Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Sermon: Wednesday of Lent 1 - Invocabit

4 March 2009 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Mark 1:9-15 (Gen 22:1-18, James 1:12-18)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

In the Small Catechism, we recite:

“God tempts no one. We pray in this petition that God would guard and keep us so that the devil, the world, and our sinful nature may not deceive us or mislead us into false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice.”

Dr. Luther drew this explanation of the fifth petition of the Lord’s Prayer: “Lead us not into temptation” from St. James, who reminded us yet again: “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.”

And yet, God does test us. He disciplines us. He challenges us. He teaches us. But this is different than temptation. Indeed, Satan is himself called “the tempter” by St. Matthew. To tempt is to lure into evil, into rebellion. To tempt is to try to separate people from God, to try to compel or impel people to do wrong, to ensnare them into a trap. Temptation has the goal of sin. Testing has the goal of resisting sin.

In fact, as Moses spoke to us yet again, when God asked Abraham to make the ultimate sacrifice of his beloved son, the chosen one begotten of the promise of God and conceived miraculously – God was not tempting Isaac, but rather testing him.

Our Lord Jesus, by contrast, was indeed tempted. In His human nature, he was visited by Satan, the most ancient enemy of the Triune God, the bringer of death to mankind, the accuser and the tempter, the serpent, the fallen archangel, the prince of darkness and the father of lies. And this was not a friendly visit. Nor was this a test. Rather it was a temptation.

And in His human nature, this Champion of mankind, this New and Greater Adam, not only turned back the devil and resisted temptation, he did so as a result of the fact that the Holy Spirit “drove him out into the wilderness” in the first place.

Notice that this temptation was in a very real way set up by God the Holy Spirit – it was not for the purpose to tempt Jesus. Rather it was for the purpose of Jesus to defeat the devil in a battle. Jesus was led into a test, but God never tempted him.

Dear friends, we too are tempted – but it is the evil foe, not God, who tempts us. It is our sinful flesh that lusts after that which is not given us. It is the fallen world, in league with the devil and our fallen human nature that draws us into sin. It is a sweet and alluring call. But don’t confuse this with being of God. For the forbidden fruit that seduced Eve and her husband in the Garden at the hand of the devil was “good for food” and a “delight to the eyes.” And though God tested our ancestors by placing the tree in the garden in the first place, commanding them not to eat – it was indeed the serpent that drew Adam and Eve into sin by a combination of lies, marketing, salesmanship, and seduction.

And just as the first Adam fell to temptation and brought death and misery into the world, our Lord Jesus Christ overcomes temptation, and restores life and joy back into the world. Falling into temptation is the way of hell, but passing the test is the path to heaven.

Our Lord Jesus Christ passed this and every test, and not once fell for the lies and false promises of the devil. And He did so for us.

The greatest temptation that our Lord suffered, however, was not this first skirmish with the enemy, but would come later.

He prepared to ascend the hill with wood on his shoulder, to be the fulfillment of Isaac, the beloved Son to be sacrificed – though he would not be spared like Isaac. He would instead become the Lamb supplied by God with His head ensnared in the very thorns of the curse of Eden, to be the sacrifice to end all sacrifices, to be, in the Greek language of the early Christians, the “holocaust,” the offering that is completely consumed, the all-availing sacrifice for the entire world. And as He prepared Himself for this holocaust by prayer, He was tempted with agony and distress.

The devil, who worked through Judas, was tormenting our Lord. And had the devil succeeded in tempting Him into disobeying His Father, our salvation would not only have been lost, but the very fabric of the Trinity itself would have been torn. But this was not to be. For like faithful father Abraham, our blessed Lord went forward with the sacrifice – even as His Father, who “so loved the world,” gave His only begotten Son into the sacrificial death for the sake of His fallen sinful people. Satan’s temptation of our Lord was doomed to fail: for “God cannot be tempted with evil, and He himself tempts no one.”

Our Lord Jesus Christ, having both divine and human natures, cannot yield to temptation. It is a great irony that when it comes to sin, this is one thing that fallen man can do that God Himself cannot.

And thanks be to God that this is the case! For this was not merely the story of a superhero beating up a bad guy. This isn’t like a sporting event where we cheer and say “Hooray for our side!” For the very state of the cosmos hung on the shoulders of our tempted, crucified, and victorious Lord, whose conquest over sin, death, and the devil is our conquest as well.

Dear friends, temptation will come – but it will not be by God. God is not a sadistic monster who sets us up for failure out of malice and hatred. Rather our Lord is our merciful Father – for He sets us up for victory out of grace and love. Like faithful father Abraham, our faithful heavenly Father is willing to sacrifice all – even the very thing most beloved to Him. And our Lord Jesus is likewise faithful, spurning every temptation, passing every test, enduring every trial – even His passion and death for our justification and life. And our Lord the Holy Spirit, who does not tempt us, nevertheless draws us into our own wilderness where we too do battle with the evil foe – not to tempt us to defeat, but rather to spur us on to victory by God’s grace, by the cross, and by divine power.

In any warfare, battles are won and lost. And you will lose many skirmishes with the serpent just as Adam and Eve did. But unlike casualties of earthly wars, though you are mortally wounded, you are restored to life. Though you may be taken out today, you will live to fight another day. And though you will die, yet you will also live.

And this, dear friends, is because of what our Lord Jesus Christ – the One who overcomes temptation, who defeats the devil, and who rolls back death and its wages – has done, continues to do, and will always do for us. We have His promise, His Word. His victory over the sin, death, and the devil is our forgiveness of sin, our resurrection over death, and our strength in the face of temptation.

This victory is a gift, a free and glorious gift, a gift that will never be taken from you. For listen again to St. James: “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” Amen.

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

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