Sunday, March 29, 2009

Lent 5

Sermon on John 8:42–59
For Our Savior Lutheran Church of Norwood Park, Chicago, IL
March 29, 2009 (The Fifth Sunday in Lent)

“Vindicate me, O God, plead my cause and deliver me.” With these words the Introit for today sets the tone for the last two weeks in Lent. The cry for God to vindicate, voiced by the Psalmist in Psalm 43, is the cry of Jesus Christ Himself as He is falsely accused, harassed, vilified, and ultimately captured, tried, convicted of crimes He did not commit, and put to death on the cross. Vindicate Me, O God! Christ appeals to His Father to vindicate Him, to be the true Judge against Whom there is no appeal, to defend and uphold the claim of His Son to be the Messiah, the Savior, the Son of God. Over against all the criticism of the Jews which is recorded in our text and elsewhere, over against an unjust conviction and the bitter mockery He endured during His hours of suffering and dying, He cries out, “Vindicate Me!” “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” Why don’t you rise up to defend Me and declare Me innocent? Why do you let these blasphemers have their way? Why don’t you speak out in My defense? Vindicate Me!

The word “vindicate,” can also be translated as “judge” or “justify.” The meaning is, “to declare righteous or innocent,” as in a courtroom where the verdict of innocence is handed down. That’s what it means to vindicate someone. Even though we don’t use the word vindicate very often, we all are involved in the activity of vindicating ourselves all the time. How often have you heard statements like these coming from the lips of your children or your co-workers or your spouse, or maybe even yourself? “It’s not my fault.” “You would have done the same thing if you were in my situation.” “But Mom, she hit me first!” “That’s not my job.” “I didn’t do it!” “At least I’m not a murder or an adulterer like some other people.” “You’re no better than I am, so you have no right to criticize.” And so on. As we go through life we are constantly trying to vindicate ourselves, or to justify ourselves, to make ourselves look good in the eyes of those around us. We are constantly trying to shift any blame for what happens around us away from ourselves to other people, to circumstances, to life in general. But it never seems to be finished. Every time we turn around it seems like we have to justify ourselves again. Even if nobody else accuses us, our own conscience is there, still accusing us of our sins. The conscience doesn’t buy it when we try to vindicate ourselves, and it keeps bothering us. In fact, the very act of trying to vindicate oneself is a tacit admission that our conscience isn’t satisfied with our behavior, even if everyone else around us is.

In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus doesn’t try to vindicate Himself. He doesn’t try to argue with the Jews to prove that He doesn’t have a demon. In fact, He admits that if he tried to honor Himself, to justify Himself, it would amount to nothing. Everyone tries to justify themselves and honor themselves, and so if Jesus went that route He would be just like the rest of us. Even though He really is the perfect Son of God and without sin, it’s not His place to prove that to the Jews. Either the Holy Spirit works through His words to create faith in the hearts of those who hear Him, or their hearts are hardened in unbelief. They are not His judge. The only one who can truly vindicate Jesus Christ is God the Father. He is the only Judge to whom the Son of God is truly accountable. Jesus does try to preach to them, not because He is trying to justify Himself or do defend His message, but simply because they are among those lost sheep whose salvation is Jesus’ mission. God is the one who judges. Jesus appeals to Him as His vindication.

But it doesn’t seem like God vindicated Him, does it? After all, the Father allowed Jesus to be captured, tortured, falsely accused, falsely convicted by a court that had no real authority over Him, and put to death despite His innocence. Is this the kind of vindication that God the Father is going to provide? How cruel and perverse! In fact, some unbelieving, blasphemous liberal theologians have said that the crucifixion of Jesus Christ is really a horrifying example of child abuse on the part of God the Father. But, as hard to believe as it may sound, Christ’s vindication is to be found there on Good Friday. It is precisely in giving Himself up to death for His creatures that Jesus Christ is revealed as the true God. It is precisely on the cross that Christ reveals Himself as God to the eyes of faith. After all, if God is love, there is no higher expression of love than to give up one’s life for others. His vindication comes from the fact that He seeks not His own good but rather the good of His creatures. He is vindicated because instead of saving Himself, instead of trying to vindicate Himself, He allows Himself to be condemned, for our vindication. As He says, “He who seeks to save his own life will lose it, but he who loses his life for My sake will save it.”

Here is the answer for us who are constantly seeking to vindicate ourselves and who are never able to get rid of the accusations against us. Here is vindication for us. We can’t vindicate ourselves. God, the true judge knows better. But He has taken our sins and our guilt away from us and put them on Jesus Christ. We are vindicated, not because we are righteous, but because He is righteous, and His righteousness covers our sin. We are declared innocent, not because we have been innocent, but because Someone else was declared guilty in our place. Our vindication, our justification, is not in what we do, or how well we argue our case and try to make ourselves look good. Our justification is in the fact that Christ has borne our punishment and given us His righteousness.

And so, when your conscience accuses you of sin, or when others around you accuse you of some fault or some sin or some mistake, what is your response? The natural response of our old sinful selves is to try to vindicate ourselves. The natural response is to try to come up with some excuse or reason why it’s not really our fault or why what we did or intended to do is not really that bad, or that the other person has no right to accuse us because he’s just as much of a sinner or because he didn’t bring his accusation in the right way, or whatever. But the response Christ enables us to make is to confess our sin, our fault, our blame for whatever it is that happened. The response of Christ Himself was to suffer instead of trying to vindicate himself, because He knew that His Father would vindicate Him. Our response to our sinfulness and our guilt is to confess rather than trying to vindicate ourselves, because, “If we confess our sins God is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Our vindication is not found in ourselves but in the forgiveness which is ours through Jesus Christ. Our vindication is found in His innocent suffering and death, and it is proclaimed in His glorious resurrection. Our vindication, our declaration of innocence is found in the words, “In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Just as Christ’s vindication came from above, from God, so also our vindication comes from above for the sake of Christ to Whom we belong. If we try to honor ourselves, our honor is nothing. It is our heavenly Father who honors us, by forgiving us our sins and granting us the gifts of eternal life. Amen.

✠ Soli Deo Gloria ✠

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


My wife says the background I chose for this blog this week is "Pepto-Bismol pink." I say it's rose. What do you think?

That said, Esget's chasuble is pinker than my eyes can handle. I like Petersen's better.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Lent 4

Sermon on John 6:1-15
For Our Savior’s Lutheran Church of Norwood Park, Chicago, IL
March 22, 2009 (The Fourth Sunday in Lent)

You know, multiplying fish are not all that unusual. All of us know about catches of fish that are bigger when you tell others about them than they were when you first caught them, and about fish that are bigger in your memory than they were against a ruler. Fishermen seem to have this knack for making fish grow and multiply between when they catch them and when they tell their friends about what they caught. But there are differences between these multiplying fish and the multiplying fish which our Lord distributes in the Gospel lesson. The fish our Lord multiplied are real, not “fish stories.” Also, our Lord didn’t multiply these fish in order to brag or show off. He did this out of love and service to His people who needed to be fed at that time.

With the huge crowd that had gathered, it was probably a big question in just about everybody’s mind how Jesus could possibly provide food for all these people. In fact, neither Philip nor Andrew thought it could be done. But they had simply forgotten Who they were dealing with. They were concerned that they did not have enough money, and then, when they found a little bit of food they did not think that it could be used by God to feed that many people. And, of course, what Philip and Andrew were thinking was no doubt quite reasonable. They had neither enough money nor enough food to feed all of those who had come out to hear Jesus speak. Ordinarily God does indeed work through things in this world like jobs and money and the grocery store to provide us with our daily needs. And so it seems perfectly reasonable to look for enough of those sorts of resources to feed these people. When these kinds of ordinary ways that God provides for us are functioning properly, that is, when he gives us enough money by means of our employers to buy what we need, when the production and distribution network of our nation are in good working order so that the products we need arrive in good condition to convenient locations where we can purchase them, or at the very least when we are able to grow or hunt or fish what we need—when all of these things are happening the way they are supposed to, it is easy to forget that behind all of this is God, fulfilling His people’s prayer to “give us this day our daily bread.” It is easy to think that it is really our own hard work that is behind the fact that we are well-fed and well-clothed. And then when we encounter a need which is not covered by these ordinary means, it is tempting to despair and believe that since we don’t have the resources to meet this need, whether its expensive medical care or the loss of a job or whatever, the need will not be met; we will not be provided for.

What Philip and Andrew forgot, and what we so often forget, is that He who is the Provider of all our needs is right here with us. Christ in our Gospel lesson had stopped to teach these people even though He Himself was very tired precisely because He had compassion on them. Now they needed food. He is God, the One who provides them with food and clothing and everything they need. Is it really conceivable that He will simply abandon them in their need simply because the ordinary, natural means of providing for that need have given out? No way! Likewise with us when we experience hard times and difficulties in providing for our sustenance. He who gives His own body and blood for our eternal nourishment will sustain us even when the ordinary means of such sustenance have given out, whether through some extraordinary providence or through the charity of our fellow Christians, or even in the worst case, by taking us to that place where we will never hunger nor thirst again. God does provide.

There is, of course, another error into which we can fall as we consider how God provides for the needs of His people. This is the error of forgetting God’s priorities, of trying to make God into some sort of “bread king.” We must remember that He provides for us in His own way and in His own time. Is a king who is made a king against his will really a king? Is he really a ruler? Or is he a prisoner who happens to be wearing nice robes and living in a big house? The problem with what the people wanted to do to Jesus was that they wanted Him to be their king on their terms and for their reasons, and in so doing they were making themselves into the real kings, the real gods. They would have destroyed the entire purpose for Jesus’ coming to earth if they would have had their way, because Jesus had more important things to do than to sit around multiplying bread and fish. He had to die. He had to give His life for the forgiveness of sins. If he had followed the will of these people He would have maybe made their lives easier here but He would have destroyed their lives, and ours, in eternity.

There are many in our world today who like to “shop around” for a Church. When they move to a new city they evaluate the various Churches not on the basis of their faithfulness to God’s Word but on the basis of whether there are the right kinds of activities and services offered by the church such as a large Sunday School, bible classes that meet their interests and their age group, maybe even an aerobic exercise class or babysitting during the services or whatever. To be sure, there is nothing wrong with having a large number of activities and services within the Church, and for the Church to be sponsoring a number of activities and programs for the benefit of the entire community. The problem is when these things overshadow the one thing needful, when the desire for such programs and activities becomes more important to people than the pure doctrine in teaching and preaching, and the rightly administered Sacraments which are our food for eternal life. Where God feeds His people for eternal life, there the Church will also help out those in need in this life as well. But where the programs and aspects of the Church’s life that relate to this world are seen as more important than the things that relate to eternal salvation, then there is a problem. Then the programs and activities are no longer God’s eternal gifts breaking into our time, they are just simply men trying to help themselves. Another way of saying that is that when the priorities of the people or of the Churches become unbalanced, then human works and human activities become our gods. In effect, when this happens we make idols out of ourselves.

In our text, despite the people’s trying to make Jesus into their captive “bread-king,” He escaped and went on with His ministry. He went to the cross, to suffer and die and to rise again, to win salvation for us. His most important provision for us was accomplished by winning eternal life for us. He became the first one to rise from the dead, and His body which was given for us and His blood shed for us is the beginning of an entire new creation, a new heaven and earth. Instead of staying to give people only the food which perishes, He gave all of mankind the food that does not perish by giving Himself on the cross. He now gives us that food at the altar, where His body and blood are presented to us to nourish and strengthen us, not just for this life, but for eternity.

Of course, the fact that Jesus refused to stay behind does not mean that He was unwilling to help people in their needs for this life. It just means that everything needs to be kept in proper perspective. After all, He did provide miraculously for their hunger on this occasion, and healed and fed and otherwise miraculously provided for people on other occasions. What happened in our text, and the other times that Jesus did miracles, is that a little bit of what will happen in eternal life, leaked into our world. In heaven nobody will hunger or thirst, nor will there be any disease or death. Being in heaven means being where God is, being where we can perfectly praise and worship Him and where He can lovingly provide all our needs. Where Christ is present, both in first-century Palestine, and today in His Real Presence in the Word and the Sacrament, there heaven has come to us. Many, many hospitals, schools, retirement homes, and other charitable organizations were founded by churches for this very reason.

Where Christ’s presence in Word and Sacrament as the crucified and risen Lord is the center of the Church’s life, of course there will be other activities and institutions founded, because where He is, there He will provide for His people. We need not doubt in tough times that He will be with us, even when we don’t have the obvious means to get by. Even the Church itself can sometimes have tough times. This congregation is smaller now than it once was, and it is often tempting to worry and wonder what will happen to it if the trend continues. But do not worry and do not fret. He redeemed us; He will provide for us in His own way, in His own good time. Of course, I’m not saying we should simply sit back and relax; he does expect us to confess Him before our friends and neighbors and invite them to share in His gifts. But that would still be true even if this congregation were bursting at the seams. What he tells us not to do is worry or doubt His providence and care for us. There is always the temptation that the other things that flow from Christ’s presence, either in their abundance or in their lack, will distract us from the one thing needful, Christ Himself. But Christ is still present in His Word and His body and blood to call us back to unity with Him. He is the one thing needful, and, having Him, we have everything we truly need, for this life, and eternity. Amen.

✠ Soli Deo Gloria ✠

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Lent 3

Sermon on Luke 11:14-28
For Our Savior’s Lutheran Church of Norwood Park, Chicago, IL
March 15, 2009 (The Third Sunday in Lent)

Once again we see demons in connection with our Gospel lesson this week. This is the third week in a row. Two weeks ago, the most powerful of the demons tempted our Lord in the wilderness. Last week, it was a demon who had possessed the Canaanite woman’s daughter. This week, He’s casting out another demon, and it becomes the occasion of an accusation that He Himself is, in fact, either a demon or an ally of demons. This portion of the season of Lent reminds us that it is only by God’s protection and care that we are able to survive long at all in this world, as we are surrounded by those who would hurt and destroy us. And this is especially true of the Church. Where Christ is preaching and giving out His body and blood, there His enemies will focus all their effort and all their trickery. Make no mistake, we can’t hope to stand against that alone; in fact, the more we try to stand against Satan’s attacks with our own reason or strength, our own ideas of what will best serve the Church, the more he’s already got us in his power. He’s a stronger man than we are, and our efforts, by themselves, usually play into his hands rather than causing him harm.

And that’s the problem, of course, when you’re dealing with demons. The Pharisees thought that they were doing the right thing, too. But they were more controlled by Satan and his minions than the mute man had been. The mute demoniac was being possessed unwillingly by Satan. But the Pharisees, because they were opponents of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, were fully and completely under Satan’s control. Their legalistic system of works-righteousness was every bit as demonic as the muteness of the man who was healed was. Jesus was talking about them when he said that those who are not with Him are against Him.

This is still true today. If you want to find evidence of Satan’s activity today, you don’t need to go looking at Ouija boards or haunted houses or any of those things. You need only look at the false doctrines that are creeping into even many mainline Christian churches in our day, doctrines which deny the truthfulness of God’s Word and depict even God Himself in ways which are completely contradictory to how He has revealed Himself, doctrines which deny that Jesus is the Son of God who became man to save us, and assert that He is merely some great moral teacher. You only need to look at the rise of cults and false religions such as Wicca or the New Age movement or even such well-established cults as Mormonism and the Jehovah’s Witnesses. You only need look at the rise of immorality in our society. And I’m not only talking about the Sixth Commandment, either. There is also a rise in immorality in other matters, involving greed and theft and selfishness on the part of the rich and powerful, involving a simple lack of basic love between parents and children and between other family members, involving a simple basic loss of courtesy and kindness between people in general. These are the truly dangerous manifestations of Satan’s activity, and we see them on the rise all around us today. Compared to this, the possession of a man’s body against his will is trivial.

The fact that so much of what is wrong with our society today can be seen in this way as demonic or Satanic should make us sober and watchful. It is a wake-up call. The things that go on around us, and the temptations that arise within our own hearts are not child’s play. We are not strong enough to resist them on our own. This is especially true since we are all born already in Satan’s kingdom and it was only when we were baptized that the devil was cast out of us and we became part of God’s kingdom. If we try to stay out of Satan’s traps without God’s help and apart from the preaching of His Word and the receiving of His sacraments, we will fail and fail miserably.

But even though this message should make us watchful and sober and aware of our danger, it should not make us afraid or make us despair. Yes, Satan is stronger than we are, and yes, if we try to stand on our own strength he will conquer us and make us and everything we have his own. But even if we have already fallen to Satan there is still a stronger man even than him. That Man is Jesus Christ Himself. He is able to overcome Satan and drive him out of our lives. He did so once when we were baptized. The next time we have a baptism here in Church, listen to what is said in connection with Holy Baptism. Before we confess the Apostle’s Creed together, we are asked, “Do you renounce the devil and all his works and all his ways?” And the response is, “I do renounce them.” That wouldn’t be possible if Jesus were not stronger than Satan. Even the worst thing the devil could do to Jesus, namely having Him killed in the most gruesome manner possible, was used by Jesus to win the victory. The death of Jesus Christ was not a defeat for Him. It was rather a defeat for Satan. Christ’s resurrection on the first Easter Sunday proves this. There is nothing that Satan can do which the Son of God Incarnate cannot use for His own good purposes. Everything in Satan’s household has been conquered by Jesus Christ and taken by him as spoils from that battle.

It might be nice to be a relative of this Jesus, who is even stronger than Satan. The woman who cried out at the end of this text thought so. And it probably was a good thing to be related to Him. After all, his mother Mary has had a very prominent position in the minds of Christians through the centuries, and those who were known as His brothers became prominent bishops in the earliest Church. But we have a much closer relationship to Him than that. We have become those who “hear the Word of God and keep it.” We have been washed clean of the stain of Satan’s influence through Holy Baptism, and we are returned daily to that cleanliness through the Word of God which grants us again the forgiveness of sins. We have eaten His body and blood, the same body and blood which were crucified to win the victory, and we continue to have the opportunity to do so today. Mary was greatly blessed to become the mother of the Messiah. But all Christians are even more blessed to be of the spiritual family of God. Satan cannot harm us because we are protected by the strongest Man of all, the God-Man, Jesus Christ. Amen.

✠ Soli Deo Gloria ✠

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Lent 2

Sermon on Matthew 15:21-28
For Our Savior’s Lutheran Church of Norwood Park, Chicago, IL
March 8, 2009 (The Second Sunday in Lent)

Why did God allow this woman’s daughter to be possessed by a demon? Since God is all-powerful, and Satan and his fellow fallen angels are just that, mere fallen angels, why didn’t God stop that demon from entering the woman’s daughter in the first place? And then, when she asks God for help with the situation, why does He act so impolite toward her and make her go through all of that begging and humiliation before He will consent to heal the daughter? Why? For that matter, if God can do anything, why does He allow us to be tempted and afflicted in various ways? Why does He allow us to have to fight and struggle against the temptations of the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh? After all, if Jesus already won the victory over the temptations that the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh bring us, then why do we still have to fight against these things? Why do we still have trouble in this world? Why do the righteous so often seem to suffer while the evil so often seem to be so well off? You would think, that if God is both good and loving on the one hand, and almighty and all-powerful on the other hand, then these kinds of things wouldn’t happen to us. Demons wouldn’t be able to torment people like they do in various ways.

These questions, why do bad things happen to good people, why doesn’t God help me out when I’m suffering, why doesn’t He seem to care if He’s supposedly such a good God, are questions that theologians and philosophers have pondered over for thousands of years. And they’re not just an academic exercise, either. Suffering is very real all around us and in our own lives. And very often God’s response to our prayers seems to be the same kind of seemingly callous and insulting response we read that Jesus gave to the woman in today’s Gospel.

Now, many times we can’t know specifically the reason why God allows these sorts of things. But in general, we know from Scripture that God uses these things to make us rely on His promises more firmly. God’s promises to be with us and to preserve us and to comfort us depend only on the fact that it was He who spoke them. His promises to us are true even if the whole world and everything we see and feel seems to contradict them. His promises to us are true even if He Himself seems to be ignoring us and rejecting us. Sometimes God puts us through experiences like that of this woman to remind us of that fact, and to strengthen our faith so that we rely more firmly on the promises rather than testing Him and trying to see physical evidence of His care for us. Our confidence in God’s protection and care, and more importantly our confidence in His salvation, should not depend on whether or not we feel or see His care and protection in our lives. Our confidence in God’s love for us and His care for us depends solely upon His promises to us in the Holy Scriptures. But all too often we like to rely upon other things besides God’s promises to support our faith, whether those things be our emotions or good feelings about God, or whether those things be the fact that things are going well for us, or whatever it may be. For this reason, sometimes these blessings are taken away from us precisely because we are using them as a crutch in the place of our faith or making our faith depend on them rather than Him.

Notice also that even though Jesus didn’t come right out and call the woman a dog, she more or less admitted herself to be one when she said that even the dogs eat the crumbs which fall from the master’s table. God’s care for us and His protection of us also don’t depend on our own worthiness. We can’t come to Him and say that He should do things for us because we’re such good people or because we have tried to do what is right or whatever. The fact of the matter is that we aren’t good people. None of us have done what God required. Before God’s throne we have to admit that we are nothing but poor, miserable sinners. And many of us can name specific sins we have committed that are pretty terrible. If we were to have a conversation with God the way this woman did, we too would be forced to admit that we aren’t worthy for God to do anything for us. We too would have to admit that we are nothing and worse than nothing, and that God would be perfectly within His rights to ignore us and to forget about us and allow us to go straight to hell after our deaths.

But God has promised not to do that. And it is His promises that give us the reassurance that He won’t do that. It is His promises in the Holy Scriptures that we hold on to. God keeps His promises. This woman stubbornly held God to His promises after He had cut out from under her any other reason for Him to help her. He wasn’t going to help her because of her nationality, because she was not of Israel. She was a Canaanite, a group of people whom the Jews of those times often referred to as “dogs.” He wasn’t going to help her because of her crying and yelling after Him. He helped her only because His nature was of love and mercy. He helped her because not only the Israelites but all people were among those who are to humbly and thankfully receive God’s gifts. He helped her not because she was worthy of the help but because He is the one who helps people and upholds them. That’s who He is, that’s His identity: the life-giver and life-sustainer, both here and in eternity.

God has not promised to take away all our pains and griefs and troubles in this world. After all, if He did away with everything that’s wrong with this world the easy way, He’d do away with us sinners too. He has not promised that we will always feel very good or that we will always have the greatest feelings of joy and peace. But He has promised to take away the guilt of our sins and to give us eternal life. In eternal life we will have no more problems, troubles, and fears. In eternal life every tear will be wiped away from our eyes. In this life we may experience times that feel an awful lot like hell to us. Sometimes those hells are of our own making, whether because we have refused God’s Law and done what we ought not, or whether we have refused the Gospel, disobeyed the First Commandment, and imprisoned ourselves in a nightmare of guilt and self-blame. But we have His promise that this too shall pass. And we believe His promise, we have faith in His promise, not because we see Him working, not because we feel Him working, but because He is the one who gave us this promise. Despite everything we might see and feel, He is still there watching out for us and providing us with daily bread, and more importantly with the forgiveness of sins, eternal life and salvation. Even we dogs, we poor miserable sinners, get to eat the crumbs which fall from the master’s table. And these “crumbs” are nothing less than the body and blood of Jesus Christ Himself. These “crumbs” grant nothing less than eternal life and salvation to those who receive them. We don’t deserve it, but God has given us to participate in the eternal feast of victory which has no end. God may not always seem to be gracious to us if we only use our five senses. But to the eyes of faith, which see the promises of His Word and the body and blood of His Supper for what they are, the richest blessings imaginable are ours. Amen.

✠ Soli Deo Gloria ✠

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 ✠