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