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Lent 1 - Temptation of Christ

Immediately after Christ is baptized, the Holy Spirit leads Him into the wilderness toward the Devil to be tempted.

Immediately after Christ is baptized, the Holy Spirit leads Him into the wilderness toward the Devil to be tempted.

Invocabit, 2016

Text: Matthew 4:1-11

XGrace, Mercy, and Peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ X

            From the beginning of mankind's fall he has been prideful and foolish enough to think that he could cut a deal with the devil. We still like these stories of men making a deal with the devil and somehow pulling out a win. Whether it's the Brothers Grimm and their story called Bearskin or Charlie Daniel's “The Night the Devil Came Down to Georgia. “ It's a favorite fantasy: to play with fire and not get burned, to tame the devil, to get something from him without giving anything to him. Every sin is an attempt at this. Adam thought he could follow Satan's advice but then not be held captive to him: he thought he could eat the fruit and still be his own man. Many a son and daughter of Adam after him has thought he could dabble in sin – pornography, lying, gossip, you name it – and not be mastered by the devil. And just like your Father Adam you have found out that this is not possible. The devil always wins. As sure as death and taxes: the devil always gets a piece of those who play with his toys or try to tangle with him.

          So repent. You know this game all too well and you know that you never get the golden fiddle at the end of it. Sin is the proper name for dealing with the devil and it brings only heart ache, emptiness, and death.

          It was the same with Israel and their enemy Goliath. There was no dealing with him. He was out to crush God's people. He had them in his power. He was too mighty for them. To tangle with Goliath meant death. But then a champion stood forth. Though he looked weak and frail, he was the Lord's anointed servant: anointed to defeat the enemy of God's people. And the fool Goliath never saw it coming: he never saw that David was packing the ancient equivalent of a .45 with five smooth pieces of ammunition: and the stone sunk in his forehead and that was the end of Goliath, the enemy of God's people.

          But David and Goliath were just shadows of the spiritual reality laid before us in the Gospel lesson for today. For here stands the real enemy of God's people. Not a mighty champion able to defeat them in battle with sword and spear: but the real enemy, Satan himself. This enemy wants not only our lives, but our very eternal souls to be destroyed with him in hell forever. And the powers he possesses far exceed the mere brawn of Goliath.  And in the other corner stands one Jesus son Mary, a carpenter from Nazareth, a man like any other.

          Like any other, he his hungry and weak after weeks of fasting. But he will not bargain with the devil. He will not take his advice to eat – for that is how Adam got all this trouble started. No, this Jesus son of Mary will wait on the Lord and chew his Words for bread.

          But Jesus isn't the only one who can quote Scripture: Satan gives it a try. Throw yourself down: just see if God really loves you. But Jesus will not tempt his heavenly Father. He knows his love toward him and has no reason to doubt it or seek miraculous proof of it.

          And so Satan tries one more trick: one that had worked on Adam, and David, and Moses and all the rest: the temptation to pride and power. All the world is offered to this man Jesus, this son of Adam and son of David. But Jesus will not cut a deal with Satan. For there is only One God who deserves worship.

          And so Satan left him until another opportune time. And he found many opportune times. He attacked Jesus through Peter's words, trying to keep him from the cross. He moved Judas to betrayal. He pushed the hands of Judas and Caiaphas and the Roman soldiers. He pulled out all the stops to try to turn Jesus from his mission, to try to get him to cut a deal.

          But Jesus would have none of it. Instead like his father David before him, Jesus was packing a weapon that the devil didn't count on. It was hidden like David's – and more powerful still. The weapon of Jesus was that he was not only a son of Adam, a man of our dusty flesh, but also true God, the Son, the Word made flesh. And so in that very moment when Satan thought he was about to conquer – when it appeared that all was going according to plan – when Judas handed the Lord over to be crucified: Jesus' weapon, hidden in weakness, sunk into the devil's forehead and ended the battle.

          For it was with his very death that Jesus overcame and won the victory. He came as a man to pay the penalty that all mankind owed for sin. But being God, this death could not hold him. Instead, the penalty for sin was made, the sacrifice was complete: the God-man dead on the cross, and yet he lives, resurrected from the dead, drawing with him all mankind. The devil was beaten at his own game. He who once by the tree of the knowledge of good and evil overcame, was now by the tree of the cross overcome.

          For in his pride the devil did not see that God's mercy and power are so great that they can even work for blessing through evil. Even Judas' treachery was used for God's purposes; even Caiaphas prophesied though he knew it not; even the conniving Pontius Pilate has been made part of the plan of salvation, forever memorialized in the Creed. The devil found out that there is one more mighty – and more crafty – even than he.

          So do not fear, dear Christians. Though devils all the world should fill, all eager to devour us: tremble not and fear no ill. For one little Word can topple Satan. That little Word is the Word made Flesh: Jesus. His death is the end of death's power over humanity. His resurrection is the promise of life eternal for all who believe and are baptized. For that is how you get into Jesus' victory. His victory over Satan is your victory over Satan. For you have been baptized into him, you have put on Christ. There is now no condemnation for you. You are forgiven and free. You are more than a conqueror in Christ Jesus: in him you have trampled down hell under your feet and crushed the serpent's head. In him, you have everything.

          So do not be ashamed, or fearful, or despondent that like St. Paul that you have suffered all manner of hardships and calamities. These cannot harm you: the victory is yours in Christ. Instead, be refreshed at the Lord's Table. Come and receive him who won the victory and know that this shall carry you through to that day when he shall raise you to new and everlasting life. Now is the day of salvation: it is given out right here.