Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan
- Name: Rev. Jonathon T. Krenz
- Location: Dorr, Michigan
Sunday, March 30, 2014
Fourth Sunday in Lent (A)
March 30, 2014
Text: John 9:1-41
The very same miracle that took place in our Holy Gospel we witnessed with our own eyes this morning at the baptismal font. For as hard as it may be to believe, precious little Astrid, a true daughter of Adam and Eve, was born into this world spiritually blind, and worse, spiritually dead, and an enemy of God. But the Lord Jesus sought her out, and mixing the Word of His mouth with common, earthly water, He washed her in the cleansing baptismal pool, washed all her sin away and gave her His Holy Spirit, so that her eyes are now open. Now she can see. He drowned her spiritually dead sinful nature, her Old Adam, and raised her up a new creation. He turned her heart from enmity against God, to love for God and faith in Him as her Redeemer. Notice who did all the work here. It was Jesus. Astrid did nothing but receive the water and hear the Word. It is Jesus who works while it is day, before night comes and no man can work (John 9:4). He does the work of the Father who sent Him, and the work of His Father is this, that Astrid and the man born blind and you believe in Him whom the Father has sent (John 6:29).
The word “Siloam” means “sent”. Jesus is the One sent by the Father to cleanse us from our sins. Jesus is the true Pool of Siloam in which Astrid and the man in our text and you wash that we may receive spiritual sight which looks to Jesus, the author and perfecter or our faith, who for the joy set before Him in redeeming Astrid and the blind man and you, endured the cross, despising the shame, and is now seated at the right hand of God. That is to say, the washing our Lord performs on us, washing in Christ, Baptism, gives us eyes to behold Christ crucified for our sins and raised for our justification, to believe and trust that all that He has done He has done for us and for our salvation. In Baptism, Jesus gives us faith in Himself.
Now, to be sure, there was a physical healing that took place in our Holy Gospel. The man literally was blind, from birth. And Jesus literally spat on the ground and took mud and put it on the man’s eyes. And the man went to the actual Pool of Siloam and literally washed in it and he who was once physically blind could now see. But if that is the only miracle you see in our text, you are as blind as the Pharisees. For the physical healing, as spectacular as it is, points to something even more significant. Jesus cured the man of spiritual blindness. Jesus gave the man faith in his Savior. He gave the man a faith that could confess Christ even when it brought persecution, expulsion from the Synagogue, the shunning of the community, even abandonment by his own parents. That’s a miracle. Who of you would suffer abandonment by your own parents for the sake of Christ? Most likely you haven’t had to. But many people have in the history of the Church. Many still do today. I’ve met some of them. God grant us the same faith if we are called upon to suffer such a cross.
And He will. Such faith has to come from Him. He’s the only One who can open our eyes, our eyes that have been spiritually blind from birth. He’s the only One who can open them so that we see Him as God in the flesh come to save us from our sins, from death, and from eternal damnation. He does it by pouring out His Spirit upon us, again, in Baptism. That is what St. Paul writes in his letter to Titus: “he saved us… by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior” (Titus 3:5-6; ESV). This is what we confess with Dr. Luther in the Small Catechism, that “I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts,” the gifts He pours out on us in the washing of regeneration in Baptism, as well as the precious Word of God and the Supper of Jesus’ Body and Blood. What does it mean to enlighten but to bring us to see what we once could not see? When you are surrounded by darkness, you cannot see the perils that surround you. You cannot know whether you are safe or in danger. You cannot know if you are on the right path, or if you have strayed. And you do not know what predators may be stalking you. The same is true of the spiritual darkness, the blindness in which you were born. When you are in the dark spiritually, you think you see perfectly, as was the case with the Pharisees in our text. But you are blissfully unaware of the perils with which you are surrounded. You cannot see the danger. You do not understand that the path you are on, paved with good intentions as it may be, is a path to hell. And you do not see that the devil himself is stalking you, prowling around like a roaring lion, seeking to devour you (1 Peter 5:8). But when you are washed in Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit comes and turns on the Light of His Word, all is exposed. Now you know the danger. And the thing about the Lord is, He doesn’t just leave you there to fight your way back to the right path, escape the danger, slay the lion, or any of that. That would be salvation by works. No, even as He exposes the danger to you, He swoops you up in His pierced hands and rescues you and sets you on the path of eternal life: Himself. What does He say in our Old Testament? “I will lead the blind in a way that they do not know, in paths that they have not known I will guide them. I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground” (Is. 42:16). St. Paul points out in our Epistle that you were once utterly lost in the dark. But no more, now that Christ has rescued you. “For at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord” (Eph. 5:8).
There is a warning to be heeded here, though. “Walk as children of the light,” Paul says (v. 8). “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them” (v. 11). The warning is this. While it is true that God does everything in terms of brining you to faith and enlightening you, that you could not by your own strength fight your way out of the darkness, it is also true that you can go back to the darkness any time you want. But you do so to your own mortal peril. There are many ways that we flirt with the darkness. Even we Christians who have been regenerated and renewed by the Holy Spirit. The old sinful nature in us still stares longingly into the dark. We stare at the things of this world as if they can make us happy. We stare at the false god mammon, as if it can fulfill us. We stare at illicit images on television and computer screens, coveting flesh for selfish satisfaction, exploiting precious human beings for whom Christ died. We stare into our own heart and bow down before the chief god in our pantheon of idols, the self. We stare at all of these things, and take our eyes off of Christ crucified. Beloved, those things are darkness! It’s all an illusion. Satan is behind those things ready to pounce. Repent. That’s not who you are anymore. Jesus has saved you from those things, delivering you from the overpowering darkness of evil. The light only comes from one place. Jesus Christ is the Light of the world, and He sheds His light abroad in His precious means of grace, the Word and the Sacraments. Don’t take your eyes off of Christ. For He has opened your eyes to see only Him. He has given you sight. He has raised you up from the dead and given you life, as we heard in our Epistle: Christ says to you, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you” (v. 14).
As with the man born blind, the Lord Jesus comes to you right where you are in your blindness, bringing with Him His healing, salvation, and life. As with little Astrid this morning, the Lord Jesus comes to you right where you are in your helplessness, as an infant, anointing you with His saliva (His Word) and the stuff of this earth (water from the tap, thin and sticky wafers of bread, and wine from regular earthly grapes). And all at once what was common is now holy and full of Christ. It brings you healing and forgiveness. He washes you and you are clean from the guilt of your transgressions. He washes you and you can see. And what you see is this: He has rescued you from sin. He has rescued you from death. He has rescued you from that roaring old serpent, the devil. And He has made you His own, covered you in His blood, anointed you with His Spirit, made you God’s own child. If you don’t think that’s a miracle, that you have come to see all this, just take a look around you in the world. Most people, even religious people, think such grace on the part of God laughable, a scandal, a great big joke. But you see what they cannot. Not because you are any better than they are. You, too, were once darkness. No, it is simply because of this: Jesus Christ has opened your eyes. Now you are light in the Lord. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Sunday, March 23, 2014
Third Sunday in Lent
Third Sunday in Lent (A)
March 23, 2014
Text: John 4:5-30, 39-42
It is a recurring theme in Holy Scripture: marriages are made at the well. Just this past week in Bible Study we witnessed Abraham’s servant find a godly wife, Rebekah, for Isaac, that the promise of Abraham’s Seed through whom all the nations would be blessed be carried forward through Isaac’s line (Gen. 24). You’ve also been reading that account this week if you use the Treasury of Daily Prayer for your devotions. Isaac’s son Jacob, whom God would later name Israel, likewise met his wife Rachel at a well (Gen. 29). Moses met his wife Zipporah at a well (Ex. 2). Now, to be sure, our Lord Jesus is not interested in making a marriage with the Samaritan woman in our Holy Gospel, though marriage is a rather important, albeit incidental, topic of the discussion. Still, there is something coming to fulfillment here at Jacob’s well to which all the other wells and marriage-matches point in testimony. Our Lord is not looking for carnal marriage with the woman at the well. But as a Bridegroom, the Lord Jesus, by the living water of His Word, has come to incorporate this Samaritan woman as a member of His holy Bride, the Church.
Jesus meets sinners at the well. Jesus meets us at the water. He meets us at the font. And there He does for us what He did for the Samaritan woman. He meets us in mercy and incorporates us into the Body of His Bride, the Church. “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:5; ESV), Jesus said to us last week. He was speaking of Holy Baptism, where water is joined to God’s Word, by God’s command, and in this way becomes a life-giving, sin-cleansing, Spirit and faith bestowing water by which God writes His Name on you, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and makes you His child. He meets you at the well, right there at the font, to make you His own. And He starts by drowning your unbelieving and incapable of believing sinful flesh. The Old Adam in you must be drowned and die with all sin and evil desires. It happens in Baptism, and it will continue to happen each and every day as you live your Christian life in your Baptism. It is a daily thing, this drowning. We call it repentance. Jesus accomplishes this in you by pointing out your need. He does this by making demands of you that you cannot keep. In other words, He preaches His holy Law, so that by looking in the mirror of the holy Law you will recognize your sin, your lack, and realize just how badly you need what Jesus comes to give you. So, for example, Jesus says to the woman at the well, “Give me a drink” (John 4:7). The request is simple enough on the face of it. But it leads to a discussion whereby Jesus shows the woman a greater need within herself than simple physical thirst. She needs living water, water which, when you drink it, you never thirst again. And if she knew who it was who was asking her for a drink, she would have turned the question around. She would have asked Him. Because only He can give this living water. And what is that? It is His life-giving Word. It is the Gospel. It is that which Jesus pours out upon us at the well in Baptism, in Scripture and preaching, and in the Supper of His Body and Blood. It is that which raises us out of death to new life in Christ. It is the forgiveness of sins. It is eternal salvation. It is the Spirit of the living God. It is the water that takes root in a person and becomes an ever flowing spring, a living faith in Jesus Christ that wells up to eternal life, that then spills over in works of love toward the neighbor.
The disciples, and the woman herself, for that matter, think it an astonishing thing that Jesus is speaking to a Samaritan woman, and one who has a reputation, at that. To be sure, this woman is a notorious sinner. Jesus gently points this out. Divorce, and living together outside of marriage: sins, in spite of what our culture teaches us. “Go, call your husband,” He says, innocently enough (v. 16). But He knows what He is doing. He is leading her to confess her sins. Again, He is putting to death her Old Adam, the sinful nature, the flesh. “I have no husband,” she replies (v. 17). “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true” (v. 18). Notice that Jesus is gentle with this poor sinner, and yet, He does not ignore the sin. He does not allow her to go on living dishonestly. She must come face to face with the sin, so that it can be dealt with in such a way that it no longer destroys her and others. Love demands that Jesus state the matter plainly. Love demands that Jesus proclaim the Law. But He doesn’t do this to condemn or to shun the sinner. He always does it for the sake of proclaiming the Gospel. He kills so that He can make alive. He brings this poor woman to the realization of her thirst, of her mortal dehydration, that He may give her the living water of forgiveness and restoration and life eternal. “(T)he hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth” (v. 23). The hour is coming and is now here when the true worshipers will worship the Father by the new birth of water and the Spirit; by Spirit-given faith in the Son, Jesus Christ; by believing the living water of Jesus’ Word. The hour is coming. And the hour is now here. It is here in Jesus. “I know that Messiah is coming… When he comes, he will tell us all things” (v. 25). Indeed. And here He is. “Jesus said to her, ‘I who speak to you am he’” (v. 26). No, you miss the full force of it in that English translation. Here is what the text really says: “Jesus is saying to her, ‘I AM, the One who is speaking to you’” (translation mine). I AM, YHWH, right here, in the flesh, come to give living water to the thirsty, righteousness to sinners, life to the dead. Jesus comes to the well… God comes to the well, to meet the sinful Samaritan woman and take her as His Bride, make her a member of His holy Church.
And that is what He does for you. It is an astonishing thing that Jesus would want to hang out with a sinner like you, take you to Himself, and make you His own. But He does. That is His mercy. That is His love. He meets you at the well. He drowns you in Baptism. He drowns your sinful flesh by the preaching of His Law. He does not let you go on living the lie… you know, that you’re basically a good person. He does not let you go on destroying yourself and others in unrepentant sin. He makes you confront the fact that you are a poor, miserable sinner. He brings your sin out in the open where it can be dealt with by the forgiveness of sins, by the application of His precious blood which atones for your sin. And He raises you up out of the water to new life, His resurrection life, the Christian life, the Baptismal life of repentance and faith, death and resurrection, a life in Christ who was crucified for your sins and has been raised from the dead, from whom your whole life flows. He meets you at the well. He takes you for Himself. He makes you a member of His holy Bride, the Church. St. Paul describes the love of Christ for His Bride this way: “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5:25-27). What is true for the Church is true for you. Christ loved you and gave Himself up for you, that He might sanctify you, having cleansed you by the washing of water with the word (which is to say, Baptism), so that He might present you to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that you might be holy and without blemish, sins washed away, robed in the righteousness of the Savior, crowned with His glory, radiant with His holiness.
Christ fashions a Bride for Himself from His riven side. Sleeping the deep sleep of death on the cross, the side of our new Adam is opened by a spear, and out pour water and blood. The water from His side fills the font. The blood from His side fills the chalice. And the Church comes to life. And here we understand that Jesus Himself is the well from which we receive this living water. He is the Rock Moses struck in our Old Testament reading (Ex. 17:1-7), from which water flowed for God’s people. St. Paul comments on this very account: “all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ” (1 Cor. 10:4). Our Rock was struck on the cross. Our Adam’s side was riven on the tree. And out poured water and blood. “For there are three that testify,” St. John writes: “the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree” (1 John 5:7). These flow from the well that is Christ. His living Word through which the Spirit testifies, the water of Holy Baptism, the Blood poured out for you on the cross and poured down your throat in the Sacrament. Jesus meets you at the well. Jesus is the well. And in Him a marriage is made. You are His and He is yours. And because you belong to Him, you will never have to thirst again. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Sunday, March 16, 2014
Second Sunday in Lent
March 16, 2014
Text: John 3:1-17
Many people, even Christians, think of God primarily as Judge. As he was growing up, Martin Luther and the majority of Christians in the Middle Ages looked upon Christ as a stern Judge who beheld poor sinners with nothing but wrath and condemnation. Well, Luther came around on that, thanks be to God. He came to understand that Gospel as Jesus proclaims it to us this morning: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17; ESV). The Lord Jesus looks upon us poor sinners in mercy, in grace, with the forgiveness of sins. But it is tempting even for Christians today, even for you Lutherans who know the precious Gospel of forgiveness and life in Christ, to think of your various sufferings and afflictions as God’s punishment, as His judgment against your sin. “I must have done something to anger God,” you think. “I must be paying for my sins.” Which, of course, is utter nonsense. Because as you know Jesus paid for all your sins on the cross. He paid with His suffering, with His blood, with His death. He paid your debt in full. There is nothing more to be paid. God’s wrath has been spent on Him. The Son of God did not come into our flesh on a mission of wrath, but on a mission of mercy. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (v. 16).
That is not to say our sin is undeserving of God’s wrath. Far from it. It took the blood and death of the Son of God to pay for your sin. A righteous and holy God cannot abide sin. He cannot simply ignore it. If He did, He would be neither righteous nor holy. God had to do something about our sin if He wanted to save us. So He did. He sent Jesus. The cross of Christ is the intersection where God’s love and justice meet. For there on the cross, in the body of His only-begotten Son, God punishes our sin in justice. And there on the cross, in the body of His only-begotten Son, God pours out His love for us poor sinners, to save us. So now we need not die. So now we are not condemned. For Jesus has been condemned and died in our place. Now there is eternal life and salvation, heaven for all who believe in Christ. Believe it and it is yours. It really is that simple. Christ Jesus who died for you is now risen from the dead, and He gives you that life of His, that life that has conquered death and hell, freely, distributed in His Word and the Sacraments, received by faith in Christ.
It doesn’t make sense, though, does it? Free grace is a scandal. Surely I must do something. Surely in some way I must be worth it to God. And if that means I have to pay with a little penance, a little suffering, or do a few extra good works, then so be it. Not so, dear Christian! For to see grace as anything but free is to reject Christ and His sacrifice for you. That was Nicodemus’ problem when he came to Jesus by night for fear of his colleagues in the Sanhedrin. Nicodemus was a Pharisee. These were, of course, the guys who were really good at doing good works, preserving an outwardly pristine life, and thinking that in this way they were justifying themselves before God. The Pharisees also believed that if someone is suffering, it must be because they or their parents committed some grave sin for which God is punishing them. The disciples thought that about the man born blind: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind?” (John 9:2). When we think this way about ourselves or others, we show ourselves to be as misguided as the Pharisees and the disciples. Jesus puts such thinking to rest: “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him” (9:3).
It is the nature of the Pharisee, like Nicodemus, to think that somehow he must earn his standing before God. It’s the nature of the Pharisee, like you, to think that you must pay some price for your sin. You can’t. There is nothing you can do to appease God’s wrath. There is nothing you can do to earn God’s favor. And thank God, you don’t have to. For God so loved you that He sent His only-begotten Son to take your sin to the cross and die for it. God so loved you that He did not leave His Son in death, but raised Him from the dead, that He might give you eternal life. Do you want what Jesus has to give you? Just believe it. It is already yours. Amazing! Incredible! And totally opposed to your fallen reason. That is why Luther has you confess in the Small Catechism, “I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him.” To believe this, as our Lord says in our Holy Gospel, you must be born again, or as it is better translated, born from above. “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again,” born from above, “he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).
Nicodemus does not understand what Jesus is talking about. What a ridiculous statement. “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” (v. 4). We don’t understand it either. Unlike Nicodemus, perhaps, we know that Jesus is not talking here about a physical rebirth. But we think that somehow we have to make ourselves be born again by making a decision for Jesus, surrendering our lives to Him, dedicating ourselves to living a Christian life. But when you make faith your effort, when you think you are born again, not from above, from God, but from your own striving, you are a Pharisee. Don’t you see? Faith is a gift! It is God’s gift to you! You cannot make yourself be born again spiritually any more than you made yourself be born physically. Utter nonsense. God brought you forth from your mother’s womb. And God your heavenly Father gives birth to you spiritually, bringing forth living faith in Jesus Christ. He does it by His Spirit, in His means of grace.
Jesus singles out Baptism in our text. That is why you have the baptismal shell on the front of your bulletin, with the three drops of water for Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the Name with which God has named you, into whom you’ve been baptized. “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (v. 5). To be born again, from above, of the Spirit, is to be baptized. There at the font, where water is joined to God’s Word, by His command, the Spirit is given to you. And the Spirit gives you faith in Jesus Christ as a gift. That is why babies are baptized. Because we cannot reason with them. We cannot reason them into the faith. They have no idea what we’re talking about. So we simply baptize them, as God has commanded us to do for all nations (Matt. 28:19) of which babies are a part, and we trust that God will do in Baptism what He has promised, namely, give birth to them from above by His Spirit, giving them faith in Jesus Christ. And in truth, that is why we baptize adults as well. For we cannot reason adults into faith, either. Reason is fallen and corrupt, opposed to faith in Christ. And so, as our Lord says elsewhere, “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it” (Mark 10:15). That is to say, faith is simply trust, like a newborn who trusts Mom for food and protection and care and love, who cries out to Mom in every need, who rejoices and is comforted when Mom speaks. That is you before your Father in heaven, a newborn from above, baptized into Christ, born of the Spirit.
There are, to be sure, sufferings and afflictions to be borne in this life. You do not understand them any better than a newborn understands the new world into which she has entered, what it is that is happening to her, why it is happening to her, and why some things are so unpleasant, why some things hurt. God could explain it all to you, but you would be as uncomprehending as a newborn. Go ahead and cry out to God like a newborn when you hurt. But also trust that everything God does He does for your good. He is not punishing you. Your punishment happened at the cross, where the Son of Man, Jesus Christ, was lifted up like the serpent on the pole. He was lifted up in your place. He was lifted up as the standard of your sin and death, that when you look upon Him there in faith, you be healed of your mortal illness, sin. When you look upon Him there in faith, when you believe in Him, you have eternal life. This is how God loves the world. This is how God loves you. He gave His Son, that you might be His own child. And you are. In Baptism, God has written His Name on you. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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.