Sermon for February 17, 2013

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

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT 

February 17, 2013

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 2 for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing during those days. And when they were ended, he was hungry. 3 The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” 4 And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone.'” 5 And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, 6 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. 7 If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” 8 And Jesus answered him, “It is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.'” 9 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, 10 for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,’ 11 and “‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.'” 12 And Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.'” 13 And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time.

            It doesn’t always pay to take shortcuts.  Robert Wood Johnson, the former chairman of Johnson & Johnson, was known to be a terror when he inspected his plants.  On one such unannounced visit, the plant manager had a fortunate 30-minute tip prior to his arrival.  Hastily he had things spruced up by ordering several large rolls of paper transported to the roof of the building.  When Johnson arrived, he was furious. “What . . .  is all that junk on the roof?” were his first words.   How were they to know that he would arrive in his personal helicopter?  

            Several years ago the Chattanooga Free Press told the story of a woman who had decided to take a short cut to cleaning the birdcage that housed her favorite canary Chippie.  Having a busy schedule that day, she decided to clean the cage with the vacuum cleaner.  Shortening the process even further, she took off the attachment and was using the full hose to remove debris from the cage.  Suddenly the telephone rang.  She turned to answer it when she heard the loud “whoosh.”  She knew immediately what had happened: Chippie had been sucked into the vacuum bag.  Quickly she hung up the phone, opened the bag and found Chippie –still alive but filthy.  She went to the bathroom, turned on the faucet full force and stuck Chippie beneath it.  A few minutes later he was clean but shivering.  Seeing the hair dryer on the counter, she picked it up and turned it on high and quickly had Chippie dry, warm and back in the cage.  The entire procedure had taken only a few minutes.  Days later, someone asked, “How is Chippie?”  “Well,” she said, “he seems OK except that he doesn’t sing anymore.  He just sits and stares out into the room.”  This lady had decided to take a short cut… and nearly succeeded in taking the life out of her poor bird.

            In our life of faith, the devil offers us many shortcuts that are meant to take us away from our eternal life.  God has given us His commandments as a gift and blessing so that we might order and days and our deeds in His peace.  Yet, the devil has made it his task to thwart God’s good plans for us so that we too often seek to order our days and our deeds our own way. 

            A man worked a very long week.  He put in his 40 hours and then some.  Due to the company project, he even had to give up most of his Saturday.  The alarm went off Sunday morning, time to get up and get ready for worship.  It’s the Lord’s Day.  He smacked the snooze button.  “It’s been such a long week.  I need a little more rest.  I’ll catch the late service.”  A short while later he got up, got his morning coffee and newspaper, still with plenty of time to get to worship.  Putting down his paper the man thought to himself, “I’ve been going and going all week long.  I’m just going to take the day for myself.”  So he didn’t go to worship.  The next week was better, but Sunday rolled around again, and he decided he needed another day for himself.  After several weeks, a new pattern had begun in this man’s life.  He wanted more and more time for himself and less and less time with the Lord.  The devil had tempted him one Sunday with a shortcut, but it turned into a habit that could ultimately cost this man his faith and his eternal life.

            The devil plays another shortcut card.  “Marriage requires commitment and faithfulness, ‘till death us do part,” said a young lady to her boyfriend.  “I don’t know if we can last a lifetime.  Why don’t we live together and not get married.  That way we can find out if we are really compatible.  And if we are, we can just stay together and not have to worry about marriage ending in divorce.  We can just split up and be done with it.  It’ll be a lot easier.”   

            Suppose a good college student has planned to spend the evening studying for his final exam, when he gets a call from a friend threatening to commit suicide.  He has this test to study for, but he also loves his friend.  He goes over to his friend’s house and spends time with him to keep him from doing this, getting him professional help.  By the time he gets home, he realizes he is not as prepared for his exam as he had wanted to be and there’s not much time left to study.  His final exam is 50% of his grade.  That next morning, someone comes to him and offers him a small cheat sheet to help him pass the exam.  In the middle of the exam, he sees there are several things he does not know on the exam.  He didn’t get a chance to study them. He needs to pass this exam to graduate.  Does he go for the sheet and pass or does he risk failure and embarrassment by not graduating?  That sheet could be his shortcut for success.  You know what the devil is tempting this student to do, don’t you? 

            As Christians as well as sinful humans, we are very easy targets for the devil’s shortcuts that he offers to us.  How many times have you and I taken one of Satan’s easy ways out?  We told that lie, and another one, and another.  We cheated.  We covered up something; hidden some part of our lives away from everyone else including ourselves so we don’t have to deal with it or let God deal with it.  But as easy a target as you and I are for the devil’s shortcuts, Satan went after the big fish.  He went for the prize of all prizes, Jesus the Son of God Himself. 

            In Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness the devil offered Him shortcuts to glory and power so that Christ could avoid the cross.   Satan’s goal was to circumvent the crucifixion, to suggest shortcuts to Jesus in accomplishing His mission.  Satan didn’t want Jesus to have to suffer and die for the sins of the world, not because he cared about Jesus, but because Satan wanted people to die eternally. 

            “Jesus, you’ve been in this wilderness for forty days and forty nights.  You are famished.  Be the bread king.  Satisfy your earthly need and then go and satisfy the world’s material needs.  Give the people what they really want—stuff!  Then the people of the world will really love you because you provide whatever they want.  Don’t go the bitter way of the cross.”

            “Jesus, the world needs a powerful earthly ruler.  I’ll give you all the kingdoms of the world and their authority and glory.  Worship me and it can all be yours and you can rule the world without having to die for the slop of humanity.”

“Jesus, go be a magician and impress people with razzle-dazzle.  The world needs someone at whose command the angels will do His bidding.  Chuck yourself off the highest point of the temple and watch the crowds gather as you amaze and awe them in wonderment.  Certainly that will reinforce your authority and power and keep them at your beckon call.  Why go through the ordeal of the cross just to get people to like you?”

That’s what Satan was urging Jesus.  But Jesus recognized these shortcuts as the dead ends they were.  If Jesus had succumbed to the devil’s tempting, the “dead ends” would have been you and me.  To do anything but go to the cross and die for the sins of the world would have meant our eternal death.  It would have meant that we are lost eternally in our sins, forever separated from God, condemned to be Satan’s slaves forever and ever.  But Jesus didn’t take any of the shortcuts offered by Satan.  In fact, He took no shortcuts at all in winning our forgiveness for the shortcuts we take and the failures that we have in following God’s commandments. 

Jesus faced the mocking, the scourging, the abuse from the soldiers and the chief priests.  You could see the devil lurking in the background, muttering under his breath, “See Jesus, if you had been their bread king, they would love you now.”  Jesus met the derision of those who passed by, shaking their heads, “He saved others, but He can’t save Himself.  Come down from the cross, if you are the Messiah, and then we’ll believe you.”  And the devil chimed in, “If you had razzle-dazzled them before, they wouldn’t be asking you to do it now.”    Nailed to cross, bleeding and dying for sinners the world over, the crime above His head read, “The King of the Jews.”  And Satan commented once more, “Just think of what you could have been king over if you had just worshiped me.” 

No Satan, your shortcuts would not have helped Jesus and they would have condemned us.  But the blood of Jesus was shed, just as God said it would be.  Jesus shed His holy, precious blood to cleanse us from our sins, to win our forgiveness for following your shortcuts that lead us to sin in thought, word, desire, and action.  No shortcut from the cross would ever do.  Jesus didn’t drink the sour wine to dull the pain of crucifixion and the brunt of our sins.  He faced the full wrath of God, being forsaken by His heavenly Father for the sins of humanity.  Jesus didn’t come down from the cross to save Himself.  He died there to save us.  And now He lives and reigns to all eternity. 

Yes, Satan, Jesus is risen from the dead.  God the Father accepted Jesus’ sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the world.  We are forgiven.  We have eternal life.  There is no shortcut we need to take.  Jesus did it all for us.  He saved us with His death on the cross and resurrection from the dead.  He gives us the gift of saving faith to trust in Him alone as our Lord and Savior through the water and Word of Holy Baptism.  And Jesus gives us the Holy Spirit through His Word and Sacrament so that we might live by faith and obedience to God’s Word, not by your shortcuts. 

So we order our days and our deeds in God’s peace that flows from the cross of Christ and the empty tomb—the peace of sins forgiven; the peace of the absolute assurance of everlasting life with God in heaven.  We are strengthened in the faith and in holy living through the hearing and reading of God’s Word of Life, through the eating and drinking of Jesus’ true Body and Blood in His Holy Supper.  We are given the full armor of God to stand against the devil’s schemes and shortcuts.  We are able to see Satan’s shortcuts for the dead ends that they are and avoid them.   Through Jesus Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit, we live life to the fullest, no shortcuts needed.  Amen. 

 

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