First Sunday in Lent
March 9, 2014
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO
In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
After Jesus is baptized in the Jordan River by John, the Spirit who descends upon Him in the form of a dove drives Him up out of that water into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan. This temptation is not for God’s benefit, nor for His own benefit, but for yours, and for the devil’s so that he would know that he’s been defeated before he’s even started.
Before His temptation, Jesus fasts for forty days and nights. Fasting is never a thing unto itself, but is always coupled with prayer and the Word of God. During those forty days, Jesus also prayed.
Regarding the Lord’s Prayer, the Large Catechism teaches us
“No one can believe how the devil opposes and resists these prayers. He cannot allow anyone to teach or to believe rightly. It hurts him beyond measure to have his lies and abominations exposed, which have been honored under the most fancy, sham uses of the divine name. It hurts him when he himself is disgraced, is driven out of the heart, and has to let a breach be made in his kingdom. Therefore, he chafes and rages as a fierce enemy with all his power and might. He marshals all his subjects and, in addition, enlists the world and our own flesh as his allies. For our flesh is in itself lazy and inclined to evil, even though we have accepted and believe God’s Word. The world, however, is perverse and wicked. So he provokes the world against us, fans and stirs the fire, so that he may hinder and drive us back, cause us to fall, and again bring us back under his power. Such is all his will, mind, and thought. He strives for this day and night and never rests a moment. He uses all arts, wiles, ways, and means that he can invent” (LC III.62-64).
The devil musters his allies—fleshly desire and worldly glory—into an unholy trinity of attack against our Lord when He is at His weakest. All the devil’s might is no match for even our Lord’s weakness. Jesus is victorious over His enemies, which means that
Jesus Claims Victory over Your Enemies—the Flesh’s Desires, the Devil’s Deceptions, and the World’s Glory
The flesh’s desires are the most obvious place for the devil’s first attack. St. Matthew writes, And after fasting forty days and forty nights, He was hungry (v 2). Hunger is a natural desire of the flesh—and there are lots of them—that God has hard-wired into this clump of dust. But after Adam’s fall, these natural desires are oriented toward disobedience and rebellion against God. Inhering in the flesh of all men born in the natural way is concupiscence, that is, the inclination to sin. But when Jesus confronts the devil, He gains the victory over the flesh’s desires.
I’m sure that all of us here proudly bear the name Lutheran. But when it comes to original sin, most of us probably turn into a bunch of medieval Roman scholastics, who considered original sin to be merely a stain, or a blemish on the body, something that could be scrubbed away with holy water and a little elbow grease. That’s what we do when we limit original sin to only the impulses that manifest in outward works—things like lust, envy, covetousness—and leave out “the more serious faults of human nature, such as ignorance of God, contempt for God, total lack of fear for God and confidence in God, hatred of God’s judgment, fleeing from God when He judges us, anger toward God, despairing of God’s grace, putting trust in things of this world, and so forth” (Ap. II.8).
Doesn’t sound like you? Of course not. You’ve overcome your inherited sin, haven’t you? Or have you? Dr. Luther teaches us that “this hereditary sin is such a deep corruption of nature that no reason can understand it. Rather, it must be believed from the revelation of Scripture” (SA III.I.3).
The irony is that, while we don’t believe this to be true about ourselves, the devil believed it to be true about Jesus. He considered Him to be just another son of Adam, corrupted to the core. But Jesus is a man born in a most unnatural way—conceived by the Spirit and born of the Virgin. His flesh is free from not only the superficial blemish of sin, but from the deeper corruption that cannot be perceived by human reason. Hidden beneath that flesh is no less than God’s own Son.
And the tempter came and said to Him, “If you are the Son of God, speak, so that these stones would become bread” (v 3). It’s not just Jesus’ hunger the devil targets, but His attitude toward God. Unlike Israel in the wilderness who grew contempt for God, lost confidence in Him, and grumbled that He wouldn’t provide them food, Jesus waited patiently, and trusted His Father to provide according to His Word. But He answered and said, “It has been written: ‘Man will not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds through the mouth of God’” (v 4). The devil’s first crushing blow was landed from the word that proceeded from the mouth of the Son of God.
Clearly this Man was unlike other men. He didn’t give in to desire like Adam had. This calls for a new strategy; and the devil has a whole bag of tricks at his disposal. If he can’t get at Jesus by way of doubt, maybe he can get at Him by way of faith. Throw God’s Word in His face, and so deceive the Son of God. But despite this new tactic, Jesus gains victory over the devil’s deceptions.
“So you say man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God?” says the devil. How about this word: Then the devil took Him along into the holy city and stood Him upon the pinnacle of the temple and said to Him, “If you are the Son of God, throw Yourself down, for it has been written that He will command His angels concerning you, and they will lift you on their hands, lest You strike Your foot against a stone” (vv 5-6). If you believe, let’s put it to the test, says Satan. Let’s see that faith in action. What? Not going to do it? Must not believe, that much.
Now Satan tries to divert Jesus from the object of faith to faith itself. Do not trust in God, he is saying, trust in your own faith. In his bag of tricks, the devil keeps a Bible for the faithful. You believe? Check out what this Scripture says. But he’s never fully honest. When the Word of God proceeds from the mouth of the devil, he always keeps things hidden, takes words out of context, misapplies and misinterprets.
When the devil quotes Psalm 91 to Jesus, he leaves out a very important part. The verse following states: You will step on a lion or a cobra and trample on a young lion or a serpent (Ps 91:13 AAT). The devil prowls about like a roaring lion, that serpent from of old who deceived man. Psalm 91 is God’s Word to Jesus, that He will command His angels concerning Him so that He will not strike His foot against the stone that the devil is putting in front of Him.
The word for a stone that impedes the way is a scandal. The devil’s deception is to block Jesus’ way to the cross. The Father’s promise of angelic help is not for Jesus to jump from the top of the temple, but for the angels to support Him on the way to the cross. Jesus stomps on the serpent with another Word from God. And Jesus continued saying, “Again it has been written, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God’” (v 7).
The last ditch effort of the old evil foe is to distract Jesus from the glory of His kingdom with the glory of the kingdoms of the world. Again, the devil took Him along into a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world, and their glory. And he said to Him, “These all I will give to You, if You would fall down and worship me” (vv 8-9). The tempter lays this stone of offense in front of Jesus, hoping that He’ll catch a toe; but this temptation is precisely the reason Psalm 91 was written. Jesus gains victory over the world’s glory.
The glory of the world’s kingdoms is power, majesty, wealth, honor. But the glory of Jesus’ kingdom is the cross. It’s weakness, humility, poverty, and ridicule. When Jesus is baptized, His Father speaks from heaven, This is My beloved Son; in Him I am well pleased (Mt 3:17). The pleasure of the Father is that Jesus humbled Himself to the point of death, even death on the cross. Jesus chooses a glory that far exceeds the glories of the kingdoms of the world. He chooses the glory of the cross.
The unholy trinity is set before Jesus in the wilderness following His baptism. These same enemies are set before you when you are baptized. Jesus gains the victory over these enemies, but His victory over them is not an example for how you can gain your own victory. Jesus’s victory is your victory. For your baptism doesn’t just set Jesus’ enemies before you, your baptism gives you the victory Jesus won.
Holy Baptism is not just plain water, but water that has God’s Word in and with it. By this Word alone—and not by bread alone—you live. Holy Baptism puts Jesus cross on you, the cross by which He crushed the tempter’s head. Holy Baptism buries you with Jesus in a death like His, and raises you with Him in a resurrection like His. You have a new life, a life in Jesus kingdom, whose glory far exceeds all power, wealth, majesty, and honor you might look for here. Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
In + Jesus’ name. Amen.
Rev. Jacob Ehrhard