Sunday, February 26, 2012

Homily for Invocabit (The First Sunday in Lent)

H-28 Lent 1 (Mt 4.1-11 )


Matthew 4:1-11; 2 Corinthians 6:1-10; Genesis 3:1-21

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

One of the unquestionable pleasures of being a pastor is having the opportunity to baptize a newborn infant. Sometime before that day of joyous rebirth, as it goes, I will have met with the happy parents to catechize them in this Holy Sacrament and in the solemn responsibilities which they are about to undertake. It is during this catechesis that I take pains to convey to them the seriousness of Holy Baptism, that it is nothing less than a death and a resurrection to new life for their child, and that, also, it is the guarantee of a new and powerful enemy, Satan, who will plague and pursue their baptized child throughout his or her entire life until their life ends in physical death, awaiting the resurrection of the body on the Last Day. For, the entire life of a Christian is a life subjected to the devil’s temptations. Indeed, as soon as you are accepted and welcomed as children of God through Holy Baptism, the enemy will not cease to assault you that he might enslave you once again.

Thus Jesus suffered the temptations of the devil for you in the wilderness. Immediately upon being baptized by John in the Jordan, Jesus was lead by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness for the purpose that He would be tempted by the devil. In Mark’s Gospel it states that the Holy Spirit drove or threw Jesus into the wilderness. However it is worded, the meaning is clear: After verbally declaring Jesus to be His Son and the fullness of His pleasure, after anointing Him with His Holy Spirit, God the Father sent Jesus into the wilderness to suffer the temptations of the devil forty days and nights, without food, exposed to wild animals. Though God tempts no man, He does permit you to suffer temptation that your faith may be proven true. You may consider this His passive will, or His alien will, but you must accept that, ultimately, suffering, testing, and temptation are God’s will for you. For, you are not automatons, mindless machines, or animals acting on instinct, but you have been given a free will, that is, you have been given the freedom to reject God in unbelief.

Similarly did God the Father permit our First Parents to be tempted by the devil, not in hunger in a barren wilderness, but with full bellies in a garden paradise. God did not tempt them, but He permitted the devil to do so. As always, God provided a way out of the temptation: trust in His Word, and fear and love of Him alone. This gift of faith they already possessed; indeed, they had everything they needed to support their bodies and lives. But, they still had a choice and the freedom to choose it. Their free choice, however, was to disbelieve God and His Word, to fear the devil and the harm he might do to them, and to love their own lives more than God who gave them life. Adam and Eve succumbed to the devil’s temptation. They chose to exercise their own will over and against God’s will. They acted freely, but in so doing, delivered themselves unto bondage and slavery and death. From our First Parents first corruption have all their progeny received the corruption of sin and death, for a bad tree produces only bad fruit.

Because sin and corruption are present from conception, no man is without sin and all bear Adam’s fatal mark. As it was for Noah and the Patriarchs, so it was for Elijah and the Prophets, the Apostles, and so it is for you today. Thus was it necessary for Jesus, the Second Adam, to be baptized and to suffer the temptations of the devil and overcome them by perfect faith and trust in the Word of God for you. And thus is it necessary that you be baptized into Jesus, that you may share in and benefit from His faith and obedience and victory over the devil, death, and the grave. But, as the devil assaulted Jesus with temptations in the wilderness, so too does he assault and tempt those who are members of His body, you children of God in Christ Jesus. It was necessary that Jesus face the devil in the wilderness for you, but that was only the first skirmish in a battle that would end with Christ’s victory over the devil in His death on the cross.

Satan had tried to take the infant Jesus’ life and had failed. Now he thought to attempt to win Jesus over to his side. Why not, he had been successful with Adam, why shouldn’t he be able to do the same thing again? And so, he tempted Jesus in the same way that he tempted our First Parents; he tempted Jesus to doubt what God had said in His Word. “Did God really say?” At Jesus’ baptism the Father had just declared “This is my Son with whom I am well pleased”, now the devil tempts Jesus to doubt this saying, “If you are the Son of God…”. Also, the devil tempted Jesus to satisfy His fleshly desires and passions for food and comfort, respect, and power, much in the same way that he tempted Adam.

You might consider the temptations of Jesus to be the temptation to avoid suffering and the cross that God has chosen for you. The temptation to turn stones into bread is the temptation to believe that feeding the body is the most important thing of all. “There’s a whole lot of hungry people out there in the world that you claim to love so much, Jesus,” says the devil, “won’t you do whatever you can to feed them? C’mon, God wouldn’t mind? You mean well, right?” Makes sense, doesn’t it? It’d be so much easier to believe that Jesus is God in the flesh if only He’d feed all the hungry bellies in the world and take away the suffering of hunger and striving to put bread on our tables. What did God say again? Oh yeah, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

“Well then, Jesus, why don’t you perform some miraculous and uncontestable sign so that everyone will believe you, you know, like throw yourself down from the pinnacle of the temple or something? God has said that He’ll command His angels concerning You, right? C’mon, it’ll be great!” “Again it is written,” Jesus said, “‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test’.”

“This isn’t going so well,” said the devil. “This is going to require the big guns.” So, the devil took Jesus 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’.” And thus, the temptation of our First Parents has come full circle. The temptation to make yourself a god has been resisted and overcome by Jesus’ faith and trust in the Word of God for you. Jesus placed His fear, love, and trust in God His Father above all things and He said to the devil, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve’.” Then the devil left Him until an opportune time.

Throughout His ministry, Jesus suffered the assault and temptations of the devil for you. The devil tempted Jesus through the men Jesus came to save to perform impressive and glorious works to convince everyone that He was the Messiah. They tempted Jesus to secure early power and influence and become the new king of Israel who would rally the troops and overcome the subjugation of the Roman occupiers. And, when it became clear that Jesus was not going to do any of those things, but, rather, that He was following a path of selflessness and humility that would end in crucifixion and death, they tempted Him go a different way, man’s away, a way of avoidance of suffering and death, and a way that, if followed, would have left all of us in our sin with eternal death as our ultimate fate and destiny.

Throughout His ministry, Jesus resisted the assaults and temptations of the devil and, when He died upon the cross, He took all that the devil had left to pour out upon Him. Satan harangued and taunted and assaulted Jesus on the cross, and all the world with him, and Jesus willingly bore it all and, when He was ready, He gave up His Spirit and died – no one, no man, not even Satan took His life from Him, but Jesus gave it up willingly for you. And, in the moment of His death, Jesus dealt Satan the death blow; the Seed of the woman crushed the serpent’s head. In His death, Jesus won the victory over death for you, that He could give to you His life.

Paradoxically, after being tempted in the wilderness, Jesus went on to do all things the devil tempted Him to do, and on a grander scale, in accordance with God’s Word and will. He did even better than turning stones into bread when He multiplied the five loaves and two fish, feeding over five thousand. And He did better still by giving His own body with bread in Holy Communion thereby feeding millions with the bread that leads to everlasting life. And, rather than merely circumventing death by having the angels catch His fall, He died and fell into the earth, and He rose again, the first fruits those who sleep in death. And, finally, He does take up rulership of this earth and the heavens, not by force and power grabbing, but by ascension to the right hand of His Father in heaven.

Jesus suffered the temptations of the devil in the wilderness for you. It was necessary that Jesus face the devil in the wilderness for you, but that was only the first skirmish in a battle that would end with Christ’s victory over the devil in His death on the cross. For, Jesus accomplished the salvation of mankind by the tree of the cross that, where death arose, there life also might rise again and that the serpent who overcame by the tree of the garden might likewise by the tree of the cross be overcome. The Second Adam Jesus Christ has atoned for the sins of the First Adam. Your enemy has been defeated that you may place your fear, love, and trust in God alone and find strength in His Word to resist all the temptations the devil may through at you. They are but lies and deceits that cannot harm you. 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.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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