Sunday, March 1, 2020

Sermon -- 1st Sunday in Lent (March 1, 2020)

GENESIS 2:7-9,15-17; 3:1-7

HE WAS OVERCOME BY A TREE.

In the name + of Jesus.

     The devil is a liar and the father of lies.  From the very first words that the devil spoke in the Scriptures, the devil has sought the overthrow, death, and damnation of people.  He still lies today.  As it was back in the days of Adam and Eve, so it remains: The devil's lies are subtle and seductive.  We are attracted to the devil's lies, because we like what the devil is selling.
     God had placed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.  They were perfect, and they served God in absolute perfection.  They were not compelled to serve the Lord.  They did so willingly and gladly.  God even gave them the opportunity to demonstrate their willing obedience with the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  To that tree, God had attached his word: “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but 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 2:16-17)  Daily, they could prove their loving obedience to God by obeying his word and not eating from that tree.  Taking God at his word meant life; turning from God's word meant death.  It still works that way today.
     But the devil slithered into the hearts and minds of Adam and Eve.  He challenged God's word and God's love.  He told them that the tree which was forbidden presented a means of making their lives better.  He said, “For 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)  The devil seduced Eve into thinking that a better life was to be gained by disobeying God's word.  She was deceived by this thinking: Why would God want to withhold from them something that would make them happier, wiser, and better?  “So when the woman saw ... that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate.” (Genesis 3:6)  In the case of the man, he was there witnessing the entire conversation.  The word of the Lord given to him was clear.  But he did nothing to protect the woman or preach God's warning.  Instead, he plunged headlong into sin.  The man was not deceived; he rebelled.  And he was overcome by a tree.
     The devil's lies never deliver what they promise.  Now, some may argue that sins give us thrills and bring us pleasure.  But they never satisfy us.  If you use someone, you will not be satisfied.  You will long to use someone again for your next thrill.  You may lie to hide the truth, but your lies never change the truth.  If you devote your life to gaining all the material goods that the world has to offer, you will lose all of it when you die and your own soul as well.  The devil promises that your sins will make life better, happier, easier.  But it is a lie.  And the devil's lies always result always result in death and shame.  Besides, there is nothing noble about using people, lying, or hoarding possessions.  Now, if the holy man, Adam, was overcome by a tree through the devil's lies, what chance do sinful beings have?  We have all been overcome.  We have bought what the devil is selling, and we are left feeling empty, betrayed, and ashamed.  In addition, we have gained God's wrath, curse, and death.
     The man was overcome by a tree.  Adam ignored the word of God which was attached to that tree and it brought him death.  Death comes to us for the same reason—we have sinned against God's word.  It doesn't matter if you were deceived, acted in weakness, or if you knew what you were doing and abandoned God's word anyway.  The end result is the same—death and damnation.  Adam was overcome by a tree, and he brought all of mankind down with him.
     All mankind fell in Adam's fall; one common sin infects us all.  But Christ, the second Adam came, to bear our sin and woe and shame. (All Mankind Fell in Adam's Fall; vv 1,3)  In order to rescue us from the devil's lies and the devil's claim, the Lord came as a man.  The fact still stands that a man must give perfect obedience to God if man is to dwell in God's presence.  So the Lord came in the flesh to do what Adam and Eve did not do, to accomplish what no man could accomplish, to obey the words which we have not obeyed.  Jesus is the second Adam, the second holy man to walk upon the earth and live willingly, gladly, and obediently under God's Commandments.
     As soon as Jesus was anointed and began his public work as our Savior, he was cast out into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.  Once again, Satan sought to seduce a holy man and instigate rebellion against God.  After Jesus had fasted for 40 days—not in a lush garden, but in the wilderness—the devil tempted him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” (Matthew 4:3)  If Jesus is the Son of God, he has the power to do whatever he wants.  So, why not make some good use of that power to turn rocks into loaves?  Who could blame him?  But Jesus refused to employ divine power for his own selfish gain.  Unlike the woman, Jesus was not seduced.  Unlike Adam, Jesus did not rebel.  Unlike us, Jesus continued in pure obedience.  He overcame the tempter and held firm to God's word.  Apart from God's word, there is only death and hell.  But if man is going to live, then he must hold to every word that comes from the mouth of God.
     Jesus is the Word made flesh, and he saves us.  Since he is man, his obedience fulfills what God demands.  But since he is God, his obedience counts for all.  Therefore, Jesus' perfect obedience answers for our sins.  But Jesus does more than provide obedience.  He overcomes the devil completely for you.  You are not the rope in a tug-of-war match between Jesus and the devil, being pulled in and out of the kingdom of God moment by moment.  No, Jesus puts an end to the devil's claim on you once and for all. 
     The devil had overcome mankind by enticing him to sin against God's word.  That brought death upon all mankind.  To deliver you out of this, Jesus had to take away sin and overcome death.  Therefore, Jesus went to the cross where he put an end to the devil's grip on you.  Jesus “himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.  By his wounds you have been healed.” (1 Peter 2:24)  Jesus was nailed to the tree of the cross as the sacrifice for your sins.  Therefore, they are taken away.  That tree, the cross, is the stake that is run through the devil's skull.  He was overcome by a tree and cannot claim you anymore.
     Jesus also put an end to death by rising from the dead.  The serpent thought if he could swallow up the Son of God in death, he could claim the whole world.  But Jesus rose from the dead.  Death burst open, emptied of its contents.  Jesus rose to prove that the devil does not have control or power over you, that God has accepted Jesus' death as the full payment for your sins, and that death cannot have you.  Jesus has risen from the dead as the firstfruits of all who die.  And just as Jesus is risen, so also you shall rise again.  Life comes from the word made flesh, and whoever clings to that word shall live. 
     The devil may still lie to you.  He may still get you to think that life lived against God's word is a better life.  Jesus would rather you live without shame or guilt or death.  The devil may tell you that your sins still condemn you.  He may even point to the consequences of your actions and tell you that as long as the consequences are there, the curse is still there.  But the devil is a liar.  For, this is what the Lord says: “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1)  So, if you are in Christ, your sins are forgiven.  Your place in God's kingdom is secure.  For God does not lie to you, and he always seeks your good.
     The devil was overcome by a tree.  The tree on which Jesus died has now become the Tree of Life.  Now God extends to you fruit from the Tree of Life, and the fruit which hangs from that cross is Jesus.  Jesus attaches a promise to that fruit: “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:54)  To receive the forgiveness of sins, to be delivered from death and the devil, feast on the fruit which hangs from the Tree of Life.  While Jesus overcame the devil by the tree of the cross, it is in the Holy Communion that he gives you the fruit by which you overcome the devil, receive forgiveness, and inherit eternal life.
     Jesus went to the cross so that the devil, who overcame us by a tree, would in turn by a tree be overcome.  And so he is.  You have a Savior who restores you to life under God's love and care.  He grants you a life without shame or guilt.  And he grants you life everlasting as well.  This is the blessed existence God has intended for mankind, and this is what Jesus has won for you.

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

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