Sunday, March 10, 2019

Sermon -- 1st Sunday in Lent (March 10, 2019)

LUKE 4:1-13


In the name + of Jesus.

     [The devil] is a liar and the father of lies. (John 8:44)  That is his native language.  He does not care about you at all, and he will say whatever he has to to get you to turn away from Jesus.  He is both powerful and crafty, and he is invested in your damnation.  He knows how to spin words and craft arguments.  He knows what your weak spots are.  In other words, he knows how to tempt you into rebellion against God and to entice you to dismiss the word of God for your own personal agenda.  Now, if this does not motivate you to pray more fervently, to heed God's word more closely, to cling to Jesus more tightly, or to be on guard more intently, then you are in even greater danger than you think.
     The devil always wants to appear as your friend.  He presents himself as an attractive companion with some pretty good ideas.  And he is good at selling them.  Rarely are the devil's lies bald-face lies; they are mostly true.  Consider when Adam and Eve were tempted in the Garden of Eden.  The devil got them to wonder why God would forbid anything to anyone.  If God really loved them, why would he forbid eating from the tree—especially if they stood something to gain by it?  Then came the clinching remark: “God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:5)
     That was mostly true.  Adam and Eve knew what it was to be good because they lived it.  They only knew about evil in theory.  But once they ate the fruit, they would gain that experience.  They would have better knowledge.  The devil's words were mostly true, which is why Eve was deceived by them.  Had Adam countered with the words which the Lord had given him, they would have overcome the tempter.  But they fell for the devil's lie.  As a result, they plunged all mankind into sin and death.
     But Christ, the second Adam, came.  Once again, a perfect man walked the earth.  Once again, the devil came to entice and deceive.  Once again, the devil's temptations contained an element of truth.  If Jesus is the Son of God, he certainly does have the power to turn stone to bread and to satisfy his hunger.  The devil does hold claim on the earth since all mankind, by nature, stands outside of the kingdom of God.  He could give Jesus glory and honor from them.  Unlike the first Adam who failed to stand on God's word, the second Adam held to it.  Jesus countered the devil's lies with God's truth.  The Word made flesh overcame the tempter.
     Perhaps the most perplexing temptation from the devil is when he quoted the Scriptures to Jesus.  He selected part of Psalm 91: He took (Jesus) to Jerusalem and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, 'He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,' and 'On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.'” (Luke 4:9-11)  The devil does not love the Scriptures and he does not believe them, but he does know them.  And he will quote them for his own purposes.
     As we considered before, most of what the devil says is true.  That is why his lies are deceptive.  It is all the more true when he uses the Bible for his purposes.  We excuse our sins this way.  We also defend the sins of friends because their reasons sound like God's word.  It is surprising to see people deny their biology and anatomy and claim to be the opposite or an unknown sex.  This is a rejection of the body God gave them.  But to try to put a sacred veneer on this, people will insist, “God don't make no junk,” meaning that if they really feel they are a different sex or are attracted to the same sex, then God has made them that way and must be pleased with it.  Therefore, you have the problem, not God.  Well, it is true that what God makes is good.  But such reasoning fails to recognize that sin corrupts us and all of God's creation.  Sin is why people are ruled by their wallets, their stomachs, or their groin, and defend it as good and even God-pleasing.  But if we use the “God don't make no junk” argument to defend wicked ideas and cravings, it is like telling a married man, “If God made you with desires to bed other women, who are we to it's wrong?  That's just the way God made you; and God don't make no junk.”  God's gifts of sex and marriage are good.  After all, God don't make no junk; but man perverts and misuses his gifts.  There is no getting around God's word on these things.  We take our stand on that word, even though our sinful flesh may hate it and struggle badly with it.  The word overcomes the tempter.
     The devil also likes to use this Bible verse: “God is love.” (1 John 4:8)  “God is love,” is cited to suggest that God is not really bothered by our sins, or that God is so forgiving that we don't need to fret over our sins.  It is undeniable that God is love.  But God's love does not mean that overlooks rebellion or chuckles when we dismiss his commandments.  God loves his commandments because they define what is good.  Therefore, God cannot love it when people reject what is good.  The Psalms acknowledge God's attitude about sinners: “You hate all evildoers.” (Psalm 5:5)  God does not overlook our sins; he holds us accountable for them.  If God exposes our sins by his word, he shows this to us because he is love.  He desires us to repent of them so that we will not perish in them.  We take our stand on that word, so that we will not be overcome by the tempter.
     Therefore, even when Satan quotes the Psalms to Jesus, he is still a liar.  Satan challenged the word of God from heaven when Jesus was baptized.  The Father declared, “You are my beloved Son.” (Luke 3:22)  The devil countered, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from (the temple).” (Luke 4:9)  After all, God will protect his own Son!  God takes care of his own, doesn't he?  You even have God's own word.  “For it is written, 'He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you.'” (Luke 4:10)  Or do you not believe that word?
     But the word overcomes the tempter.  The devil had conveniently left out a phrase. “He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you in all your ways.” (Psalm 91:11)  Jesus' ways were already set for him by the word of God.  He was not at liberty to go his own way—not to turn stones to bread, not to seek glory apart from the cross, and not to demand his Father prove his love by vaulting himself off the temple to see if angels would prevent his death.  The way which Jesus was to take was not to be prevented by his Father, by angels, or even by his own miraculous power.  The way Jesus was commanded to take was the way of weakness, the way of suffering, and the way of dying a cursed death on the cross.  This is the way Jesus had to go.  It would be the hard way.  It would be the way of pain and sorrow, the way of betrayal and bleeding, the way of hellish torment and divine wrath.  But this is the way that God shows us that he is, indeed, love.  St. John who had written, “God is love,” also wrote how God proves that: “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation (or, atoning sacrifice) for our sins.” (1 John 4:10)  Jesus could not find a short cut around that or a way to avoid it.  Jesus' glory would come by securing your salvation.  He would atone for your sins of failing to follow God's word, and he would redeem your life from the devil's grasp in exchange for his own.  Since this is what the word of the Lord prescribed to him, this is what Jesus would do.  And he would do it for you.
     The Word made flesh overcame the tempter, and he did it by standing on the word of God.  In this way, Jesus gained greater authority and glory than the devil promised him.  In this way, Jesus served the Lord and worshiped him only.  In this way, Jesus exposed the devil's lies, refuted his temptation, and overcame the tempter.  He has won the victory in order to restore what was thrown into ruin, corruption, and perversion by Adam in the Garden of Eden.  In this way, Jesus delivers you from the devil's kingdom, from sin, and from death.  The word overcomes the tempter.
     The tempter, however, will not leave you alone.  He will still try to seduce you out of the kingdom of God.  You know he still attacks, so always be alert.  You know he lies, so do not give him an ear.  You know that you are weak, so you cannot withstand him alone.  The word overcomes the tempter.  If you stand behind the word and upon God's promises, you are safe.  Your victory comes only through Jesus, for only he has truly overcome the tempter for you.

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

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