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 13, 2011

First Sunday in Lent

First Sunday in Lent (A)
March 13, 2011
Text: Matt. 4:1-11

Beloved in the Lord, you are marked men and women. You’re not even aware of the great spiritual danger you are in at every moment. As much as you may wish to pretend otherwise, and as much as he may try to convince you otherwise, there is a devil. His name is Satan, and he is the leader of the fallen angels. There are demons who desire nothing else but to do you harm. There are spiritual powers of darkness and they aim for your death and damnation. I’m not saying this to scare you, but ignorance of the danger is neither helpful nor salutary. You are marked men and women. Ever since your Baptism into Christ, you have a target on your back. Satan has you in his sights. It torments him to no end that Jesus has redeemed you for Himself. Satan wants you back. Luther said that when we’re baptized, there is now around our neck “a mighty, lifelong enemy.”[1] Because in Baptism you are ripped from the devil’s possession and made God’s own child. This makes the devil very angry.

So he tempts you to sin. He tempts you to doubt. He tempts you to forsake the faith given to you by God in your Baptism into Christ. And the thing that you have to understand is that you are absolutely helpless on your own in the face of the devil’s attacks. You have no power or strength to resist him. The devil is stronger than the whole world. Don’t ever underestimate him. Of yourself, you are utterly helpless before him. The devil’s tricks are too strong for you, and in your frailty, you are too willing to believe his lies. Note how he works. He introduces doubt about God’s Word: “Did God actually say…?” (Gen. 3:1; ESV). He introduces doubt by twisting God’s declarations into conditional statements. At Jesus’ Baptism (and again at His transfiguration), the Father declared, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17; cf. 17:5). In His temptation in the wilderness the devil says, “If you are the Son of God…” (4:3, 6; emphasis added). The devil, who is a better theologian than you and I, who knows the Bible better than you and I, twists the Word of God toward his own ends. The devil’s version of God’s Word is always just close enough to God’s actual Word that it sounds good to our fallen and itching ears. In the case of Jesus, he rips God’s Word out of its context. He tempts Jesus to throw Himself off of the pinnacle of the temple, even quoting Scripture, Psalm 91, “He will command his angels concerning you,” and “On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone” (Matt. 4:6; Ps. 91:11-12). Of course, the devil leaves out the rest of the Psalm, which shows the reason the Father sends the angels to protect Jesus. “Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him” (Ps. 91:14). Jesus’ obedience to the Father in completing the sin-atoning work for which He was sent, the cross, by which He would “trample underfoot” the “young lion and the serpent” (v. 13), is the reason the Father protects Him. Jesus must not die before the appointed time for His sacrifice.

A close examination of our Old Testament lesson (Gen. 3:1-21) reveals that Satan works in the same twisted way upon our first parents. They eat because the devil has convinced them that God is wrong, that God is the liar, and that God is holding out on them. But whereas Adam and Eve succumbed to the temptation, fell into sin, and took their whole posterity with them, the second Adam, our Lord Jesus Christ, did not succumb. He did not fall. Where Adam failed, and so brought sin and death into the world, our Lord Jesus was victorious, thus bringing righteousness and life (Rom. 5). You and I cannot fight against Satan and win. But the LORD of Hosts fights for us. YHWH Himself comes to our aid. He comes in the flesh. The reason Jesus is sent out into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil is so that He can undo what Adam did. He is sent out to successfully resist the temptation on Adam’s behalf and our behalf. Jesus is the promised Son of the woman come to crush the serpent’s head (Gen. 3:15). He will crush it by being crushed on the cross. But here He is already battling the old evil foe on our behalf. And He is wins. He wins for us. He wins in our place. “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). Jesus knows our weakness. Jesus knows what it means to be tempted. Jesus knows the crafts and assaults of the evil one. But the difference between Jesus and us is that where we have been defeated, He wins the victory. And His victory counts for you. Baptized into Christ, His victory is your victory.

Therefore having now won the victory over temptation for you, He lends His aid for winning the victory over temptation in you. What was done for your justification, for making you righteous, namely, Jesus’ successful resistance against the devil’s temptation, is now applied to your sanctification, God making you holy, so that you actually begin to resist sin and do holy things in your Christian life, so that you yourself, with the help and by the grace of God, successfully combat temptation. How do you do this? How do you resist temptation? There is only one way. Be in Christ. Outside of Christ, it is hopeless. Remain in Christ. Abide in Christ. And how do you do that? Make frequent use of the means of grace, the Word and the Sacraments. That means that you should be in the Word every day, reading and meditating upon the Holy Scriptures. That means that you daily remember and return to your Baptism, knowing that in the font your sins are washed away, your old sinful nature is drowned and you are raised out of the water as a new creation in Christ Jesus. That means that you do not make a habit of absenting yourself from the weekly Divine Service, but you come here to be absolved of your sins, to hear and digest the Scripture readings and the sermon, to receive the life-giving and strengthening body and blood of our Lord Jesus in His Supper, to confess the faith to and with one another in liturgy and song, to encourage one another by the mutual conversation and consolation of your brothers and sisters in Christ. You resist with prayer, calling upon the Lord in every trouble, in faith that He will deliver you (Ps. 50:15). And to be sure, you resist the devil by means of the Word, recalling Bible passages that will strengthen you to resist, but always remembering again that you will never out-quote or out-argue the devil. So what it means first and foremost to resist the devil by means of the Word is that you be in that Word, and so commune with your Lord Jesus Christ who has won the victory. You cannot keep yourself safe from the devil, but Jesus can, and Jesus does.

And He outfits you for spiritual warfare with the whole armor of God (Eph. 6). God puts His armor on you so that you may be able to stand against the wicked schemes of the devil. He fastens upon you the belt of truth, the breastplate of Christ’s own righteousness which has been credited to your account, shoes which are the readiness of the Gospel of peace. He covers you with the shield of faith so that you can extinguish the flaming darts of the devil’s temptations. He places the helmet of salvation upon your head, and finally, He gives you your one offensive weapon, the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. Being thus outfitted, do battle. Resist the devil. And pray. Pray at all times. Pray the Lord’s Prayer, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” Pray for yourself. Pray for your fellow Christians. Pray for all people. Pray for the ministry of the Word, which is a full frontal assault on the devil and his kingdom. Pray in full faith, even in the midst of persecution, even when all seems hopeless. Because the Lord will answer. He has promised it. He cannot lie.

And when you do fall, beloved, as will happen in this fallen flesh… When the devil comes to you to accuse you, to bring to mind your sin and your shame, to drag you into the death and hell that you do, indeed, rightly deserve, remember this: The devil has not won. Christ is the victor. He has claimed you for Himself. He has purchased you with His blood. He has covered your sins, paid the penalty for your sins, buried your sins forever in His tomb. You are forgiven, set free. And you have eternal life with your Lord. This is why you resist temptation. Because you are the Lord’s. And He has defeated Satan for you. Now not even the devil himself can rip you from His hands. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] Baptismal Booklet, Kolb/Wengert, p. 372.

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