Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

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Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, February 10, 2008

First Sunday in Lent

The Divine Service at Epiphany was cancelled this morning due to weather. The following is the sermon that would have been preached.

First Sunday in Lent (A)
February 10, 2008
Text: Matt. 4:1-11

Wherever our Lord goes and whatever our Lord does, He does for us and for our salvation. He does so as our Brother, united with our flesh by His blessed incarnation and His holy nativity. He is baptized by John in the Jordan, thus sanctifying all baptismal waters. He is baptized into us, into our sin, our unrighteousness, and our death, that we might be baptized into His holiness, His righteousness, and His life. He is inseparably united to us, and we to Him. He is the new and greater Adam, the head of the new creation.

So it is that where our first father, Adam, failed, bringing sin and death into the world, and where we have failed ever since, our Lord goes into battle for us, in our place, for our salvation. He is led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil (Matt. 4:1). He faces our old wily foe head on. He wins the victory for us, resisting the temptation of that sly serpent. And He sets the pattern for our own Christian life as we daily battle against the sinister lies of the evil one.

Our Lord was hungry. He fasted. We Lutherans don’t fast enough. Lent is a good time to fast in preparation for the Feast of Easter. Clearly our Lord Jesus fasted and even commended it as a good practice, reminding us that unlike the Pharisees, we should not make a show of our fasting, but let it be a spiritual exercise between us and God. He says, “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (6:16-18; ESV). “Fasting and bodily preparation are certainly fine outward training,” says Luther in the Small Catechism with regard to preparation for the Lord’s Supper. Fasting is a form of outward discipline, a crucifying of the old sinful flesh, bringing our bodies into subjection to our spirits and to the Holy Spirit, and focusing our minds on the Word of God and prayer. Jesus needed that focus as the Holy Spirit led Him out into the wilderness to be tempted, for He was about to engage in serious spiritual battle with the devil.

Notice that the Spirit Himself led Jesus out to be tempted. It is not that the Spirit was the cause of the temptation. God tempts no one. The devil does the tempting. But God does allow us to go through times of trial and temptation, in order to refine our faith and lead us to cast ourselves on the mercy of God, mortify the flesh, rely on the Word of God and the precious Sacraments for strength, and pray in faith for deliverance. That’s what we do whenever we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “lead us not into temptation.” In this case, the Spirit led Jesus to be tempted so that He could square off with humanity’s greatest enemy, Satan, who is a real and present enemy, prowling around like a roaring lion, seeking to devour us (1 Peter 5:8).

The devil preys upon our weaknesses. He is cunning and devious. Though he is not all-knowing (for though he is a powerful angel, he is not omniscient, as God is), the devil knows us too well. Jesus was hungry, for He had been fasting. “(T)he tempter came and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread’” (Matt. 4:3). Notice the devil’s tactic. He not only tempts Jesus to break the fast and look to the needs of the flesh. This is not enough for the father of lies. He also tries to introduce doubt as to whether Jesus really is the Son of God. “If you are the Son of God…” whispers Satan into Jesus’ ear. “If you’re really the Son of God, prove it. Start acting like it. Command these stones to become bread. A true Son of God could do infinitely more if He wanted to. And anyway, if God is really your Father, He really ought to take better care of you than this. Imagine, driving His Son into the wilderness to starve!”

How does Jesus respond to the devil’s assaults? You know the answer. And it is the answer for every single temptation of Satan you ever have to face in your daily battles with the spiritual forces of this present darkness. Jesus answers the devil with the Word of God. “But he answered, ‘It is written, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God”’” (v. 4). Have you ever been tempted by the devil to believe that God doesn’t really love you? That you’re not really His own beloved child? Have you ever been tempted to believe that God has been unfair and even unloving to you, depriving you of bread and driving you out into the spiritual wilderness? This is the voice of that great deceiver, the devil. He is trying to tempt you in the same way he tempted Jesus. Resist him, firm in your faith, and in the knowledge of the Holy Scriptures. Do what Jesus did. Quote the Word back to Satan. For man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God. The Word is your daily bread and your lifeline, the sword of the Spirit, your sure defense against the attacks of the devil, the world, and your own sinful flesh.

Twice more the devil sought to tempt our Lord to rebel against God and doubt His divine Sonship. In each, case, our Lord resisted by speaking the Word. But remember, the devil and his evil angels also know the Word of God, and will always seek to misquote it and use it against us. Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness is no exception. Satan took Jesus to Jerusalem and set Him on the pinnacle of the temple and said, “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’” (v. 6). Of course, the devil is right. God did say these things specifically about Jesus in His Word. But how easy it is to make the Bible say things it doesn’t say when the Word is quoted out of context. This is why false doctrine is so dangerous and rears its head so often in the Holy Christian Church. In this case the devil fails to mention the rest of the verse, where the Psalmist declares, “For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways” (Ps. 91:11; emphasis added). The ways of the Lord Jesus are only those in accordance with the will of the Father. And the will of the Father is as Jesus reminded the devil, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test” (Matt. 4:7). Once again, Jesus was victorious over the devil by making God’s Word His defense.

But the devil gave it one last try. He took Jesus to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world. His last temptation struck at the very heart of the First Commandment: “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me” (v. 9). Now of course, the devil doesn’t have the authority to make good on his promise. He’s lying! He’s the father of lies! The truth has never been a concern of his. And as the Son of God, Jesus already possesses these kingdoms, though not yet in a visible way. But beneath this temptation is the assertion that there is perhaps an easier way for Jesus to reclaim the world for Himself. Perhaps the cross is unnecessary. It would be silly for Jesus to suffer and die for the life of the world when the devil could easily hand Him the kingdoms of the world on a silver platter. Satan is tempting Jesus to forsake the cross and take the glory road. And our very salvation is in the balance. Thank God, Jesus once again counters Satan’s attack with the Word, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve” (v. 10), which is the same as to say, “You shall have no other gods before me. What does this mean? We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.”

Beloved in the Lord, the devil could not win against our Savior, Jesus. In the face of God’s holy Word, the devil must flee. And where one has gone through times of trial and testing there is also strength from our God and His ministering spirits. “Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him” (v. 11). What is true for Jesus is also true for you, for Jesus was baptized into you, and you have been baptized into Him. All that He does He does for you and for your salvation. He resists temptation and is victorious for you and for your salvation, in your place, so that His victory over the devil is your own. He has given you a pattern for resisting the devil in your own Christian life, armed with the Word of God. And where the devil has been successful in tempting you, well, Jesus has taken care of that, too. He died for you, and His death on the cross is made your own in Holy Baptism. Likewise His resurrection from the dead. Everything that belongs to Jesus, everything that He has done and all His righteousness before the Father is your own in Holy Baptism. And He gives you power, power to resist the temptations devil, power to resist the allurements of the world, power to resist the base desires of your own fallen flesh, power to live each day in His grace, in faith as a child of God. In other words, not only does He justify you, pronouncing you righteous, He also sanctifies you, makes you the holy one He has declared you to be. All that went wrong with Adam is made right in Jesus Christ. “If, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:17). Thanks be to God! In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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