Sunday, February 14, 2016

Sermon -- 1st Sunday in Lent (February 14, 2016)

LUKE 4:1-13


In the name + of Jesus.

     The word “If” usually is the beginning of very bad theology.  “If” can inspire some interesting mental exercises, but it rarely produces anything of value or truth.  “If Eve had eaten the forbidden fruit but Adam didn't, what would have happened?”  “What if only Adam and Eve had eaten the forbidden fruit after having a child?”  Interesting thoughts, but “If” never happened.  The only “If” that came from the Garden of Eden came out of the devil's mouth—that if Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, they would be like God, knowing good and evil.  Adam and Eve believed Satan's “If.”  As a result, those two who had been good and pure became evil and sinful.  “If” not only produces bad theology, it also is the springboard of temptation and often ends in sin and death.
     The Holy Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.  You and I have been taught to pray, “Lead us not into temptation,” but Jesus was specifically led into temptation.  You and I pray, “Deliver us from the Evil One,” but Jesus was delivered to the Evil One.  Jesus was in the wilderness to face what Adam had faced in the Garden.  But unlike Adam who believed Satan, and unlike us who have been seduced by Satan's “if's,” Jesus overcame all temptations.
     Every one of the devil's temptations to Jesus began with “If.”  And with each “if”, Satan challenged either God's word or twisted God's promise.  The Lord had just declared at Jesus' baptism, “You are my beloved Son.” (Luke 3:22)  Satan, in turn, questioned that claim: “If you are the Son of God...” (Luke 4:3)  It is also possible to translate Satan's words this way, Since you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” (Luke 4:3)  Perhaps Satan was challenging Jesus' identity and sought him to prove it.  Or perhaps Satan conceded that Jesus is the Son of God.  Even the demons recognized that.  But if Jesus really is the Son of God, why doesn't he do for himself what he did for the Israelites in the wilderness?  Jesus, God miraculously provided bread in the wilderness for them.  Why can't you do that for yourself?  If the sons of Israel get bread, why not the Son of God?  Why would Father prohibit his Son from providing for himself what he needed?  Is that the kind of Father you have?  One who wants to see you struggle and suffer?
     It sounds familiar, doesn't it?  Satan begins all your temptations with “If” too.  He wants you to question whether you really are a child of God.  After all, if you are a child of God, then your life  should be easier and your behavior should be better, shouldn't it?  If you question that you are really a child of God, you will soon doubt God's promises.  You will believe that your life is not good because God is not reliable, or you will believe that God has not been good to you because you are not good enough for God.  Doubting God and his word is the first step into falling into despair and finally dying in unbelief.  After all, what hope do you have if you are not a child of God?  If.
     Perhaps Satan will concede that you are a child of God.  But then he will warp what it means to be a child of God.  You are a child of God, right?  So, if God wants his children to be happy—just like you want your children to be happy—why would God refuse to let you do or have whatever makes you happy?  God is love, right?  If God is love, then he will accept you however you are.  You don't have to change anything about your life, because a loving God will not judge you.  With this line of thinking, Satan would have you believe that God not only tolerates sins, he will even be pleased with them.  After all, if that is what makes you happy, and if God really loves you, shouldn't God want you to have or to do whatever you want?  Satan likes to play with the word “If”, but he will never tell you that the “then”, or the consequence, is death and hell.  You and I have been seduced by Satan's “If's.”  We have heeded his temptations.  We have committed the sins.  We have earned God's wrath.
     Understand that [the devil] is a liar and the father of lies. (John 8:44), but the devil rarely tells bald face lies.  Most people see through that.  Most people do not believe that murder is good, that rape is commendable, or that theft is noble.   Therefore, the devil distorts what God actually says, because Satan wants to sound like God so that he might deceive you.  That is why his “If's” make temptations sound like good ideas.  That is why his “If's” make God's Commandments seem unreasonable and God unloving.  That is why we convince ourselves that our sins are harmless and excusable.  Repent.
     Jesus has overcome every temptation.  The devil even quoted Scripture to try to get Jesus to sin against his Father.  But because he loved God's word, Jesus did not love the devil's distortion of it.  The devil's ultimate temptation of Jesus was that Jesus should not have to suffer and die for sinners.  There is some truth to that.  Jesus is God.  Our sins are really not his problem.  So Jesus, if you are the Son of God, then be the Son of God.  Why bother yourself with people who sin against you, who do not obey you, whose love for you is poor, and whose devotion to you is weak?
     Jesus overcame every temptation.  He did what no man has done or can do.  Jesus rejected every temptation and rendered perfect obedience.  And he did it for us to supply the righteousness we need.  Jesus has overcome every temptation so that we have one man who has finally given perfect obedience to God's word.  Satan did not overcome Jesus, and therefore, he did not overthrow our salvation.
     Jesus overcame every temptation and every sin.  Jesus did not abandon his role as the Son of God who has come to suffer and die for sinful mankind.  St. Luke wrote “when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time.” (Luke 4:13)  That opportune time came in the Garden of Gethsemane.  There, Jesus prayed his only “If”:  “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me.  Nevertheless, not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42)  But there was no other way.  Jesus rejected any “If.”  He took the cup the Father had given him and suffered his wrath for all our sins.  There was no “If” with Jesus' sufferings and death.  Jesus did not stray from the word of God which sent him to fulfill all that the Father had given him to do.  Jesus overcame every temptation on the way to the cross and did not stray from his way to the cross.  And even though Jesus would suffer and for people who are not perfect in serving him, he suffered and died to take away those sins and to grant them his righteousness.  You have been given credit for the obedience you did not carry out, and Jesus died for the disobedience he was not guilty of.  There is no “If” about Jesus' salvation for us.  Jesus overcame every temptation, so his sacrifice for us is perfect.  There is no “If” about eternal life, for Jesus overcame the grave by rising from the dead.  His sacrifice for us is sufficient.  There is no “If” about our forgiveness, for Jesus lives and reigns to intercede for us.  Therefore, his mercy upon us is constant even though we still serve him in weakness.  Jesus does not attach any “If” to his promises.  His words are clear that you are forgiven.  Peace is yours.  Salvation is certain.
     Just as Jesus' actions were perfect and obedient, so also his words are perfect and clear.  When Jesus speaks to us, his words are neither deceptive nor distorted.  Therefore, you can be sure that you are the children of God.  You are redeemed from your sins.  You are marked for eternal life.  And you are pleasing to your Father in heaven.

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

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