would often try to make an attempt to seize the city and take its resources to sustain them as they attempted to return to their home. If the king failed, he and his troops would attempt to make it back behind the city walls, and the enemy would lay siege to the city. They would try to find enough food outside the walls while the people slowly starved inside the walls, all the while the enemy would send out repeated small attacks against the city walls probing for weaknesses that could be exploited in a major assault in order to capture the city and kill or enslave its inhabitants. This is what it means to be a city under siege. Well – while that might be mildly interesting – what’s the point? Why did I just spend all that time explaining to you what it means to be a city under siege? Because, you need to understand what would have been self-evident to those for whom Luke’s Gospel was originally written. In our Gospel reading for this Sunday, Jesus is a city under siege.
That seems like an odd statement, doesn’t it? What could I possibly mean? How could Jesus be a city under siege? Seems ludicrous doesn’t it? That is until I explain to you what temptation actually means. When we read in our text that Jesus was being tempted by the devil for forty days, the image we conger up has absolutely nothing in common with the truth of what Jesus endured. We imagine that the devil is doing the equivalent of waiving a chocolate bar under Jesus’ nose saying “mmm… yummy…” (well for me its chocolate, maybe for you it is something different). We tend to think that the devil is trying to entice Jesus, but that’s not what’s going on here. The word we translate as entice or lure is delavzw, but this is not the word used here. The word we translate here as temptation is peiravzw, which is the word used to describe the testing attacks the enemy makes as he probes for a besieged city’s weaknesses. Jesus is not being enticed, or lured. He is being attacked; assaulted repeatedly to find any weakness that could be exploited to destroy Him as He slowly starved for forty days (not quite what we had in mind when we think of temptation). Then, in the middle of that sixth week of privation and assaults, the devil carries out His main attack on three fronts. He attacks at the three points he believes that Jesus is weak.
First the devil attacks Jesus’ view and understanding of Himself. He says, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” The devil’s second attack is on Jesus’ view of Himself in relation to others. The devil shows Jesus all the kingdoms of the earth and tells Him that all will be His if He would just bow down before him. Then in his third and final assault, the devil attacks Jesus’ view of Himself in relation to His heavenly Father. He challenges Jesus to throw Himself from the pinnacle of the temple and He even quotes scripture saying that if He is truly the Son of God, then according to scripture God must command His angels to save Jesus.
Jesus was a city under siege, but He does not use His divine power and authority to defend Himself, rather He faces these attacks as the true man that He is. He defends Himself with the same defense we have. And as He defends Himself as true man, so we can learn from His experience, both how we too are attacked by the devil and how to defend ourselves when we are under siege. The devil will attack us on three fronts. He will attack our view of ourselves; he will attack our view of ourselves in relation to the world; and he will attack our view of ourselves in relation to God. The devil will attack at our points of weakness, where our sinful nature already weakens us and lures us to open our defenses to the devil. As our sinful nature entices us with our own personal appetites, the devil attacks us with excuses and personal justifications as to why we should just give in. As our sinful nature entices us with an image of ourselves glorified with worldly success and adoration by those around us, the devil attacks us with excuses to abandon what you know to be right for the sake of personal power and authority; sacrificing your morals to get what you want (even if others must get hurt in the process). As our sinful nature entices us to see ourselves as Christians as somehow morally superior to others; as especially blessed by God, the devil attacks us with excuses and challenges to prove our moral superiority; our blessedness by God and show others for the horrible sinners that THEY are.
The devil finds our weaknesses and attacks us where we are the most vulnerable. And if we try to defend ourselves with the power of our minds or bodies – as if we can withstand the attacks of the devil with the force of our reason or through our own self-control – we will fail, for we are sinners in our hearts, corrupt and turned in upon ourselves. When we try to stand up to these attacks under our own power, our defenses collapse and the devil is victorious. But there is Good News. God promised not leave us defenseless. He gave us His Word.
Our good and gracious God sent His eternally begotten Son to fight for us. He took upon Himself our fallen sinful nature and He suffered and died for our sin and on the third day He was raised victorious from the grave. Jesus our king has fought the battle for us and He has won the war. But just as the retreating enemy attacks the city as it flees from the battle, so we – though saved from the power of sin and death – are attacked by the defeated devil. And though we have been saved from the power of sin and death – justified through the blood of Jesus before God – our defenses are rotten and crumbling in the face of the devil’s attack. But God does not leave us defenseless. He gave us His Holy Spirit and He gave us His revealed Word to defend us. All we need do is daily trust in His Word; daily rely on His Word; daily proclaim His Word to one another. God’s Word is our only sure defense from the attacks of the devil. We are saved from the power of sin and death by the grace of the Father, through faith in Jesus Christ His Son and our Lord. The war has already been won. However we – the Body of Christ, the City of God – are besieged again and again by the defeated devil. But do not despair; there is Good News for this city. We are defended by the Word of God, and if we but rely on His Word as our one sure defense we can withstand any attack of the devil. Trust in His Word!