Sunday, February 17, 2013

Sermon for 2/17/13--Lent I

From the Beginning

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

This morning we heard of two of the most important battles which have engaged humanity.  These two spiritual conflicts, more than anything else, define our human condition.  In both cases, Satan is the enemy man is fighting.  In the first instance man suffers a terrible defeat; the enemy’s crafty and deceptive tactics bring him an overwhelming victory.  But in the second, man wins a great victory; the devil’s attacks are fought off one by one, and Satan is routed.  In Adam, man lost the battle; in Jesus, the second Adam, the whole war has been won.  Though we are embattled and scarred by the powers of darkness, we are eternally triumphant over them through Christ our Lord.  In Him, and only in Him, do we have the victory.

The first battle took place, of course, in the Garden of Eden, where God had placed the man and the woman He had made in His own image.  Satan attacked Adam and Eve by trying to get them to become independent from God, and he succeeded.  Satan wants us to see ourselves as self-sufficient, free from any divine authority.  It was more than an attempt to entice Adam and Eve to eat of the forbidden fruit; Satan was trying to lure them into being something other than what God had created them to be.  He told them, “You will not surely die.  For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God…”  The sin of Adam and Eve, then, was one of rebellion.  They were creatures trying to put themselves on the level of the Creator! 

Satan uses the same strategy on us.  In place of God’s Words and God’s gifts, he offers something that is supposedly better.  He lures us into thinking that we can be independent of God, self-sufficient.  He says to us, “Do your own thing!  You belong to no one else but you.  You make up your own rules.  You determine what is good and right and true for you.  You are the captain of your soul.”  Satan’s goal for you is self-help, self-importance, and self-fulfillment, all on your own terms.  His promise is that you will have unlimited potential within yourself, that you can be like God!
Satan’s promises are empty.  He is the father of lies.  He never gives, but only takes from us what is already ours. He leaves the Old Adam plundered, empty.  Trying to be like God, man has lost his humanity.  In attempting to become divine, man has become mortal; he has lost the life God created him to have and to live.  The wages of sin is death.  By causing Adam, and now us, to rebel against God, Satan has won the battle.

The war’s outcome, however, is a different matter.  As Luther said it so well:

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 Sabaoth Lord, 

And there’s none other God;
He holds the field forever.

A battle with the devil may have been lost, but now, through Jesus Christ, the war has been won!  The Scriptures say, “As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” Christ is the second Adam who came to undo the first Adam’s fall into sin, to overcome death and the power of the devil.  Jesus is the New Adam, who came to stand in for us and fight off all the devil’s attacks in our place, and conquer him decisively.

This is what we see in today’s Gospel: the decisive second battle between man and the devil, the turning point in the war.  The first Adam wants to be like God.  But, the second Adam, Jesus, who is true God, makes Himself true man.  He fully and freely submits to His heavenly Father’s will.  He does not exalt Himself to a higher position; He lowers Himself in order to serve and save mankind.  The first Adam was in a rich garden.  But Christ, the Last Adam, places Himself into a barren wasteland in order to restore men to Paradise.  He is in the wilderness in our place, engaging the enemy on our behalf.  Though Jesus is without sin, He subjects Himself to all the effects of sin—hunger and thirst, weakness and distress—in order that He might truly be one of us in His battle against Satan.  Our life is entirely in His hands!  Jesus appears to be no match for the devil, for He is there in weak human flesh, with no weapon other than the Word of God.  He fights not with human power but with the power of the living God. 

Satan thought that by crucifying Jesus he could be victorious over Him.  But it is precisely through His death that Jesus brings about Satan’s downfall.  Through the cross the Lord takes away the sin that gives Satan power over us.  Then Jesus rises to life again to break the curse of sin.  He comes forth from the grave eternally triumphant over death and Satan for you.  No longer can the devil cause you eternal harm, for you have been baptized into Christ, the conqueror of Satan.  The old serpent may still hiss and squirm, but ultimately he can only strike your heel. Christ has crushed the serpent’s head.

When you are tested and tempted, you have at your disposal the very same things Jesus had in the wilderness.  He gives you His righteousness and His salvation as a shield and armor to protect you from the blows of the evil one.  You have the sword of the Word, with which you can lop off his head.  And when you call upon the Lord Jesus, you are calling upon One who can sympathize with your weakness because He has been there, in all points tempted as you are, yet without sin.  Come therefore, boldly, before the throne of grace, that you may obtain mercy and find grace to help you in your time of need.  The Son of God has gone forth to war for us, He has entered the battle for us. And though bloody and bruised, “He holds the field forever.”  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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