Saturday, March 12, 2011

Sermon for 3/13/11--Invocavit: First Sunday in Lent

Spiritual Warfare

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

When the disciples asked the Lord to teach them to pray, among the things He told them to pray to the Father was, “And lead us not into temptation.” It might seem strange, then, that before Jesus taught this petition to the disciples, He Himself was led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness to face the temptations of the devil. Our text tells us that, immediately after His baptism in the Jordan, the Holy Spirit leads Jesus into the wilderness, where He fasted forty days and forty nights. It was then, when Jesus was at His weakest, that the old evil foe brought his assault against the Lord. The obvious temptation came first. Of course Jesus would be hungry after forty days without food. When that failed, the devil tempted Jesus to prove God’s goodness and protection. And finally, when that didn’t work, Satan went for the most outrageous temptation: offering to give to Jesus what already belonged to God if only Jesus would worship the devil instead of honoring the Father. The ministry of Christ was a time of constant temptation. “You don’t have to trust the Father, Jesus, if only You provide Your own food.” “You don’t have to go to the cross, Jesus, if only You’ll become an earthly king instead of a heavenly king.” “Save Yourself! If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross. We will believe you then.” Even to the moment of His death, Jesus faced every temptation that the devil could devise to draw Him away from His work of redemption on the cross.

It should come as no surprise, then, that the devil would turn His attention from the incorruptible Jesus to those against whom he has already found success: the children of Adam. He doesn’t even need to change his tactics. He finds you in your weakest moments. Are you hungry? Satan will place before you someone holding a loaf of bread, and all you have to do is take it from them. Are you alone? Satan will tantalize you with the lust of the flesh. Have you earned great wealth? The devil will place before you the temptation to use it in godless ways. Are you struggling with a sin you already committed? Satan will lead you to believe that forgiveness is only for someone else, that there is not enough forgiveness in the world to cover whatever sin it is that troubles you. It should come as no surprise to you that Satan desires to lead you astray. Satan does not need to tempt the faithless, for the faithless already belong to him. And He has never been able to draw the Lord into sin. So he goes after the children of God. He wants those who belong to God—and he will find you when your resistance is at its lowest and offer you the desires of your heart.

The Lord does not lead you into temptation. However, He does allow you to be tempted. He allows you to be tested. God is not absent in the midst of these temptations, either. He knows what Satan has put before you. And He allows it to continue all the same. What kind of God would allow His children to face temptation? That’s exactly the question the devil would have you ask, for he would have you question the goodness and mercy of God. But if you must have the question answered, then look to Scripture. The Lord says through the prophet Malachi, “But who can endure the day of His coming? And who can stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner’s fire and like launderers’ soap. He will sit as a refiner and a purifier of silver; He will purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer to the LORD an offering in righteousness.” You must be prepared to face temptation, for God uses the devil’s snares like a cleansing fire, burning away the impurities within you so that you may be found holy and blameless in His sight. But as you learned on Ash Wednesday, Satan would offer you earthly treasures that would rust and fade and turn to dust; and left to your own devices, ignoring the Word and promises of God like Adam and Eve in the Garden, you give in, partaking of that forbidden fruit.

The old Adam within you submits to the temptations set before you. But that is not the last word in the matter. Through Holy Baptism you now have Christ within you; and Christ in you, the new Adam, resists all temptation. Satan is powerless before our Lord. Jesus faced the temptations which the devil set before Him—not so that you would have an example of righteousness in your battle against temptation, but rather to win the battle against temptation on your behalf. Jesus knew the weak and sinful nature of human flesh, for He took that flesh upon Himself. And knowing that the flesh is weak, no matter how willing the spirit, He defeated the desire for the sinful acquisition of daily bread, the lusts of the flesh, the hunger for power, and every other temptation that would lead you away from the Word and promises of God. In Holy Baptism He placed His perfect obedience upon you to shelter you from Satan’s snares and to grant you His holiness before the Father in heaven. Christ within you cannot help but be victorious over the devil and the temptations he would set before you, for Christ has already won that victory in His perfect obedience, even to His death on the cross.

When you face temptation, that is not the time to hide from God and His gifts, as if you do not deserve them. In fact, it’s when you’re struggling against temptation that you most need the strengthening of your faith and the forgiveness of sins you receive in the Lord’s Supper. He gives you His Word in the preaching you hear and in the body and blood which you eat and drink—the same Word He spoke to defeat Satan and his lies and temptations. He died to give these gifts to you. Consume the Word of God, and be satisfied by it. Rely on this Word in the midst of temptation to strengthen and preserve you. No matter what temptations you face, no matter how persuasive the forked tongue of the devil may be, you have the Word of God, the Word by which you overcome. “He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son.

In this Lenten season, do not be afraid of the devil’s snares. Deny yourself. Take up your cross. Follow Christ as He makes His way to the cross He bore on your behalf. Our Lord Jesus Christ has overcome the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh; and His righteousness is your righteousness. Our Father will never lead you into temptation—for the sake of Jesus Christ, who was led into temptation for you and who overcame for you. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.

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