Monday, February 14, 2005

Sermon - Lent 1 - Matthew 4:1-11

Lent 1, February 13th, 2005
Matthew 4:1-11
“The Word Can Fell Him”

I. Introduction –
The Season of Lent has begun. And as if someone has dimmed the liturgical lights, the mood of our worship, the tone of our services now changes. Lent is a time of reflection, penitence, sobriety, and meditation – especially on the more serious aspects of our faith. Lent sets its sites on the cross, and the suffering and death of Christ. In Lent, we “hold our breath” in a way, singing no Alleluias, reserving them until our celebration of Easter joy.

As we begin our 40 day pilgrimage to Calvary’s cross, our journey begins by recalling Christ’s 40 days in the wilderness. There, while fasting, Jesus was hounded by the Devil. Perhaps a familiar event to many of us, but worth reflection, as this event in Christ’s life reminds us not only of the reality of evil and the Devil, but also that Christ has defeated the enemy on our behalf!

II. Devilish Deeds
The Devil is real. Though even many Christians have come to doubt the existence of this, our great spiritual foe. Still, scripture makes it clear – the Devil is real. And he is a real problem. Of the 3 sources of evil – the Devil, the sinful World, and our own sinful self… it is not always clear which is at work. Perhaps because we are so sinful in our own right, the Devil doesn’t have to work so hard to cause us grief. Nonetheless, the agenda of the evil 3 is the same – and the Devil, whether personally involved or not, gleefully approves of sin and evil ruling the lives of people.

Satan means “accuser”. He points out our sin, accuses our consciences, tries to make us doubt God’s love and forgiveness.

The word “devil” means “slanderer”. He is called the “Father of Lies” and has been telling them since the first lie to Eve, “you will surely not die”. He is also the master of half-truths, or lies filled with enough truth to make them even more potent. He is a powerful opponent.

He is against us. He wants to harm us. It’s the ultimate case of “misery loves company”. He would make us suffer here on earth, as he did to Job, taking away all our possessions, relationships, our health, even life itself.
But the real harm the Devil means us is spiritual Harm. Just like our first parents, Adam and Eve, whom he successfully coaxed from innocence into sin – the Devil is still up to his old tricks. He would see us fall into sin, he would see us fall away from our faith. And because our nature is corrupt already – we don’t stand much of a chance against the Devil’s temptations. Our sinful self, our Old Adam, is even less able to cope with Satan’s wicked agenda than the original Adam was. And like the first man and woman, we too stand under the curse for breaking the law of God and casting our lot in with the Evil One. But there is another One – there is the Holy One. He is the Second Adam, who comes once again face the ancient foe. He is the Son of Man – Jesus Christ. And this time, the result will be different.

III. The Great Contest
As we mentioned, Jesus is led by the Spirit to fast in the wilderness. Thus, we see, the occasion of his meeting with Satan is by God’s design. There is nothing accidental here. Very intentionally, Jesus faces the Devil, squares off against our enemy – as his public ministry on our behalf is now begun. His first action then, for us, is to bring Satan to his knees, beating him at his own game- and doing what we could never do for ourselves.

Temptation 1 – Satan attacks Jesus at a point of vulnerability – as he so often does to us. “Aren’t you hungry? Turn the stones into bread. Break your fast Jesus – live for your stomach. Away with all this suffering – you deserve to be happy.” Satan attacks us and our many hungers – twisting and tempting us to sin. Not Just physical food, but physical pleasures, fast cars, fine clothes, fun toys, big houses – whatever our hunger – Satan is there tempting us to think first of ourselves. But Jesus will do no such thing. He shows Satan the true priority, and real need, the real hunger – is for the word of God. For God’s word alone brings life – more than a mere physical life (though in Christ we have a resurrection too). But we gain, through the Word, the life that Adam and Eve lost when they did “Eat and Sin”. Jesus reverses this. He withstands the temptation – on our behalf.

Temptation 2 – Satan now tries to use scripture against Jesus – just as he twisted God’s own command to Adam and Eve. Indeed, they did become like God, knowing good and evil. But that was not the whole truth. Likewise here, in urging Jesus to Jump from the temple, Satan seeks to test God’s promise that the angels would tend to Jesus. But Jesus counters correctly, reminding Satan that God is not to be tested.

The Devil would love us to put God to the test – and to twist God’s words around in our hears for his own purposes. And sometimes he succeeds. But his arrogance meets its match in Jesus. And now a second time he is defeated.

Temptation 3 –
Luther says that in the first temptation Satan showed himself as a black devil, in the second as a white devil. But, in the third, he displays himself as a divine, majestic devil, who comes right out as though he were God himself. He drops his mask and appears as the prince and ruler of this world.

His statement is based on a lie. He is not the owner of the world and its kingdoms. He is a usurper. He has arrogantly caused the world to be sinful. He works through sinful men and thus gives the appearance of owning all.

But God owns all. And God gives unconditionally. And God’s gifts are followed by worship. Satan owns nothing. He gives conditionally. He expects to be worshiped before he gives. It is total perversion. Jesus puts Satan back in his place with a basic reminder of this simple truth. Only God is God.

IV. The Word Triumphant
There is much here to learn – lessons about temptation, and the ways the Devil uses to assail us. There is instruction on how to defeat temptation, by turning to God’s word. It’s also worth noting that Jesus does eventually attain all that Satan promised: daily sustenance, the protection of the angels, and “all authority in heaven and on earth”, given to His human nature. But it was according to the Father's will, done in perfect obedience. But there’s more:

This wilderness temptation is but the opening salvo in the battle for the souls of mankind. And Jesus wins the day! He will continue to heal, teach, and cast out demons and devils for another 3 years. All the while, Satan will be on the run.

Jesus wins every time. Jesus will always defeat the Devil. There really is no contest. He defeated him here in the wilderness. And he would defeat him more fully at the cross.

In the wilderness, Jesus defeated Satan by the power of God’s Word in scripture. And Jesus, the Living Word of God, defeats Satan, finally, by his own suffering, death, and resurrection.

A favorite hymn of mine (Awake My Heart With Gladness) puts it this way:

The foe in triumph shouted
When Christ lay in the tomb
But lo, he now is routed!
His boast turned into gloom.

And Luther says it too, and we sing it in “A Mighty Fortress”.

Though devils all the world should fill
All eager to devour us
We tremble not, we fear no ill,
They shall not overpower us
This world’s prince may still
Scowl fierce as he will
He can harm us none
He’s judged, the deed is done.
One little word can fell him.

The little word that fells the devil is the Word of God, particularly, his Word of Gospel. It announces the victory that is ours in Jesus Christ, the Word made Flesh. It assures us that we are on the winning team.

In this season of Lent, let us ponder the seriousness of sin, the gravity of evil, and the reality of Satan and his work in our world, our lives. But don’t forget the one who defeated Satan for us – there in the wilderness, and finally at the cross and the empty tomb. The Living Word of God, Jesus Christ – the Word which casts out the Devil, and grants us a stake in His eternal victory.

V. Conclusion
The Devil is real, and wants to harm us spiritually. But Jesus defeated the Devil in the wilderness, and later at the cross. As Luther’s hymn reminds us, “one little word can fell him.”

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