Sunday, February 17, 2013

Lent 1, Series C

Sermon on Luke 4:1-13
For Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Elmwood Park, WI
February 17, 2013 (First Sunday in Lent)

Temptation.  It is a big part of the human experience.  Some of the most powerful and dramatic novels, movies, and plays, and TV shows have a major element of temptation in them, and it is the main characters’ struggle with temptation that gives the work its energy and its compelling force.  One reason for the decline in modern drama and literature is the fact that so often today the characters give in to temptation without any struggle at all, and not only is that wrong, it also leaves out much of the drama that makes a story great.  We can identify with those who are being tempted to do something they know they shouldn’t do, because we are tempted every day ourselves.  Ever since Eve gave in to the temptation of the devil in the garden, mankind has constantly been subjected to temptations.  Whether they be temptations coming from the world around us, also known as peer pressure, or temptations coming from the old sinful flesh, which constantly desires and lusts to do what is wrong, or temptations coming from the devil, who constantly stands behind and provokes both the world and our sinful flesh, temptations are a real source of struggle and conflict within every one of us.

In today’s Gospel lesson, we see Jesus being tempted by Satan.  Jesus came to earth to live life as we live it, except without sin, to face the same pains and troubles and problems that we face, and to overcome them.  Here we see Him facing the temptations that face each of us every day.  Our Gospel lesson records three temptations which Jesus faced, and how He overcame each one of them by the proper application of the Holy Scriptures.  These temptations may seem to be unusual and extraordinary; after all, how many of you have fasted for forty days straight, or been offered rulership over the whole world, or stood on the highest part of the temple in Jerusalem?  But when you dig beneath the surface, these temptations are the same as the ones we face each day.  Each of these temptations asks us to violate the First Commandment, which says that we are to have no other gods before the true God; each of these temptations asks us to rely on something else than what God in His providence, mercy, and love gives us for our well-being.

The first temptation is to rely on something other than God for our daily sustenance.  The Son of God came to earth to share in our experience, and that means that although He used His divine power to help others, He never used His divine power to help Himself, but rather suffered what an ordinary man would suffer in the same circumstances.  Here Satan tempts Him to break that rule.  God had not provided bread for Him in that wilderness, and so He had to suffer the pangs of hunger.  If He would have taken the stones and made bread for Himself from them, He would have been criticizing the Father’s providence by doing so.  We, too, often try to get things apart from what God has given us.  The sins of stealing and adultery are of course what happens when we give in to this temptation.  We often want something other than what the Lord has given us, and when we try to get such things, the end result is sin.

The second temptation is to focus upon success rather than upon faithfulness.  Jesus, after all, had come to this earth in order to be the Lord of the whole earth.  But His purpose was to become the Lord of the whole earth by becoming the Savior of the whole earth.  And to save the people of the world He had to pass through some mighty unpleasant things, including the scorn and contempt of the religious leaders, pains and sorrows, and finally beatings, mockery and a painful, ugly death.  It would be so much nicer if all He had to do was to pretend to bow down to Satan, and mouth a few words worshiping Satan which He didn’t really mean.  It would be so much easier just to play-act for a few seconds and gain lordship over the whole world that way rather than to endure all of that suffering and pain.  Many people in our society face this temptation.  To live the good life, to be on the fast track, to measure a person by how much money he has rather than how he uses it; this temptation is operative there as well, especially when dishonest means are used to get where you want to be.  But God does not call us to worldly success.  He calls us to faithfulness.  He calls us to act within His will for us even if it means that by the world’s terms we finish last.  Because when we cheat, the way Jesus was tempted to cheat here, we really end up worshiping someone or something other than the true God, and behind that someone or something is always Satan.

The third temptation is to test God.  How do you really know that God is supporting and upholding you and protecting you unless you make Him show Himself?  After all, if Jesus had jumped down from the Temple and landed unhurt, or even better been carried back up to the top by angels, it would really have shown the world that He was somebody special.  But God has not promised to take away the consequences of our own foolishness, nor does He condone the unbelief that wants to make God show Himself by forcing His hand.  And that’s really what it is when atheists try to argue that God doesn’t exist just because He doesn’t do what they want Him to do to prove Himself.  After all, in order to answer a question that begins, “If you are the Son of God,” or, “if God exists,” you first have to accept that little word “if” there as if it’s legitimate.  And that’s already putting God in a position inappropriate for the Creator as He deals with His creatures.

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.  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.

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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