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 14, 2016

First Sunday in Lent

First Sunday in Lent (C)

February 14, 2016
Text: Luke 4:1-13

            The great temptation behind all the temptations in our Holy Gospel, is that Jesus would bypass the cross and claim His glory as the Son of God apart from suffering... which is to say, apart from saving us.  The choice is this: To follow the Holy Spirit in the wilderness (Luke 4:1), or follow the devil in rebellion.  We made our choice in the Garden, as our first parents took and ate of the forbidden fruit.  And ever since we’ve been enslaved by the devil, sin, and death.  We have no choice to make.  Our will, in spiritual matters, is bound.  But our Lord is not infected with our mortal disease, original sin.  He is unbound.  He is righteous.  He is faithful.  And He, Himself, fights for us.  Jesus goes in the Spirit into the wilderness as our Champion, to face the evil foe.  For us fights the Valiant One, whom God Himself elected.  And it is all-out war.  Where Adam, where we, have failed, our Lord goes on to win.  He is delivered into temptation, that by His victory over it, we be delivered out of it.
            But the devil knows what is at stake.  If he could just lead Jesus to believe that there is an easier way, that there is a better plan than that of His Father, that all this cross and suffering could be avoided, and that the Father maybe doesn’t love the Son so much after all… Then, Satan would convince our Lord, they could both be happy.  The devil would get us, and Jesus could still be exalted as God.  And after all, why give these puny, worthless, rebellious humans what the Father is not giving You, Jesus?  You gave Israel manna in the wilderness, and quail, and water from the rock.  You give these rebels each day their daily bread.  What about you?  Just command these stones to become bread.  Why suffer hunger and want when you are Almighty God?  Forsake suffering.  Eat, and be filled…  Look at all the kingdoms of the world magically displayed in a moment of time.  Just bow down to me.  Just one little bend of the knee, and I will give You the world.  They can be Your slaves.  The Father will not give them to You unless You suffer, but I, I will give them here and now…  The Father is holding out on You.  What is that promise in Psalm 91: He will command His angels concerning You to guard You and bear You up, to keep You from all harm?  Where is that protection when You need it most, when You encounter the cross?  You can have it now.  Throw Yourself down.  The angels will catch You.  The people will be amazed.  They will worship You now, without all that suffering and sacrifice.  Yes, Jesus, there is an easier way, and I know just the ticket.  So the great temptation is to bypass the cross and have the glory now.
            Well, that is the great temptation for you, also, is it not?  Greed, covetousness, lust… It’s all about having everything now.  Why be faithful and have to suffer under the cross?  Why take up your cross and follow Jesus?  Get what you can, while you can.  It’s all ripe for the taking.  Scratch that itch.  Tickle that fancy.  Buy that item you know will make you happy.  Step on others to get your way.  God’s rules simply get in the way of your own fulfillment.  He’s holding out on you.  Maybe He doesn’t love you, after all.  If He loves you, why does He withhold the things you want?  And why must you suffer?  Hunger, sickness, heartbreak, terrorism.  There must be a better way.  The devil knows your ego.  He appeals to your pride.  You can be like God, knowing good and evil.  You can determine it for yourself.  Faithfulness to God is a chain that binds you.  Who says what you want is evil?  God?  He just doesn’t want you to be happy.  He wants to keep you dependent on Him so you’ll be His slave.  Go ahead.  Take what you want.  Seize the moment…  Before you know it, you’ve taken and eaten.  Beloved in the Lord, repent.  Do you not see this is all a lie?  Do you not see there is death in what the Lord withholds?  You don’t.  You’re blind to it.  Unless the Lord gives you eyes to see.  Unless He gives you His Spirit in the wilderness, to lead you and feed you and protect you from the serpent, to bring you into the Kingdom, the Promised Land.
            In the wilderness, we fail.  We fall.  God help us.  He does.  He sends His Son to fight.  Jesus goes into the wilderness in our place!  And how does our Lord win the victory over the devil?  He holds to the Word of God.  Now notice, He doesn’t engage the devil with theological arguments.  Not that He couldn’t win, but He doesn’t want you to think you could win.  The devil knows the Holy Scriptures better than you do, and besides, the minute you start reasoning with the devil, he’ll reason your weak and gullible mind and will right into his trap.  Jesus simply takes refuge in the Scriptures, which, by the way, He knows by heart.  Which is a good indication that you should know Scripture passages and the Catechism by heart.  He takes refuge in the Scriptures and simply quotes them against the flaming arrows of the evil one.  “Man shall not live by bread alone” (v. 4, ESV; Deut. 8:3).  “You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve” (v. 8; Deut. 6:13).  “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test” (v. 12; Deut. 6:16).  And with the last one, our Lord gives a command to the serpent.  Jesus is the devil’s God, whether he acknowledges it or not, and he shall not put the Lord Jesus Christ, his God, to the test.  So he must leave until an opportune time.  This is extraordinarily comforting for us.  Jesus is the devil’s God.  The devil cannot win against Jesus.  He cannot convince Jesus to be unfaithful to His Father.  He cannot convince Jesus to forsake the cross and His mission to save us.  And as a result, He cannot pry us from our Lord’s pierced hand.
            What does this mean for you when you are tempted?  After all, you are not Jesus.  How do you resist the devil when he is a mighty angel, an evil one to be sure, but an angel with all the powers that entails?  How do you resist the world, which seems to get along just fine without the Lord, which seems to be so happy in its godlessness and materialism and unbridled sexuality, in its mockery of the Church and her Lord?  How do you resist when your own flesh betrays you?  When your own ears would rather listen to the siren song of the world than the Word of God?  When your members ache for union with the forbidden pleasures of the flesh?  Don’t try to win an argument with evil.  Don’t try to reason your way out of temptation.  You’ll lose every time.  You can’t do it!  But Jesus can.  And He did.  He won.  He won for you.  He won you for Himself.  And now you have a Mighty Fortress in which to take shelter: Your God, your Savior, Jesus.  You have His Word, and as He did in His battle in the wilderness, you wrap yourself in Scripture in the day of temptation.  You take shelter under the wings of His cross, under His mighty arms outstretched and nailed to the wood, under the shower of blood and water flowing from His riven side, the font of Holy Baptism, the Chalice of the Supper, His Body, His Blood, given and shed for you.  And what if you fail?  What if you fall?  You will.  I’m not going to lie.  The Lord will strengthen you to fight against sin.  The Spirit leads you in the wilderness.  And you will successfully resist temptation.  But  then you won’t.  You will sin.  You will not be completely free of sin in this earthly life.  The Old Adam daily rears his ugly head.  So, back to the font.  Back to your Baptism.  Which is to say, to Confession and Absolution!  Back to the Scriptures.  Back to the Church.  Back to the Supper where the Lord Himself feeds you, where He feeds you Himself.  The life of the Christian in the wilderness of this world is a life of daily repentance.  And it is a life of faith in the Christ who did not despise the suffering and shame of the cross, but died for you, for the forgiveness of all your sins, and so gives you eternal life. 

            When you are tempted, run to Jesus.  Wrap yourself in His prayer: “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”  Sing hymns.  Recite Scripture.  And incidentally, do this out loud, so the demons can hear, and flee.  Call your pastor, who will not be surprised at your weakness, but will fortify you with the Word and prayer and the Holy Absolution.  Hang a crucifix in the places you’re most vulnerable, or carry one in your pocket or hang it ‘round your neck, that you always have before your eyes the death of the Lord Jesus, by which you live.  This is war, this struggle with the forces of evil, and these are the weapons of our warfare.  But we tremble not, we fear no ill.  The war has already been won by Jesus.  By embracing the cross, Jesus won His glory.  The Kingdom is secure.  And for now, “when the fight is fierce, the warfare long, Steals on the ear the distant triumph song, and hearts are brave again, and arms are strong” (LSB 677:5).  For the Lord Jesus, who died, is risen from the dead.  And the devil cannot have you.  For you belong to the Crucified.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.      

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