+ Lent 1 – March 9th, 2014 +
Redeemer Lutheran, HB
Series A: Genesis 3:1-21; Romans 5:12-19; Matthew 4:1-11
In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.
You are at war. Since the day of your Baptism, since the day Christ gave you faith in Him, the devil has declared war on you.
The old satanic foe has sworn to work us woe.
And to make matters worse, you live in enemy occupied territory. You’ve all seen the devil’s propaganda machine at work in the world; it’s everywhere you look and listen. We’re surrounded.
As C.S. Lewis once said, “Christianity is the story of how the rightful king had landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us all to take part in a great campaign of sabotage. When you go to church you are really listening-in to the secret wireless from our friends: that is why the enemy is so anxious to prevent us from going.” (Mere Christianity, p. 46)
This season of Lent is a lot like that too. Jesus lands in disguise, hidden beneath the weakness and humility of a suffering servant. To be sure, He is the king. His crown is thorned. He is enthroned in wood and steel. And he rules and reigns by His death.
So, the church increases her broadcasts during Lent: more midweek services to hear God’s word, more receiving Jesus in weekly Holy Communion, more devotion, prayer, and giving to others in need.
All because Lent is a battlefield. We battle our sin. We fight temptation. We may even increase our armaments with prayer, fasting, and giving. It’s a season that heightens the tension in our ongoing internal civil war between our old rebellious nature and our nature in Christ. Not only do we live on the front lines – think of how the devil and the world wars against us and the Gospel daily – but we are the front lines.
Our readings today remind us that in our sin we’ve joined the war on the wrong side, the losing side; we too are rebels. As Paul writes, “Sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.” Adam and Eve lost. And we lost in them. We’re not up for the fight.
No strength of ours could match his might.
But thankfully, this battle isn’t up to you to win.
During Lent you’re at war. But you don’t fight alone. In fact, you aren’t even the one doing the fighting. Christ is.
But now a champion comes to fight, whom God himself elected.
Listen to how Christ fights for you in Matthew’s Gospel.
Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 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.”
Satan launches his first wave at Jesus’ stomach. The same Lord who fed wandering Israel now fasts in the wilderness. And you can just imagine the kinds of things Satan might say, “Why not help yourself Jesus? You know you’re hungry. Why fast when you can feast? All you have to do is say the word and that little lump of rock will be a satisfying loaf of bread. You provide the whole world with daily bread, why not just a little for yourself.”
Of course, this temptation – like all the rest – wasn’t really about the food. It was the devil’s attempt at getting Jesus to doubt the Father, to disobey the Father’s word and command, to get Jesus to give up hope on waiting for the Father’s provision.
But Jesus doesn’t give in. He doesn’t give up. He is obedient. He is the perfect Son that Israel never was. He is the perfect Adam who withstood temptation. He does not sin or rebel. He rebukes and repels Satan’s assaults. And he does it all by the Word of God:
Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.
For the devil’s second wave, he goes after Jesus’ faith in the Father. “Go ahead Jesus. Just take a little trust-fall off of the temple. Prove your faith. Throw yourself down.”
But Jesus will not put God to the test. Christ has perfect faith. Perfect trust in the Father’s will. He knows the Father will see him through the wilderness, through the temptation, through the suffering and agony of the cross. He knows the Father is not faithless. He knows the Father’s promises are true. Once more Jesus goes into the breach armed with God’s Word:
“Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
Then the third and last wave is a direct frontal barrage on the First Commandment. “All of the kingdoms of this world can be yours, Jesus. All you have to do is bow down to me.”
The devil tips his hand even more than before. The devil cannot create. He can make nothing new. He can only twist what God has given. He can only steal what rightfully belongs to God in the first place. The devil is always God’s ape.
Behold sin for what it really is: self-serving, self worship. It’s the same temptation from the Garden: you can be like God. Jesus saves his strongest offense for the last skirmish.
“Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’”
With a word – God’s Word – Jesus wins. Where Adam failed, Jesus is steadfast. Where we fall victim to temptation, Jesus overcomes. Where we are only selfish, Jesus is humble and self-less. Where worship ourselves, Jesus serves the Father in all things. Where we lose, Jesus triumphs.
This is what Lent is all about. It’s a battle. It’s an all out war and you’re caught in the middle of it. That’s why the Christian life isn’t all skittles, rainbows, and pretty flowers in the park.
The Christian life is a battle – and a daily one at that. “Take up your cross and follow me.” The fight comes to us in our friendships, in our families, in our churches, at work, at school – wherever you go. But know that Christ goes with you and for you, even as he marched into the wilderness and onto the cross and into the tomb and out again – all for you.
And if Lent reminds us that there’s a war going on, it’s also a reminder that Christ has fought and is fighting for you and with you still. Satan could not overpower Christ – not in the wilderness and not on the cross.
Lent is Jesus’ grand invasion into enemy territory. His rescue mission to win you back from the dead,. The rightful king disguises himself in the weakness and shame of the cross in order to reclaim what is rightfully his, you and all creation.
That’s the remarkable surprise about Christianity: the war is won by losing. Jesus wins by laying down his life. Jesus lays down his arms and his feet and his head in order to raise you from your tomb. Jesus triumphs by dying on the cross.
Your life in Christ is no different. You gain your life by giving up. That’s really the best thing to give up for Lent: give up on trying to win the battle yourself. Give up on trying to justify and save yourself. You win by losing. You live by dropping dead in Jesus. That’s what your Baptism is all about: a daily death and resurrection.
Jesus fought for you then in the wilderness then, just as He fought to the death for you on the cross. And he’ll fight for you now in whatever form temptation or strife comes your way – in Lent and every other season.
The Good News of Lent and of today’s reading isn’t that Jesus gives you an example of how to overcome temptation, but that He overcomes temptation for you, in your place. Lent is a battle and you’re at war…but you are victorious in Jesus’ death and resurrection.
And to the victor the spoils, the first fruits of him who died and rose again. Come, the victory feast of the Lamb is ready. His body which fasted, lived, obeyed, suffered, bled, died, rose, and ascended is here for you in your daily bread at his table. A table he prepares for you in the midst of your enemies. And the cup a that runs over with his blood. The same blood he shares with you in your humanity and here at the altar. His Blood shed for you on the cross. His Blood shed give to you for the forgiveness of your sins in the Supper.
In Lent the battle rages on, but the war is over. Jesus wins and in Him so do you.
The Kingdom ours forever.
In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.