Monday, March 14, 2011

Rumble in the Desert

T Lent 1 – March 13, 2011 T
Text: Genesis 3:1-21; Romans 5:12-19; Matthew 4:1-11

In the Name of Jesus + Amen.

            The wilderness is a horrid place.  It’s not so much of what’s out there that’s the problem, but what isn’t out there.  Lack.  Hardship.  Endless sand and rocks – no vegetation – no life, just plain nothing.  Endless nothingness.  Everything’s chaotic and nothing is good, nothing is right.  You can try covering it up with irrigation and golf courses, spas and resorts, but all is vanity – the ground is cursed - pay no attention to the thorns and thistles behind the curtain.  The desert is the opposite of Eden’s Paradise - pristine vibrancy, life in all its vitality: waters swarmed, animals teemed, trees and plants abundant as the eye could see.  The only thing that really goes out into the wilderness is a scapegoat bearing the sins of the people.

            Jesus wastes no time.  Still dripping wet with Jordan’s baptismal waters – He is led by the Spirit into the wilderness, the devil’s territory, to be tempted.  The ancient Serpent awaited the 2nd Adam.  Heaven and hell were about to exchange blows.  Out in the wilderness Satan attempts reverse insanity – trying the same trick over and over again and expecting the same result.  Adam fell.  Israel fell.  Why not try Jesus?  He’s hungry.  Tired.  Weak – ripe for the picking; it’ll be just like the good ole days.  Ok, it’s not insanity; it’s unbelief of the worst kind.  Satan knows who Christ is but does not believe that He cannot fall.
            Christ goes out to meet His foe, but He is not alone – you are with Him in the desert.  Jesus goes to the wilderness to do what we could not do.  Jesus stands where Israel once stood – in the wilderness.  Jesus stood where Adam once stood - in the face of Satan’s temptation.  Israel reduced to one.  Humanity reduced to one.  There are no wallflowers in this dance.  In Jesus, all of us go toe-to-toe with the heavyweight of hell.  Just as in Adam all humanity fell through temptation into sin and death, so in Christ all humanity will rise in the obedience and righteousness of Him who fights for you.

            Round 1.  Jesus is hungry after fasting 40 days and 40 nights.  Satan, hungry for victory, strikes the first blow: “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”  If God feeds the birds of the air and clothes the lilies of the field will He not even feed His own Son?  If you really are His beloved Son, why do you suffer?  
            No sooner had Satan thrown the first punch than Jesus returned with the block.  “It is written, man shall not live by bread alone, but by every Word that comes from the mouth of God.” 
            “This is my Beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.”  You see, Satan’s low blow was not aimed at Jesus’ empty stomach, but rather, to turn Jesus from the promise of His Father’s Word to the fickle feelings of the human heart.  But Jesus is not some conjurer of cheap tricks.  The Bread of Life lives and trusts perfectly in the Word of God.

            And as it was with Jesus, so it is with you.  Failing to knock out Jesus, Satan will come and bully your conscience, luring you away from your Father’s Word to the fickle feelings of the human heart.  You are God’s beloved child.  But it doesn’t always seem that way, does it?  Bills pile up, loved ones fall ill, families are broken, earthquakes strike.  If God really loved us He wouldn’t let these things happen, would He?  If you were really a child of God you wouldn’t always fall prey to that sin, would you? 
            Such are the designs of the devil: lies, doubt and despair.  Every lie of the devil begins with, “if.”  But Jesus exposes Satan’s word for the lie that it is.  That’s the little word that can fell him: Liar.  For he cannot bear to hear the truth.  Jesus does not fail the test.  The obedient for the disobedient.  Where Israel grumbled, Jesus does not murmur against God’s promises.  Jesus came not to be served - but to be tempted by the flesh in our flesh – to serve others and give His life as a ransom for you.

            Round 2.  Satan taunts Jesus a second time.  The devil took Him to Jerusalem, to the pinnacle of the temple: “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down.”  Oh, the devil is so pious.  He even quotes Scripture: “For He will command His angels concerning you…and…on their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.” 
            But you must read the rest of Psalm 91, devil.  For it says “You will tread upon the lion and the cobra; you will trample the great lion and the serpent.”  How convenient; the devil left that part out.  It’s about him.  The Son of God will strike His foot – not against a stone – but against Satan’s head.  Crushing it with a cross-bruised heel.
            Satan can only twist Scripture.  Deceits and false promises.  He can only be God’s ape, trying to get you to join his monkey-see, monkey-do game.  “Did God really say?” “He would keep, guard and build His Church?  Will He really create believers with nothing but His Word and water and body and blood?  How many men and women – let alone churches, great and small – have jumped from the pinnacle of truth only to strike their foot against the stone of heresy? 
            But Jesus will hear none of it.  While Satan’s lies worked in the garden they are rebuked and overcome in the desert.  Jesus does not fall where Adam fell. “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.”  And neither will Jesus.  Angels will come and minister to Jesus, but not here.  Not now.  For He came, not to be lifted up on the temple, but on the cross. 

Round 3.  Satan lunges forward with one last swing.  Having failed in tempting Jesus to divine self-service and self-protection; Satan goes for the jugular – self-preservation – the very heart of the 1st commandment, fear, love and trust in God.  “All of these kingdoms I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 
            A tempting proposition: a kingdom without a cross.  A shortcut – just a little tap-out, bow down and worship me – in exchange for all the glory of the kingdoms in this world.  How often we exchange our worship for considerably less.  But for Jesus – and His bride, the Church – the end does not justify the means.  There is no kingdom without the crucifixion.  The Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, suffer, be crucified and buried and on the 3rd day rise again.  Jesus will never deny the Father and for that, the Father will never deny you. 

            One final blow remains: “You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve.”  Be gone, Satan!  And with that the devil is repelled.  He must flee before God’s Word. 

            Do you see what Jesus – your Fighter, your Champion, your Valiant One – has done for you?  He has utterly reversed the fall of the first man.  Where Adam fell, Christ stood.  Where Adam yielded, Christ conquered.  Where Adam betrayed himself and God, Christ remained true.  But that is not all.  Christ the new Adam, brings forth a new humanity in His flesh and blood.  What you could not do, Christ has done for you.  In the plush Garden, the first Adam was defeated by the ancient serpent.  But there in the Judean wilderness, Jesus fought off the temptations of the Evil One.  Defeated, first in the desert and then on the cross. 
            Heaven and hell stood toe-to-toe and hell is left lying in the dust – so that you who are dust and dust you shall return – will not be left to die outside the city.  So that you, sons of Adam and daughters of Eve will not be cast out of Paradise, but embraced, welcomed and made new. 
            Shed the serpentine skin of your old Adam and live.  For Jesus’ victory is your victory.  Jesus’ conquering is your conquering.  Jesus’ baptism is your baptism:  His death, life, resurrection and ascension are all yours.  He is the one who lives by every Word that comes from the mouth of God, who refuses to put God to the test, who worships and serves the Lord His God alone – all for you.
            Everything the devil has on you – all the dirt, all the skeletons in the closet, all the sin – Christ has taken upon Himself. 
            So the next time Satan rubs his accusations in your conscience point him to Jesus.   Shake your fist and throw ink bottles at him.  Say, “Damn you, devil, eat dust.  You’ll have to take that up with Jesus.  He’s the one who bears all my sin.  I’m a baptized child of God, covered by the blood of Him who has you firmly under His foot.  Christ defeated you in the wilderness and on the cross.  You have nothing to say to me.  Be gone, Satan!  You cannot harm me; I belong to Christ.  And He holds the field, the wilderness and the cross – victorious, forever.”
In the Name of Jesus + Amen.

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