~ First Sunday in Lent ~

Readings: Genesis 3:1–21 | Hebrews 4:14–16 | Matthew 4:1–11

Text: Matthew 4:1-11

The season of Lent is not a 6-week period of feeling bad for ourselves, bemoaning our inadequacy, or—God forbid!—feeling more pious than the rabble of the world.  It is a time of teaching, of catechesis, that we might learn to know our Lord better.  The Gloria in Excelsis stops, because He whose birth the angels announced, also humbled Himself to the point of being unrecognizable as good news for anyone [Luke 2:14 comp. to Isa. 53:3].  The Hallelujah’s (“Praise the Lord”) stop (and have stopped) so that we can better hear the lessons of our God’s work in suffering and weakness, His presence in darkness and death [Psalm 139:11-12].

So, we begin Lent where all of our sorrow and trouble began—where sin entered into the world.  The Old Testament reading today shows us where it all broke down.  God made everything good—even on the sixth day extolling His creation “Behold! It was very good” (Gen. 1:31).  But the Serpent came and deceived the woman. The man betrayed his Creator, spurned his duty as a husband, and unleashed misery on all his descendants. 

Adam and his wife gave into temptation under the best of all circumstances.  They were surrounded by trees bearing ready-to-eat food, had not a care or trouble in the world, and they were at peace with it all.  And yet, they were so quickly turned away from God!

But Lent isn’t about Adam and Eve.  Thank God it’s not, because that’s a frustrating narrative, full of mistakes and hurts.  That’s because we bear the image of Adam; we no longer bear the image of God [Gen. 5:3] (Yes, we were originally made in God’s image, but our lives from conception to death are the experience as the image of the man of dust, 1 Cor. 15:48-49]  Adam’s story is suspiciously like our stories—only the names have been changed.  It’s the same story every person on this earth is living for the short time we’re given.  No, we need a better hope than to look to our fellow descendants of Adam.

Lent starts at the beginning: the beginning of the ministry of Jesus.  Right after He is baptized in the Jordan, declared by the voice from heaven to be the beloved Son of God, He is driven out by the Spirit into the wilderness in order to be tempted.  There’s no wasting any time here, because there is saving to do, which is God’s sole purpose.

Why the wilderness?  Wilderness is where those who are exiled from the Garden go.  Life and abundance were in the primeval garden, but sin brought death and scarcity.  Thus, the wilderness is God’s proving ground for what’s in a person’s heart. In what will you trust?  Will it be what your eye can see and is readily in reach?  Or will you cast your needs upon your Creator and stay true to Him?  This is how it was for Israel in their 40-year journey through the wilderness of Sinai.  The Lord God was testing to see what was in their hearts, and the results were abysmal.

It was in the wilderness that God commanded sacrifices so that He could dwell in the midst of this people who were impatient, greedy, ungrateful, and inventors of evil.  The highest sacrifice day was the Day of Atonement, described in Leviticus 16.  At the center of that Day are two goats: Then he shall take the two goats and set them before the Lord at the entrance of the tent of meeting.  And Aaron shall cast lots over the two goats, one lot for the Lord and the other lot for Azazel.” (Lev. 16:7-8) The first goat gets killed as a sin offering, a death for life exchange.  But the second goat is treated like this: “Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins. And he shall put them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who is in readiness. The goat shall bear all their iniquities on itself to a remote area, and he shall let the goat go free in the wilderness.” (Lev. 16:21-22)  We’re accustomed to the sin offering as justice for what our sins deserve.  But the other goat—the Scapegoat—is imputed with the sins of the people—“all their iniquities, all their transgressions, all their sins”—and then he is led into the wilderness to go to Azazel.  Azazel is a transliteration from Hebrew, and many commentators associate with the devil or a demon.  So it is actually the beloved Son of God who is both the appointed sin offering and the sin bearer and substitute.

In the wilderness, handed over to the devil, He stands in place of Adam and all his children.  Here, it’s helpful to stop and consider just how serious Jesus’ situation was: “And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.”  He went without food for 40 days, which is far longer than average.  Even half that time could ordinarily kill a person.  He must have been like a skeleton, not able to think, perhaps his organs failing.  But He lived because God kept Him alive.  If you think this is preposterous, listen to what the Lord says just before the verse Jesus quotes:

The Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. Your clothing did not wear out on you and your foot did not swell these forty years. (Deut. 8:2-4)

Sin has so corrupted our desires that we think our lives are kept going by food and doctors, jobs and retirement, that the Word which comes from the mouth of the Lord is a nice afterthought, some more information to use so we can broaden our horizons.  But Jesus shows this truth in his emaciated body (and maybe I’m totally wrong, and he was vigorous—God can do that also).  But along with that bodily hunger, is the weakness of God’s Son’s humiliation. He was mortal, and confined to one place, and giving up any divine foreknowledge, the man Jesus didn’t know if He would make it out of the wilderness alive.  He had all creation at His disposal, as the Word by which all things are made, and yet He willingly humbled Himself.  St. Paul would later describe this as the mind which Christ gives us to follow: “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” (Phil. 2:5-7)

He was in the likeness of men, but where man has failed again and again, Jesus stood firm.  When He was tempted to use divine “cheat codes” in order to feed Himself, He refused—even though it could have meant His death.  Where Eve and Adam evaluated food on their own terms and for their own benefit, Jesus obeyed His God and fully entrusted His life into His Father’s hands.

When Jesus was tempted to have a little Temple-jumping recreation along his way, claiming that God would surely protect him from harm, Jesus affirmed something we are dreadfully weak about: “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test, as you did at Massah.” (Deut. 6:16)  In case you’re not familiar with that incident, that’s where the people came to a place with no readily accessible water, and they blamed Moses and accused God of bringing them into the wilderness to kill them, even doubting in the Lord was among them at all (see Exodus 17:1-7).  Lying through our teeth, we might say we never do that and that we have such perfect submission to our Father’s will, and we’ve never charged God with wrongdoing when we suddenly lose someone we love.

No, even when tempted with that, Jesus did not put the Lord His God to the test, and even willingly accepted all the tests which happened in the wilderness. 

Finally, when the devil shows his true colors and flat out asks Jesus to worship him instead of God, Jesus again and alone succeeds where we so many times have failed.  It’s really no big deal, we tell ourselves; we’re only doing what everyone else is.  Trouble is, those of the world are deceived and eating from the devil’s hand.  There’s no hope here in going with the crowd, following our feelings, because it will wind us up where the rest of the sons of Adam have landed—sin and death.

Our hope is in Christ, who is called the Second Adam.  He is the only one who can outmaneuver and defeat the devil.  He’s the only One who can take on and take away our unfaithfulness and our naked shame before God and one another.  It’s Jesus alone who, having done all this, is able to go into the grave as a free man, and rising on the Third Day to free us from death’s power!

Listen to how St. Paul explains what Jesus Christ has done for us:

12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned…15 But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many… 19 For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. (Romans 5:12-19)

And about the victory over death, and restoring that lost image of God to us, Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:

47 The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. 48 As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. 49 Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. (1 Cor. 15:47-49)

This is our hope and our confidence in Christ!  He has saved us where all other help was powerless.  God has come to our rescue through the water of Holy Baptism, where He declared in Christ, “You are my beloved child.”

Even though the devil was bested in the wilderness with Jesus, he will be after us all the more because we belong to God, and because we still bear that image of Adam.  This is the realm of spiritual warfare—“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Eph. 6:12)  And that topic can be both scary and exciting.  Scary, because we know what a mighty enemy the devil is and because of how weak we are.  Exciting because it’s true that there is an unseen battle taking place in the world between good and evil.  It’s just that in our own strength and understanding, we get spiritual warfare wrong.  It isn’t like video games or heroic epics where we somehow have power in ourselves.  Our strength and shield are in Christ alone.

Sometimes the devil’s tactics will be obvious—making disobedience to God’s clear Word sound appealing and reasonable.  Call this the front door attack, if you will.  But the devil also has a backdoor attack, and that is to divide us from Christ and divide us from one another.  That is actually what his Greek name, Diabolos, means—the Divider.  So, he will try to divide us from Christ by making His Word seem irrelevant or less important than the stuff happening in our daily life and the world.  But he doesn’t stop there, because he also seeks to divide us from the flock of God.  So, he brings up hurts that we can’t seem to get past, stirs up feelings of resentment, and gives us excuses why we’re better on our own.  We can get by without hearing the precious voice of our Savior, because, according to the devil, it’s just information.  Yeah, I learned that all in Catechism. I was raised in it, so it must magically stick.  Hook, line, and sinker.

Our only hope against the devil and all his craftiness is our God who comes to our rescue.  He covers our shame with His righteousness.  He says, “Be gone, Satan!” and sends His angels to minister to us.  There is no need to fear, because the Son of God has truly done for you what you needed most.  Through faith in Him, you have the victory over sin, death, and the devil, and eternal peace with your Creator.  Amen.

Scapegoat Lev. 16

Does what Adam did not do

Obeys where we are disobedient

His humiliation: hunger and thirst, gives up his divine attributes

Shares in our weakness (Heb. 4:15)


Bread of God is enough; Adam had enough, Israel in their wilderness journey still complained (Dt. 8)

            Putting God to the test (Dt. 6)

            Bow down (Dt. 6)

Our only hope in our struggle with sin and bearing Satanic attack, is Jesus. 

Demon possession, spiritual warfare can often be a scary topic which we don’t like to take on in our love for clinical safety.  But the defeat of Satan has already been accomplished.  When the devil or a demon comes to a Christian, he will use the same attacks.  If we respond on his terms and in our wisdom or strength, we will surely fall.  Do not imagine yourself strong enough to do what even our first parents failed to do in paradise!

Instead, hold up Jesus, your Lord and Savior.  Whether that means having a crucifix on your wall or around your neck.  Here, bare crosses require more imagination which can be hard to muster in the heat of battle.  Hold up Jesus, the scapegoat who went into the wilderness on your behalf; the lamb of God who was led to the slaughter and now whose blood has been sprinkled on you in the cleansing flood of Baptism, the Passover Lamb whose flesh and blood are now given you to eat and drink.

You are not left alone as Satan’s prey, and you are not hungry because you feed upon the all-sufficient, life-sustaining Word of God.  Though you and all your ancestors have daily put the Lord to the test, He has remembered His steadfast love and covenant toward you—not based on your promise or fortitude, but upon the covenant which Jesus ratified with His own blood.  Even though Satan and the godless world may promise you your hearts’ desire, your Lord alone is pure, throws down all idols, and His Spirit jealously fights our idolatrous desires and replaces them day by day with a hunger and thirst for God and what is pleasing to Him!

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

Jesus’ ministry begins not in a lush garden in the presence of God as it was in the beginning, but in the wilderness of a world that is under the curse of sin and death. His ministry after being baptized in the Jordan and declared to be the Son of God, goes immediately into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil for forty days. Forty for the days for the flood of Noah by which God judged the wickedness of men (Genesis 6-8), forty for the years during which God bore with the stiff-necked generation before bringing their children into the Promised Land and the whole time fed them with bread from heaven (Psalm 95:8-11, Exodus 16). Forty days for the time in which Moses was on the mountain receiving the Word of God (Exodus 34:27-28). Forty for the days Goliath came and taunted Israel and defied the Living God (1 Samuel 17). Forty days for God showing forbearance to a twisted generation, that they might be saved.

This was the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, the capstone of all of God’s dealings with the sons of men since Adam and Eve brought sin into the world. It was the beginning of a new creation, “As one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. 19 For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.” (Rom. 5:18-19) The Son of God, Jesus, stands in the wilderness as the New Adam to work righteousness and bring salvation where the First Adam and his children were cursed. It’s quite appropriate that Genesis 3 and Matthew 4 are read together.

Jesus stands in for all humanity when He is tempted by the devil, and listen to the temptations He faced, because each time He is tempted to forsake the Word of God for temporal, selfish gain: “If you are the Son of God…” does not mean that the devil wasn’t listening at His Baptism, when the Father declared from heaven, “This is my beloved Son.” It means that Satan is up to His old tricks of lying and murdering (John 8:44), attempting to pry God and man apart. In fact this is what the Greek name for the devil, diabolos, means—he who divides, casts apart.

2 And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”

The first temptation casts doubt on God as Creator of heaven and earth. Will He indeed do good for His creatures? Can a man truly turn His life over to the care of God and not have to be ready to grab the proverbial wheel at any moment? Command these stones to become loaves of bread—take your life in your own hands, because how could it be God’s will for you to hunger? Not only “if you are the son of God,” but If this God really loved, He wouldn’t let you suffer with sweat and hunger, thorns and thistles, and after all your labor to return to the dust.

It had worked on the Israelites before (we’ll hear this two Sundays from now): [They said to Moses] “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” (Ex. 17:3) It works on us, too, because as soon as the money runs short, we’re convinced it must be the end. We lock down and go into survival mode, believing only in what we can measure and touch, relying only on our reason and strength to see us through.

What does God say to that? 4 But he answered, “It is written, “ ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ ” Yes, you are dust and flesh, fragile and at the breath of the Lord you whither (Isaiah 40:6-8). When He hides His face, you die and return to the ground (Ps. 104:27-30). But what of it? Did He not create you from the dust by a Word? Are you afraid that He cannot sustain you? Or are you more in love with this present life than the God who gives and who takes away? Do you not remember that apart from Him there is no God, no life, no resurrection?

The second temptation follows this:

Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, “ ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and “ ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’ ”

If God truly claims you as Son, He won’t let anything bad happen to you. If He is truly Almighty, then no matter what choice you make, His will is done. This questions God’s care for His children, with the implication that if something harm does come, He must not be as almighty as all that. If you further dissect Psalm 91 by this man-centered approach, you will read “For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence… A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you.” Then, where is the justice in the cancer which separates loving spouses from each other, the SIDS which takes a sweet child from his parents, or viruses indiscriminately sickening droves of people? Why won’t you help, God? Don’t you see us languishing?

God, what do you have to say to that? 7 Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ” That is, you have seen the life you have as something that belongs to you, as if you were king or queen over your own domain. We demand that God justify His actions to us. How dare God not serve me, but we have it backwards. He is the Lord, we are the servants. He the Benefactor, we the beneficiaries. He the Protector, we are guarded and kept by Him from eternity.

The devil’s final temptation:

“Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. 9 And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”

Here the devil promises Jesus His supposed heart’s desire. Don’t you want all nations to honor you, all to hail the name of Jesus? I can it to you that thing you desire most, the Liar claims. All you have to do is worship me, trust in my power, celebrate my works and walk in my ways. Better than that, I can give it to you with all that nasty, painful suffering and death.

We understand this temptation not necessarily as worshipping the devil, but bargaining with God. Our heart’s desire, the thing we would do anything to have, we can achieve by other means. This is the draw of witchcraft, palm reading, psychics, and Ouija boards. You can have the help you want, the ultimate good you see for your life. But it comes at a price. “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:36) The devil’s lie is that “where there’s a will there’s a way” and where God doesn’t satisfy, there are other options. If the Words of Jesus are not to your liking, devote yourself to the teachings of demons—whether in bald-faced paganism, or in a guise of Christianity by picking a church that won’t judge what you don’t want to repent of.

What does God say to this? 10 Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “ ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’ ”

Jesus remained steadfast, when we are flighty. He remained strong where we are weak. He remained true, when we’ve been duped. “Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts: ‘I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god…Is there a God besides me? There is no Rock; I know not any.” (Isa. 44:6, 8)

If you have been tempted, if you think sometimes God is too far removed to help, behold Him “who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). He was tempted in the flesh so that He can help us in our weakness. Where we fall, He has the power and willingness to save—to forgive, renew, and rescue.

And if you are so afflicted, He gives you a pledge of His help by giving you His own Body and Blood to eat and drink. This very Body and Blood is the one which felt hunger, felt Satan’s temptations and lies, felt the sting of allegiance sworn but then broken, the humiliation of being jeered at, who felt bodily agony and breathed His last.

This is what He gives to you, who falter under the weight of your sins, who groan at the onset of death, and whose hearts are rent asunder by loss. He gives it to you to comfort and strengthen you, because His Body did not remain in the grave. He rose again to life free of sin, death, and devil. He rose, never to die again (Rom. 6:9), and so will you.

So, come to the altar now, with all your weakness, that you may put on Christ’s strength, in the forgiveness of your sins and the promise of eternal rest. Amen.

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

The Ever-Effective Weapon Against the Devil (Matthew 4:1-11)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR
First Sunday in Lent + March 5, 2017
Text: Matthew 4:1-11

Doctors who fight infections are all too aware that having just one weapon isn’t enough.  Viruses and bacteria each respond differently to medication.  Sometimes a strain comes along that refuses to respond to treatment.  Then, newer, stronger, and more innovative means must be developed.
But this is never the case with the Word of the Lord!  Thanks be to God for that!  His Word always accomplishes its intended result (Isaiah 55:11).  The chief spiritual enemy we have is the devil.  But no matter how cunning he is, he will never grow resistant to God’s Word.  The Word will always cause the devil to flee, as we hear today in the Temptation of Christ.
Context is important for the Temptation.  In all three synoptic Gospels—Matthew, Mark, and Luke, the Jesus’ temptation comes immediately after His Baptism where He is declared to be the Son of God.  Satan comes not to congratulate Him or bow down before Him, but to try to make Jesus fall like he had made the first man and woman fall.  The Serpent had gotten all mankind to fall by appealing to their reason—“sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned,”[1] The tempter instead chooses instead to appeal to Jesus’ divinity—command these stones to become bread, throw yourself down, and gain the glory of the kingdoms of the world.  Do it for your own glory, and don’t trouble yourself with this human race.  They won’t appreciate what you do for them much anyway.  But Jesus, the Son of God, wouldn’t have it that way.  “if many died through one man’s [Adam’s] trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many.”[2]  The devil was not successful in making Jesus fall, and that victory is given to all who are in Him.
The devil tempted Jesus because He is the Son of God, and he cannot stand to have a child of God not be condemned to sin and death.  Satan likewise tempts everyone else who is a son of God through faith.[3]  “Woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!”[4]  It’s not much comfort right now, but one way you can know for certain that you have a true faith in Christ is that you will be assaulted by the devil.
The devil is a truly powerful enemy over humanity.  It may be—even as children of God with the gift of the Holy Spirit—that we don’t notice the devil overtly.  In our weakness, we probably won’t be able to put our finger on the temptation the way Jesus does in the Gospel.  Nevertheless, the effect of the devil’s work is still evident.  Just like many diseases are identified by their symptoms, the devil’s temptations can be seen by their resulting sin.
The Tempter draws the Lord’s children away from the Word—the only medicine that can heal them and drive Satan away.  You might hear someone say they had a falling out with people at church. Yet, when the end result is them not hearing the Word you know who’s really behind it, causing those emotional wounds to fester.
When your children’s future seems like such a noble goal that you would rather see them at tournaments where scouts are than in the Divine Service where Jesus is, remember that Satan promised Jesus the kingdoms of the world and all their glory.
One of the devil’s favorite tricks is to convince you that you’re so strong in your faith that you can leave any kind of Bible study or devotions behind.  You got confirmed, so you don’t need to pick up a Bible again, right?  Trouble is, there’s no end to the things he can convince you to believe when you only think you know what God’s Word says.
The devil’s tactics have not changed from the time of Adam and Eve, to the Temptation of Christ, to this very day.  He is still the same evil angel who aims at the destruction of all who cling to God by faith.  But just the same as that hasn’t changed, God’s Word is still the antidote against his temptation.  St. John tells us, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.”[5]  The work of the devil is seen in doubt and unbelief, robbing us of the salvation which Christ brought into the world for sinners.  But in His birth, His Baptism, and yes, His temptation, Christ destroys the works of the devil.
He destroyed them that day by overcoming where Adam and Eve had fallen, and standing in our place as the faithful and holy one.  He won the victory for all who believe through His innocent suffering and death, breaking the sting of sin and the power of death.  He continues to overcome through the Holy Spirit in you, bringing that Almighty, life-giving Word to your mind and heart.
It’s not that you’ll be inoculated by a single dose of the Word of God, but in each temptation the Lord will show you His power to save you even in your filthy weakness.  Mark how the Lord responded to Adam and Eve: He didn’t tell them they would do better next time, but that He alone would save them: “He will bruise your head and you shall bruise His heel.”[6]
So it is true for you as well, as a dearly beloved, baptized child of God.  The devil is strong, but the Word within you is stronger—“The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart.”[7]  Arm yourself with that Word.  We can’t praise the Lord enough for how accessible His Word is to us now.  Study it, meditate on it, learn it by heart.  Study your catechism.  It may seem like the very basics, but it is the very Word which sends the devil running.  You will be blessed, not because you can suddenly go toe-to-toe with Satan, but because he will flee from you when you have God’s Word guarding your heart.  May He grant such a victory even to us, through Jesus our Lord.  Amen!
[1] Romans 5:12
[2] Romans 5:15
[3] Galatians 3:26
[4] Revelation 14:12
[5] 1 John 3:8
[6] Genesis 3:15
[7] Romans 10:8