Sunday, March 9, 2014

Sermon -- 1st Sunday in Lent (March 9, 2014)

MATTHEW 4:1-11

In the name + of Jesus.

     It was all perfect.  The holy ones were where the Lord had put them—in a lush garden, filled with everything they could need.  God’s love and generosity were evident.  In that garden, God had also placed a tree to which he had attached specific instructions.  “Of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Genesis 2:17)  Every time Adam and Eve saw that tree, they were to remember the word of the Lord.  Every time Adam and Eve saw that tree, they had an opportunity to demonstrate loving and willing obedience to God and his word.
     But the tempter came.  He questioned God’s word.  He questioned God’s love.  He got Adam and Eve to disbelieve God’s word.  He got Adam and Eve to believe that what God had said was forbidden was desirable, and that what God called evil was good.  The tempter laid the trap, and Adam and Eve willingly walked right into it.  Immediately, their holy innocence was dead.  They were ashamed.  They were afraid.  They were accursed.  And they were on their way to a grave.
     So now as their children, you are sinners living in a sinful world.  God, however, remains good and merciful.  The world you live in, though it is broken and corrupt, is not barren.  God still pours out his blessings.  God’s goodness is still evident.  And rather than give you one command to observe and obey, the Lord has given you ten.  In all that you do, every day, the Lord grants you opportunity to demonstrate your loving and willing obedience to him. 
     But the tempter comes.  He still questions God’s word.  He still questions God’s love.  He still would lead us into disbelief so that we reject what God has declared to be good and right.  The devil convinces us that what God forbids is desirable, what God calls good is evil, and that life is truly a blessed experience when we run after what brings God’s curse and death.  Like Adam and Eve, we are ashamed; and we try to cover our shame with lies.  Like Adam and Eve, we are afraid of God; and we want to shut our ears to God’s word and flee from him.  Like Adam and Eve, we are accursed; and we think that God is the problem. 
     The tempter may set the traps.  He may make evil look very appealing.  But it is we who walk right into it and find our delight in it.  The devil truly warps everything and turns it upside down.  He even gets us to despise God, and to think that God is evil and that he is the good guy for encouraging us to give ourselves to whatever our sinful nature desires, calling it good—even though it brings death and shame.  We have bought the lie, and we are helpless as he toys with us and claims us.
     But the Lord had compassion on sinners in their wretched state.  The Lord did not wait for Adam and Eve to ask for mercy.  The Lord acted.  The Lord had mercy.  He promised a Savior—the Seed of the Woman who would come and crush the serpent and destroy him.  So the Seed of a Virgin Woman came.  Jesus, the second Adam, the second holy man, was sent to deliver you from your sin, your curse, and your death.  Jesus is the consolation of those who were hopeless.  And for those who are weak, Jesus is our strength in temptation.
     Just as Satan stalked Adam and Eve in their holy innocence, so he did with Jesus.  Immediately after he was baptized and marked as the Christ, Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. (Matthew 4:1)  Satan tempted Jesus to disobey and to disbelieve the word of the Lord.  He prodded Jesus to satisfy his hunger by using his divine power for selfish purposes.  Stones can be turned to bread.  The Son of God can do that, right—I mean, if you are the Son of God.  See, Jesus?  It would be good for food, wouldn’t it?  Though tempted, Jesus did not sin.  The Father would care for his needs.  Jesus would trust in that.  He would not forsake the promises.  Jesus is our strength in temptation.
     Then Satan led Jesus to the pinnacle of the temple.  Satan questioned God’s word, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and “‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’” (Matthew 4:6)  Come on, Jesus!  Aren’t the Psalms desirable for gaining wisdom?  Don’t you trust the promise?  The Father will preserve his Son, will he not?  Or are you not the Son of God?  Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test’” (Matthew 4:7); and certainly not when Satan distorts the Scripture he quotes.  Though you and I may be deceived by a mishandling of God’s word, Jesus was not.  He defended himself with that word.  Jesus is our strength in temptation.   
     Then Satan, the god of this age and the prince of this world, offered to spare Jesus of having to drink the cup of God’s wrath.  “All these (the kingdoms of the world and their glory) I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me,” (Matthew 4:9) he said.  To have the world and gain all its glory without suffering?  It is pleasing to the eye, isn’t it?  But Jesus would not forsake his mission.  Jesus would not take worldly glory over winning eternal glory for you.  And though the tempter attacked, he did not get his prey.  Jesus overcame him, and continued his holy and faithful obedience to his Father.
     Now, certainly Jesus sets an example that you should cling to the word of the Lord in order to overcome temptation.  The shield of faith and the sword of the spirit will never fail you.  But you are weak.  You are still drawn into your sins, again and again.  Though you may be resolved not to give into sin again, you still do.  You do not need Jesus to be your coach or your mentor, but your Savior.
     Jesus is not just your strength in temptation, he is your substitute.  You need a Savior who overcomes the tempter because you have not, even on your best days.  So, Jesus stands in for you.  He was tempted in every way, just as we are, yet he was without sin.  He has overcome every attack.  He has prevailed against every lie.  He has been faithful in every way.  Satan could not and has not bested Jesus.  Your Savior still stands.  He is your Savior from sin and your strength in temptation.
     Jesus fulfills all that God had promised he would do.  God had declared to the tempter, “He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” (Genesis 3:15)  Jesus has taken the worst the Satan could give.  In fact, he stood not only as your substitute when temptation came, he acted as your substitute when he was time to deliver punishment to the sinner.  Jesus gave himself into death for you and your sins, having taken all the venom Satan could unleash.  And our Savior conquered him by his death.  For, death is what sin demands, and Jesus has given it.  Perfect obedience is what God demands, and Jesus has given it.  God the Father sent Jesus to the cross for you.  The cross was driven into the Place of the Skull, and the serpent’s head was crushed by it.  Satan cannot harm you any longer.  Though he looks intimidating and still stalks and still hisses, Jesus is the victor.  He is risen, having conquered sin and Satan.  He forgives your sins.  He delivers you from death.  He takes away all shame, all fear, and every curse. 
     Jesus is your strength in temptation and in every aspect of life.  Flee to him for refuge and hope.  For, he has overcome the enemy.  He has rescued you from all evil.  And he will restore all things to perfection again.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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