Sunday, March 9, 2014

Homily for Invocabit - The First Sunday in Lent

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

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
On this first Sunday in Lent, let us together repent of a particular error of Scriptural interpretation that we have all made, that we have all believed, that we have all trusted in, and that we have all taught to others at one time or another: Our Lord Jesus did NOT face the devil’s temptations in the wilderness in order to teach us how to resist the devil by quoting Bible verses at him. If that were the purpose of today’s Gospel then we would be the saddest lot and the most to be pitied of men, for we would remain in our sins and the devil would be victorious. But that is NOT why our Lord Jesus faced the devil’s temptations in the wilderness. Our Lord Jesus faced the devil’s temptations in the wilderness for us, in our place. He stood in for you, and for me, for all men, as the Second Adam, to undo the sinful failings of the First Adam. It was the Garden of Eden all over again, only, this time, it wasn’t a garden full of foliage and fruit, – paradise – but it was a barren wilderness and our Lord was hungry and thirsty from having fasted forty days since the Holy Spirit lead Him, no, threw Him to the wolf, to redeem all you sons and daughters of Adam from death and separation from God, the fruit and wage of your sinful rebellion and unbelief.
To take the emphasis off of Christ is to make this Gospel a mere moralism and Law, a Law that you cannot keep and that cannot save you. Jesus alone is your Savior, not the Law, not your obedience, not your works, not your good intentions, pious thoughts or actions. Christ was baptized for this confrontation. Christ was baptized for you. The Son of David faces your Goliath for you and He overcomes by the Word of the LORD. And yet, even for Him, the Word of the LORD was not an offensive weapon, but it a defense in which He trusted. You see, I know how you like to think of the Word of God as a weapon. You think that’s what St. Paul teaches in Ephesians six where he says to take the “sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God.” No, St. Paul says to take the sword, but he mentions nothing about wielding it. Further, the sword of the spirit is named last in a list of purely defensive armor: the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the readiness of the gospel as shoes, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.
Christ does not wield a weapon any more than you, but He trusts, perfectly, in the Word of God. He did this for you, in your place, making satisfaction for all your failing to trust in the Word of God, trying to fight the devil by your own devices, and failing again and again and again. No, this Gospel is no lesson in how to fight the devil. This Gospel is REAL Gospel, the Gospel that Jesus is your Champion, your Victor, and has resisted the temptation of the devil for you, in your place, trusting in the Word of God alone, and walking away in sinlessness and holiness. This was necessary, and it is pure Gospel, for now Jesus could take His sinless flesh and blood body and soul to the cross and die there for your sins and it would actually count, it would actually mean something, because it would really be finished, just as He said, there was not, there is not, and there will never be anything that you need to do to be holy and justified before God. You believe in God? Believe also in Jesus, that He has done it all for you, and you will be, you are, saved.
Let us take a moment and consider the specific temptations our Lord Jesus suffered. The devil’s first temptation was not a test to see if Jesus doubted His Sonship to the Father, as some might think, but this was a direct test of where Jesus would place His trust; would He trust in God and in His Word or would He trust in His own understanding or in His ability to wield the Word of God as a weapon? Jesus was extremely hungry after fasting forty days. The devil’s temptation to turn stones into bread was a temptation to place His own needs above obedience to His Father. Jesus answered the devil by quoting Deuteronomy 8:3 saying, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every Word that comes from the mouth of God.” You see, our Lord did not fight the devil, brandishing the Word of God like a sword, but He trusted in God’s Word and found strength in it to persevere through His hunger and temptation. The Word of God was His food and His sustenance.
The devil’s second temptation was, once again, a test of Jesus’ faith and trust. This time, our Lord’s faith and trust in the goodness of God was put to the test. The devil tempted Jesus, telling Him to throw Himself down from the pinnacle of the temple, even quoting the Scriptures saying that angels would catch Him in His fall. Here we see what a slippery and cunning deceiver the devil is. He uses the Word of God, but He twists it, and he takes it out of context, and he intentionally leaves out related and explanatory passages. In this case, while quoting from Psalm 91, “He will command His angels concerning you,” the devil intentionally left out these words, “to guard you in all your ways.” “All your ways” means the ways of God, His will and commandments. To put God to the test in this way would be to intentionally deviate from the ways and the will of God and His commandments. Therefore, once again, Jesus placed His faith and trust in the full counsel of God’s Word and replied to the devil quoting Deuteronomy 6:16, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.”
The devil’s third and final temptation was, yet once again, a test of Jesus’ faith and trust. However, this time he got right to the crux of the matter, Jesus’ faith and trust in God Himself. The devil offered to Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and their glory if He would fall down and worship him. This was a temptation set against the First Commandment, “You shall have no other gods before me.” If Jesus were to succumb to this temptation, He would have submitted to power and glory as a god, and the devil himself as a god, above and before His God and Father. The temptation to sin against the First Commandment was also behind the first two of the devil’s temptations, for the transgression of any Commandment is always, first and foremost, a transgression against the First. Jesus answered the devil one last time, quoting Deuteronomy 6:13, “You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve.” Then Jesus commanded the devil, “Be gone, Satan!” And the devil left Him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to Him, just as the Scriptures had said, just as Jesus had believed – for you.
All this Jesus did for you. He was baptized for you. He suffered temptation for you. He was obedient for you. He trusted in God’s Word and submitted to His will for you. Then, He took His faithfulness and His obedience to the cross for you, where He suffered all, even death and forsakenness by His Father, for you – for your sin, for your disobedience, for your faithlessness and unbelief, for your rebellion against your God and Creator, for you. All this Jesus did for you, because He loves His Father, His God, and because He loves you.
Jesus didn’t do all this to show you how to go and do likewise. The Gospel is no “What Would Jesus Do?” manual of moralism! Jesus came, the Seed of the woman promised in Genesis 3:15, to crush the serpent’s head for you, to restore you to a right relationship with God the Father, and to Shepherd you out of death back into Paradise with Him, His Father, and the Holy Spirit forevermore. Our First Parents are a tragic example of what happens when we try fight for ourselves by using God’s Word as an offensive weapon that we wield against the devil. How quickly they, our perfect and flawless parents were deceived and fell. And you think that you can stand on your own against the devil, even with the Word of God? Don’t be a fool! Jesus did not teach you to fight. Jesus taught you to trust. More than that, He trusted for you and He died for you that you may trust in Him and live.
God knows that you have no way to fight against the devil, therefore He promises to protect you and to fight for you. All you need to do is trust in Him. Not long, perhaps immediately after our First Parents sinned, God uttered His first Gospel promise that woman’s Seed would crush the serpent’s head. Then, as a foreshadowing of the Sacrifice God would make to restore you to Him, He shed the innocent blood of animals in order to cover the nakedness of the Man and Woman He had made. All of the sacrifices on Jewish altars, all the sacrifices in the tabernacle and the temple, all the blood of bulls and goats shed over millennia pointed to the Sacrifice that God would make to cover your sins, to take them away, and make you right with your Creator once again. What Abraham confessed on Mt. Moriah as he prepared to sacrifice his son Isaac, “The LORD will provide for Himself the Lamb for a sacrifice, my son,” God did indeed provide in His Son Jesus upon the cross. Of that day, Jesus said, “Abraham saw and rejoiced and was glad.” Indeed, we also remember that dark and terrible day, and we rejoice and are glad in it. For, on that day, “he, who once by a tree overcame, likewise by a tree was overcome.” All this He did for you. And, you are baptized into Him so that His blood has cleansed you from your sin and His Name now marks you as His own. In Holy Baptism, His death is your death, and His resurrection and life is your resurrection and life.
Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of God, is your Champion and your Victor. God does not call you to fight with the devil, or to wield His Word like a weapon, but He calls you to trust in Him, to trust in His Word, and to trust in His Word made flesh, Jesus. For, “With might of ours can naught be done, soon were our loss effected; but for us fights the valiant One, whom God Himself elected. Ask ye, who is this? Jesus Christ it is, of Sabbaoth Lord, and there’s none other God; He holds the field forever.” And now your Champion, your Victor, your Shepherd, your God has prepared this table before you in the presence of your enemies. Come, eat and drink and be satisfied by these fruits from His Tree of Life as a foretaste, until you dwell with Him once again and forever in Paradise.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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