Sunday, February 17, 2013

Lent 1 Sermon

Lent 1 – February 17th, 2013 – Matthew 4:1-11

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
          “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil.”  Immediately after He is baptized in the Jordan River, Jesus goes and is tempted by Satan.  Immediately.  In Mark’s Gospel the Spirit doesn’t just lead Jesus into the desert, the Spirit “throws” Him.  And why?  Well, what we see this week, and indeed what we will see every week this Lenten season is our Lord Jesus stepping into the fray, coming into this world and dealing directly with all the things that impact us sinful human beings.  Jesus is going to go and systematically take on all thing things that come about with the fall – this week it is temptation, hunger and thirst, false dreams of power… and more and more during the weeks to come, finally culminating on Good Friday when He Himself takes on death.  But it really starts in earnest here.  At His Baptism, Jesus took His place at sinful man’s side, at our side.  And so, He goes where we sinful men have been since Genesis 3.  No longer are we in the garden, no, we are in this wilderness of a world, suffering and tempted.

          “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil.  And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.”  Because Adam listened to the temptations of Satan, he was cast out of the garden and would have to toil and sweat and labor for bread, would have to fight thorns and thistles… and sometimes those thorns and thistles would win.  Because the children of Israel would act like Satan and grumble against God, and they would have to wander the wilderness for 40 years.  And then we see Jesus, striding where Adam had been cast, where Israel had been forced to languish – and unlike them, unlike those who had done things wrong, Jesus is determined to oppose Satan, determined to do it right.

          “And the tempter came and said to Him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’”  Now, let us hear and see what Satan is doing.  How did Satan first tempt Adam in the garden?  Eat this fruit, and if you do, you will be like God.  It was an appeal to vanity and power using food as the shiny lure.  This is the same thing Satan is doing here with Jesus.  This isn’t “If you are” in terms of Satan not knowing – but it’s playing off of vanity.  “You’re the Son of God – if you are the Son of God, why are You of all people suffering from hunger this way?  What are you doing here suffering - there’s no reason You should be suffering.”  It’s an appeal to vanity, an appeal to the ego.  It’s the same ploy Satan uses on us.  You’re a good little Christian – why aren’t things going better for you?  Why should you have to suffer?  Why should things be difficult for you, especially when those people over that it more difficult for you?  But here’s the clincher – Satan knows that Jesus could end His suffering.  Jesus, make bread.  You can do it, it would be easy for you.  End your own suffering, don’t put up with it, it’s beneath you.

          And our Lord responds.  “But [Jesus] answered, ‘It is written, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every Word that comes from the mouth of God.”’”  God had sent Israel out into the desert to realize that they did not live merely by bread, but they lived truly by the Word of God.  And this is the heart of Satan’s temptation – to abandon the Word of God, to slide away from it.  And Jesus will have none of it – man lives by the Word of God.  This is true simply every day in the sense that all that we have is provided by Christ, the Word of God by Whom all things were made – but it is also more profoundly true.  Mankind had fallen.  Adam sinned, Israel sinned – you and I, we sin.  We had chosen death.  Wages of sin is death.  Therefore, if we are to live, we can live only by the Word of God, indeed, only by Christ Jesus, the Word Himself becoming Man, taking His place with us, being the Suffering Servant Whom Isaiah foretold, being the One who would crush Satan’s head.  That means Jesus would suffer – and this hunger is just the beginnings of the suffering, the bruised heel He would endure as Genesis puts it.  And Jesus will not be dissuaded.  No, Satan – it is not beneath Me to suffer – I came to suffer and redeem My people, as I had proclaimed through the Prophets.

          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.’”  Satan here does something interesting – he himself quotes Scripture.  Alright Jesus, this is what You Yourself spoke through the Psalmist that You would be preserved.  Well, just go head – jump here, jump now, in the presence of all these people.  Why, they would see angels and they would all laud and glorify You!  Do you see the temptation here?  It is an appeal to glory?  Imagine what the reaction would be today if we all saw angels fly to someone’s rescue.  It would be astonishing, the praise and glory and pomp the person would get would be astonishing.  And again, is this not something we in our sin crave – some obvious sign of God’s favor, where everyone could look at us and say, “Boy, God must surely like him?  Wow, she must really be living right, look at how God has blessed her.”  All an appeal to our ego and our desire for Glory.

          And our Lord responds.  Jesus said to him, “Again, it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord Your God to the test.’”  That’s not the point of the passage, Satan.  The point of that Psalm isn’t “go be stupid to force God’s hand.”  Rather this – read the next verse of Psalm 91, Satan!  For He will command His angels concerning you to guard You in all Your ways.  On their hands their will bear You up, lest you strike Your foot on a stone.  You will tread on the lion and the adder; the young lion and the serpent You will trample under foot.”  Jesus is telling Satan, “My way, My path is not to gain glory, not to be some Divine show off, but rather My way, My path is to trample and defeat you, to tread you down.  And nothing is going to stop Me or get in My way.”  There is no craving of glory for Christ – rather He simply goes about His business of defeating Satan.

          One final 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.”  This is what Satan says here: “Okay, okay, you want to redeem these folks, you want them back.  I get it – when they sinned they became mine, Jesus.  But even now, they aren’t that bad, and with Your guidance and power You could make this world almost a paradise again for them.  Fine – I’ll give them back – just worship me.”  See, this is what we can forget – when Adam sinned, humanity became basically Satan’s plaything.  Luther in our hymn refers to Satan rightfully as “this world’s prince”.  And so, Satan makes an offer – he offers Jesus mankind, but mankind on Satan’s terms.  Let’s not have any stepping on of heads, any crushing talk.  Rather, let them live it up now, and you live it up now, and we’ll all be happy.  Again, this is the temptation that we ourselves have – to merely live and let live, to just go with the flow, to love this world as it is and to ignore the things of God, to forget and forsake the life of the world to come.  It’s an appealing temptation for us.

          And Jesus responds.  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.’”  And Satan leaves.  Why?  Because something happened which hadn’t been seen since the fall.  A Man, a living, breathing Man, Man who is True God as well, but still a Man – fully and completely resisted temptation.  There was no room for Satan, no little bit of self-justification or pride laying hidden under the surface.  No mere outward righteousness hiding sinful thoughts.  No, here Christ Jesus full resists Satan perfectly, in a way that we never do – and Satan must flee, must run for the hills.  And so it begins.  The first, opening battle for salvation is won by Christ.  Lent will continue.  Satan could not tempt Jesus away from His journey to the Cross, could not come to some treaty or bargain with Him. 

          “And behold, angels came and were ministering to Him.”  Christ Jesus your Lord knows what it is like to suffer. He knows what it is like to be under the burdens of Satan.  He knows what it is like to be in the wilderness, to be cast out of the garden.  He has come to restore life and salvation to you – but He knows your frailties.  So He also deigns to send folks to minister to you, to serve you, to refresh you.  And how?  We do not live by bread alone, but by the Word of God – the Word of forgiveness that tells us that in Christ we are forgiven, that we will endure the trials of this life, that we will rise from the dead on the Last day.  We live as the Baptized, as those who are not simply cast into the wilderness, but rather those who are always in the life giving flood of Christ, adopted as sons, heirs of the righteousness and holiness that is His.  We are those who receive His gifts in the Supper, not mere bread and wine, but also His Body and Blood – given and shed for the forgiveness of our sins, for the strengthing of our faith – given so that we ourselves might survive our Lent and time of suffering, that we might endure our time in the wilderness of this life and finally obtained the promised land on the Last Day.  While we may discipline our bodies by giving up something this Lent, we do not starve, for Christ Himself gives us what we need for forgiveness and life.

          Round 1 has been won by Christ.  The Devil’s first offensive has been blunted and turned aside.  But as we continue through Lent, there is still more for Christ to fight, to overcome.  There is still shame and suffering in this world, shame and suffering that often impacts us directly.  But Christ Jesus our Lord will not leave us to face this suffering alone – as we will hear next week.  But remember this week, over and against the temptations of Satan that great truth – while we may be weak, Christ Jesus is strong.  He has fully beat down Satan, and while Satan may still scowl fierce, the Lord of Life has defeated the old serpent for you.  In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

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