First Sunday in Lent
“IF and IS”
Our bulletin cover today highlights a small but key word from today’s Holy Gospel reading. “IF”. It is a word the devil used in the wilderness temptation of Jesus. But Jesus counters the devil at every turn, and defeats him with words of His own. Today we see the antidote to the devil’s “IF” is the Savior’s “IS”. Another small word with lots of meaning and punch – a Gospel word connected to Christ and his work. Consider this morning, “IF and IS”, as we join Jesus in the wilderness…
“If you are the Son of God” do thus and so… “If you worship me” I will give you this and that. It’s a little word that makes a big difference. “IF” is a word of instability and uncertainty. “IF” means “maybe; maybe not”. “If” can also be a word of doubt, which goes along with another favorite word of Satan’s, “really”. “IF you REALLY are the Son of God…”
Remember when Satan tempted Eve and Adam to eat the forbidden fruit? “Did God REALLY say, you shall not eat of it?” He suggested that the truth was not truth. He planted the seeds of his lie with a seemingly harmless question. Those seeds didn’t take long to mature into full-fledged deception, as he lied to Eve, “you will not die…” And the fruit of that sin in the garden turned our entire world into a wilderness, a wasteland of death.
But it is there in the desert that Jesus defeats the devil and fights back his temptations. It only took one attempt to deceive the first Adam. But the Second Adam frustrates the foe three full times. That’s because Jesus has a better 2-letter word than “IF”. Jesus has “IS”.
Each time the devil assailed our Lord with an “IF”, Jesus answered with an “IS”. “It IS written”. He quotes the scriptures. Those words of God which ARE a greater reality than the tempter’s twisted attempts. “IS” and the other forms of the verb, “to be” like “ARE” and “AM”. These seem to be some of God’s favorite words. These words express a reality. And when God speaks, his word does what it says.
Let there “BE” light. And light was. The very creation and providence of this world rests on God’s word which calls it to be so.
God’s personal name, “Yahweh”, which means, “I AM”. He is the ultimate ground of existence. Nothing is without him. Nothing happens apart from his will. He always was, always IS, and always will be.
And even though Lent has begun, we have those Epiphany words ringing in our ears, “This IS my son”. The disciples and many others confessed, as we also do of Jesus, “You ARE the Christ”.
And what does that mean? That Jesus came not only to defeat Satan’s temptations for his own sake, but to bring a new reality for sinners like you and me. When Jesus gave up his life on the cross, and when all was accomplished, he declared, “It IS finished”. And in those three small words – really just one word in the Greek – all history finds a pivot point, all creation sees it fulcrum, all reality is turned upside down. And sin is finished. Death is finished. The Devil is finished. No IF’s, ands, or buts about it.
And though defeated, our adversary still prowls around looking for someone to devour, deceive, or draw into doubt. Satan loves to bring a sense of “iffyness” to our relationship with God – and make us doubt God’s word – whether command or promise. “Did God really say?”
“Does God really expect you to be perfect? It’s such a high standard. Don’t you think God’s more reasonable? He knows you’re not perfect. He’ll make some allowances. Just try not to be TOO bad, and I’m sure he’ll wink at those little sins. Really. If God is so loving and powerful, I mean, Come on! He’s gotta let you get away with a little bit of fun” and so the lies might go… so the law of God is undermined and minimized. But the truth IS that God expects, even demands perfection. And no law-breaking goes without punishment.
Of course, we know, that Jesus IS the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. That means that he is our substitute. He takes our place and our punishment. He does what we can’t do, in defeating the devil, living a perfect life, and paying his own innocent blood for our bloodguilt. But Satan wants to make all that iffy too.
“IF Jesus even existed… IF he really was the Son of God. IF he died for sin. What makes you think he died for yours? And what makes you think that’s enough? Do you REALLY believe God can forgive a sinner as bad as you? I mean, imagine if the people here in church knew what you do when no one is looking, or what you think in the dark recesses of your thoughts. IF that got out… well. Then everyone would see what a sinner you are and why God can’t possibly forgive you, and…” Enough! Enough of the lies, Satan! Enough of your “Ifs” and “Really?”
For it IS written… “God so loved the world, that he sent his only Son, that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.”
It IS written, “As far as the East is from the West, so far has he separated our sins from us.”
And it IS written, “neither angels nor demons,[m] neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation…” (and that would include you, Satan) “will be able to separate us from the love of God that IS in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Martin Luther knew all this when he wrote that favorite hymn of the Reformation, “A Mighty Fortress”. “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” Luther doesn’t say what that little word is. Some have said the word is, “Liar!”. Others say the word is “Jesus”. Perhaps even a smaller word can fell him: “IS”. Actually, any word of God will do. For Satan IS already defeated.
And now, dear Christians, come near for one more blessed assurance. For there is one final “IS” we haven’t mentioned. There is one further reality God creates for our blessing today. Jesus once said, “this IS my body. This IS my blood.” And here in his Holy Sacrament, we find once again this promise. “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God”. We receive with our mouths more than “bread alone”. We are nourished with the Bread of Life, according to the promise of the Living Word. And with our sins thus forgiven, we put away the IF. And we rest assured in the IS. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.