Saturday, February 20, 2021

Invocabit - The First Sunday in Lent (Lent 1)

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.

Immediately following His baptism in the Jordan, Jesus “was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” Or, if you prefer St. Mark’s treatment, the Spirit “drove Him,” or literally, “threw Him,” out into the wilderness, into the devil’s jaws. Suffice it to say, Jesus was baptized for this purpose, to be tempted by the devil and overcome. Thus, you must be careful not to minimize what Jesus suffered, endured, and overcame in His temptation. This was a one-on-one personal assault of the enemy of God, the father of lies, he who was a murderer from the beginning, upon the Son of God, freshly consecrated as the Son of Man. The Spirit came upon the man Jesus in His Baptism, and the same Spirit immediately drove Him into His work of redeeming you and me and all people. Jesus was baptized for you. Jesus faced Satan’s temptations in the wilderness and overcame them for you. Jesus fulfilled God’s Law for you. And, Jesus suffered, died, and was raised for you that you may live with Him and His Father and Spirit forevermore.

Thus, we can, and indeed we must, relate the consecration of the young and unassuming shepherd-boy David as king over Israel and the consecration of Jesus in His baptism, for neither man was the seeming chosen one of the LORD according to the reckoning, wisdom, and judgment of men, and yet each was anointed with the Holy Spirit, consecrated and set apart as the Holy One of the LORD, and then was immediately thrust into conflict with the devil – David with the Philistine champion Goliath, and Jesus with Satan himself. Neither man’s kingship nor consecration was visible or apparent to the eyes and wisdom of men, and yet, they were each the LORD’s Chosen One, and each were truly King – David, the King of Israel, and Jesus, the King of Heaven and Earth. Therefore, do not kid yourself, for, in your Holy Baptism, you too were consecrated for a life of continual battle with the devil, the world, and your own sin-corrupted flesh. Truly, as soon as the water hit your forehead and the Name of the Holy Triune God was spoken upon you, Satan set his sights upon you to destroy you. Satan hates you because he hates God who loves you so much that He would become a man in Jesus Christ and die for you to redeem you from sin and death. Before you were baptized, you belonged to the devil, but now that you have been cleansed and claimed and named in Jesus’ innocent, holy, and righteous blood, you belong to the LORD. Thus, you have a sworn enemy in Satan for the entirety of your life this side of heaven.

Further, just as David did not choose his battle with Goliath, and Jesus did not choose His battle with the devil or His cross, so neither do you or I choose the temptations, battles, and crosses that we must bear, but the Holy Spirit chooses them for each of us as He knows to be best. And, Jesus did not face temptation by the devil and overcome it by the Word of the LORD in order to show you how to do it. No, you must not think that, for Satan knows the Word of the LORD much better than either your or I, than did Martin Luther, or any theologian of the Church or pope, and, as were our First Parents in the Garden, you are defeated before you utter a single word. But, in fighting against the temptations of the devil, the best offense is a good defense. Indeed, you are to “take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.”

Now, I know that it may sound like the sword of the Spirit is an offensive weapon, but it is not. The sword of the Spirit, that is, the Word of God, is a defensive weapon meant to ward off the attack of Satan. You are not an onward Christian soldier going off to war, but Satan will bring the war to you. Indeed, Satan’s attacks are more like terrorism and guerilla warfare in your neighborhood, your backyard, and your bedroom than they are like soldiers going off to fight conventional battles in foreign lands. No, you are not on the offense, you are not on the attack, but your vocation is to stand firm and resolute, trusting, not in yourself, your wisdom, or even in your faith, but in the Word of the LORD alone, in Jesus, the Word made flesh. You do not attack the devil with the Word of the God. Do that, and you will lose. In fact, you must not enter into a conversation with him, neither in word or thought. If you do, then he has already won – again, take the example of our First Parents in the Garden. No, but the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God, is a defensive weapon. Remember it. Take shelter in it. Speak it alone in defense against Satan’s attacks, for it is a mighty fortress and a trusty shield and weapon.

Satan used the Word of God against Jesus, because he knew that was the only thing that might persuade Him. However, Satan is an angel of light. He makes evil things look good in order to deceive you. He uses the Word of God, but he twists it, he misinterprets it, he misapplies it, and he takes it out of context in order to deceive you. Thus, you cannot trust a word even from a Christian, even within the Church, unless you are able to check it against God’s Word.  Indeed, the devil’s most dangerous deceptions come from within Christ’s Church, as wolves in sheep’s clothing. And so, you must always be on guard, watching, immersing yourselves in the Word and Sacraments, that you may be protected and be able to recognize Satan’s attacks when they are upon you.

Thus, Satan’s first temptation of Jesus seemed reasonable enough. Jesus was hungry after fasting forty days; why not turn stones into bread? He could feed Himself, and He could feed others who were hungry. What could be wrong with that? Didn’t David feed his hungry soldiers on the showbread? Doesn’t Jesus Himself teach us to give to those who ask and care for the poor, for orphans, and for widows? Ah, but the devil’s temptation was not merely to feed the belly, but for Jesus to do so in order to prove that He was the Son of God. To prove it to the devil? Maybe. Or, perhaps, Satan was tempting Jesus to doubt His Sonship Himself. It was a challenge, an attack, and the temptation was to strike back, for Jesus to defend Himself by taking offensive action and to go against the will of His Father and the Holy Spirit, to take matters into His own hands and not trust in the LORD but in Himself. “Did God really say that you are the Son of God?” Do you see how Satan seeks to get into your brain and into your heart and cause you to doubt? Soon you are justifying yourself saying, “The fruit looks good to eat, and it is useful for gaining knowledge; what harm could it do?” No, the best offense is a good defense. Jesus stood firm and He answered the devil with the sword of the Spirit, with the Word of the LORD: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every Word that comes from the mouth of God.” The hunger was real, and no doubt it remained. But, let God be true and every man, and devil, be a liar.

Seeing that getting Jesus to doubt the truth and faithfulness of God’s Word wasn’t going to work, Satan had to change his tactic: “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, ‘He will command His angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone’.” Jesus trusts in the Word of God, let Him put that Word, and God, to the test. This was not a temptation to doubt the Word of God, but to use it in an ungodly, faithless, and manipulative way. Jesus was tempted to take what was not His, according to His human nature and God’s plan of salvation, and be as God the Father Himself. It is God the Father who commands His angels, not Jesus. At His arrest in Gethsemane the night in which He was betrayed, Jesus rebuked one of His disciples who drew his sword and cut off the ear of a servant of the high priest saying, “Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and He will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?” The temptation here is a temptation we all face, but particularly spiritual leaders in Christ’s Church, to seize upon glory now, and bypass suffering and the crosses the Spirit has chosen for us to bear. It is the temptation to a theology of glory instead of the theology of the cross. Jesus answered the devil saying, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the LORD your God to the test’.” You and I test the LORD, we literally tempt the LORD, when we attempt to bargain with Him saying or thinking, “God, you do this for me, and I’ll do this for you,” and its many variations: “God, heal my daughter, and I’ll be in church every Sunday.” “God, let me get this job, and I’ll give 10% of all I earn to Your Church.” Etc. All to which God says, “Get behind me Satan.”

Truly, already Satan has been defeated. Each of his temptations, Jesus withstood and overcame by the Word of the LORD alone. Frustrated and desperate, Satan dropped his charade and got down to brass tacks: “All these [kingdoms of the world and their glory] I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” This is what he wanted all along, but subtly and deceivingly covered up. There was nothing left for Jesus to answer except, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the LORD your God and Him only shall you serve’.”

No, Jesus does not teach you how to fight the devil with the Word of God, but He does give you an example of what Christian faith, and the Christian dressed in the defensive armor of God, looks like in defense against Satan’s attacks. And so, what you must take away from Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness is a greater awareness of the subtle craft that Satan uses in his attacks upon you, that he is an angel of light who makes evil appear good and wise in order to deceive you. He uses the Word of God, but he twists it, he misinterprets it, he misapplies it, and he takes it out of context in order to deceive you. Your vocation is not to take on Satan in hand-to-hand or word-to-word combat, but your vocation is to stand firm on the Word of God and to withstand and persevere through Satan’s attacks. Resist the devil and he will flee from you, for a time. And, do not be deceived by those Christians who claim personal victory over Satan. There is no victory over Satan save the victory Christ won on the cross. Thus, when you are tempted and attacked by Satan, stand firm in God’s Word, clothed in Christ in your Holy Baptism, a mighty fortress, and you need not fear the devil and his evil horde. For, take they your life, goods, fame, child and wife, let these all be gone, the victory has been won for you by Jesus. Thus, the kingdom yours remaineth.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

No comments: