Sunday, February 22, 2015

Lent 1 Sermon

Lent 1 – February 22nd, 2015 – Matthew 4

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

          It sounds really strange to say, but I love Lent.  No, this isn’t because I love fasting or self-denial or any of the things that we may end up doing in Lent.  I love what Lent is right there in that Lectern, what Lent is in this pulpit.  While so often we think of the season of Lent as the season of *our* repentance, *our* giving something up – something else takes the focus on Sunday mornings.  Lent is the season where Jesus Christ, your Lord and Savior, takes the battle to Satan.  Throughout these next six weeks we will see Jesus systematically destroy and break Satan’s power and authority.  There’s a reason why a Mighty Fortress is the Hymn of the Day for the first Sunday in Lent – because what we see this whole season is “But for us fights the Valiant One, Whom God Himself elected.”  It’s why in a few weeks we’ll end the 5th Sunday in Lent singing “Sing My Tongue the Glorious Battle.”  In Lent we see that war is declared, and battle come down, that as the head of the Serpent was prophesized to be crushed, so it is.

          And it begins in a desert.  “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.”  Given how little rain and snow we’ve gotten, we don’t like any mention of desert.  But for the Jewish folks, the desert, the wilderness beyond the Jordan – that was a place they hated, they feared.  That was the place they suffered for 40 years when they disobeyed God and Moses.  It was the reminder of the fall – The Garden in which God had put Adam and Eve was off yonder east – now become a desert with scorching heat and wild, feral beasts.  The wilderness was the place of sin and punishment and death.  The Wilderness was the emblem of all of Satan’s power – it was Satan’s domain.  And Jesus, in the previous verses, has just been Baptized, has just taken His place with us fallen men.  And so, there He goes – right away.  God sends His army of One off into the wilderness, the place where so many men and women had fallen dead, where even Moses died – off to do battle against Satan.  And Jesus fasts, and is weakened.

          “And the Tempter came and said to Him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’”  Of course the Tempter comes – that is what Satan does.  He tempted Adam and Eve – of course he will tempt Christ Jesus, the New Adam.  And in the Garden, the temptation was to get Adam and Eve to try to usurp God’s place.  Eat this fruit and you will be “like God”.  Don’t be content to be God’s creation, don’t be content to receive blessings from God – take charge, take over!  And it worked then.  The Garden crumbled, the flood swept its remains away, and now – wilderness, and men and women who die.  And so Satan recycles – he whips out the same sort of temptation.  When Satan says, “if you are the Son of God” it’s not a statement of doubt that Jesus is the Son of God… it’s a statement of disbelief that Jesus would suffer so.  You are the Son of God, you can make bread, good grief, go feed yourself.  It would almost be like me seeing one of you standing hungry with a fridge full of food, “If you’ve got a fridge filled with T-bones and Barbecue, don’t stand there hungry, fix something.” 

          Fix yourself bread, Jesus.  Did you note the insult Satan throws there?  Adam and Eve weren’t created to eat bread.  They had all of the trees of the garden but one to eat.  No, bread comes after the fall.  Bread is the food that Adam will wrest from the ground after working the crops, that Eve will have to grind and mill and kneed and cook.  No more just plucking the low hanging fruit – now you’re going to work for your supper, for your bread.  Go on Jesus, since You’re taking your place with the sinners – satisfy Your stomach with the sinners’ food – turn this stone to bread. 

          “But He answered, ‘It is written – Man shall not live on bread alone, but by every Word that comes from the mouth of God.”  No, Satan, let’s get one thing straight.  I’m not here to serve Myself, to serve My Belly.  I am here to see that Man, that My Adam and My Eve and My Abraham and My Jacob and My Moses and all of My Saints live – and they will live because of Me, because I am the Word of God, come to fulfill that Word spoken to you in the Garden about your own defeat.  I am going to suffer and die, I will have my heel bruised – and you will be crushed, and they will live.

          So Satan changes tactics a bit.  “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.’”  Okay, Jesus – I get that you don’t want to eat bread from a stone.  Fine.  You’re the Messiah; I can accept that.  But if you’ve got it, flaunt it.  Why be revealed to just a bunch of poor miserable scum out by the river Jordan when You could hop right this roof, and everyone would see the Angels coming to rescue You, and You’d be lauded and welcomed and recognized for who You are.  There’s the temptation.  Think on how often the Scriptures describe the Messiah as the Suffering Servant, the One who is abused by His own people.  That’s now Jesus saves us – by going to the Cross, by His Suffering and Death.  And Satan is offering another path – and Jesus smacks Him down.  “Jesus said to him, ‘Again, it is written – You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”  No, I’m not here to make My Father or the angels jump through hoops.  If I wanted, I could summon forth legions of angels right now, even without jumping.  But I’m not, because the point isn’t getting My way, or making My life easy, it is to save My people.  That’s what My Father has commanded, and that’s what I’m going to do.

          And now, Satan begins to panic a bit.  This is strange.  Temptations given by the Tempter tend to work.  And so Satan acts in desperation.  “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 knows defeat is coming, knows that a foe he can’t beat is coming.  And so he tries to cut a deal.  Alright Jesus, you can destroy my kingdom, I can accept that.  Let’s deal.  I will let You have all this world, all these people – but just let it be on my terms, let me be the top dog – and You can do with them whatever You want.  It’s so much easier my way, and it basically gets You everything thing You want.  And 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.”  And with those words something happens that had never, ever happened before in the history of mankind.  A man, a human being, of flesh and blood – stood up to every single one of Satan’s temptations.  Adam, Eve.  They didn’t.  Nor did Cain or Abraham or Moses or David or any of them.  Satan had always been able to get them to mess up, to dance to his own tune.  Whether it was anger or slipping wickedness in under the best of intentions or corrupting with power – something had always worked.  And now, there stands Christ Jesus, True God but also True Man – a Man Satan can’t lure into sin.  And then, Satan does the only thing he can.  He flees in terror.  It will be war, and Satan will regroup, he will marshal his demons, he will send his false prophets, he will stir up hatred.  He will fight.  But for us stands, unmoved, the Valiant One – Christ Jesus.  In our place.  For just as Adam and Eve and Abraham and Moses and all the others gave into temptation, so too do we.  We are frail, miserable sinners.  With might of ours could naught be done.  And so there stands Christ, in our place, fighting the battle we couldn’t.

          And so now, what does Christ do for us today?  He knows.  He knows how Satan still hounds you, He knows that the Serpent is bound and bruised – but still has his little season until the Last Day when he will finally be thrown into the lake of fire will all his demons.  So what does Christ do for you today?

          “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”  Do you see?  This verse isn’t just a bit of pious chit chat – this verse describes the reality of this place, of the Church, of worship, of the Divine Service.  We don’t live just by bread alone, by our toils out there in the world, by the sweat of our brow.  No, to live, and live forever, we are gathered here, where Christ Jesus comes to us in His Word.  Indeed, here, at this altar where He takes bread, the reminder of our sin, and makes it to be His own Body, given for you, to take away your sin.  The food of our shame is become the very medicine of immortality.  Do you see?

          What does Christ do for you today?  “Again, it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”  Do you see?  We sin, we seek and crave glory, we put God to the test over and over – and so Christ Jesus calls us here to this place, to His House which will be a House of Prayer.  And He bids us pray “Lead us not into temptation.”  He knows our struggles, He knows what life is like out there in the world, with Sin and Satan bugging and tempting us all the time – and so He gathers us, and He has us pray.  We pray over and over in this service – Lord have mercy.  Hear our pray.  Lead us not into temptation.  Think on all the times in the Gospel where Jesus has the disciples pray – because He knows we need prayer, that we need God to strengthen us – so He gathers us and prays for us and prays with us; Indeed, He intercedes for us constantly before the Father.  They are not putting You to the test, Father – for they are Mine, and I am with them and forgiven them, and the Spirit intercedes for them with groanings too deep for words.  Do you see?

          What does Christ do for you today?  “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only shall you serve.’”  Do you see?  You are the baptized.  You belong to God, not to Satan.  In fact, every one of you has undergone an exorcism – that is what Baptism is.  In fact, in Luther’s baptismal rite, Luther has us spell it out – “Depart, o unclean spirit, and make way for the Holy Spirit.”  Be gone, Satan.  You no longer belong to Satan.  You no longer belong to sin.  You no longer belong to death.  They may pester you, they may hound you.  But you aren’t theirs.  You belong to Christ Jesus, and You will worship the Lord your God for all eternity, and you will serve Him alone for all eternity – for you belong to Christ.  He has died and risen for you, He has fought all the battles that need be fought for you, and even though you die, yet shall you live, Risen again unto life everlasting.  God make us ever to see and know this more and more, even unto everlasting life.  In the Name of Christ… +

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