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 09, 2014

First Sunday in Lent

First Sunday in Lent (A)

March 9, 2014
Text: Matt. 4:1-11

            It was, after all, a small thing, wasn’t it?  Just a tiny morsel, a bite of fruit.  Eve really did think it would make her life better.  As the serpent had pointed out, it would open her eyes so that she would know good and evil, determine what is good and what is evil for herself, and so become like God.  And who wouldn’t want to be like God?  Adam… well, if he could become like God AND please his wife in the process, why not?  Just a little bite of fruit that is pleasing to the eye and good for food.  God couldn’t be against that, could He?  And the serpent had made another good point: “Did God actually say…” (Gen. 3:1; ESV)?  Where does the letter of the Law meet the spirit of the Law?  If God had all the information we have, what would He actually want us to do?  And if He would withhold this thing from us, this object of our desire, then is His Law really good, anyway?  Is God really good?  Who is to say?  And that is the war that rages in your heart, dear Christian, every time the tempter and his minions come knocking, whispering their seductive words of doubt and unbelief into your all-too-willing ears and minds and souls.  Did God really say…?  Does God really mean…?  Who does God think He is, anyway? 
            It worked on our first parents, and now it’s in our genes, so to speak, a defect, a corruption so deep it infects every one of us to our very core: original sin we call it in theology, rebellion against God.  It is a disposition, a disease with which are born, the mortal illness of unbelief, spiritual blindness, spiritual death, and hatred of God.  Because we’d rather be our own gods.  We worship ourselves.  We serve ourselves.  It is even a commonly accepted cultural proverb taught to every school child: Believe in yourself!  Be true to yourself!  Follow your heart!  You know what that is?  Idolatry.  But we’re blind to it.  The devil has us bamboozled.  We’ve totally bought into the lie.  And the serpent has sold us a false set of goods.  For now we call evil good, and good evil.  We call sin virtue, and virtue sin.  We call false doctrine tolerance, and are intolerant of the truth.  We’ve been deceived and we don’t even know it.  We’re in slavery and we think we are free.  We look upon freedom from sin as slavery.  It is not simply that we cannot free ourselves from the cold grasp of the evil one, from death, from sin… It’s that we don’t want to!  For so deeply has the corruption taken hold of our nature, our will is bound in spiritual matters.  That’s what it means to be spiritually dead.  You can do nothing about it.  Like a corpse laying on the floor, you can do nothing to make yourself come alive.
            Jesus has to do it.  That’s the only way.  Jesus has to come and undo all that Adam has done and all that you and I have done.  Jesus has to come into our human nature, into our flesh, and undo the corruption, the sin, the death, the rebellion against God.  So that’s what He does.  The Son of God becomes a man, flesh of our flesh, born of the Virgin Mary.  He comes to St. John in the River Jordan and is baptized into us, into our sin, becoming our stand in.  And then immediately the Spirit drives Him out into the wilderness to do battle with the old evil foe.  The devil uses the same tactics with Jesus that he used with Adam and Eve, that he uses with us.  “Did God really say…?  Jesus, did God really say of you, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased’ (Matt. 3:17)?  Well, then, let’s prove it.  ‘If you are the Son of God…’ (4:3; emphasis added), wouldn’t Your Father want You to eat and be satisfied?  Really, Jesus, 40 days and 40 nights of fasting?  What kind of a God would want You to undergo such misery?  What kind of a God would withhold from You the basic necessities of life?  ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread’ (v. 3).  It’s just a small thing, after all.  Just a tiny morsel to relieve Your hunger…”  Do you see how this is the Garden of Eden all over again?  Do you see how this is you every time you are tempted to sin?  Jesus is fighting your battle for you, in your place, taking on your enemy where the enemy has home field advantage.  And, by the way, remember, Jesus is true man.  This is a real temptation.  The writer to the Hebrews reminds us of this.  “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 doesn’t get a pass just because He’s God.  This isn’t easy for Jesus.  Temptation is just as difficult for Him as it is for us.  But the advantage He has is that He isn’t infected with original sin.  He has no human father.  God is His Father.  And so His will is not bound.  He’s able to do battle, to resist the devil, to stand firm in the time of temptation. 
            And what does He do, our Savior, in His battle against serpent?  Where the devil speaks his blasphemous question, “Did God really say…?” Jesus responds with a “Thus saith the LORD!”  He quotes the Scriptures!  “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God’” (Matt. 4:4).  He doesn’t interpret His way around God’s Word.  He speaks it faithfully to the devil.  And that Word is powerful.  It thwarts the devil’s onslaughts and rescues the one suffering temptation.  It is no accident that St. Paul calls God’s Word “the sword of the Spirit” (Eph. 6:17).  Along with prayer, it is our only offensive weapon against the spiritual powers of darkness.  We do have to be careful with this, though.  Quotation of Holy Scripture is not some magic formula.  In our weakness, we can quote Scripture and still fall into sin.  And the devil, of course, knows the Holy Scriptures better than we do.  He can quote Scripture chapter and verse and put a spin on it that will lead you to sin and think you’re doing God a favor in the process.  There we are back to calling evil good and good evil.  It happens to us insofar as the corruption of the sinful nature still clings to us, even though it has ultimately been put to death in Baptism.  That’s why we need Jesus to fight this battle for us.  He recognizes the devil’s lies for what they are.  He is not led astray.
            When Satan does quote Scripture to Jesus, urging Him to throw Himself off the pinnacle of the temple, he leaves out a very important part of the passage.  He quotes most of Psalm 91:11-12: “He will command his angels concerning you… On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone” (Matt. 4:6).  But he leaves out the middle section.  Psalm 91:11 in its fullness says, “he will command his angels concerning you, to guard you in all your ways” (emphasis added).  What ways?  The ways God has commanded.  The ways of faithfulness.  The ways of our Lord’s saving mission of death and resurrection for sinners.  If Jesus deviates from that by falling for this or any other temptation of the devil, that’s the end of it.  And here we gain an insight into how the devil uses Scripture.  He’s very happy to quote the Bible, but he leaves things out.  He adds other things.  It all sounds good and right to our fallen and easily deceived ears.  But it’s deadly.  You’ve undoubtedly heard the old adage that you can quote the Scriptures in support of anything.  And it’s true, as long as you add and subtract and take things out of context.  Oh, the devil is a master at this art.  So be on your guard.  Know the Holy Scriptures.  And rejoice that even when you do get tripped up by the deceiver, Jesus didn’t.  He was faithful.  For you.  And His faithfulness counts for you.
            Well, the last temptation recorded in our Holy Gospel puts the whole thing in perspective.  The devil shows Jesus the glory of all the kingdoms of the world, from all times and places in one single glance, and he promises Jesus that if he just does one little thing, he can have it all.  “Just fall down and worship me,” he says (Matt. 4:9).  “Just one time.  Just this one tiny little thing.  And you won’t have to undergo the cross and suffering.  You won’t have to die.  There is an easier way than the Father’s plan.”  And here the devil betrays himself.  This is the very nature of his original rebellion against God.  He thinks he should be god.  And so the root of all rebellion against God, all sin, is idolatry.  It is a First Commandment issue.  You and I, Adam and Eve, the devil himself, we all have other gods before the one true God.  Ourselves!  And the people and things that we put before God.  We reject Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in favor of ourselves and our pleasure and the stuff we think we deserve.  Repent. 

            Jesus doesn’t do that.  Jesus is faithful.  He will not fall before the devil.  He will not bow the knee.  “Be gone, Satan!  For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve’” (v. 10).  The devil will not be Jesus’ god, for Jesus is the God of the devil.  And He has come in the flesh to crush the serpent’s head (Gen. 3:15).  He has come to be faithful in our place, to resist temptation, to be our righteousness in fulfilling God’s holy Law, to suffer for our sin on the cross, and to be raised on the third day for our justification and eternal life.  And now He rules all things in a way the devil could never give Him.  He sits at the right hand of the Father and He reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit for all eternity.  He reigns for us, as our King, to bring us to Himself in heaven.  And now even the devil can’t touch us.  Well, sure he can tempt us.  But he cannot harm us.  Not in any lasting way.  Because we belong to Jesus who has triumphed over the devil in His fasting and temptation, in His agony and bloody sweat, in His crucifixion and death, and in His bodily resurrection from the dead.  And so “Thus saith the LORD!”: “On account of Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins.  In Baptism, you are my son with whom I am well pleased.  The Kingdom is yours and you have eternal life.  For you, dear Christian, belong to me.  And you will never be a slave to that serpentine tyrant again.  My Son has set you free, and if the Son sets you free, you are free indeed (John 8:36).”  God has spoken.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.                 

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