Sunday, March 1, 2009

Lent 1

Sermon on Matthew 4:1-11
For Our Savior’s Lutheran Church of Norwood Park, Chicago, IL
March 1, 2009 (The First Sunday in Lent)

For the next three Sundays, demons will play a part in the Gospel lessons. Demons are, of course, fallen angels. They were created the same as those beings we know as angels, but they rebelled against God and were cast down from their high position. Their leader is, of course, Satan. The popular misconception would have you believe that Satan is some sort of evil god, equal but opposite to the true God who made the heavens and the earth. But that’s simply not true. Satan is merely a created being, a fallen angel. Today we see an account of Jesus being tempted by the leader of the demons, Satan. Next Sunday the woman who comes to Jesus will be asking Him to heal her daughter, who is possessed by a demon. And on the Third Sunday in Lent we will hear what Jesus’ response is to the accusation that He Himself is allegedly a demon. The first part of the season of Lent seems to be filled with demons.

That’s not a very pleasant thought. But it’s the reality in which we live. Now, unlike Jesus’ day, we don’t very often see when the demons are working against us. Of course, there were many things that Satan and his followers were doing back in the first century that people couldn’t see, either. But with God the Son Himself walking around on earth in human flesh, Satan tended to do some fairly frightening things back then because he was desperate. And it is true that sometimes demons will do outlandish, frightening, and spooky things today too. But in most cases that’s just not effective. If the devil or one of the other fallen angels does something obviously frightening or spooky, those who are affected by it will in many cases be frightened enough to seek out God and His Word, which is exactly the opposite of what Satan wants. So instead Satan usually works in, with, and under the world and our sinful flesh to tempt us to go against God’s commandments. That’s how he is most effective. That’s the attack that is the most dangerous to us, because, unlike the weird stuff that we read about demons doing in Biblical times, temptations are common to us and persistent. They wear us down. They become familiar. We let down our guard. And then Satan has us. It’s especially easy if we’ve given in to temptation before. Nothing bad happened to me the last time I did thus and such, in fact it may have been fun or helped me out with a problem I had in some way. So I might as well do it again. Also, temptations come to us by means of our own old sinful selves as well as the peer pressure that comes from those around us in the world, and both of those forces are hard to resist, since we naturally hold our friends and especially our own selves in pretty high esteem. That’s the way temptation works. That’s why it’s so dangerous to us.

In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus faced temptation for us. And, even though they came to Him in some pretty extraordinary ways (when was the last time Satan offered you lordship over the whole earth?), these temptations were the same ones we face every day. They were all temptations to put self above God. They were all temptations to break the First Commandment, to rely on something or someone else besides God and the means He has given us. In the first case, Jesus is tempted to criticize His Father’s providence by providing sustenance for Himself rather than what the Father had provided. We too are tempted to do this, and stealing and coveting are the end result. In the second case, the temptation was to make God prove Himself, which shows an attitude of unbelief. After all, if we truly believe God is watching over us, we don’t have to make Him prove it. And besides, He hasn’t promised us to rescue us from our own foolishness when we deliberately do something stupid. In the third case, the temptation is not so much to worship Satan as it is to worship oneself. Having all the kingdoms of the world bow down to us, having all men speak well of us, is something that all of us would like to have according to our old natures. But often the approval of the world comes at the expense of our own souls, because to get the approval of the world one must speak approvingly of the world’s false gods.

Our Lord overcame these temptations using the Means that God had given Him to use, namely the Holy Scriptures, the Word of God. This is our defense as well, against all the temptations which come against us. God’s Law is clear, and the better we know it, the better we will be able to remind ourselves of it when we are faced with temptation. But in this text Jesus stands, not merely as a good example of how to overcome temptation, but more importantly He stands as the One who overcame temptation for us. Adam and Eve gave in to temptation, and so all of their descendants, including you and me, have been infected with the disease of sinfulness. According to our old sinful selves, it is impossible for us not to break the First Commandment. But in our baptism we were adopted into Christ, and so we have become part of the new family, the descendants of the new Adam, namely Christ Jesus. He overcame temptation, and we overcame those temptations in Him. Because of this we can be declared righteous and holy, which is what happens when your sins are forgiven.

Through the Word of God as we live daily in our Baptism, the Holy Spirit works in us to overcome the temptations we face. It is only because of His power through the Word that we are able to overcome temptation. This is especially true since we have so often fallen to temptation in the past, which makes it easier to give in again. Only by the Holy Spirit are we given the courage and strength to overcome temptation. Even Jesus needed to be strengthened by God’s messengers (remember that the word angel means “messenger”), after facing the devil’s temptations. God sends the Holy Spirit to you through Word and Sacrament preached and administered by pastors such as myself, pastors who are His messengers of forgiveness and eternal life to His people. This is why it is vitally important that we are regularly in Church to hear God’s Word and receive His sacramental gifts.

Christ overcame temptation, not for Himself, but for us. He is the new Adam who won the victory over temptation where the old Adam fell flat on his face. He now comes to us in His body and blood. By partaking of His body and blood we receive everything He won for us, including His victory over temptation. This means both that our failures to resist temptation are forgiven, and that we are nourished and strengthened by Him to resist temptation in the future. We do not need to rely on the rocks of our own inadequate spiritual resources when we face temptation. We have the true living bread from heaven. Amen.

✠ Soli Deo Gloria ✠

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