Sermon for February 21, 2010

Luke 4:1-13(First Sunday in Lent—Series C)

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

February 21, 2010

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Our text is the Gospel Lesson from Luke 4:

And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing during those days. And when they were ended, he was hungry. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone.'” And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to him, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” And Jesus answered him, “It is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.'” And he took him to Jerusalem and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,’ and “‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.'” And Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.'” And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time.

In May, 1941, the Germans launched the fastest and largest battleship to sail the seas, the Bismarck.  Her mission was to intercept and destroy merchant convoys in transit from North America to Great Britain.  It would be up to the British Royal Navy to stop her.  The first encounter to overcome the enemy was met with disaster.  The Bismarck sunk the pride of the Royal Navy, the HMS Hood, with a direct hit to the ammunition magazine.  The battle was over in 17 minutes.  Following the sinking of Hood, Prime Minister Winston Churchill gave the order to “Sink the Bismarck!” and avenge their loss, spurring the Royal Navy to a relentless pursuit of the German battleship.  Six days later, with Bismarck almost in reach of safer waters, Swordfish biplanes launched from the carrier HMS Ark Royal torpedoed the ship and jammed her rudder, allowing heavy British units to catch up with her.  In the ensuing battle on the morning of May 27, 1941, Bismarck was heavily attacked for almost two hours before sinking.  The enemy had been overcome.

Bismarck was a formidable enemy to the British.  She was a heavily armored ship with huge 15- inch guns that launched shells as big as trees.  Her aim was superiorly accurate.  Her speed was fast.  She was deemed “unsinkable.”  Christians, also, have a formidable enemy.  He is the devil.  His name is Satan.  All the endeavors of Satan and the evil angels are aimed at harming people in their body, in their earthly possessions, and especially in their souls.  “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8)  Satan is constantly waging war against the Church.  He is a murderer; there is no truth in him.  He is a liar and the father of lies. (John 8:44)

The devil is also called the tempter.  He wishes to deceive us and lead us into sin.  He seeks to drive us away from God and His Word with outright lies and with subtle twisting, misquoting, and misusing God’s own Words.  He wants us to set aside faith in Christ and to live for self.  We see this in his very first temptation in Eden, “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.”” (Genesis 3:1-5)

Satan is also the accuser.  In Revelation 12 we read that Satan is the “accuser of our brothers, who accuses them before our God night and day.”  He loves to bad-mouth Christians before the throne of God.  Satan loves to point out our sins and our disobedience to God’s Word that he brought about through his temptations.  “See God, look how wicked she is!  Consider him, God—what an evil man!  Just look at what they have done—hate filled words, lies, gossip, cheating, immorality, cursing, drunkenness, idolatry.  You really must punish them, God.  You must condemn them so that I might rule over them forever.”

Commenting on Galatians 1:6, Martin Luther presented another strategy of the “old evil foe.”  “Let us learn clearly to recognize the tricks and subtleties of the devil.  No heretic comes in the name of error or Satan, nor does the devil himself come as the devil. . . . When he impels a man to commit obviously shameful sins, [the devil] provides him with a covering, enabling him to belittle the sin he is about to commit or is committing.  A murderer in his fury does not see that murder is as great and terrible a sin as it is in reality, for he has a covering.  Adulterers, thieves, misers, drunkards, and other sinners also have their excuses and coverings.  So even the devil is masked and rouged as he does his deeds and carries out his plans.”

We face a formidable, powerful enemy, indeed.  Are we powerless to stand against Satan?  Has he already won the fight?  Absolutely not!  Like the Bismarck, Satan is not unsinkable.  Satan is a fallen angel, nothing more but nothing less.  He is not God’s equal.  Satan is not all-powerful.  He is not all-knowing.  The devil is not present everywhere at once, nor is he fair, unchangeable, gracious, or just.  Satan is not a god!  Formidable—yes!  Undefeatable—no!

Satan in his audacity to prevent our salvation sought to tempt our Lord Jesus Christ.  The devil had already tempted the children of Israel as they were in the desert those forty years before they entered the Promise Land.  He had been so successful in getting Israel to grumble and complain and be unfaithful to Yahweh.  Now it was time to derail Jesus, who stood in Israel’s place as the substitute for all humanity.  So the tempter comes to the Lord of the universe who is made flesh and is hungry since  having been led by the Holy Spirit in the wilderness forty days, Jesus was fasting.  “If you really are who you claim to be, O Son of God, command these rocks to become bread and eat and feed yourself.  Do something for your own benefit and not for these people!”  Next the tempter shows Jesus a glimpse of all the world’s kingdoms in a moment.  He then tells Jesus a half-truth, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I will give it to whom I will.  If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.”  The half-truth is that Satan is the prince of this world, the world corrupted by sin.  But it is not his world to do with as he pleases.  God is still in control.  Nothing happens, not even the activity of Satan, apart from God’s purposes.  Satan has nothing to give Jesus, for it already belongs to the Lord who has come in the flesh to redeem it and save it.

Finally, the tempter then takes God’s own Word and twists it and misquotes it, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from the pinnacle of the temple, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to bear you up’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”  The sly devil tries to use a little bit and piece of God’s truth out of context to confuse and misguide Jesus.  But all the temptations fail.  With each temptation Satan is dealt with and overcome.  How did Jesus do it?  With the Word of God.

Each temptation of the devil was countered by the powerful truth of God’s own Word.  Turn rocks into bread and care for yourself—Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God.  (Some things are more important that food.)  Worship me and I will give you all the kingdoms that I have—Worship the Lord your God, and Him only shall you serve.  (These kingdoms are mine and I will redeem them so God alone is worshiped!)  Throw yourself down and let the angels catch you—Don’t put the Lord your God to the test.  (I wrote that verse and I know its truth and your version isn’t it!)

Satan’s temptations were defeated by the Word of God Himself, Jesus Christ, who spoke God’s revealed Word against the lies of the evil one.  Then, we are told that the devil departed from Jesus until an opportune time.  Satan would return.  He would enter into Judas Iscariot and will make him betray his Master.  Satan would bring along the Jewish religious leaders and others who he would incite against Jesus with shouts and cries of “Crucify him, crucify him!”  But Jesus was the conqueror in the wilderness.  Should we be surprised then that He would also be the conqueror on Calvary?

Jesus Christ, the Word of God made flesh, did conquer on the cross.  He redeemed His fallen creation from all their sins by suffering our punishment and purchasing our forgiveness with His shed blood.  On the cross Jesus completely overcame and defeated the devil.  Satan can no longer accuse us of our sins because they are forgiven.  We can resist his temptations because of Jesus’ victory.  But how?  With God’s Word!

God’s Word is pure power.  It’s like dynamite!  God’s Word packs the power we Christians need to overcome the enemy and to resist his temptations.  When we use God’s Word, God’s power is brought to bear.  Romans 1:16 reminds us that the Word of God in the Gospel “is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believe.”  The power of God’s Word brings us to saving faith in Jesus as simple water becomes life-giving Baptism.  By the power of His Word under wine and bread we receive Jesus’ body and blood, for the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.

Our Lord has given us the victory over Satan through Jesus Christ.   We need to recognize the limits of Satan’s power and trust more firmly in the unlimited power of God and His Holy Word.  Because of Christ’s victory on the cross, we are able to use God’s Word to overcome the devil and his temptations.  As St. James says in his Epistle, we are able with the all-powerful Word of God, to “resist the devil, and he will flee from us.” (James 4:7)  The Word of God in Christ invoked by faith is the Word that overcomes and conquers Satan.  It is God’s means by which He unleashes His power to change hearts and strengthen faith so that with Him, we overcome temptation and are victorious!

The mighty German battleship Bismarck was damaged so that she could not steer.  Her defeat was ensured.  Satan was “damaged” by the Lord Jesus in their battle in the wilderness.  The devil’s final defeat was also ensured.  On the cross, Jesus conquered the “old evil foe.”  Jesus’ death won our victory over sin, Satan, and death.  We stand victorious with Christ in the battle against the devil.  His Word is our weapon that will bring down the devil every time and enable us to overcome his temptations.  So with Luther we boldly say,

Though devils all the world should fill,

All eager to devour us,

We tremble not, we fear no ill,

They shall not overpower us.

This world’s prince may still

Scowl fierce as he will,

He can harm us none,

He’s judged; the deed is done;

One little word can fell him!          Amen.