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COLUMN: Christ finished the race and won salvation for us

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By Steve Gettinger | Risen Lord Lutheran Church

Grace and peace to you from God our father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
In Luke 4:1-13, Luke writes: “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the desert, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry. The devil said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.’ Jesus answered, ‘It is written: “Man does not live on bread alone.”’ The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, ‘I will give you all their authority and splendor, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. So if you worship me, it will all be yours.’ Jesus answered, ‘It is written: “Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.”’ The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. ‘If you are the Son of God,’ he said, ‘throw yourself down from here. For it is written: “He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.”’ Jesus answered, ‘It says: “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”’ When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.”
Out of all the words in the English language, the conjunction “if” has the ability to be very influential and to cause much trouble.
For example:
-If only things had turned out differently.  
-If only I did this instead of that. I wouldn’t be in this mess.
-If you really love me, you will do…
-If you want to keep your job, you had better…
-If you want me to keep this quiet and make sure no one else finds out, then you will do this, that, and the other thing for me.  
You may not know this, but the devil likes to use the word “if.” As a matter of fact, in Luke Chapter 4, Satan uses it as weapon to try to get Jesus to give into temptation and abandon his mission to save us.
After 40 days of fasting in the middle of the desert wilderness, the devil comes to Jesus with three propositions.  
1. If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.
2. If you fall down and worship me, all of this earthly authority and glory will be yours.  
3. If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from this highest point on the temple and let God’s angels catch you.  
Do you notice what the devil is not doing here?  He’s not coming at Jesus with all the fires and terrors of hell.  He’s not forcing Jesus into doing something against his will.  Rather, the devil is using an almost childish playground approach against Jesus.  “If you really are the Son of God, prove it!  I dare you!  I double-dog dare you!  I don’t believe you.”  Jesus resists. He didn’t give in to such sinful foolishness.  Jesus didn’t give in and fall prey to very basic temptations that you and I fall prey to often.  Our Lord met and countered every temptation with the unerring and all-sufficient word of God.  He didn’t enter into a debate or argument with the devil.  He didn’t try to reason with the devil.  Jesus countered the devil’s lies with the word of God alone.  
Some people, after reading this portion of scripture come to a wrong conclusion that goes like this: If you want to beat the devil when you’re tempted, then you just need to do what Jesus did.  
Here’s what is so wrong about this approach.  I can’t be just like Jesus.  I can’t do everything that Jesus did.  This is precisely why Jesus came to do what he did — because I can’t do it. And the same goes for each and every person born with a sinful nature. What we see here in Luke 4 is not a how-to guide in overcoming temptation and beating the devil.  No, what we see here is our perfect Lord Jesus taking our place and doing perfectly what we fail at miserably,  so that his perfect righteousness can be credited to us for our salvation.  
I want you to think about that for a moment, because it’s something we often miss.  Jesus wasn’t just our substitute on the cross.  He’s our perfect and complete substitute in every way, shape, and form, from his conception to his resurrection.  Jesus came to do what he did so we will never have to go through what he did.  He bore our sins so that we’ll never have to experience that hell.  He suffered all our sins so that we’ll never have to pay that wretched, unbearable price.  All this he did for us because of his great, unconditional love for us.
In closing, I want to point something out in the gospel text…
“And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from Jesus until an opportune time.”  
The devil didn’t simply give up after Jesus had whipped him in the wilderness.  The devil never quits. He just waits for a better opportunity to present itself. Satan came right back at Jesus with the very same two-letter temptation three years later when Jesus was hanging on his cross.
“If you are the Son of God save yourself!  Prove it!  Come down off your cross!” Talk about a more opportune time. What’s more opportune than being at the very end of your rope, completely forsaken and forgotten by everyone you love.
In those moments of suffering, the devil basically tempts Jesus by saying to him, “If you really are the Son of God put your almighty power to good use and end all of this nonsense.  Save yourself, by coming down off that cross and give those losers what they deserve.”  
If Christ would’ve given in and come down off that cross, we would be finished.  But that’s not how it worked out.  Christ Jesus didn’t give in.  He finished the race for us and won salvation.  Amen.
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