Sunday, March 13, 2011

Sermon For Lent 1

Lent 1 – March 13th, 2011 – Matthew 4:1-11

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
Lent has begun, and we see our Lord begin to wage his war against Satan, see our Lord do what He came to earth to do – to be True God and True Man who would come and rescue us sinful, fallen people from the clutches of Satan. He came to be the Savior who would both pay the penalty for our sin and win us life everlasting with His resurrection. And in our Gospel lesson, we see Him take on the very root of our downfall – Satan and his temptations.

Today, we don’t think much about temptation. As Modern Americans, we just don’t think in those terms all that often. When we consider wickedness and sin in our life – we don’t view it as springing forth from temptation, as a matter of us coming under the assaults and attacks of Satan. We rationalize it away. Yes, yes, what I did wasn’t nice, but you know, I had had a really long day. I know I probably should have done that, but you know, I was just kind of tired and I just didn’t. Is that type of language familiar? Do we think of those sorts of situations as being times of temptation? Do we sit back and say, “I know I was supposed to do something, but I was tempted, tempted away from doing it, and I gave into temptation”? We are much more apt to explain away our sin, come up with excuses for it, rationalize it, than we are to simply admit what happened, than we are to simply call a spade a spade. I was tempted, and I gave into temptation. It doesn’t matter that I had a rough day, I still yelled, and I shouldn’t have, I knew better. It doesn’t matter that I was tired – I did not show love like I ought to have, and I ended up ignoring the neighbor I was created to love and care for. I was tempted, Satan tempted me using my weakness, my frailty, and I gave in, I swallowed his temptation hook, line, and sinker. We may not often think this way, but this is the way the Scriptures teach us to consider our sin.

As evidence of this, consider Genesis 3 – we all know that what happens there is temptation. It’s the cause of the fall, it’s the occasion of the first great sin, where Adam and Eve are tempted by Satan, and they fall. There’s your very definition of what temptation is. What do we hear? “[The Serpent] said to the woman, ‘Did God actually say You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?’” First thing, Satan twists the Word of God. God never told them they can’t eat of any tree – but what Satan does is introduce doubt about the Word. Confusion. Misquoting and twisting the Word of God. There’s temptation step 1, muddy the waters, confuse people about God’s Word. Happens often enough today. “And the woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’ But the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’” Eve resists there – she knows what God has said, and so Satan moves on to temptation step two, directly contradict the Word of God – call God a liar. Often happens with temptation – oh, if you do this, it’s not that bad. God’s just being an old-fuddy-duddy with those commandment things. And now, here’s the kicker for us today. How does Eve react? “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.” Do you see what they did – it’s the same thing that we do. Eve isn’t thinking, “I am being tempted away from what God said” – she’s worried about rationalizing her actions. Eh, it looks tasty, so it must be okay. Eh, who doesn’t want to be wise, that’s a good thing? It’s the same thing that we so often do when we are confronted with temptation. Eh, I’m not really hurting anyone. Eh, I’ve been pretty good, a little bit won’t hurt. Well, it’s all their fault for making me so angry in the first place. Temptation isn’t always Satan cackling away at us saying, “Go on, be evil” and us saying, “Yes, I want to be evil, bwahahahaha!” Temptation is when Satan comes and by playing off our wants, our desires, our weakness, he tries to convince us to do things we know that we shouldn’t – it’s when he tries to get us to call something good or okay even though we know is wrong, know that we shouldn’t do. Do you see and understand, O Christian, how much temptation is your life? When we examine our lives, when we confront temptation instead of just sweeping it away, we see just how much of our time is spent in battle against sin and wickedness and the temptations of Satan. And God knows this – this is why Christ would have us pray, “Lead us not into temptation.” Satan still tempts us mightily… sometimes we resist. All too often we fall, for like we are sinners.

“Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit in the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil.” That “then” is an important word. Immediately before our Gospel Lesson, Jesus was Baptized. True God has become True Man, and at His Baptism Jesus declared that He, totally righteous and perfect, would take His place standing by our side, that He would stand with the lowly sinners like you and I, and that He would be our champion. And so, our Lord is led from the waters of the Jordan to the wilderness by Holy Spirit – Mark’s Gospel says that the Spirit throws Him into the desert. Why? Because if Christ is to be our Champion, if Christ is going to be True Man, Man as Man was meant to be, He must face down Satan and His temptations for us. The old Foe has to be confronted, and we of ourselves do a rather poor job of confronting Satan. And that is what our Lord goes out in the desert to do – to fix, to override those times when you give into temptation. And so our Lord goes and fasts for 40 days and 40 nights – let My flesh be weakened as well, so that when I confront Satan and defeat him, he’ll know he’s defeated.

So Satan comes, and he makes his first play. “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” Satan says to Jesus, “You’re God, why should you suffer any lack, any trouble? Satisfy Yourself! Just as Eve saw that the fruit of the tree was tasty, make Yourself something tasty. Give in to the God of Your belly.” This is a temptation we are all familiar with, the temptation that is a lack of discipline, where we just give into our bodily desires, whether they be for food or for coarser things. We often give into this, live by our desires. Jesus will have none of it. “But He answered, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”” I know what true Life is Satan, for I am the Word of God that called forth creation and life, and life is not giving into my own desires, but true life is living as God would have you live. I was sent here by the Father and Spirit to face you down – I’ll eat when you’ve been put in your place, not before then. Temptation 1 – overcome.

Satan tries again. “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.’” And here’s temptation 2. Satan says, “I can tell that you are a good little God-fearer. Well, shouldn’t that have some benefits – shouldn’t things be easier – why lookie here – you’ve got a no hurt foot clause – well, let’s see that get put into play. Satan here is throwing a temptation that he commonly hits us with – you’re a Christian – doesn’t that mean your life should be better, should be easier, should be full of power and might – full of awesome signs. Now, we might not expect angels to come and grab us as we jump off a building, but can’t we be tempted to think that as Christians we should get some divine kickbacks, some extra “blessings”, some extra cash, power, wealth because of our faith. Can’t we even be tempted to tell God He owes us? We rationalize it away – if I’m a good little boy, God should give me my cake and let me eat it too. We bite on this temptation all the time. Jesus will have none of it. “Jesus said to him, ‘Again, it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’’” Why, oh serpent, should I start telling the Father what to do? In fact, why should I worry about not striking my foot against a stone – I told you back in the Garden what would happen to My foot – it’s going to be bruised not by a stone, but when I crush your skull with my Crucifixion. Jesus doesn’t come to earth to get brownie points and prove how good He is – He doesn’t come for a life of luxury, He doesn’t come to make demands of the Father. Rather, He comes to fulfill the Father’s Will, and that Will is to win you Salvation by dying and rising. No thoughts of serving Himself, or demanding to be served – The Son of Man did not come to be served. Temptation 2 – overcome.

One more try for Satan. “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.’” Luther refers to Satan as “This world’s prince.” That’s what he was. When we fell, when Adam and Eve jumped ship in the garden, they had signed themselves over to Satan. We are born in sin, born enemies of God and slaves of Satan. And so here Satan tries to cut a deal. I know you want these people Jesus, and I don’t want my head crushed – let’s cut a deal. Do things my way – follow me, and I’ll give you all these people. You’ll have them, You’ll have power and might – just do things my way. Again, a familiar temptation for us – lie, cheat, and steal to get ahead. Abandon what is good and right for the easy and quick path to power – get everything we want, just quicker and easier. We know this temptation, and we often give into it. Jesus will have none of it. “Then Jesus said to him, ‘Be gone, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only shall you serve.’’” There will be no truce, no capitulation. Christ will not bow the knee to Satan, instead, His head will be bowed upon the cross, under a crown of thorns, as He gives up His life to rescue us from death and Satan’s kingdom. There is no stopping Christ, Satan. He has come to be our champion, and as He faced you down in the wilderness, so He will utterly crush you with His Cross, and so with His resurrection will He destroy your kingdom of death.

So then, what does our Lord’s victory over Satan in these temptations mean for us? Here I would direct you to your Baptism, because there in the Waters of your Baptism, Christ Jesus joined Himself to you. He is with you now. When Satan tempts you, when your old sinful flesh kicks in, you are not alone. Christ Jesus stands with you – and He gives you strength to fight against temptation. Recognize temptation for what it is, and remember your baptism, and shelter behind Christ in the face of temptation. You can fight now, for indeed, for you fights the valiant One. Christ’s victory over Satan’s temptations mean that now you can struggle, you can fight against your sinful flesh. You won’t always win, for you are still a sinner and will remain so until your death – but this is the other beautiful thing. On the Last Day, when you rise, you will rise being like Christ. He has become your Head, your leader – He is your champion – and you will not bear any longer the sinful flesh which you have gotten from Adam and Eve, but you will be holy and righteous as He is, your body and flesh will be like His. The day is coming, dear friends, when no temptation will ever tempt again – and it is coming because Christ does not rest on His laurels after beating temptation – He will stride through this Lent towards the Cross, so that by His death and resurrection, His victory is given to you, and is made your victory. When our time in the wilderness of this sinful world is done, because of Christ Jesus, we will be raised to life victorious, life everlasting. And Christ will be with us in the midst of all the struggles we face until then. In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

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