Sunday, March 5, 2017

Sermon -- 1st Sunday in Lent (March 5, 2017)

MATTHEW 4:1-11


In the name + of Jesus.

     Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. (Matthew 4:11)  Immediately after Jesus was baptized, anointed by the Holy Spirit, and after the Father had declared, “This is my beloved Son,” (Matthew 3:17) Jesus went into the wilderness.  The purpose: to be tempted by the devil.  And the devil wasted no time in seizing the opportunity to destroy God's work.
     The devil had not wasted any time back in the Garden of Eden either.  As soon as the Lord had formed the man and the woman, given them a home with every blessing they needed to live, and had told Adam and Eve that loving and thankful living would be shown by not eating from that one tree, the devil came to them.  Adam and Eve had no reason to doubt that God loved them and would provide for them.  They were not in a wilderness.  Yet, the devil cast the seeds of doubt.  “God knows that when you eat of (the tree) you eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:5)  Rather than live for years in faithful obedience, the devil presented the fast track to glory.  They chose the easy way—or so they thought.  But the easy way resulted in sin and guilt, in shame and regret, and finally in death.
     We are no better with handling temptation than Adam and Eve were.  By faith in Jesus, you have been made children of the Most High God.  Satan devotes his energy to destroying God's work in you.  Satan dangles each temptation before us, presenting us with the easy way to get what we want.  Swindling is easier than weeks of hard work.  Lying is easier than bearing responsibility for your actions.  It is easier to join in with slander than to defend the one being slandered.  It is easier to seek revenge than to forgive.  It is easier to give into your sinful desires than to fight against them.  And giving in to what is easier often gets you exactly what you want—for the moment anyway.  But the easy way never satisfies.  Sin always wants more.  And the easy way still results in  sin and guilt, in shame and regret, and finally in death.
     When we give in to temptation, we still choose the easy way.  We find reasons to excuse our sin: I was tired.  I was scared.  I was worried it wouldn't get done right.  This was quicker.  This was cheaper.  If we are honest, we mean easier.  Doing what is sinful is usually the easier option.  Fighting against temptation or suffering for doing what is right is hard.  Bearing the cross is never comfortable or easy.  And we don't like to bear a cross.  We want what is easy and smooth.  But beware.  This is what the Lord says: “The gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.  For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” (Matthew 7:13-14)  The devil will always lead you down the wrong path, and he makes it very easy to do.  Often the easiest thing to do is simply to do nothing—to neglect prayer, to stop coming to God's house, to stop listening to the parts of God's word which make you feel bad, and to stop fighting your sinful inclinations.  And the excuses are equally easy—I've got better things to do.  Repent.
     After Jesus was baptized, Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. (Matthew 4:11)  The devil offered Jesus the easy way out.  After fasting forty days and forty nights, (Jesus) was hungry.  And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” (Matthew 4:2-3)  If you are the Son of God, you should not have to deny yourself anything.  You have the power to turn stone to bread.  You are the Maker of heaven and earth; it should serve you.  Do what is easy.  Who would know?  Who would care?  But Jesus did not give way to temptation.  Even though it meant suffering, even though it was inconvenient, Jesus remained obedient.  Jesus does the hard work to save us.
     As you know, Satan does not let up easily.  He urged Jesus to cast himself off the top of the temple.  Then he quoted the Psalms: “‘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)  Since Jesus is the Son of God, then God the Father should have his back.  It would have been easy for Jesus to command his angels to serve him.  After all, the angels do God's bidding.  But the Son of Man did not come to be served.  Jesus came to serve us in our needs.  Jesus came to do the hard work of being a man who lived under God's law and with the same struggles that we also have in our humanity.  Jesus lived in a world of stubbed toes, scratchy clothing, and aching muscles.  He did not come to be pampered as the Son of God.  He would live a hard life as the Son of Man.  He would not challenge his Father's promises.  He would not misappropriate Bible passages and expect God to do as he expected.  He would not call on his angels now or later in Gethsemane when he was being arrested.  Jesus would not forsake obedience to his Father.  Jesus overcame this temptation and did the hard work to save us.
     Jesus was fully aware of the hard road ahead.  He knew that he not only had to overcome every temptation and give his Father perfect obedience, he also knew that he would suffer and die for our disobedience.  Jesus had come to suffer injustice.  He would be charged for sins he did not commit and pay the price he did not owe.  He would accept hellish torment for the sins of others, of us.  In fact, he would suffer for sinners who would never care, who would go on sinning without apology.  He would suffer and die for us who keep coming back to him with apologies for falling into temptation again.  For falling into the same temptations again and again.  You know how much patience you have for people who keep doing the same stupid things over and over again.  And yet, Jesus not only has to witness our sinful weakness, he has to suffer and die for them!  Jesus knew that the road he was on would finally lead him to the cross where he would suffer and die for the weak, for the lazy, for people who would be seduced down the easy road again, and for people who want nothing but the easy road.  Jesus was committed to doing the hard work to save us.
     Satan offered Jesus an easier way.  Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory.  And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”  Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan!  For it is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’” (Matthew 4:8-10)  There was an easier way to glory.  There was a way to avoid suffering and death for people who would fail him.  Satan was right about this: Jesus did not owe this to any of us, and he should not feel obligated to go through with it.  Jesus could honor Satan as the prince of this world and let him keep the sinners for himself; Jesus could return to his heavenly glory without shedding a drop of blood or taking a punch.  It was a win-win situation for Jesus and for Satan.
     But Jesus did not come to do the easy thing.  Jesus came to do the hard work to save us.  Jesus pushed Satan away.  He scorned the devil's temptations.  He would not avoid the cross, the pain, the curse, and the hell, because his love for you is far greater.  His love for you compelled Jesus to do the hard work of overcoming temptations for you.  His love for his Father's will compelled him to take the hard road to the cross to redeem you.  Jesus did the hard work to save you.
     Now you are called upon to take up your cross, to fight against the temptations that still come to you, and to devote yourself to a righteous life.  This is no easy task.  Your sinful flesh will hate every bit of it.  Life in the Church Militant will always be hard.  But it is not hopeless.  And it need not even be scary.  Your hope, your comfort, and your strength in your daily struggle is and remains Jesus.  You cling to his word, by which alone you shall live.  You flee to God for mercy rather than testing its limits.  You worship the Lord and serve him alone.  But your joy and your comfort is that Jesus lives to serve you.  Though you still have hard work to do, it is not the hard work of salvation.  That is done.  Jesus did all the heavy lifting and hard work to guarantee that.  He has overcome Satan and has saved you.

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