Thursday, February 17, 2005

Sermon: Thursday of Lent 1 (Invocavit)

17 February 2005 at Chapel of Lutheran High School, Metairie, LA

Text: Matthew 4:1-11

In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

Today’s text is the assigned Gospel reading for the first Sunday in Lent – the forty day period of fasting and struggling against the Devil that Christians have observed since the earliest days of the church. There are 40 days in Lent, because our Lord likewise fasted and struggled against temptation for forty days. And while Lent can be an uncomfortable time of being reminded of our sins, it is also comforting to know that Jesus, our “Great High Priest,” is also one of us: a human being who struggled with temptation, and with being uncomfortable.

We sometimes forget that Jesus is 100% human. Being God at the same time did not make his body hurt any less when he fasted – or when he was being beaten and crucified, for that matter. Our Lord suffers, struggles, and endures temptation at the hand of the devil. And if God Himself had to struggle, can we expect any less?

Notice that it is God who leads him into the desert to confront Satan. Our text tells us “Jesus was led by the Spirit.” It was God’s will that Jesus be tempted, for without a confrontation, there couldn’t be a battle. Without a battle, there can be no victory. Without a cross, there can be no resurrection. And Lent, dear Christian brothers and sisters, is a time in which we are encouraged to take up our arms, put on our helmets, grab our shields, and prepare for war. We are all soldiers in the faith, and the enemy is the Evil One. We are to follow our General into the minefield, we are to engage the enemy amid the bombs and screams, and we are to look the devil in the eye and be willing to die in this war rather than surrender.

The Christian life is not for sissies. For Scripture describes our Enemy in many ways, as a clever serpent, as the father of lies, and as a lion looking to eat us. Engaging the devil in battle is no child’s play. And this is why Lent is such a serious time. Our churches become more plain, like Spartan military camps. Our words become more precise and focused – the way soldiers communicate in the heat of battle. And we look death in the face as our pastors somberly smear ashes on our heads: “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

And where is this battlefield? It is inside of us. Each Christian is a self-contained civil war, a battle between the sinful lusts of the flesh, and the godly impulses of the spirit. And as in any war, shots are fired back and forth. Ground is exchanged back and forth. Sometimes God wins the skirmish, but sometimes Satan wins the fire-fight. There are times when we turn our backs to sin, and thus deliver Satan a mighty blow, but other times, when we when we cave in to temptation, the devil gains ground on us.

But let’s face it, dear friends, in this war, we are out-manned and outgunned. We carry around our sinful nature like a hundred-pound backpack. We are not as clever or as knowledgeable as Satan. And there is a very real part of every soldier in this war that secretly cheers for the enemy. Let’s face it, we like to sin. It’s fun. It makes the ugly part of us happy. We sabotage our own efforts in the battle. We betray our own army, and our General. In fact, our own efforts are so tainted with sin, there are times when we think we’re going good and fighting evil, when the reality is, we’re sinning and advancing the kingdom of darkness without even realizing it.

All the while we put on a happy, holy face for the world, we are all rotten inside. We gossip so often we don’t even know we do it. We cheat a little here, a little there. Everyone does it. We dishonor our parents, we break the laws, we defy godly authority. We laugh when those we consider to be our enemies slip up, or make mistakes, or get caught doing something wrong. We are daily given opportunities to be compassionate, or kind, or caring – but we think about ourselves instead. Instead of helping others up, we push them down at laugh at them. There is a very good reason we confess our sins at the beginning of the Sunday liturgy – “we poor miserable sinners” who sin against God in “thought, word, and deed” are a disgrace to our Lord who died for us. No matter how much we polish our halos for everyone in public, we are sinful to the core. Like St. Paul, we must cry out in misery: “Who will deliver me from this body of death?” We are miserable soldiers, ineffective and weak.

But let’s not forget, our God pulls for the underdog. He has a soft spot in his heart for the weak. It was the little boy with the slingshot that killed the might giant in battle. It was the former slaves who had no weapons at all that triumphed over mighty Pharaoh and his army. And it was not an angel, but a flesh-and-blood Man, a helpless baby, a human being who suffered hunger and temptation, a condemned criminal who endured a gruesome execution – who single-handedly conquered sin, death, Satan, hell, and all of the forces of evil. While we are out-gunned, we have a secret weapon on our side – the Blood of Jesus who has already won the battle for us.

And notice in our text how Jesus wages cosmic warfare against Evil. Three times, the devil did his worst, offering temptations to Jesus that each one of us, (if we’re honest with ourselves) would snap up in a New York minute. How many of us would jump at the opportunity to do anything, absolutely anything, if we were offered a million bucks. We would take the money, and justify ourselves for the sake of our greed. There’s a reason why reality shows are so popular right now. We love money, and we would gladly turn against Jesus for a price – whether it be thirty pieces of silver, or thirty million dollars. Anyone who says otherwise is a liar. Every one of Jesus’ disciples abandoned him when it got scary – and we all do the same thing.

But notice how Jesus fought back against Satan. He did not rely on his own power (though he could have). He did not play the “God card” (though it was in his power). Instead, he showed us how we could fight the devil. Jesus clearly showed us what the weapon of choice is against Satan: and that is the Word of God. For in each of the three temptations, our Lord hurled the Scriptures against the devil. And, dear friends, the Word of God is our only sword to keep the mighty devil at bay.

And Scripture tells us the Word of God is a two edged blade. One side is the Law, and the other side is the Gospel. In waging war against Satan, we need both edges. For the Law cuts down our hypocrisy, our lies, our self-delusion that we are righteous. It exposes the Enemy lurking inside each of us. And the Gospel slices back the other way, cutting our Enemy down, by forgiving our sins, and turning the devil’s powerful attacks into empty, hollow threats. For we can look the growling lion in the face, and smile at him with the words “I am baptized.” For it is written: “He who is baptized and believes will be saved.”

And when the devil perverts the flesh, that which God designed to be good, and uses it as a temptation for evil, we Christians can point to the Flesh that the devil can’t corrupt: the Flesh of Christ. For it is written: “Take eat, this is my Body. Take drink, this is my Blood. Shed for the forgiveness of sins.” The Blood of Jesus is the Atomic Bomb dropped on the devil’s head, and we have the opportunity to make use of that weapon every Sunday.

And when the devil uses our tongues to do his work of evil, perverting our words (which mocks the fact that Jesus is himself “The” Word), it is the tongue of the pastor who pronounces our sins forgiven. He uses not his own words, but God’s Word, for it is written: “If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven.” This Word of God sends the demons of hell scurrying for cover.

So dear brothers and sisters, let us make use of the Word of God in this Lenten season. It is the Word of the Gospel, the Word of Scripture, the Word of Absolution, the Word of Baptism, and the Word of Holy Communion. For the Word is truly the weapon that destroys our enemy. And alongside of our Lord, we are empowered to boldly say: “Away with you, Satan, for it is written…” Amen.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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