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The First Battle of Jesus’ Reformation. Invocabit, The First Sunday in Lent, 2017. St. Matthew 4:1-11


temptation-of-christInvocabit, the First Sunday in Lent

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Matthew 4:1-11

March 5, 2017

“The First Battle of Jesus’ Reformation”

Iesu Iuva


You have been hearing this year about the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, how God revealed to the world again the truly good news of Jesus after it had been buried under teachings of men and demons.  Martin Luther was the human instrument through whom God accomplished this.


But what happened with Luther was only one act in the play.  Reformation began long before this.  The stage was set for it in eternity.  The drama began when God spoke this threat to the serpent in the garden: I will put [hostility] between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.  (Gen. 3:15)  When Jesus came out of the Jordan River, still wet from being baptized, the table was set, and the drama began.


Jesus came into the world to bring about reformation.  He didn’t come to reform a corrupt government, or even to reform a corrupt religious establishment. He came to destroy the root of the world’s corruption—to dethrone the fallen spirit that had set himself up as the world’s god, and to set free the people God made to bear His own image and likeness. Jesus was here to bring about a reformation of the world, make the world into a temple, where people would worship God in every thought, word, and action, with every breath.  This worship of God, this obedience of God, comes through faith in the true God, Father, Son, Holy Spirit.


All the evil we see in the world—cheating and lying, hatred and killing, immorality, dishonoring God—all of it comes from unbelief, non-trust in the true God.


So Jesus entered the world, as God had promised long before, to crush the serpent’s head, make people free from his corruption, and bring about reformation.  To bring them to faith in God & release them from worship of Satan, belief in his lies.


He was conceived in the womb of Mary through the Holy Spirit, born in the Bethlehem stall.  For the next few decades we hear little about Him, until He appears at the Jordan River to be baptized with the crowds who were confessing their sins that those sins might be washed away.


When Jesus was baptized, the heavens were opened, the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in the form of a dove, and the Father’s voice sounded from heaven, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”  (Matt. 3:17)  Jesus’ reformation began in earnest.  Jesus had come to the Jordan with no sins to confess.  Nevertheless, He was baptized with the sinners.  The only-begotten Son of God was baptized as a sinner because He had taken the burden of humanity, its sin and its redemption, upon Himself.


Then in the Gospel for today, Matthew chapter 4, we hear how the Holy Spirit brought Him to the first battle of His work of reforming the world.  “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.”  (Matt. 4:1)  Any reformer of any kind has to fight.  If you want to reform a corrupt city government, you will have a fight on your hands from the corrupt politicians who are in power and all the people who benefit from the corruption.  When Luther tried to reform the practice of granting indulgences, he was quickly attacked by the powerful bishops, including the Pope, who profited from the sale of indulgences.


Jesus came to reform something much bigger than a city government or even the Church; He came to reform the whole world.  He had to have a confrontation with the ruler of this corrupt world—the devil.


But what Jesus experienced as soon as He was baptized happens to everyone who comes after Him.  When you brought your little ones to be baptized into Jesus, you were bringing them to be baptized into His fight with Satan.  As long as you are a Christian and lay claim to the benefits of your baptism, to peace and union with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, to the forgiveness of your sins, you can’t avoid a fight with the devil and all who are his.  You must suffer his attacks, and you must fight. You must be tempted.  When the fight ends, when the temptation ends, so does your salvation.


The Holy Spirit leads Jesus into this fight, and to prepare Him for it, He lets Jesus fast for 40 days.  Jesus is weak almost to the point of death when the devil appears to test Him.  And the tests the devil brings are all temptations to presumption, to pride.  “You are God’s Son,” Satan says.  “Since you’re God’s Son, why should you have to starve out here in the desert?  40 days of fasting?  How unreasonable your Father is to make things so hard and painful for you!  You shouldn’t have to deal with the irritations and humiliations that human beings have because of their sin and unfaithfulness to God when you’re righteous!  The angels should carry you around!  Why doesn’t Your Father let you show Your glory so that these people give you the honor that is due you?”


Later Jesus would teach His disciples to pray, “Lead us not into temptation.”  The Small Catechism, the handbook of Christian faith and life Luther drew from the Scriptures, explains that part of the Lord’s Prayer in this way, “We pray in this petition that God would 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 would finally overcome them and win the victory.” 


We usually think of temptation as the devil trying to persuade us to commit grave moral lapses.  Of course he does that.  But the heart of all the devil’s temptations has to do with faith.  Despair is when the devil convinces us that we cannot be saved, that we cannot believe that God has forgiven our sins.  The other, “false belief”, refers to presumption, false confidence, where our faith rests not on God’s promise but on ourselves—our past good works, our past experiences of being close to God, our feelings.


The devil tries Jesus with presumption and false belief.  “You are God’s Son.  Why should you have to hunger and be meek and suffer?  Shouldn’t your Father honor you and give you glory and rewards instead of this humiliation?”


Then he lets loose a barrage of flaming arrows at Jesus in his third temptation, in a desperate attempt to get Jesus to fall, like all other human beings have before.  “I know that you have come to take possession of the world,” Satan says.  “You are the Messiah, the Christ, the anointed king.  The Scriptures say you are going to rule all the nations.  Well, here, have a look at them.  You can take possession of them all, right now.  They’re yours.  I’ll give them up.  Just give me my due.  Fall down and worship me.  No one will ever know.  I won’t make you fast for 40 days or suffer humiliation like your Father is doing to you.  It will be quick and easy.”


We have to give the devil his due, the saying goes.  This is an evil world, and things don’t go so smoothly for us when we don’t play by its rules.  Christians often give the devil his due too.  We often believe that there is no other way to survive.  (Examples)


But Jesus gives Satan—nothing.  Nothing except God’s Word from the Scriptures, which silences his lies and expose his fraud.  Satan is driven off, beaten.  The first man in history has refused his offers and been faithful to God.


Jesus could easily have overwhelmed Satan with His power and glory.  He could have done that without coming to earth.  But that wouldn’t have helped us.  Using His divine, almighty power to destroy Satan would have meant destroying all of Satan’s servants as well.


Instead Jesus came to reform the world and crush Satan not with overwhelming power but with faith in God and the obedience that comes from faith.  Jesus trusts His Father and accepts His will, even when that will means being humbled and suffering for our sins.  By this humble faith and trusting obedience to His Father, Jesus bruises Satan in this first battle, and finally bruises his head, crushing it in the dust, when He fulfills His work on the cross.  By His perfect faith and obedience to His Father, Jesus earns God’s favor, His grace, for all of us.  By His righteousness, Jesus earns the forgiveness of our sins before God.  God looks at the human race and sees not our rebellion and falling before Satan, but Jesus resisting and overcoming him.  He sees Jesus in perfect trust and obedience giving His holy life, shedding His innocent blood to atone for all of our transgressions.


Jesus’ humble trust in the Father, His rock-like holding to God’s Word despite all temptations, all appearances that seem to contradict it, is the example of how our lives are to be lived.  The love and humility He showed in willingly bearing this suffering in the wilderness, when He by rights did not have to suffer at all, is our example of how much God wills that we give of ourselves for our neighbor’s good.


But even more, Jesus’ victory over Satan in this first battle, and His final victory in His death and resurrection is our shield and defense in our battles against Satan.  When we are tempted to despair of God’s mercy, we claim Jesus’ obedience all the way to the cross as our own.  God has promised and pledged that it is ours in our Baptism.  We claim it, invoking the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit placed on us in Baptism.


The work of reformation that He began here is also our defense against false belief.  When the devil says, “Avoid suffering.  It doesn’t matter.  No one will know,” we hold to the Scripture and lay hold of Christ, who suffered this temptation and the agony of the cross for us.  We say, “I do not belong to you, but to Him who died and was raised to reform this world and me and make me a new creation, a Son of God.”


Or should Satan press me hard, let me then be on my guard.  Saying Christ for me was wounded, that the devil flee confounded.    Amen. SDG


The Way out of the Devil’s Power. Invocabit 2015

February 25, 2015 Leave a comment

Invocabit, The First Sunday in Lent

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Matthew 4:1-11

February 22, 2015

“The Way out of the Devil’s Power”

Iesu Iuva

In the book The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien a group of adventurers is on a journey to recover an ancient hoard of treasure. But the treasure is guarded by a great dragon named Smaug. The dragon knows every last piece of treasure belonging to him. And he sleeps in it. Anyone wanting to take any of the treasure must get past him. But he is wise and clever as an old serpent. He can breathe fire and his scales are practically impenetrable by any weapons. If anyone wants to take Smaug’s treasure he must first confront him.

That’s the way it is with this world and the devil. The devil has taken ownership of the earth and the people in it and he lets nothing slip from his power. If a person is going to be set free from the devil’s control the devil first has to be confronted. But we have no power to confront Satan. The old evil foe/ Now means deadly woe/ Deep guile and great might/ Are his dread arms in fight/ On earth is not his equal.


But our Gospel reading records the confrontation of a man with the devil who had the power to defeat him. That man, of course, is Jesus Christ, the true Son of God and son of Mary. He is led by the Holy Spirit out into the desert so that He may engage in this contest with Satan to release us from his power.

What we should see from this is that there is no escaping the kingdom of the devil without experiencing his attacks, without experiencing suffering, without facing death.

Jesus had just been baptized in the Jordan river. There He was showing that He was one with us. He was coming to free us from Satan’ power. He was making Himself one with us and bearing the guilt of our sin. When Jesus was baptized, the heavens were opened, the Holy Spirit descended on Him, and the Father said from heaven, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.” When Jesus gave Himself in obedience to the Father to bear our sin and undertake our rescue, there was a miraculous opening of heaven, a clear indication that God was with Jesus in His mission.

But right away afterward, the Holy Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness. He fasted for forty days and nights and afterwards was hungry. We may well suppose that He was at the gates of death in His hunger. And at that time of great weakness He was attacked by Satan.

If that is what happened to the author of our salvation, why do we assume that the way of salvation will be something different for us? Something different than a walk in the desert hounded by the attacks of the tempter?

No, the way out of Satan’s kingdom leads through the attacks of Satan, through a wilderness, even through death. It means trusting God’s Word not only when there is food on the table and a smile on your face, but also trusting God when you are at the gates of death.

Consider the devil’s threefold temptation of Jesus. First he tempted Jesus to command the stones of the desert to become bread. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “why are you starving out here in the desert? Make the rocks become food.” It hardly seems like an unreasonable temptation to us. After all, doesn’t God want us to eat? But Jesus refused to use His power to put an end to His suffering. He waited on God to provide Him with sustenance.

And the second temptation. The devil tempted Jesus to throw Himself off the top of the temple. “After all, if You are the Son of God, the angels will catch You and won’t allow You to stub Your toe against a rock.” It was a temptation to try to make God prove that He was with Jesus by a miracle. How often we long for God to prove that He is with us by doing some kind of miracle! But Jesus refused Satan’s temptation and clung to God’s Word that said He was with Him.

Finally the devil offered Jesus all the kingdoms of the earth if He would bow down and worship Satan. We long for this too. How much easier it would be for Christians if the world was Christian and supported us instead of being indifferent to us or persecuting us! But Jesus responded with the Word of God: “You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only shall you serve.”

We think that if God is with us, He will prove it by external things. That’s the way the world thinks, and the flesh of Christians thinks it too. Instead, the example of our Savior shows us that following Jesus in the way out of the kingdom of hell leads through spiritual and physical suffering. If we follow Jesus’ story all the way to the end, we see the way out of Satan’s kingdom also leads to death.

But human nature can’t accept this. Our reason thinks we have God when He puts food on the table and doesn’t let us suffer. We think we have God when we always know when the next check is coming. In the church we are tempted to believe that God is with us when there are a lot of people attending church and enough offerings coming in that we don’t have to worry about how we will pay our bills. Or we are tempted to believe that if God works great miracles, that will prove that He is with us, whether those miracles are of healing or something similar, or in the form of great emotional revivals of religious feeling.

Our flesh is confused. It is idolatrous. We think we have God when we are gaining the world and the things of the world, not when we are losing them.

That’s why no one is able or willing to walk the way out of Satan’s kingdom or confront Satan alone. By nature we don’t even know who God is and where to find Him. We think we are finding Him when we feel Him near or He provides for us, but the feeling of God’s presence and His earthly gifts are not God. We may lose those things and still have God if we have His Word.

Thanks be to God Jesus walked the way out of Satan’s kingdom. He went the way of trusting wholly in God’s Word. He did not let the devil turn Him aside or try to satisfy His soul with bread or miracles or power. He clung to God’s Word that declared Him God’s well-pleasing Son. He clung to God’s commandments and obeyed them rather than the devil’s temptations to twist Scripture or guide Himself by reason instead of God’s Word.

This road that Jesus walked led surely and certainly to death. That was the way God had marked out for Him—the way of obedience unto death in payment for our sins. Jesus did not take any shortcuts. Though He was God’s Son, He did not refuse hunger, poverty, humiliation, and pain. He did not even refuse death and God’s wrath.

In walking that road to its end Jesus brought us out of captivity to Satan. He obeyed the Father perfectly in our stead and offered His life as a ransom for us. Now Satan may tempt us to find proof that God is with us in gaining the world, but we know that God is with us because He has given His Son for us. When we were baptized into Him, He gave us the whole of Christ’s life—His obedience, His resistance to temptation, His death in payment for our sins, and His resurrection. Now Satan may tempt us to despair about the many times we have fallen under his temptations, but Jesus gives us His body and blood that redeems us from all our falls. We wear His perfect obedience, His perfect resistance to Satan.

It is a great consolation to us that we have this high priest, Jesus Christ. We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with us in our temptations. He was tempted in every way, just as we are. He suffered when He was tempted. Yet He also overcame all the assaults of the wicked foe and gave His life as a ransom for us that sets us free from all Satan’s accusations.

As we walk through the wilderness of this world, we are beset by many temptations. Christians often feel like it’s “one thing after another.” And we seem to be losing rather than winning—losing the world, losing our lives.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, take heart and do not despair. The mighty Lord is with you with His victory. He has already overcome Satan. His victory is certain. And He gives it to us. Our dying and suffering is not proof that we are not sons of God, but proofs that we are. When we lose, we win. Jesus is giving us Himself along with the cross and temptation, and in Him we are more than conquerors of the world, death, and the devil.


Soli Deo Gloria

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