Monday, March 2, 2009

Lent 1 Sermon

A day late. . .

Lent 1 – March 1st, 2009 – Matthew 4:1-11

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
We generally think of the hymn “A Mighty Fortress” as a reformation song. When we think of it, we think of the end of October, leaves falling off the trees and the air getting colder – and yet we sing it every year this first Sunday in Lent – it's the hymn of the day for this Sunday. And in reality, A Mighty Fortress is a hymn that shows what the season of Lent is all about. Lent is a season where in humility we admit, we recognize, we confess our sin – and then behold in awe and wonder our Lord Christ Jesus stride forth to combat Satan in order to wrest us away from Satan’s Kingdom of sin and death unto the Kingdom of Heaven. It is in the season of Lent in general, it is in texts like our Gospel text today where we see what it means when we say that God is our Mighty Fortress.

Christ Jesus does not look like a Mighty Fortress when we see Him at the beginning of our text. And Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. Forty days and forty nights, our Lord held His fast – which is the basis of treating Lent as a time of fasting, a time where we too spend forty days of self-denial. But think to yourself what Christ must have looked like in this text. He has been out in the wilderness, out in the desert for 40 days. His hair would have been dirty and windblown and matted. He had been fasting – He would have looked haggard and worn. He would have been weak, frail even. This isn't our typical idea of what a Mighty Fortress looks like. Instead, He looks weak and worn.

Satan thinks our Lord looks weak as well, and Satan decides he is going to try to tangle with Christ. And the tempter came and said to Him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” So what's the temptation there? He's Jesus, He could do this with ease. We see plenty of examples where Christ will make bread to feed the masses – what's the temptation here? Satan is making an appeal, or at least trying to appeal to Christ's vanity. “Jesus, look at yourself. You are the Son of God – why are You looking like this. . . clean yourself up a bit, have something to eat. End your suffering – You are the Christ – command these stones to become loaves of bread and satisfy Yourself.” Do you see Satan's temptation now? There is a reason why Christ is so haggard, so worn here in the desert – and that is because we sinful human beings are often so haggard and worn, we are run down and worn down, not just by lack in this life, but by the burden of sin. Think on the burdens in your life, the temptations you face, the weight you bear. Know that Christ is determined to share in those burdens, to take His place by your side upon the plain with His good gifts and Spirit. Christ Jesus has come precisely to be worn, to be broken, even to be crucified and die so that He might swallow-up in Himself all the vileness of sin, everything Satan can throw at you. This is what the Lord promised Eve in our Old Testament lesson – that the Messiah will come and will suffer, will have His heel bruised, all so that He can crush the head of the serpent. That is why our Lord replies, “It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every Word that comes from the mouth of God.'” No, Satan, Christ Jesus will not be a bread-devouring king, He will not be One who satisfies His own belly – rather He will do what God in His Word said – and that is grind you, o wicked serpent, under His heel.

Likewise, dear friends, when Satan tempts you to avoid the difficulties you must face as a Christian, learn from our Lord's example here. As Christians we cling to the Word – and the Word has told us what we are to do, and also told us that the tempter is defeated by Christ – so we cling to Christ and His Word, in our own daily struggles against Satan.

Satan will try another angle of attack. Then the devil took Him to the holy city and set Him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to Him, “If you are the Son of God, throw Yourself down, for it is written, 'He will command His angels concerning You,' and 'On their hands they will bear You up, lest You strike Your foot against a stone.'” Alright, if Jesus wants to live by the Word, Satan will throw the Word in Christ's face. This hits home a point that we can forget today. Satan will try to twist God's Word – Satan will try to play with it and monkey with it so that we fall into false doctrine. Same thing we saw in Genesis – Did God really say – still happens today. Satan loves twisting God's Word. Look, Christ, You have a promise of protection – well, listen to the Word and let Yourself be protected! Moreover, look, we are at the top of the temple, the center of Jerusalem – think of the glory that will come when the Angels bear you safely to the ground – all of Jerusalem will laud you.

Satan tries the same thing against us today – he twists the Word of God on the forked tongue of false preachers to where preaching and teaching stops focusing on Christ, stops focusing on God's love for you in Christ and Him Crucified, and rather shifts to a focus on what stuff, what fame, what glory you can get from being a Christian, how people will laud and think you are wonderful. Anything and everything except Christ Crucified for you, a sinner.

Whereas that false doctrine that strokes our ego and vanity can sound so good to us, Christ doesn't bite. Jesus said to Him, “Again, it is written, 'You shall not put the Lord Your God to the test.'” No, Satan, your messing with God's Word will not fool Me – for Scripture is plain and clear that we are not to test God in this way – that we are not to try to use God's Word against Him. Likewise, we here today are to pay attention to what people say about God's Word and see if their conclusions are in line with what Scripture as a whole teaches, with what we learned in the Catechism, with what we confess in the Creed – and if it doesn't, we are to reject it. Being a Christian isn't about hearing what we like, but rather learning more and more of God's love and mercy to us.

Satan tries one more tact. The old, evil foe is full of guile, and he really wants to mess things up. Satan brings one more temptation – Again, the devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to Him, “All these I will give You, if You will fall down and worship me.” Satan tries to cut a deal with Jesus. “Alright, I know what you want, Jesus – you want the world back. You want all these people who have sinned and who are bound in my kingdom, bound to sin. I even know, that You will fight me to win them back – but neither of us want that. Here, let's be reasonable – I'll let You have them back, Jesus, without a fight – just fall down and worship me.” Do you see what Satan offers – Satan offers a Crossless Christianity. “Here Jesus, You can have all Your people, but You don't need to go to the cross.” This can be a tempting idea for us too – if we ignore the Cross we never have to think about our sin, we can just assume that we are good people, never worry or struggle against our sin – never think about our Lord's struggles to win the victory over sin. We can be tempted to turn Christianity into a feel good, self-congratulatory society, where we all pat each other on the back about how we are the best of the best. But we are called by God to confront our sin, for our Lord Jesus Christ is determined to face sin.

We hear this shown forth in Christ's curt response to Satan. “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, 'You shall worship the LORD your God and Him only shall you serve.'” Christ our Lord knows the Word, Christ our Lord knows that the focus of our life is God Almighty. We learned in the Catechism the having no other gods before God is shown by fearing, loving, and trusting in God above all things. And so, as Christians, we in trembling humility acknowledge and confess our sin – that is part of our worship of God. We trust in His salvation, we believe His Word and strive to do things His way, and above all things we trust in Him and His love for us. We trust and love because we see what He does for us. We see Christ our Lord stand up to Satan in our text today, we see Him beat down all the temptations which Satan throws at us. Christ is indeed victorious over Satan – we see Him fighting down Satan here at His temptation – we will see the culmination of our Lord's Battle come Good Friday and Easter, when our Lord's Cross crushes Satan, when His Resurrection wins us from death to life.

But dear friends, what you should remember today is that this fight that Christ fights against Satan is not just a past fight. Our Lord fought down Satan's temptations so that He can be with you now and aid you now in fighting down temptation in your own life. Think on Baptism – Christ joined you unto Himself. Think on the Supper which we will receive – Christ gives you His own Body and Blood. Yes, this is for forgiveness, but it is also to strengthen you and bolster you against the attacks of Satan, it is for the strengthening of your faith, it is to fill you will Christ's love so that you can show forth His love all of your days. Luther has us sing rightly – Christ is by our side upon the plain with His good gifts and Spirit – and it is Christ in us, it is the Holy Spirit in us as well who take up the struggle against sin for us, who give us the strength to repent of our past sin and to beat down our sinful nature each day. This is why we gather here – so Christ can deal with the sins of our past by the forgiveness won upon the Cross and prepare us for the struggles of our future, filling us with the same life He showed on Easter, until we reach eternity with Him and share fully in His victory over Satan.

Thus we see today a clear example of how Christ fights for us. This is the same fight He fought on the Cross to win us forgiveness, the same fight He won at the resurrection to give us life, the same fight that He wages in our lives now when He forgives and strengthens us through His Word and Sacraments. This is the awesome battle that your God wages on your behalf, for He will never, never abandon you to the Evil Foe, but rather, He will hold the field forever. Christ Jesus is our Mighty Fortress, and so we face this life with boldness and confidence, knowing that He accomplishes all things for us. In the Name of Christ the Crucified.

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