Hebrews 3:1-6 (The First Sunday in Lent—Series C)
“An Opportune Time”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
February 14, 2016
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the Gospel lesson recorded in Luke 4:
1Now Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, 2being tempted by the devil forty days. And he did not eat anything in those days and when they were finished he was hungry. 3And the devil said to him, “If you are the son of God, speak to this stone in order that it might become bread.'” 4And Jesus answered him, “It stands written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone.” 5And he led him up to show him all the kingdoms of the inhabited word in a moment of time 6and the devil said to him, “I will give to you all this authority and their glory, for it has been handed over to me and to whomever I wish I give it. 7Therefore, if you worship before me, all will be yours.” 8Jesus answered and said to him, “It stands written, ‘You shall worship the Lord [your] God and to him only shall you render service.'” 9Now he led him up into Jerusalem and stood him on the highest point of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, 10for it stands written, ‘He will give orders to His angels concerning you to guard you’ 11and they will raise you up, lest you should strike your foot against a stone.'” 12And Jesus answered him saying, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.” 13And when the devil had finished every temptation he departed from him until an opportune time.
Missed opportunities! Ever had one? Years ago an energetic young man began as a clerk in a hardware store. Like many old-time hardware stores, the inventory included thousands of dollars’ worth of items that were obsolete or seldom called for by customers. The young man was smart enough to know that no thriving business could carry such an inventory and still show a healthy profit. He proposed a sale to get rid of the stuff. The owner was reluctant but finally agreed to let him set up a table in the middle of the store and try to sell off a few of the oldest items. Every product was priced at ten cents. The sale was a success and the young fellow got permission to run a second sale. It, too, went over just as well as the first. This gave the young clerk an idea. Why not open a store that would sell only nickel and dime items? He could run the store and his boss could supply the capital. The young man’s boss was not enthusiastic. “The plan will never work,” he said, “because you can’t find enough items to sell at a nickel and a dime.” The young man was disappointed but eventually went ahead on his own and made a fortune out of the idea. His name was F.W. Woolworth. Years later his old boss lamented, “As near as I can figure it, every word I used in turning Woolworth down has cost me about a million dollars!” A missed opportunity!
In our Gospel lesson today, it is the devil who is handed an opportunity, one which he would not miss. But it is also one in which he was not successful. He saw his chance for victory in tempting Jesus to bypass the cross and reach glory now. Each temptation attempts this: “Fill your belly now, Jesus, if you are the Son of God. Worship me, and the kingdoms of the earth will be yours now. Throw yourself down from the temple, and all will see now that you are the Son of God because God will send His angels to rescue you!”
But the devil’s opportunity in the wilderness to get Jesus to reverse the order of the kingdom by placing glory BEFORE suffering went bust. The devil’s attempt to get Jesus to be unfaithful to God the Father just like the children of Israel during their 40 years in the desert failed miserably. In their wilderness wandering, the people of Israel failed to worship and serve the Lord. They put God to the test time and time again. But where Israel failed in their faithfulness, Israel’s Savior did not! Jesus thwarted the devil with the Word of God, and filled with the Holy Spirit, resisted temptation and remained faithful to the Father and to the work of saving the world from sin, a work that would take Him ultimately to the suffering of the cross.
Having missed the opportunity to knock Jesus off course of His mission and ministry, actually, having blown the opportunity due to Jesus’ sound defeat of the devil, Satan “departed from Him until an opportune time.” The devil would wait for another opportunity, one that he would not miss and one that would not end in defeat for him but in the downfall of Jesus. He would bide his time throughout the three and a half years of Jesus’ public ministry. He would throw jabs here and there, fostering opposition to Jesus, causing people to doubt Him and to disbelieve that He was indeed the promised Messiah-Savior. All the while, the devil would wait for the opportunity. Then, like the roaring lion that he is, the devil would pounce. Like the snake he is, Satan would strike.
Move forward with me to Luke 22. Jesus’ public ministry is at an end. Satan has been waiting for his opportune time. It finally comes. “Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was of the number of the twelve. He went away and conferred with the chief priests and officers how he might betray him to them. And they were glad, and agreed to give him money. So he consented and sought an opportunity to betray him to them in the absence of a crowd” (Lk. 22:3-6 ESV). Satan now becomes an active force in Jesus’ passion. Judas behaves as he does because Satan has entered him. This doesn’t remove Judas’ guilt, but it explains the perversity of his actions in the context of God’s plan for salvation. This is Satan’s opportunity! As we move into the Garden of Gethsemane, we hear Jesus Himself acknowledge this, “When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and [the hour] of [the power of] darkness” (Lk. 22:53 ESV). This is the devil’s night, the hour given to the prince of darkness, the opportune time that he has been waiting for.
And he loses again! Yes, Jesus is arrested, tried, and found guilty of nothing more than being the Son of God. Pilate sentences Him to death by crucifixion. Nails pierce His hands and feet. He bleeds. He suffers. God the Father forsakes Him because, on the cross, Jesus is bearing the sins of all humanity as if they were His own. Jesus suffers hell and damnation and death. Satan rejoices. But quickly realizes that it’s another opportunity lost. On the cross, Jesus completed the work of saving humanity from sin, death, and the devil. Jesus’ moment of glory comes in the cosmic darkness of the devil’s opportune time. He saves the world by suffering and dying for the world. And there isn’t a thing the devil can do to change that. Christ dies, then Christ rises again in triumph over the grave. Sin is forgiven. Eternal life is won! The devil is bested again, forever defeated by Christ the Victor.
But he’s a sore loser. The devil, defeated, seeks to hurt and to harm and to destroy God’s people for whom the Savior died and rose again. He seeks to tempt us into unfaithfulness and unbelief. And he looks for opportunities. He looks for our weaknesses. He exploits our pet sins. He seizes the moment to cause doubt in our minds as to what God actually says in His Word. He takes the opportunities to fan our sinful egos, our selfishness, and our self-love. He tempts us to get all wrapped up in the material possessions of this life causing us to ignore the treasures of eternal life and salvation.
The world and our own sinful nature give the devil many opportunities to lead us into sin. Our sinful nature is our weakness and we fall into the tempting traps the devil lays out for us. And the devil is not going to miss an opportunity to try and destroy your relationship with God. He’s not going to miss an opportune time to chip away at and to weaken your faith in Christ. He’s prowling around seeking someone to devour—and that someone is you and me! (1 Peter 5:8)
But do not despair, dear Christian friends! Christ is the Victor! He overcame the temptations of the devil in the wilderness. Jesus died on the cross for you and is risen from the dead for you. Satan has lost! Your sins are forgiven. Jesus has poured out His Holy Spirit upon you in Baptism and has given you His holy Word. And as Jesus defeated the devil’s temptations with the Word of God, so can you.
Jesus’ use of the Scripture to combat all three of Satan’s temptations suggests the truth that the Gospel is not only the power of God unto salvation but also God’s power for everyday living. Paul in Ephesians 6 calls this Word “the sword of the Spirit.” Hebrews 4:12, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb. 4:12 ESV). The Word reveals to us the truth. It unmasks Satan’s lies for what they really are. It combats the subtleties of “Did God really say . . . ?” by showing us what God did say and do for us and for our salvation in Jesus Christ. God’s Word reveals to us what pleases Him and gives us the ability though the Spirit to live as His redeemed children. It is our guide for life lived with faith in Jesus and it is our power to overcome the devil.
St. James writes, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (Jas. 4:7 ESV). He has to because the devil isn’t able to stand up against the power of the Gospel, the power of the Word of God, the authority of the Word-of-God-Made-Flesh, Jesus Christ. Luther writes in his hymn, “A Mighty Fortress,” “Though devil’s all the world should fill, All eager to devour us, We tremble not, we fear no ill; They shall not over-pow’r 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” (LSB 656:3). And that Word is Christ!
By the power and grace of God the Holy Spirit, working through the Word of Christ, let’s “give no opportunity to the devil” (Eph. 4:27). Let us “put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (Rom. 13:14 ESV). As we pray in the Lord’s prayer, “lead us not into temptation,” may our Father in heaven “[guard and keep] us so that the devil, the world, and our sinful nature may not deceive us or mislead us into false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice. Although we are attacked by these things, we pray that we may finally overcome them and win the victory” (Small Catechism). By the grace of God and through the power of the Word, hand the devil missed opportunity after missed opportunity. Amen.