First Sunday in Lent (Invocabit) (Matthew 4:1-11)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR

First Sunday in Lent (Invocabit) + March 10, 2019

Text: Matthew 4:1-11

In Martin Luther’s Large Catechism, he explained the First Commandment this way:

What is to have a god? What is God?

2 Answer: A god is that to which we look for all good and in which we find refuge in every time of need. To have a god is nothing else than to trust and believe him with our whole heart. As I have often said, the trust and faith of the heart alone make both God and an idol.

3 If your faith and trust are right, then your God is the true God. On the other hand, if your trust is false and wrong, then you have not the true God. For these two belong together, faith and God. That to which your heart clings and entrusts itself is, I say, really your God.[1]

So when the First Commandment says, “We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things,” it’s true.  When we give our fear, love, and trust to the Triune God, the God who revealed Himself in the Bible, we keep this Commandment.  However, whatever we give our fear, love, and trust to other than God is an idol, the work of human hands and a sinful heart.

Of course, it would be nice to think we’ve avoided this if we don’t have a little golden statue, and we haven’t set up an altar dedicated to our 1968 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500.  Perhaps we’d like to excuse ourselves by using the Reformed numbering of the Commandments, which spells out the command about idols: “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image.” (Exodus 20:4 KJV)

But God sees through our veneers, right to our heart.  He sees the honest truth better than we know ourselves.  Our fear has not been in Him alone, but rather in what other people would think if we didn’t go along with them.  Our love has been to make “sacrifices” to so that we could fulfill our own passions, rather than being devoted to our Heavenly Bridegroom.  Our trust has not been in Him alone, but in the daily bread which His hand gives at times or takes away at others.  We’ve felt safe when the account balance is high, but freaked out when we saw a downward trend.

Whatever those things are that we fear, love, and trust in—and they are many and varied—those are our idols.  And God jealously desires to topple every single one of them, so that He alone is your God.  He is the only God you need, and the only one who will never fail you.

Yet, the Commandments don’t end with the First.  There are nine others which more accurately strike at our hearts and—when reconciled—lead us in a God-pleasing life.  Each of the Commandments stems from this First, because when our fellowship with God is broken, it ripples to all the rest of our life.  This is the point the Small Catechism makes by beginning each by saying, “We should fear and love God so that…”  Now, Luther wrote that whatever you put your trust in is truly your God, but it works the other way too: how to we live in regard to the other commandments shows what sort of god we have.

Let me give a few examples:

The Fourth Commandment says to “Honor your father and your mother”  This, we know applies not only to parents, but also other authorities: “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution” (1 Peter 2:13)—in the government, in school, and in the Church.  But say you have a beef with one of those authorities.  Should a child trample his mother’s flowerbed because she didn’t let him watch a movie?  The Lord commands us to pray for and honor government authorities, but can’t there be an exception for Kate Brown or Donald Trump?  The Lord says we should obey our pastors and submit to them as to the Lord, but can’t we vote with our offering dollars or our feet if we think he’s a flake?

In this case, you are picking and choosing who is a gift from God for your good, and who you can just live without.  You raise yourself up and make yourself wiser than God.  If this is how you treat the commandments, then your god is liable to make mistakes.  Maybe he will also forget to care for you some day.

One of the most popular uses of the Law is to point fingers at others.  Take the Sixth Commandment for instance.  “You shall not commit adultery” is more often turned into “They shall not commit adultery” rather than examine and discipline our own sexually purity and how we love and honor our spouse.  If you’re quick to point out how other people are fornicating or perverted in their desires, maybe the reason behind it is personal.  Have you examined your own impure desires that you hide from others.  Have you considered that you’re actually more concerned about a loved one, but strangers are an easy target?

If you’re quick to find fault with other people’s walk with the Lord, you have a god who is vengeful before he is ever merciful.  But conveniently enough for you, this god only condemns other people.  Be careful with such a god, because with the True God, there is no partiality.[2]

Lastly, consider the temptations which we see unfold in the wilderness for our Lord: “Command these stones to become loaves of bread…throw yourself down…All these [kingdoms] I will give you if you worship me.”  Here, the desire is to take advantage of one’s status before God and use it as license for disobedience.  “If you are the son of God” surely it wouldn’t be too bad for you to indulge in a little anger, a little keeping money for yourself, a little gossip.  God won’t be too harsh with me, because after all, I’m His beloved child!  Push the envelope and see if God do something to stop you.

When we presume on kindness and forbearance, our god is no more than a capricious rule-giver who wants to squelch our fun.  We are found to lack a fear of God’s righteous wrath and anger. “Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?” (1 Corinthians 10:22)

Your God—the true One, who gave you these Commandments—calls you to repent, and live a life of repentance for all your sins…all your idolatrous caricatures of the true God.  He alone has the power to kill and make you alive.  Your sin justly deserves what Jesus endured—punishment and death, forsaken by God.  Jesus, who is the Son of God, never wavered in His fear, love, or trust in God.  And you, with all your idols, have been crucified with Christ.  Your sins are washed from you. Your idols are thrown down.

Now rise with Christ to live a new life.  In this new life, the Commandments become your treasured instruction, more precious than gold (Psalm 19).  “We should fear and love God so that we do not…but” instead do what is pleasing to our heavenly Father: call on His Name in prayer and praise, hold His Word sacred and gladly hear and learn it, love and cherish our parents and other authorities, help and support our neighbor’s health and life, lead a chaste life and love our spouse, help others to improve their possessions and income, stand up for the reputation of others and put the best construction on their actions, and support and build up our neighbors’ property and household.

Through Jesus Christ, your God has done good to you, saving you from justly deserved wrath and lavished upon you the blessing of a thousand generations to those who fear Him.  Now, we pray for a heart that gladly does what He commands (we sing the Offertory). Amen.


[1] Large Catechism, I, 1-3 (Tappert edition)

[2] James 2:1-13

First Sunday in Lent (Invocabit) (Genesis 3:1-21; Matthew 4:1-11)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church & Bethel Lutheran Church, Lebanon & Sweet Home, OR

First Sunday in Lent (Invocabit) + February 18, 2018

Text: Genesis 3:1-21; Matthew 4:1-11

The Apostle Peter warns us, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.” (1 Peter 5:8-9)

 

In this text from Genesis 3, we can learn a great deal about the devil both in his works and his ways.  And why we as Christians should be concerned with the devil is also taught by God here.

 

On the first Sabbath Day, before the day is even over, the devil comes to corrupt the only other creatures with free will—man.  The way he chooses to entice them is notable too—he possesses a serpent.  Why a serpent?  Precisely because it is crafty, stealthy, and shrewd: The serpent slips in where others are blocked, it stalks its food and lays in wait to strike, and it knows how to slip out of the scene before it is detected.  All of these qualities fit the devil’s ways, as we see in how he interacts with the woman.  God uses a turn of these traits when it comes to punishing the devil, however.  “On your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the day of your life.”  Just as Satan used the craftiness of the snake, now God uses the fact that the snake is a “creeping thing” to show that God will keep him in submission until the Lord’s ultimate victory: “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 heel.” (Genesis 3:14-15)

 

Later in history the devil would be manifest in other creatures, such as Leviathan the great sea beast, as lions, as a dragon (Psalm 74:12-14, Daniel 6:16-24, Isaiah 27:1).  In the New Testament, the legion of demons in Mark 5 ends up possessing a herd of unclean swine and being destroyed in a mock baptism.  Each of these possessions teach us about the devil and his host.  But, the point here isn’t the mechanics of how the devil possessed the serpent, or how an ordinarily dumb animal spoke, but that we learn that the devil is a wily foe both of God and us.

 

Then what this crafty devil does first of all—irrespective of God’s order that the husband is the spiritual head of the household, without a shred of caring what misery will be wrought for all humanity by this temptation, and with a boldness that flies in the face of his Creator and Master—attacks their faith in God’s Word.

 

“He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’ ” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:1b-5)

 

The devil questions God’s truthfulness and he questions God’s good intentions for His creatures.  Our first parents, formed in innocence by the hand of God Himself, were tempted and sinned.  They sinned, not merely by breaking God’s rule (for God is not a capricious dictator), but by breaking faith with Him through disbelieving His Word.  Even from this primordial world, “man has lived by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:4)  The very definition of a right relationship between Creator and creature is on the basis of taking God at His Word.

 

But sin changed all of that.  When the first doubt was planted in the heart of Adam and Eve, they now had another authority—themselves.  The question of what was good had a new answer: “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.”

 

That is what humanity has been wrestling with ever since.  Do we take God at His Word, or look for another authority that tells us what our corrupt hearts want to hear?

 

The devil consistently attacks the truthfulness of God’s will and His goodness toward us.  This is the root of why immorality persists and increases.  This is why there are so many religions in the world and even divisions within the Christian Church on earth.  This is why so few of the world’s population cares about God and what He says (this generation is really just revealing what having a “Christian society” covered up in the past).  The devil’s work is to cause people to doubt and disbelieve God’s powerful, all-creating, life-giving Word.

 

Do we take God at His Word or not?  Alas, it’s not really a choice so simple.  Every natural born offspring of Adam and Eve is born with this deafness and aversion to God’s Word.  So, the story of temptation with man is a story of failings.  The serpent was craftier than Adam and Eve, and deceived them so easily.  Now he exercises authority over us, their children.

 

When we think of temptation as Christians…as human beings, it isn’t about trying to overcome the devil and make personal triumphs.  If our sinless parents fell, how much worse is it for us?  “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.”  “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other.”  “The [highest powers of man[1] which are of the] flesh is hostile to God.” (1 Cor. 2:14, Gal. 5:17, Rom. 8:7)

 

Who is able to save us from this wretched condition?  Our only way out from under the devil’s thumb completely depends on this Man, facing the devil.  The sole overcomer is Jesus Christ.

 

(Read Matthew 4:1-11)

 

Here the devil is called “the tempter” because his purpose is to lead men consistently to put God to the test (same word as “tempt”) without faith.  The devil does his worst to this man, Jesus, but He consistently replies with God’s Word rightly believed.

 

These are the works and ways of the devil: to subtly slip in and break our faith.  But turn to page 268 of the hymnal.  This is the rite of Holy Baptism.  Now turn ahead to 270  Look at the first two questions asked of the candidate for Baptism: Do you renounce the devil? Do you renounce all his works? Do you renounce all his ways?  If it were up to you and your strength, you would not be able to accomplish what these questions ask.  It is only by your Baptism into Christ, the Victor over the devil and His works and ways, that you gain the victory.

 

That brings us back to the passage I read at the beginning: “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.”  The only power we have to resist and overcome the devil comes through baptismal grace.  Baptized into Christ, who is the Son of God, we have forgiveness and spiritual victory which lasts to eternal life. Amen.

[1] Usually translated “mind” but includes “thought, purpose, will, resolution, aspiration” (Liddell Scott Jones Lexicon of Classical Greek, φρόνημα)