Sunday, March 01, 2020

Matt.4.1-11; First Sunday in Lent; March 1, 2020;

Matt.4.1-11; First Sunday in Lent; March 1, 2020;
Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written, “ ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ ” Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, “ ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and “ ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’ ” Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ” Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “ ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’ ” Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him. (Mt 4:1-11, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Last week we talked about Jesus’ transfiguration.  There on that mountain he shines like the sun.  We very clearly see Jesus as God there.  We hear the voice of God booming out of a cloud, “This is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”  It’s Jesus in glory showing himself for who he is: Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, and God in human flesh standing on the mountain, having come to take away the sins of the world.
For today’s Gospel we have a strong contrast.  For those spending 40 days with Jesus by reading the Gospel of Matthew you read all about the temptation of Jesus on Friday.  Jesus’ temptation by Satan happens at the very beginning of Jesus ministry.  Right after Jesus is baptized in the Jordan River by John the Baptizer, the Spirit leads Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan.  If John’s Baptism marks the beginning of Jesus ministry, the Temptation is the first major event.
Before I was a Pastor, in my previous life, I used to travel all over the US.  I still love it.  Especially if flying is involved, the bigger the airplane the better.  There’s just something about getting into a huge metal beast, that doesn’t look like it belongs anywhere… I mean, it’s too un-gamily on the ground, and actually too big to fly.  But you sit there in your seat as the jet engines thrust the thing forward and you are pushed back.  One thing I learned, that I was told by the pilots, is that the first five minutes and the last five minutes of flying are the most dangerous.  The beginning and the end of the flight are where the most dangers lie, where the most can go wrong. 
That seems to be the case with Jesus, too.  If he forsakes his baptism, by failing the temptation of Satan, or by fleeing his death on the cross, we are lost.  Thankfully, and this is the great joy of all Christians, Jesus didn’t abandon us in his temptation or at the cross.  It’s at the very beginning of Jesus ministry that Satan’s attempts to turn him away from his task.  But he fails; Jesus goes to the cross the perfect sacrifice for our sins.  And everything that he gained by his perfect life, and perfect death and resurrection are given to us, freely in the gift of faith.
I said that today’s text is a strong contrast from last week’s Transfiguration.  It’s true.  Last week we saw Jesus clearly as God.  Today we see Jesus in a way that shows us his humanity.  And in fact, today we see Jesus in a way that brings his life very close to ours.  Here we see Jesus dealing with something that we deal with every single day.  Satan blows lies into our ears and very often we give in.  That doesn’t mean that we are not to blame.  Flip Wilson’s “The devil made me do it” isn’t an excuse.  We give in to temptation because we are sinful people.  We are accountable for the sin we commit.  We deserve the punishment.
So today we have Jesus being tempted.  We see him in a situation like the ones we face every day of our lives.  But sometimes we might think that it really doesn’t mean anything at all.  After all, isn’t this “temptation” really just a sham, a shadow play, because Jesus is going to win anyway?  I mean, if what we said last week was true, and Jesus is fully and completely God, and God can’t sin, then what we’re seeing is a real temptation, is it?
Well, to answer the question we only have to look at the text that we are given.  It begins; Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.  It’s said a little differently in Mark’s Gospel.  The ESV translation there is: The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.  (Mark 1:12 ESV)  Another way to translate it could be “he was thrown out into the wilderness.”  One seminary professor said, “Jesus was willing, but did not go of his own accord.” It reminds us a little bit of Jesus prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane as he waits to be arrested. 
And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” (Mt 26:39, ESV)
Jesus does the God the Father’s will, at the cost of his own well being.  Out there in the wilderness there was nothing to eat.  And at the Spirit’s leading Jesus remained 40 days and nights.  All that time he fasted, the text tells us… and adds this little understatement, he was hungry.  You see, the hunger of Jesus was real hunger.  He is human just like you and I are human.  He eats and doesn’t eat, he sleeps and doesn’t sleep, and he laughs and cries, just as you and I do.  Jesus is completely human.  That’s the point of telling us that Jesus was hungry.  The hunger was real; the temptation to do what Satan says is just as real.  There is great comfort in Jesus humanity and his temptation.  When we say, Jesus knows what it is like to be tempted, we can be sure it is true, because Jesus is fully and completely human.
As for Satan, he isn’t a fool.  He knows whom he’s dealing with.  In fact, that’s exactly what he’s using against Jesus.  The question he asks is the same one he used with great success before.  “If you are the son of God…”  Really it could be read like this: “Since you are the son of God…”  He’s saying to Jesus, “This hunger is beneath you.  You’re better than this.  You can do something about it.  Make these stones into bread and save yourself.”  But even more subtly he’s telling Jesus something else.  “You know what’s good for you.  You don’t have to tolerate this hunger just because God wants it.  After all, you are here, you know how best to take care of things.  You can do it your own way.”  What Satan was saying was true to a certain point.  Jesus was above hunger.  He was above temptation and he was able to do exactly what Satan asked.  But Jesus passes on the temptation because he has faith in God’s plan for his life.  Not that he thinks God’s way is going to end up the easy and painless way either.  Jesus sees the cross in his future.  What is in his heart is you and me!  If he does what Satan asks, you and I would belong to Satan instead of Jesus.  And Jesus response tells Satan just that.  Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”  “I choose to listen to God and not to you.  I choose God’s plan for my life, even though I know exactly where it is going.” 
Satan had used the same question before.  It’s in our OT lesson for today:
Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’ ” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Ge 3:1-5, ESV)
“God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened…”  Satan said.  “Don’t you think you should decide what’s best for your life?  Aren’t you better than to be controlled by God?  Don’t you deserve to know everything?  What’s God up to that he would keep this thing from you?”  Eve ate the apple and Adam let her.  Their answer to Satan wasn’t the same as Jesus’ answer.  They looked to themselves to determine future instead of leaving it in God’s hands.  They failed, just as you and I frequently fail.  It’s not enough just to say God is in control, we have to leave it to him, but that’s not what we want to do.
Just think of all the times in your life when you thought you could get along by yourself.  If only I work a little harder, I’ll get through this.  We let our own self interest drive our business practices; easily setting aside the right thing to do because we don’t really trust God to take care of us.  And how easy it is simply to give to the church only to meet the churches needs (the budget), instead of giving what we could give from the heart. 
The mistake we fall into is in thinking that we have the option not to sin.  Human beings are not morally neutral.  We are sinful people from birth.  We are born with sinful hearts.  We cannot help but sin.  When we actually do pass up on temptation we think we have accomplished a great thing and what we have done is going to make God proud.  But the truth is weather we are tempted or not we sin.  It’s in our hearts to begin with.  We can’t help but sin because it’s a part of who we are.  That’s what happened there with Adam and Eve.  They pushed God out of their heart and sat themselves there as the final authority.  And that’s how we are born, with our own self interest at heart, instead of depending on God for everything.  God doesn’t want us to be independent; he wants us to be in-dependence to him and his will.
Jesus wasn’t morally neutral either.  His heart was bent on the Father’s will from the beginning.  When he was a fetus in his mother’s womb; when he lay crying in the manger; when he worked with his earthly father; when he was baptized in the Jordan River; when he set aside Satan’s whispered lies; when he healed and preached; when he suffered the Roman whip at the scourging post and nails at the cross; when he breathed out his last.  In every single aspect of his human life he had a perfect relationship with God.  He followed God’s will for his life.  It is the very thing you and I are totally unable to do.  It would be easy to look at the temptation of Jesus as an example to help us do better, but we’d never live up to Jesus’ example.  Eventually, no matter how strong we think we are, we fall to Satan’s words.  That fall leaves us completely without hope… if it weren’t for Jesus.
That’s also the point of God’s Word to us.  That’s the Good News about Jesus.  It’s not that he’s an example for us to follow.  Jesus temptation in the wilderness is Jesus doing battle with Satan for us.  It’s Jesus turning down Satan’s offers, in our place.  It’s Jesus following God’s perfect will for us.  It’s Jesus living and dying for us.  That’s what Paul is talking about in the Epistle reading today (Rom 5:12-19 ESV):  by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.  (Ro 5:19, ESV) You see, it is one man who does it.  Jesus is completely human remember.  If he wasn’t, his living a perfect life wouldn’t mean a thing.  But it means everything for you and me.  Because that perfect life he lived and that death for sin that he died, is ours through faith in it as a free gift of God.  That free gift is as sure for you as God’s promises have always been.  As sure as your head got wet in the shower this morning, as sure as your head got wet with God’s promise into you in Baptism.
You’ve heard that phrase; “If temptation bugs you; flea!”  I have another one.  If temptation bugs you, tell Satan off.  Say, “Be gone! Jesus has already defeated you for me.  I’m depending on him to take care of me.  I’m leaning on His life and death in my place.”  Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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