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 21, 2010

First Sunday in Lent

First Sunday in Lent (C)
February 21, 2010
Text: Luke 4:1-13

Beloved in the Lord, this morning we see that “Our Saviour Himself was willing to wrestle with the devil in His temptation in the wilderness, in order that He might overcome him for us and for our salvation, and thus be our faithful Champion in all our conflicts with the tempter.”[1] As our perfect substitute, the Son of God united Himself to our flesh, became our Brother, and so was, as the writer to the Hebrews reminds us, “in every respect… tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15; ESV). It was divinely necessary that our Lord undergo the temptation common to man, and He did so throughout His life. But particularly now, at the beginning of His earthly ministry, immediately after His Baptism, our Lord is led by the Holy Spirit (Mark even says that the Holy Spirit “drove” Him) into the wilderness to undergo a great trial: 40 days (from which we get the 40 days of Lent), exposed to the elements, with no food, at the end of which, when He is tired and hungry and most vulnerable, He is acutely and viciously tempted by Satan. He is tempted to forsake His saving mission, and so leave us in sin and death and hell. He is tempted to doubt the Word of His Father. He is tempted to doubt that He is the Son of God, the Word made flesh. He is tempted to use His power for selfish ends. Our Lord suffers this temptation, goes head to head with the devil in mortal combat, and He is victorious. He does not succumb to the temptation. He does not give in to the devil. He does not fall, as Adam did, and as we do. He is without sin. He is victorious. He defeats temptation for us.

We all suffer temptation. Temptation is enticement to evil. Our Lord is tempted for us, in our place, as our substitute. He stands in for us in the fight against the devil, that He might win the victory for us. He stands in for His people Israel, 40 days in the wilderness being representative of the 40 years that the people of Israel spent wandering in the wilderness, ever tempted and surrendering to idolatry. He stands in for His Church, the new Israel, who wanders in this wilderness of sin, full of sinners, ever under the sinister attacks of Satan. He stands in and He resists, in our place. He is actively obedient to His Father, and in the great exchange whereby Jesus takes our sin upon Himself and pays for it on the cross, and we get His righteousness by Baptism into His death and resurrection, Jesus’ resistance against temptation is credited to our account. We are now pronounced righteous by God, justified, because our Lord Jesus resisted temptation and was victorious in our place. It was divinely necessary that our Lord be severely tempted by the devil, and that He win, so that He can ever be our Champion in the battle against the adversary.

Every temptation, whatever specific sin it may be enticing us to commit, is ultimately a temptation to make the self a god. Thus when Adam and Eve are tempted by the old wily serpent in the Garden of Eden, they are specifically tempted to eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the tree from which God had forbidden them to eat, lest they surely die (Gen. 3). But ultimately the sin to which Satan tempted Adam and Eve was the idolatry of self, the desire to be their own God, to determine their own good and evil, to be the masters of their own destiny. Satan tempted Adam and Eve to believe that God was holding out on them, that they could be just “like” Him, knowing good and evil. And so they ate, and for the first time they truly knew evil. They didn’t simply know about evil, they experienced it. They had sinned, broken God’s loving will, come to immediate spiritual death, begun the process of dying physically, and brought upon themselves the just condemnation of eternal death in hell. Adam and Eve were tempted, and they were not victorious. The devil won the battle in the Garden that day. And ever since humanity has been fallen, utterly corrupt, suffering the terminal disease of sin. For this reason, it was necessary that a new and greater Adam come on the scene and be tempted by the devil. Jesus is that new and greater Adam, the new Head of all humanity. Adam and Eve were cast out of paradise into the wilderness of this fallen creation. Our Lord goes out into the wilderness to be tempted, that He might bring humanity back into Paradise. God had promised Satan in the presence of Adam and Eve: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heal” (Gen. 3:15). In this way Adam and Eve and the rest of us, their children, would be saved from death and hell and restored to the Paradise of God.

And so our Lord goes to battle against the serpent in the wilderness. There are three temptations recorded by the Gospel writers, and each of the three is ultimately of the same nature as that in the Garden of Eden: “Did God really say? Isn’t God holding out on you? Are you really His beloved child? Don’t you think you could do a better job than God?” Each temptation bids Jesus to show that He is the Son of God by an abuse of His divine power. Of course, Jesus is God. He is God in the flesh. But being also fully human and in His state of humiliation, Jesus could be tempted as we are. And were He to succumb to the temptations of the evil one, He would effectually reject His suffering on our behalf, reject His saving mission, reject the cross, and so we would be forever lost. Needless to say, after 40 days of no food, Jesus is hungry. The devil says to Him, “Make bread out of these stones! You can do it. You are the Son of God, aren’t you?” Notice how the devil seeks to lead Jesus to doubt: “If you are the Son of God…” (Luke 4:3; emphasis added). He wants Jesus to doubt God’s Word, to demonstrate His divine powers by changing stones into bread, to satisfy His own selfish hunger, to fill his belly, to reject suffering, to reject obedience to the Father. Just as Adam is tempted with food, so Jesus is tempted with food. It’s the Garden of Eden all over again. But Jesus counters with the Word of God: “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone’” (v. 4). And in this way, by remaining in God's Word, Jesus is victorious.

Again, the devil tempts Him. He shows Jesus all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, a stupendous vision, all the wealth and power of every worldly kingdom, all of which are influenced by Satan. And Satan promises Jesus, “If you’ll just worship me, just pay a little bit of homage to me, I’ll give you all of this. I’ll make you the greatest earthly ruler that ever was. You’ll have everything at your disposal, unlimited wealth, fame, power, and influence. It won’t cost much. Just bow down once.” It is a temptation to be an earthly god. But Jesus’ Kingdom is not of this world. He again answers with the Word of God: “It is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve’” (v. 8). And again, Jesus is victorious.

The devil gives it one last try. Taking Jesus and setting Him up on the highest point of the Temple, the pinnacle, he says, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here” (v. 9). “It’s a test, to see if You really are the Son of God, because if You are, God will not allow You to die, and all in the Temple will see and know that You are the Son of God, and they will all worship You. Your mission will be accomplished. You won’t have to suffer. You won’t have to die on the cross.” And then, in a perverse imitation of Jesus, the devil quotes Scripture: “for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone’” (vv. 10-11; cf. Psalm 91:11-12). “You won’t even hit the ground! You’ll go sailing up into the air for all to see in a glorious display of majesty!” But the devil never quotes Scripture without twisting it. He fails to quote the whole thing. God, according to the verse, commands His angels to guard Jesus, that Jesus might walk “in all your ways” (Ps. 91:11), that Jesus might never transgress God’s commandments. And so also the devil fails to quote the verse immediately following this. The angels bear up Jesus so that he can “tread on the lion and the adder; the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot” (v. 13). The promised Seed of the woman, the Son of Mary, Son of God, comes to crush the serpent’s head. He does so by suffering the mortal snakebite of the cross. It is the only way. The devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour, even to devour our Lord, but Jesus, the Lion of Judah, is mightier. In His obedience to the Father, in His resistance of temptation, in His death on the cross, in His victorious resurrection, He defeats the devil forever. Once again, our Lord resists the temptation with the Word of God: “It is said, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test’” (Luke 4:12). Not only should Jesus not put the Father to the test, the devil should not put his Lord and God to the test. Jesus is the Lord and God of the devil. And with this Word of Jesus, the devil must flee.

Our Lord utterly defeats Satan. He faithfully resists temptation and stands firm in obedience to God. He does this for us, in our place. His victory is our victory. Yet we are still tempted. We are daily tempted by the devil and his demons, along with the world and our own sinful flesh. What are we to do when we are tempted? We are to remember that though we are weak and helpless in the face of the devil’s attacks, Jesus is stronger than the devil, and He has won the victory for us. We resist temptation by taking Jesus’ Word, God’s Word, and throwing it in the face of the devil. “One little Word can fell Him.” That Word is Jesus, the Word incarnate, and His written Word in Scripture. And we pray for help in time of need. We pray: “Lead us not into temptation.” We can pray this confidently, because Jesus was led into temptation in the wilderness for us, in our place, and He was victorious. Temptation actually has great benefit for us. God tempts no one, it is true. But He does allow us to go through temptation for our good. Temptations drive us to Christ. They lead us to despair of ourselves and our own righteousness, works, abilities, etc., and drive us to Christ alone for mercy and help. They drive us to find Christ in the means of grace, His Word, our Baptism, the Sacrament of His body and blood. They drive us to where He has promised to be for us. They drive us to Holy Absolution, for when we fall, when we fail to resist, our Lord is always there to forgive. His blood covers all our sins. Temptations show us that we cannot save ourselves, that of ourselves we are weak, unable to win the victory. Temptations show us that we are, on our own, in fact, dead. We cannot be our own god. We can do nothing outside of Christ. But Christ is our Victor. Christ is our Champion. Christ is our Savior. He is our God! And in Him, we can begin to resist temptation. In Him, we are forgiven, righteous, justified, as if we never sinned. For He is our righteousness. He is our salvation. He is our life. God is not holding out on us. He gives us Christ. And in Christ He brings us back out of the wilderness into Paradise. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] Johann Gerhard, Sacred Meditations (Malone, TX: Repristination, 2000) p. 229.

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