Cruce Tectum

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

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Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, March 01, 2009

First Sunday in Lent

First Sunday in Lent (B)
March 1, 2009
Text: James 1:12-18; Mark 1:9-15

Immediately after Jesus is baptized by John in the Jordan, He is driven by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted. Immediately after His Baptism, Jesus is assaulted by the devil. The devil seeks to thwart His divine, saving mission. For forty days, Jesus is tempted. He does not eat. He has no friends to keep Him company. He is in constant peril, being surrounded by the wild animals. And the devil is ever present. The devil tempts our Lord Jesus with bread, fame, and power. Now of course, as God, Jesus cannot be tempted. But that is why He had to become Man. He had to take our place. As Man, Jesus is subject to every temptation with which the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh attack and assault us. And during His forty days in the wilderness, the temptation is intensely concentrated beyond what you or I could even begin to bear. Jesus is tempted in the place of all humanity to do what humanity could never do. Jesus is tempted to do what Adam did not do. Jesus is tempted that He might resist the temptation, that He might win a decisive victory over Satan, and so as our second Adam, the new head of all humanity, set right what Adam messed up for all of us when he ate the forbidden fruit. “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous” (Rom. 5:18-19; ESV). “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:22).

Jesus represents all humanity when He is tempted in the wilderness. He represents Adam and Eve. He represents you and me. Immediately after Jesus is baptized, He is tempted by the devil. And isn’t this a picture of our baptismal life? For the devil cannot leave the baptized alone. He would have no one be saved. He cannot stand it when a child of God is made by water and the Word. Even so I tell you there is much cursing in hell over one sinner who repents. Thus when we are baptized into Christ, we can expect no rest from the devil and his demons. In league with the world and with our own sinful flesh, our “Old Adam” as we call it, the devil seeks by means of temptation, and then accusation, to destroy the baptized, to rob us of our faith in Jesus Christ and bring us down with him into hell. In his “Baptismal Booklet,” Martin Luther writes of the seriousness with which we, and especially those who serve as baptismal sponsors, ought to take this threat of the devil over against the baptized:
"Therefore, you have to realize that it is no joke at all to take action against the
devil and not only to drive him away from the little child but also to hang around
the child’s neck such a mighty, lifelong enemy. Thus it is extremely necessary to
stand by the poor child with all your heart and with a strong faith and to plead with
great devotion that God, in accordance with these prayers, would not only free the
child from the devil’s power but also strengthen the child, so that the child might
resist him valiantly in life and in death. I fear that people turn out so badly after
baptism because we have dealt with them in such a cold and casual way and have
prayed for them at their baptism without any zeal at all."[1]
At our Baptism, as Luther says, we make a lifelong enemy out of the devil. Thus there will be temptation. And temptation will never be easy.

To be tempted is to be allured or enticed to evil. The devil tempts you by making sin and evil look desirable. When the devil tempted Eve to eat the forbidden fruit, he led her to believe 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,” and so “she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate” (Gen. 3:6). Notice here that while the devil is active in the tempting, it is the desire within us that produces the temptation and the acting upon that temptation. This is what St. James says in our epistle lesson when explaining how temptation works. He writes, “each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (James 1:14-15). The point St. James is making is that ultimately we have no one to blame but ourselves when we give in to temptation. The sinful desire or temptation grows roots in our very own flesh and gives birth to actual sins, which when they get a hold of us lead to death, perhaps physical death, but certainly spiritual death, and finally, without repentance, eternal death. We only have ourselves to blame for this.

But we always want to blame others for the bad things we do, or our failure to do the things we should. We always want to blame others for our actual sins. “It’s because I had a hard childhood. It’s my parents’ fault.” Or, “I’m really the victim here. If so and so wouldn’t have done such and such, then none of this would have happened.” Besides, sinning comes so naturally. It feels good. And we come programmed to sin. We should always follow our hearts, after all, right? At least that’s what our culture would have us believe. God made us this way, we think, which becomes the excuse for all manner of sin and vice. “God made me to lust after women.” “God made me homosexual.” “God made me covetous.” “God made me glutonous.” Of course, God didn’t make you any of these things. This is really just a manifestation of the disease of original sin, inherited from Adam, which gives birth to all actual sins. But we always want to blame anyone but ourselves for our sin, and primarily we want to blame God. “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me the fruit of the tree, and I ate” (Gen. 3:12).

But “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one” (James 1:13). The devil tempts. This sinful world tempts. And your own sinful flesh alone is to blame when you fall into temptation. God does not tempt to evil. Repent of your weakness. Repent of your desire to blame anyone but yourself. And know this: Not only does God tempt no one to evil; He alone can deliver you from temptation. That is why you pray, “Lead us not into temptation,” in the Lord’s Prayer. “God tempts no one. We pray in this petition that God would guard and keep us so that the devil, the world, and our sinful nature may not deceive us or mislead us into false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice. Although we are attacked by these things, we pray that we may finally overcome them and win the victory.”[2]

Our Lord Jesus Christ faced the temptation of the devil, the worst the devil could throw at Him, and our Lord was victorious. He was victorious in our place. He stood in for us in the battle with Satan. “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life” (v. 12), writes St. James, and he’s talking about Jesus here. He’s also talking about you and me because we are in Christ Jesus. Because we are baptized into Christ, Christ’s righteousness, His victory, is ours, and so we are blessed. Jesus’ victory is yours, dear brothers and sisters. “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” (Heb. 4:15). And indeed, “because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted” (2:18). He is able to help you when you are tempted. Not only has His victory over temptation and Satan been credited to your account, so that when God looks at you He sees only the righteousness of His own dear Son… Not only has Jesus taken upon Himself, into His very body, all your sins and weaknesses, all those times you have given in to temptation, and nailed them to the cross for your forgiveness and salvation… Not only is the proof of Jesus’ victory over temptation, sin, death, and the devil in His bodily resurrection from the dead… Not only is all this so, but so also He helps you in your weakness. He helps you as you struggle with temptation. He does not leave you to face the devil alone, for the devil would obliterate you with one breath. Jesus Christ fights for you. And He gives you His Spirit to fight in you so that you resist temptation and sin. What a great comfort it is, as Paul says, that “no temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Cor. 10:13). You have that promise from God.

Not that any temptation will ever be easy. Not by any means. In this life, there will always be temptation, and in this life, we will often falter. We will often fail. We still struggle with sin. That is why it is so important that we hear the voice of Jesus in His preaching this morning, for after He had faced the temptation of the devil in the wilderness, He went into Galilee “proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:14-15). When you face temptation, and when you give in to temptation, when you sin, know that the Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, therefore, which is to say, turn from your sin, and believe the Gospel, that your sin is covered by Jesus’ blood. You are forgiven and set free. The devil cannot harm you anymore. The Kingdom of God is yours, for the Kingdom is wherever Jesus is with His grace and power, and He is among you today with His grace and power in Word and Sacrament. Here He places the Gospel in your ears and on your tongues. Here He gives you His victory over Satan. This is God’s gift to you in Christ Jesus.

Every good and perfect gift comes from God (James 1:17), including the gift of divine help in times of temptation and Jesus’ victory over temptation. God cannot be tempted. While there may be variation in the sun, moon, and stars, or shadow that blocks their light, this is not so with God who is the Father and Creator of light. His light always shines for you in Christ Jesus. God cannot be tempted to do otherwise. Jesus Christ is the Light of the world, the Light no darkness can overcome. Rather, He has overcome the darkness for you. He has made you His firstfruits, brought forth by His Word, set apart for God (v. 18). And so now He gives you the power to overcome the darkness in your life, or at least make a beginning of overcoming it. He gives you the power to resist sin, to reject temptation, to turn a deaf ear on the devil. And when you sin, He is your Advocate. He forgives you all your sins. You are baptized into Christ. His victory over the devil is your own. “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial”… Blessed is the man who is baptized into Christ, for in Christ Jesus “he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him” (v. 12). Blessed are you, dear Christian, for God loves you, and the crown is all yours. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] Baptismal Booklet, The Small Catechism, in The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, Robert Kolb and Timothy J. Wengert, Eds. (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2000) 372:3-4.
[2] Luther’s Small Catechism (St. Louis: Concordia, 1986).

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