First Sunday in Lent
February 18, 2018
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO
In the name of + Jesus.
Join the resistance! We’re looking for a few good men and women who are up to the challenge—some Lent warriors who are ready to take that next step in their spiritual journeys and make a serious effort to resist sin. That’s what the season of Lent is about, after all—resisting temptation. So stand up if you’re ready to join the resistance!
The pervasive problem with Lenten disciplines, though, is that we can only succeed if we make it easy on ourselves. That’s why you’ll often hear someone who’s giving up chocolate or soda for Lent. Yeah, it doesn’t take too much to resist Hershey’s or Sun Drop for 40 days. But if that even sounds too tough, you could always give up broccoli for Lent. Except none of the more common Lent disciplines usually benefit anyone other than yourself. Perhaps we can make it a little harder to succeed—for Lent you can give up repeating gossip.
We’re only a few days into Lent, and if you chose a discipline that’s even just a little more substantial than giving up broccoli or soda or chocolate, you might have already broken it. Sin—real sin, not just bad habits—is notoriously hard to resist. Some might claim that it’s just a matter of mind over matter, but that’s a modern fantasy that neglects, 1) that the body and its passions are strong, and 2) that the mind is just as corrupt as the body, and in fact every sinful act begins in the mind and in the heart.
That’s the nature of sin since Adam’s fall. The more you try to resist it, the more it takes a hold of you. This is why the last two commandments are added. St. Paul highlights this problem in his letter to the Romans:
What will we say, then? That the Law is sin? Absolutely not! But I did not know sin except through the Law. For I had not known covetousness, except that the Law says, “You will not covet.” But taking the opportunity through the commandment, sin produced in me all covetousness, for without the Law, sin is dead. At one time I was living without the Law, but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life. I died, and the commandment which was for life was found to be death for me. For sin, taking an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me, and through it, killed me. So the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and right and good (Rom 7:7-12). Covetousness—the 9th and 10th Commandments—are added to show that sin is too large a problem for simple willpower.
Sin and the Law come into a violent clash in the life of a Christian. Lent isn’t an occasion to remove this conflict, but a time for a more intense look at it. It’s a time to be more honest with yourself. The Lenten fast and any Lenten discipline you may adopt is to show you that resistance is futile. It’s like drowning in quicksand—the more you struggle, the deeper you sink in it. So, should we just give up and give in?
That’s the real crisis today. Lent presents a catch-22. If you try to resist sin, you end up sinning. If you don’t try to resist sin, you end up sinning. Literally, you’re damned if you do, and damned if you don’t. This is the point that St. Paul was driving home. The only resolution to the crisis of the Law and sin is death. That judgment was leveled millennia ago when God said to Adam, You are dust, and to dust you will return (Gen 3:19). Sin seized its opportunity, and death is the result.
Adam was created without sin, and still he could not resist Satan. What does that say about the prospects for us, his sons and daughters? Satan’s temptations exhibit a remarkable influence over the flesh; he knows right where to place them—at our weakest spots. The flesh is weak, and now amount of discipline is going to strengthen it to resist temptation. The Lenten crisis caused by the call to join the resistance, only to find that resistance is futile, is only resolved by looking outside of ourselves.
It takes divine power that exceeds Satan’s persuasion to resist temptation. And I’m not talking about a spiritual spark from on high. The flesh is weak, and in order for the flesh to resist the desires of the flesh, it must be pervaded in every fiber, every molecule, with divinity. 100% Body. Soul. Mind. Heart. And this is the resolution that only God Himself can provide.
This is the solution provided by God Himself, and which is on display in the wilderness. It should first be noted that Jesus faces temptation following His baptism, after He is disclosed as the Son of God, and the mission of the cross is laid upon Him. That is the Father’s good pleasure. After assuming not only the mantle of the Son of God, but also the Son of Adam (which is to say, the Son of Man), Jesus goes to where Adam was banished—to the wilderness. His first order of public business is to confront the first cause of sin.
In the wilderness, Jesus encounters the old, evil foe, who now means deadly woe for our Lord. Three times Satan lays a temptation before Jesus. It only took one to get Adam to fall, but Jesus withstands three. Not only that, He does so at His weakest. The flesh is weak to begin with, but after forty days of fasting, it’s even weaker. If you give up chocolate for Lent, by the time Easter rolls around, you can’t wait to tear into that chocolate bunny. After forty days of fasting, Jesus in the flesh was most susceptible to temptation.
So that’s Satan’s first avenue of attack—the flesh. “If you are the Son of God, speak, so that these stones would become bread.” He who once overcame by a morsel of food, now tries to overcome in the same way. But to speak to stones to change them into bread means that you are not receiving your daily bread with thanksgiving. Jesus responds, “It is written: ‘Man will not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds through the mouth of God.’”
Again the devil makes his move. This time he doesn’t even twist God’s Word, he quotes it straight up, but invites a misinterpretation and misapplication: 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.” Where the first temptation was for the Epicurean, this one is for the religious. This temptation is to pit God against His Word, to put the Bible above Jesus. Lutherans, beware! And Jesus said, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God.’”
Third time’s a charm, so the devil thinks. 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.” This would fit well in our Wednesday evening set of ironies. The devil offers Jesus something that He already has. You can be the King of kings, the devil says. This temptation isn’t for worldly glory, as the devil suggests. It’s to deny Himself, to renounce His Baptism, to set aside the cross, to trade a crown of thorns for a crown of gold. But Jesus will have none of it; He cannot deny Himself. He will not take what is rightfully His by force. Rather, He must suffer and die to establish His kingdom, which is not of this world. Then Jesus said to him, “Go away, Satan, for it has been written, ‘You will worship the Lord your God and Him alone will you serve.’”
After 40 days, the devil is out of tricks; he’s exhausted every last lie. And Jesus has resisted them all. The devil must depart. Angels come and minister to Him. Now is the time to
Join the Resistance; Jesus Is Your Resistance to Temptation
You are united with Christ, and with Him you not only can, but do resist the devil. The person of Jesus is the union of divinity and humanity. He alone has the power of Himself to resist the devil. You are united not in a personal union, but in a mystical union. In your Baptism, you are united with Christ, you join Him in His baptism, in His death, in His resurrection. You join Him in the wilderness where He resists the devil. In the Supper His body and blood become a part of you, and you become a part of His body. His defeat of the devil becomes your defeat of the devil.
This is the purpose of all Lenten discipline: to point you to Christ, who is your resistance to temptation.
In the name of + Jesus.
Jacob W Ehrhard