Sunday, March 20, 2011

Sermon for 13 March 2011, Lent 1C

The Rev. Paul J Cain, Jr.
Matthew 4:1-11
Israel and the Word
First Sunday in Lent, 13 February 2011
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Last Wednesday we embarked on a forty-day journey through a season called Lent, a period of forty days of wandering through repentance waiting for the promised land of Easter Sunday that has much in common with the wanderings of the people of Israel for forty years in the wilderness of Sinai.
Repentance was on the minds of Moses’ hearers as he proclaims the Word of the Lord in the book of Deuteronomy. Their parents all died in the wilderness because of their sins against the Lord. In their hearing of God’s will from Moses, they were preparing to enter the Promised Land. Following a second telling of the Ten Commandments in chapter five, Moses urges them to avoid the mistakes of forty years ago. We are reminded of the fallen human nature all have in common: All mankind fell in Adam’s fall. God's ancient people give us a snapshot of all humanity and the need for Jesus to be our substitute. We can’t just point at them and ignore ourselves.
That previous generation, still grumbling even after receiving manna from heaven, were not satisfied. In Exodus 17, the people tested the Lord and quarreled with Moses about water. The place was named Massah and Meribah because of this faithless testing and quarreling. They missed the point that the bread and water they truly needed was the Word of God, which they had been neglecting.
The previous generation, also in the book of Exodus, gave up on Moses after only forty days upon Mount Sinai. While Moses was receiving the first copy of the Ten Commandments, the nation of Israel was partying, worshiping and serving another god, a false calf idol.
In addition, throughout all of these events the nation showed that they had already forgotten how God rescued them from Egypt. They showed by their words and deeds that they no longer feared the Lord their God or served Him.
Forty years was Israel’s appointed time in the wilderness as a consequence. Throughout the rest of the Old Testament, the descendants of that first generation rescued from Egypt continued to behave like their forebears. It didn’t matter what kind of government Israel had, Moses, Joshua, judges, kings, or as subjects of a foreign power—the people of Israel continually fell away from God. They ran after other, false gods, yearned for earthy bread, and no longer feared, loved, or trusted in God above all things.
After all of that tumultuous Old Testament history, it is a wonder that anyone in Israel remained faithful! And, knowing all this background from Deuteronomy, we can see Jesus as the faithful and true Israel, the nation of Israel condensed to One. Where the nation messed up, Jesus will not succumb to temptation. The Word of the Lord Jesus cites during His battle with Satan during His 40 days in the wilderness come from the time of Israel’s 40 years in the wilderness!

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.  2And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 
It appears that the forty days and nights were not just preparation for Jesus’ encounter with the tempter, but actually part of the temptation.
Consider yourself. You have experienced focused times of temptation, when the tempter really works on you. He is not inactive at the other, seemingly quiet times. Those who worked the Nazi concentration camps weren’t thrust into the most gruesome duties all at once. They went through a process of desensitization. Their emotional and physical responses were gradually desensitized in small increments.
It was an earth-shattering event when the word “pregnant” was first used on TV during an episode of I Love Lucy in the 1950’s. Sixty years later, sexual innuendo is common on sit-coms. Now, lingerie shows and commercials are broadcast during prime time along with programs that bear the warning, “Parental discretion advised. This program has brief nudity.” That’s just broadcast TV, not cable or satellite. How have you, personally been desensitized during your forty plus years in the TV wilderness?

For Jesus, the temptations get more specific when the tempter comes.
3And the tempter came and said to him, "If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread."  4But he answered, "It is written,” 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.' "
This is a physical test.  Our text states the obvious. 2And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.  What kind of Son would Jesus be if He were to give in? He would not be a true Son of God. What kind of sons and daughters are we when we give in to temptations for physical things, things that would bring us pleasure?
Deuteronomy 8:3 is Jesus’ weapon in this conflict. What God wanted Israel to learn in the wilderness Jesus already knew. The Word of God is life. The Word is the only weapon that works against Satan. Therefore, we are to be in the Word!

5Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple 6and 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.'" 7Jesus said to him, "Again it is written, 'You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.'"
Why the temple? It may be part of the tempter’s deception, possibly to provide a sense of security for Jesus in familiar surroundings. Did the Devil want a good backdrop as he misquotes Scripture? False trust appears to be what the tempter wants Jesus to engage in.
The tempter quotes psalm 91:11-12. The devil knows Scripture. This also shows us that more than mere Biblical knowledge is necessary to be saved.  Faith is required, making the Lord our dwelling place. Hmmm. That seems to be exactly what the tempter didn’t mention. He left that part out when he took Psalm 91 verses 11-12 out of context.
In context, the word “because” in verse nine is very important to verses 10, 11 and 12. Psalm 91:9-12 (ESV) reads, Because you have made the Lord your dwelling place—the Most High, who is my refuge— 10no evil shall be allowed to befall you, no plague come near your tent. 11For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. 12On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.
In contrast to the first strike of the tempter, this attack hits the opposite flank. This is a spiritual test. Jesus doesn’t argue with the tempter, pointing out all of his theological flaws. He gets right to the heart of the matter, putting God to the test and properly cites Deuteronomy 6:16, in accordance with its meaning in context.
When we bargain with God, we are actually putting Him to the test. “God, if you heal my loved one, I’ll read my Bible more.” “If you give me this new job I want, I’ll be more faithful in going to church.” All of these are examples of testing the Lord and putting the cart before the horse.
Remember the verses of Psalm 91 that the Devil left out. Because you have made the Lord your dwelling place—the Most High, who is my refuge— 10no evil shall be allowed to befall you, no plague come near your tent. These verses call us to faith, and for faith to trust in the Lord and His will, provision, and protection. And we can only learn about those things in God’s Word.

8Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory.  9And he said to him, "All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me."  10Then Jesus said to him, "Be gone, Satan! For it is written, " 'You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.' " 11Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him.
He is no longer called the tempter. Again, he is called the devil. This is a different kind of temptation.
A father and son were walking along the streets of Paris one night. They passed a place that was brilliantly lighted. It was decorated with all the colors of the rainbow. Soft music emanated from within, and the fragrance of Arabian spices floated outward from the open windows.
“What is that?” the boy inquired.
The father replied, “That is hell!”
This surprised the boy. Hell—with all the glitter and glamour? He thought that hell was something ugly. He thought that the belch of sulphur would greet one at the entrance. But here it all looked so nice! What is more, the sign read, “Free admission.” But although it costs nothing to get in, it costs much to get out; character blasted, conscience burdened, one’s soul in a lost condition.
That is what Jesus faced. That means He is not unaware of what we face. He’s been there, done that, and conquered that with the Word, specifically, Deuteronomy 6:13.
The devil is offering something he cannot deliver. He is offering something Jesus already has authority over as God. God owns everything. The devil cannot give what he does not have authority over. In this world, though, he does have much at his disposal: fame, fortune, fantasy. But, it is all fake. It does not last. And even if were to last a lifetime, all the pleasures of this world end at death.
Jesus dismisses Satan, “Be gone!” with the Word of God. And we can banish Satan with the Word as well. When He accuses us of our sins, causes us to doubt God’s Word, and generally makes life miserable, we can shout back at him, “I am baptized. My sins have been washed away. You have no claim on me. Jesus defeated you and since I am His, you have no chance. Be gone!”

It is because of Jesus’ victory over Satan that we have victory. Jesus, Israel reduced to One, was victorious where the nation of Israel was defeated in the wilderness. Jesus gave birth to a new Israel. Instead of 12 tribes, He had twelve apostles. And you are part of the new Israel. Although we sin, Jesus’ victory won on the cross took away that sin. The benefits of that victory are yours this day and every Lord’s day through Word and Sacrament.
You see, that is why Sundays in Lent are not counted as part of the forty days of Lent. Each Sunday is a reminder of Jesus’ Easter victory. As we prepare to celebrate the Feast of the Resurrection, as the new Israel of Jesus, let us be in the word, fear, love and trust God above all things, and resist the tempter, the devil, with the very Word of God. Amen.

The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.