Friday, March 24, 2017

Lent 4 Sermon

Lent 4 – March 24th and 25th, 2017 – John 6:1-15

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
I want to start at the end of our Gospel Text. “Perceiving then that they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by Himself.” This text, the famous feeding of the 5000 thousand, ends with Jesus high-tailing it out of there because the mob wants to lay hands on Him and drag Him off to be king. How's that for a day? It had been a normal enough day for Jesus – a great crowd had gathered while He was preaching, and as usual Jesus decides He'll teach His disciples a bit. Okay Philip, how are we going to feed these folks? It's just a check up, a chance to see if the disciples are paying attention, know what is going on. John notes, “He said this to test him, for He Himself knew what He would do.” This is the standard Jewish way of teaching – you present your students a problem that you know how to solve, but you evaluate how they would solve the problem. And they've got no clue. Andrew brings up the boy who has the two fish, the five loaves (really they're the size of dinner rolls, probably), and Jesus prays and give thanks and there's food for everyone and 12 baskets left over – an awesome miracle, a great sign! And the response? Perceiving then that they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by Himself.

Think of all the things that could have been learned by the crowd. You've probably heard many of them in sermons – there's the fact that Jesus is true God who provides food, there's the miracle, there's the play off of Psalm 23 because Jesus made His people lay down in green pastures and fed them, there's the faith of the boy, there's the fact that Jesus knows what He's doing – this text is almost hard to preach upon because there's so much that we could focus on. Jesus is intentionally teaching with a miracle, it's rich. And yet – what gets learned? The crowd figures it should go and take Jesus and make Him King. By force. Here they see Jesus do an act of great power, of great kindness, of great generosity – and the reaction of the people is to try to twist His arm and tell Him what He should do and when He should do it.
Alright folks, time for today's hard question. It's not hard in the sense that we don't know what the answer is, mind you. We're just not going to like it. Today's hard question is this: How often do we act precisely like that crowd? Here we are in God's Church – we are the baptized, we know God's love and salvation – and yet how often instead of simply trusting in God to give us what is good, do we want, do we wish that we could just make Jesus do what we want Him to? How often do we wish that there were strings that we could pull with God so He would give us the early blessings we wanted right when we wanted them? Because that is the heart of every temptation – to place ourselves over God and to try to get God to dance to our tune. And even seeing His kindness, His goodness, so often our response will be to try to shake God down for more and more, for something else.

It's because we do not understand the word “our”. Jesus is our King. In fact, that's the folly of the crowd – Jesus was already their King – it's just that they wanted His kingship to be on their terms. Just like we often want God to be our God but on our terms. That word “our” is a possessive – it denotes either ownership or belonging. And the problem for the crowd was they wanted to own Jesus, the problem for us is so often we want to own Jesus, to have Him do what we want when we want it. But that's not what we should mean when we say that Jesus is our King. It's not that Jesus belongs to us – it is that we belong to Him.

So often we will confuse belonging with ownership – and when we do, everything goes sideways. With so many things. If we say, “This is my church” meaning that I own it and it had better do what I want – that's when things go sideways. Badly. If we say, “This is my church” meaning that I belong here, that I am fed upon the Word here, that I serve my neighbors here – then that's great. If someone says, “You're my spouse” thinking that this means they get to boss them around – things go badly. If “You're my spouse” means that I am called by God to love, serve, and care for this person – that I belong to them – things go smoothly. They are my friends, so they had better do what I want – bad. They are my friends, so I will help them out and love them – good. All across our lives, whenever we start wanting to be in control, that's when things go bad, that's when fights happen and things break. God gives us relationships not to Lord it over others, but to shape and direct our service – every relationship you are in is a relationship of service. Even me as a parent – I have authority over my kids (in theory), and that isn't to make them serve me but so that I can serve them. And really sin has at its core a desire to have control – it's the lie that a relationship should be about how you rule and make others do what you want, not how you serve. That's how Adam and Eve were tripped up in the Garden – they thought being like God meant they'd get to be in control.

Over and against that, Jesus shows us what it truly means to say that He is our King. “Perceiving then that they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by Himself.” No, Jesus will be our King, but that means He is going to do what is best for us, whether or not we like it, whether or not it is easier or better for Him. First, Jesus gave the crowd what they needed for their body, not what they wanted. They need food – alright, I'll give them their daily bread (more on that this Wednesday night), but when they wanted more, when they wanted a life of luxury on easy street with Jesus being the goose that lays them the golden eggs – no. That's not good for them. So He doesn't give that to them. Likewise, dear friends – Jesus is a good King for you, and He gives you your daily bread, He gives you what you need. Not necessarily what you want. He gives you what is good for you, so that you learn to remember that you are not everyone else's master, but their friend, their servant, someone who knows them in order to care for them. And in this, Jesus is wise. I've got a big enough ego as it is; I can't imagine what it would be if I were filthy rich on top of it. And as for you – think of the things you want, that you might idly daydream about. Now think of what sort of jerk you'd be tempted become if you actually got it. Oh yeah, if I got that beach house – I'd stay there and be no good to anyone. Our King gives us what really is good for us – and He is wiser than we are.

But we aren't just talking about stuff here. If you want to know what it means that Jesus is our King, ponder this. The crowd was going to make Him King by force – they were willing to go and fight and die for Him. They'd suffer to get Him on the throne – they'd go battle the Romans and stab them and kill them and then Jesus would reign after they shed their blood... do you get how backwards that is? Our King – He chooses to suffer and die for our sake, to give us life. Our King will not wear a golden crown, but He'll take up a crown of thorns. Our King won't shed any blood but His own, and He will shed that as the spotless Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

This is the thing. We major in minors. We get caught up in the fleeting, temporary things. The crowds worried about filling their bellies; Christ is focused upon seeing that they get eternal life. We worry about comfort and extra luxuries – Jesus is focused on dealing with Sin and Death for us. And even we here who know better, we can get so caught up in the temporary, the temporal, the earthly – yet Christ Jesus is your King, and that means that He is the King who is for you. When you are distracted – He's not. When you follow your sin down some rabbit trail, He stays upon the true path of righteousness, and He does what is righteous for you. He goes boldly to the Cross for you, He wins you life and salvation, He gives you what you need, what is actually good for you, not only now, but He also gives you eternal life. Because He is your King – and He knows that as Your King His job is to do all things for you good.

That's what Jesus teaches us. Philip gets asked the question so He can learn how far Jesus' care for folks extends. Then Jesus runs from the crowd for their own good – teaching them and us what is good and right. And Jesus teaches us this in our own lives, as by His Word and Spirit we learn to fight against our sin that would seek to control everything, as by His Word and Spirit we begin to see more and more that He is always our King, the King who is for us. He even feeds us today to forgive and teach us His love. God grant that He make us to know this more and more now, so that we live here by faith until we see His goodness for us perfectly for all eternity. In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Lent 3 Sermon

Lent 3 – Luke 11:14-28 – March 18th and 19th, 2017

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
Excuses in this world are a dime a dozen, especially when it comes to the things of God. This is just part of our sinful, fallen nature. We like to come up with excuses, with seemingly reasonable arguments for why we should ignore the Word of God and just go on doing what we’ve been doing – where we can find an excuse to ignore Christ Jesus, to push His death and resurrection into a corner – treat as though it’s only something that shapes our afterlife and not our very lives and being now.

Excuses are nothing new. We see one in our Gospel text today. “Now [Jesus] was casting out a demon that was mute. When the demon had gone out, the mute man spoke, and the people marveled. But some of them said, ‘He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the prince of demons.’” What these people are doing right here is making an excuse. They want their normal lives to continue without any ripples – and seeing the Messiah come, seeing the kingdom of darkness overthrown causes ripples, causes a change in a person’s life. And so they make an excuse – eh, not really from God – He’s just using demonic powers. Now, yes, we know that this is a silly argument, but, put yourself in the shoes of someone back in that day. They weren’t skeptics like us – they knew, rightly, that demonic powers were very real. And so, the suggestion that Christ might be casting out demons by demons is almost reasonable – you had tales and stories of all sorts of people who would invoke the spirits to their will – so the idea of one guy using a big demon to beat up on a little demon – not so strange in those days. 
But Jesus knows that it is just an excuse – and He cuts right though it. Three things. First, there is the idea of a House Divided. Satan isn’t dumb – he’s not going to fight against himself, and this is a fighting against, a beating down of the demonic. Second, Jesus points out that many folks in Israel at this time are casting out demons in Jesus’ Name. This happens – two chapters earlier in Luke the disciples had been sort of freaked out by this – there’s some guy we don’t know casting out demons in Your Name, Jesus! If the sons of Israel are casting out demons in Jesus’ name – any accusation you make against Him rolls downhill on to them – is that the argument you want to make, people? And third, and this is the important one – “But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” This is a Messianic statement – this is bold. This is Christ saying, “I’m the Messiah, and I am here to reign and rule, my Kingdom of redemption and forgiveness is here – and are you really going to be opposing that – because that is a horrible thing to oppose.” And so Jesus lays bare what He is doing – He is the stronger man who comes into this world to beat down Satan and wrest fallen creation back from him, wrest you and I from the kingdom of Satan and bring us to the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and His holiness.

Indeed, my friends, this is what Christ accomplished for us in our Baptism – it is what He does to us today through His Word, through His Supper. He comes and brings forgiveness and life and showers it upon us – calls us out of darkness, calls us away from our sins unto a life of love and care. And yet, the excuses still come. And not just from rank and gross unbelievers, not just from the people who have never heard, not just from the people who have been taught lies from their youth – but even from among us, from the Christians who should know better. We make excuses. Need I go over them now? We don’t have the time, for the list is far too long for one sermon. But you know them, at least you know the ones that tempt you. And the thing is – every excuse we make will sort of sound reasonable and okay – until we examine it under the light of the Word of God, and it crumbles. But here is the thing – Satan is going to try to tempt you to minimize the role, minimize the time you spend in Church hearing God’s Word preached, minimize the times when you receive Christ’s Supper, minimize the time you spend studying and pondering the Word of God. And why?

“When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and finding none it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it finds the house swept and put in order. Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there. And the last state of that person is worse than the first.’” This may be one of the more chilling things that Jesus says. But think about it for a moment. Take the person who has always been an unbeliever, who’s never been a Christian. When they are up to no good, at least they're honest about it – at least they admit that they are just out for themselves, that they are just looking out for number one. But what happens to the person who knows better, who knew what is good and right… and then ends up ignoring it and falling away? They’ll be just as wicked and self-centered as the other guy, but what do you hear from them? “Oh, how dare you, I’m a good person!” Won’t even admit their wickedness – and that is being truly depraved. It’s one thing to do bad because you are foolish and think its fun – it’s another thing entirely to do things that are bad and then say that you’re a good little Christian. The worst, the most obstinate people are the ones who used to be faithful, who were put in order… but then stopped paying attention, and just started to go along with the flow of this world, and slipped and slid and became worse and worse while pretending and assuming that everything was just fine. This is what Christ is warning us against here – this is a warning to us today. It is possible for us Christians, for the we who believe, to stumble and fall away into vice and shame and even all the way into utter unbelief, where on the last day we could be those crying Lord, Lord, and who hear, “Depart from Me, I do not know you.” This is a warning against letting our own complacency and self-confidence lead to an utter fall.

So, how is this to be avoided? We hear at the very end of our lesson. “As He said these things, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to Him, ‘Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!’ But He said, ‘Blessed rather are those who hear the Word of God and keep it!’” Now, dear friends in Christ – you need to hear our Lord’s Word’s rightly. Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it. We hear that Word “keep” and suddenly the works righteous preachers are off to the races – oh, you’ve got to do this and that and if you drink or smoke or use playing cards you’re just kicked off the holy bus. Not the point – in fact – not even the right idea. I don’t like going into Greek in the sermon too often – that’s what Bible study, where I have my nice big white board, is for. However – the Word here is “Phulassontes” – which means “guards”, or keeps safe, or protects. The idea here isn’t one of going and doing a giant checklist, but of clinging to the Word, paying attention to it. This is not a call to action, but a call to attention – that we are to be hearers of the Word – those who hear the Word of God and believe it, who continually hear it and remain in it – as opposed to those who hear it, and then end up making excuses and ignoring it and falling off into all sorts of wickedness.

And lest you think I am just making stuff up – that keep doesn’t mean to simply protect and listen to the Word, let me ask you a two questions that all of you over the age of 13 should have down pat. What is the 3rd Commandment? Remember the Sabbath day by KEEPING it holy. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it. Do you see how that works? As Christians we are to hear the Word, we are to treat it as valuable and continually pay attention to it – we are to protect and safeguard our time in the Word. That’s what this is about. And why is this to be our attitude? “Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it.” Because it is in hearing the Word of God, in hearing the Gospel of Christ Jesus, in hearing of His battle against Satan, His victory by His death upon the Cross and the Resurrection, that Satan is defeated in our lives. The Word of God gives to us what it says, what it proclaims – and so when the Word of God proclaims Christ’s victory and forgiveness, it drives Satan away from us and forgives us our sins. Moreover, with the Word of God there is always the Holy Spirit – wherever the Word of God is being proclaimed, there the Holy Spirit is – and when the Word of God enters through your ears, the Holy Spirit enters there as well. And what does that mean? It means you are not left like that empty house, simply waiting to be consumed by wickedness – it means that you are a filled house, filled by God – indeed that you are God’s own temple. Do you see how this works – the way to avoid the fall into self-righteousness is to hear the Word of God. You hear the Word of God which cuts across your excuses and casts them down. You hear the Word of God which pricks your conscience and drives you to confess your sins. And then most wonderfully, you hear the Word of God which brings you Christ Jesus and gives the life and salvation He gives to you – and then you are full, then you are safe, then you are rescued out of Satan’s Kingdom and rejoice knowing that you are in the Kingdom of Christ.

And so dear friends, be wary of the appealing excuses to avoid the Word of God that Satan will throw your way – for the old evil foe knows that while he is stronger than you and can overpower you, he cannot overpower Christ and His Word. As such the devil will try to convince you to separate yourself from Christ and His Word. Instead, keep His Word, hold fast to it, safeguard it in your life – for in the Word you are given Christ Jesus, the source of life and salvation. Christ has defeated Satan, and by the continual and constant and repeated proclamation of His Word and by the His holy Supper, He beats down and defeats Satan in your own life. God make us to be partakers in His victory. In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

Monday, March 13, 2017

Lent 2 Sermon

Lent 2 – March 11th and 12th, 2017 – Matthew 15:21-28

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
One of the great myths of society today is that we as a people have advanced, have evolved, have become better over the course of time – that we in our ever expanding wisdom know so much more than our pathetic forefathers did. This is the myth of the modern world, that we are modern, that we are improving more and more and ever better and better. As a theologian and a historian, I'd say that we are no better morally than our grandfathers or our ancestors of 500 years ago, or even the folks 2000 years ago. I’m not going to say that we are getting worse all the time either – rather this. Sinful fallen people remain sinful fallen people, and the temptations we have faced since the days of Adam and Eve are the same ones which we face today.

That is why we can understand the dangers shown in our Gospel text today; that is why the same lessons apply to us. Two contrasting approaches to life are shown to us today in this text. On the one hand we see people living life according to the world’s standards, judging by what the world sees as appropriate, good, and right – and on the other hand we see a person who lives by faith, trusting that God will do what is good, right, and salutary. These are the two options in the text, and they are the same two options that we ourselves see, that we struggle with to this day. Do we live thinking like the world, accommodating our sins, or do we instead in faith determinedly cling to Christ?

And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Jesus had been having a go around with the Pharisees and the Scribes prior to our reading – the Pharisees who thought that they were better than others because they kept their unique customs and traditions, the Scribes who would honor God with their lips but despise Him in their hearts. And Jesus seemingly takes a break from having to deal with the Scribes and Pharisees, and He heads north to the coast – to a foreign land. His disciples follow Jesus to this neighboring country, and then we have this most amazing pair of examples laid out for us.

And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” A Canaanite woman? Behold how the gospel has spread! Even in this foreign land, this woman has heard the Word of God proclaimed! She knows who Jesus is. And did you hear her – she calls Him Lord, she acknowledges Him as God. She calls Him Son of David – she acknowledges Him as the promised Messiah, David’s Greater Son – even though she is a foreigner. Think on that – Son of David – even though she is not a Jew, even though she has no pipe dreams of a Jewish kingdom. In fact, an earthly Jewish kingdom would probably be bad for her, as the Canaanite people were viewed as little more than dogs by the Jews in Christ’s day. But she has heard, and by that Word she was brought to faith, and in faith she calls out for mercy.

Dear friends, there is nothing more beautiful, more wondrous than a person in faith calling out to God for mercy. She gets it – she understands – she knows her need for the Savior, and she knows who that Savior is. This is the happy ending, the happy conclusion, the happy faith that we pray that would be given to all people throughout the world. But as always, sin can get in the way. And we see this come up. Note what Jesus does at first – But He did not answer her a word. At first Jesus doesn’t say anything. Now, at this point, many preachers, many more fine than me, will begin looking at this text as focusing on the need for a patient faith, for us to remember that God works on His own time table and not ours – that faith trusts that Christ will act in our best interests when He deems it best for us. All of this is true. We see this truth demonstrated often – we see it in the 10 lepers who head towards town and only as they are walking are they healed. We see it again and again in the Scriptures – faith waits upon God, even when it seems God is silent. But with this text, there is an interesting twist – when Jesus is silent, we hear the disciples fail.

And His disciples came and begged Him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying after us.” They came and begged. . . they begged. Send her away. Get rid of her – she is annoying us. Two prayers are set forth before Christ – one by this foreign woman who calls out for mercy, the other the haughty prayers of the disciples to do away with this woman. Mercy versus contempt. This prayer of the disciples is vile and gross and wicked and evil. Whereas they should have been rejoicing, whereas they should have glorified God that even amongst the people of Tyre and Sidon, the ancient enemies of Israel, their Lord and Master was acknowledged and believed in, they don’t. And they fail. Instead of praying for mercy, instead of praise, they show forth hatred and disdain. And it wasn’t even as though she was complaining about something small and petty – none of her dresses fit right anymore or too much grey in her hair. No, it’s a demon. She wants help against a demon. Still, the disciples would turn her away. They would rather let a demon run rampant then have this poor woman aided.

Why? Why did the disciples show such disdain? The reason is simple. Instead of thinking like Christians, instead of viewing things in terms of faith, they were thinking like typical people of the world, and following the world they fail. If you were born and raised a Jew at that time period, you would be born and raised to view Canaanites, and especially Canaanite women with utter contempt. The disciples were thinking like people of the world, not as people of faith. Just like we often think like people of the world and not as people of faith. Just like we so often put people into boxes, caterogize them and write them off – whether it's race or politics or identity or income – we can be so tempted to simply hate folks in order to feel better about ourselves. Choose your side and hate the other guy. And it's lousy. Actually, it's more than lousy – it's flat out evil and wicked.

Our Lord wants to contrast the difference between the hate of the world and the life of faith – He wants to show the disciples and us today how radically different the life of faith is from the attitudes of the world. And so, He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Note – He answered the disciples. Fine, you disciples wish to think you are high and mighty – so be it. See, alright, is this the type of God you want? Cold and haughty to others? Then since you think she’s beneath me, you deal with her. But the woman persists. But she came and knelt before Him, saying, “Lord, help me.” And He answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” There, another answer of harshness, this time to the woman, almost like one kid at school picking on another to fit in – is that what you wanted disciples? And a cruel response at that – Jesus basically called her a female dog, you know what He called her. Is that the type of God you wish for, o Disciples?

But this woman, this faithful, faithful woman, she knows and recognizes the One True God as He is. Our God is not a God of our petty hatreds but a God of steadfast love and mercy. She knows that He will show mercy. She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Yes, Lord. What powerful words of faith. Yes, I agree. Yes, Lord, what you have said is true. I am a dog, I am worthy of nothing, nothing of which I ask of you. There is no good in me that I should have rights to demand anything of You. But you are the Master, and I know that when I hang around Your table crumbs will fall to me, and I will be satisfied by Your generosity. You are the God of undying love, and You will show love even to unworthy me. And Jesus confirms for us that this is the right answer, that this woman demonstrates our faith, for He answers her saying, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly. Jesus recognizes and commends her faith – and puts the disciples to shame.

This lent, we are focused once again on Repentance, for repentance is the life of faith. Repentance beats down everything that would distract us from Christ’s Mercy. This woman’s repentance was clear – she was not focused on the prejudices of the world, for the Canaanites were no fans of the Jews – she was not focused on her pride, but rather in faith she confessed her sin and lack, her unworthiness. Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table. Faith turned away from all these things and turned her to Christ alone, faith sought from Him mercy and salvation apart from any works she might do. And Christ delivers. Even over and against the powers of a demon, Christ delivers. Of course Christ will cast out this demon, He is here to wreck havoc and chaos amongst Satan’s kingdom. This is the battle He wages all this Lent, this is the battle that reaches its climax on Good Friday. And throughout this season we are called to repentance – the Word turns our eyes away from our sinful and selfish desires, from our hatreds and petty squabbles and makes us to see with the repentant eyes of faith, to behold our Lord win us freedom from our sin. When we look in faith, we will with repentant hearts confess our sins and call out to Christ for mercy, and then we will behold nothing but Christ, we will be as Paul, determined to know nothing but Christ and Him Crucified – for Christ is merciful, and He is determined to give you the gifts of life and salvation which He wins for you by His death upon the Cross. And this He does for you without fail. In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Lent 1 Sermon

Lent 1 – March 4th and 5th, 2017 – Matthew 4:1-11

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
The Wilderness. We don't hear that word like people in the first Century did. We're Americans, and part of our myths and legends are romanticizing the Wilderness. Lewis and Clark are our heroes – we have Westerns – go west young man, head on out there and tame a rugged land. That's what we tend to think of when we think of wilderness – just a place that we haven't tamed with civilization yet – give us a few years and there will be paved roads with a gas station on every corner.

That's not what folks in Jesus' day thought of when they thought of the wilderness. The wilderness was that desert area beyond the Jordan, and if you went there, you went there to die. You weren't going to be building, you weren't going to be enjoying things – you went there to die. There would be thirst and hunger and danger from wild animals. The wilderness was the place of dying. And the Jewish people of Jesus' day knew that all the more – the children of Israel had spent 40 years in the wilderness because of their disobedience, 40 years where all the adults who refused to enter the promised land died, 40 years where they were sustained only by miracles – manna from heaven, water from a rock, clothing that miraculously didn't wear out. The wilderness is death, the wilderness is punishment for sin.

Jesus goes to the wilderness to face down death, to take up the punishment for sin. That is what verse one of our text is driving at. “Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” Then – immediately after His baptism, immediately after Jesus is joined to us by being baptized in the Jordan – He goes out the wrong way. Instead of heading west back towards Judea, He heads east, across the Jordan, off to the Wilderness. Of course He does. Just as your baptism joined you to Christ, where you receive all of His righteousness, His life, His love – so to Christ's baptism joined Him to you – and He took up all your sin, all your wretchedness. The wages of sin is death. The disobedient were left to linger in the wilderness. And so, led by the Spirit, taking up your sin, Jesus heads to the wilderness. He takes your place, the place of all the Israelites, the place of all of humanity. And Jesus goes to that place of shame and suffering and danger and defeat – and he goes to be tempted by the devil.

Being tempted by the devil is the story of human history. Of course we can say that biblically – an option for the old testament reading today is Genesis 3, the fall, the temptation by Satan. Indeed, throughout the scriptures, every sin plays off of temptation somehow. But more than that – on every page of every history book, in the events of our own lives, temptation is there, always there. The urge, the desire to do that which is wrong – the desire say no to God when He tells us to love God, love our neighbor. The temptation to do what we want, to listen to our flesh, to say “to hell with everyone else, I'm doing what I think is best for me” neither realizing nor caring that this attitude is in fact walking the road to hell yourself. That's temptation. And you will be tempted this week. This day. You probably have temptations of thought kicking around you right now. This is what life after the fall has become for us – constantly hounded by sin, weakened and beaten down by a harsh world, by bodies that fail us.

And this is where Christ comes. When we confess in the Creed that Jesus “was made man” this is what we are talking about – not simply that He took on a human body – but He was made man, made like we are, with a body that had our frailties, living not the life of some sort of superman, but stepping right into the middle of the same sort of mess that we are in. And so, for us men and for our salvation, He came down from heaven and stepped right into the wilderness of our sin and death and jumped smack dab into the middle of temptation. But wait, there's more. “And after fasting forty days and forty nights, He was hungry.” Jesus doesn't prepare for the temptation like an athlete getting ready for a marathon – He doesn't carefully balance carbs and proteins and check His electrolyte levels. No – He fasts. Fasting in the Scriptures is the demonstration of sorrow over sin and death. And Jesus takes up our sin, and He is sorrowful, He fasts, He prays. That's His reaction to sin, to our sin. And then, when He is weak, weaker than most of us can imagine – only then do the temptations start.

“And the tempter came and said, 'If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.'” You're the Son of God, you don't deserve this! Why, You've got power Jesus! Go on, feed Yourself. So my friends, what's the temptation here? What's so bad, so wrong about this? To understand, listen to Jesus's response. “It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every Word that comes from the mouth of God.'” On the one level this is a statement about trust in God – that we rely upon God to provide for us, we don't run around trusting in ourselves. Moreover, it reminds us that our hungers, our wants and desires don't determine what is right and wrong, but God and His Word do. But in reality, it's so much more wondrous than that. Jesus isn't in that wilderness for His own good. He was led there by the Spirit for your salvation – and the only way You will live isn't by filling your belly – you can do that all the days of your life and you'll still die. Fasting isn't the problem. No, the only way you will live, will have eternal and everlasting life is by the Word of God taking on Human flesh and defeating Satan for you and dying for you and rising for you. Jesus has not come to satisfy Himself – He has come to make satisfaction for sin and win you Salvation. The warrior doesn't fight to make himself comfortable, He fights to slay the giant. And part of Jesus's victory is going through this Wilderness without grumbling, without complaint, without focusing on what His belly wants.

Satan attacks again. “Then the devil took Him to the holy city and set Him upon 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 your up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.”'” Why be in the wilderness fighting against sin and death Jesus – You could just take the holy land, the holy city by storm. You're the Son of God – these folks should be going gaga over You – tell you what – here we are at the temple, all the religious types are here – toss Yourself off, the angels will come, there will be laud and praise and glory. That's the way a God should be treated, isn't it? Yet Jesus says, “Again, it is written, 'You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.'” Yes, simply this means don't go about tempting God. “If you really loved me you'd catch me from falling, you'd buy me a pony” - that doesn't fly with God. But more than that – don't put God to the test. The very first temptation in Eden was “you will be like God.” No Satan, you don't get to tell me what it's like to be God, how God should act, how God should be treated. I'm not overly interested in glory or praise right now – being God is this: winning for fallen man salvation – something you'd never understand. Now, get that weak-sauce glory temptation out of here.

And now Satan knows that Jesus is here, and that Jesus is here to fight. So Satan sues for peace, tries to reach a bargain. “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.'” They are mine, Jesus – they are fast bound in Satan's chains, captive to sin and death – that was the price of sin. But we don't need to fight – You can have them, do with them what you wish – You can love Your neighbor to Your heart's content – just leave some room for me. Do it my way – let me be your God – cause that's what Satan's always wanted. To be like God. Satan tempted us with what he himself wanted. And Jesus will have none of it. “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, 'You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve.'” And Jesus does it. Even weakened, He doesn't bend, He doesn't break, He doesn't give into sin. And He will go forth through the Gospel and fight and beat down Satan, He will go to win you your salvation.

Of course, if we treat the temptation of our Lord as just a past event, as just a prelude to Lent, we miss the point. Jesus was tempted immediately after He was baptized, immediately after He joined Himself to you in your baptism. This is a reality right now – this is Hebrews: For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Jesus sympathizes, when you feel something He feels it too – because He is joined to you, you are part of His own Body. He is tempted as you are, for when you are tempted in reality Satan is tempting Christ again. And while you and I might give into temptation, Christ Jesus never does. When we fail, Christ immediately takes up that failure and says, “I've crucified it – fear not, you are still My own.” And when we stand – well, in reality it is Christ our Lord who stands in us and for us and through us. This is the truth, the reality of you who are as a Baptized child of God, this is what Paul is talking about when he says in Galatians: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”

My friends, this Lent as we see Christ beat down sin and Satan, as we see Him tangle with death – this isn't just stuff in the past. This is the reality of your life, who you are – for you are with Christ and He is with you. You are baptized, washed in water and the Word – you are never merely a desert, for Christ is with you, and He has given you the living water, and wells of water spring up from within you. Satan will tempt you, he will distraction you with wants and passions and pleasures, he will try to tell you what your life really ought to be like, he will try to make you think you ought to be God. But it is all rubbish – you have more already that anything Satan could peddle. You are bound to Christ, you are an heir already of the Kingdom of heaven and eternal life. We will watch and wonder again this Lent as He wins the Victory over sin and death and the devil – but this victory is already yours. You are baptized into Christ. In the Name of Christ the Crucified +