Lent 1, Invocavit
Let Thy blessing be upon us, Heavenly Father, as we pass through these holy days in which we remember the sufferings and death of our dear Lord; and grant that His holy example being ever before us, we may follow Him in willing obedience, learn His gracious humility, and being filled with His love and spirit of self-sacrifice, learn the lessons of a life pleasing to Thee and helpful to our fellowmen; through Him Who loved us and gave Himself for us, even Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen. (Collects & Prayers #365)
Amen. God’s grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God our Father, through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
Today’s OT contains the foundational teaching about the reality in which we live. The word “reality” is now avoided by some people who prefer the phrase “lived experience,” because at least in their minds, reality can be different for everyone. But the Fall into Sin is not different for everyone. It defines us whether we like it or not. It defines the lived experience of every child of Adam and Eve. Ever since that day, we try to justify ourselves because we want to be righteous. That’s our lived experience.
But buried in the middle of this chapter is a single verse more powerful than the rest put together. It defines the faith of Adam and Eve and the shape of their hope. They taught most of this chapter to their children with a sense of shame. But the promise of a Savior brought peace to their consciences.
That’s the way I’d like you to hear our text. Think about how today’s Gospel brings peace for your troubled conscience.
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4 But he answered, “It is written,
“‘Man shall not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple 6 and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written,
“‘He will command his angels concerning you,’
“‘On their hands they will bear you up,
lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”
7 Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. 9 And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10 Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written,
“‘You shall worship the Lord your God
and him only shall you serve.’”
11 Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him.
This is God’s Word. Sanctify us through the truth, O Lord, Your Word is truth. Dear fellow redeemed:
How does Jesus’ temptation bring peace for your conscience? Let’s keep that question in mind as we consider what happened.
Jesus had recently been baptized. Do you recall what the Father said at that time? His statement is actually the ten words in Matthew’s Greek right before the beginning of our text. “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
So when Satan, the tempter, came to Jesus, he opened the first two temptations with the words, “If you are the Son of God…” Do you see how the chief thing he’s attacking here is the credibility of the Father?
Now compare that to what the same tempter had said thousands of years before, when the newborn world was innocent. “Did God actually say, …?” And then, “You will not surely die.” When we compare the first temptation to the temptation of Christ, we can see that the tempter is up to his old tricks. He’s attacking the credibility of God, our Creator.
It worked magnificently for him the first time. He expertly buried the poisonous seed of doubt into Eve’s heart, which quickly grew like a spot of decay in a forgotten bag of potatoes.
The tempter began with a desire that was not in harmony with God’s word. James describes this in his first chapter: “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.”
It’s interesting that Adam and Eve both wished to avoid facing the reality of their sin, how they had corrupted the beauty and harmony of God’s Creation. They covered their bodies. They hid from their Creator. They made excuses, even to the point of blaming God himself. Because of their sin, they now lived in a fantasy of their own making: a fantasy in which God’s Word and motives are questionable, His Creation needs improvement, and they have the final say over who and what they are, while they think of themselves as righteous. If God contradicts them, then He is the one who’s wrong.
Sound familiar? It should. This is the state of fallen humanity ever since. Sometimes we bury these ideas or hide them behind the fig leaves of our self-righteousness. But sometimes the fig leaves slip. Our fabricated righteousness has trouble standing up when we see the contrast between God’s good Creation and what we have become.
Every generation does the same thing, even when its favorite phrases change. Today a phrase like “lived experiences” is meant to allow some people to deny a reality that applies equally to us all—like God’s Word. But not too long ago there were passionate pleas for something called “tolerance.” Among other things, that meant “Respect perspectives or lifestyles that might seem untrue or harmful.” For quite some time the idea of “freedom” has been captivating: freedom for a people to have their independence, or freedom for one person to live any way she wishes to live.
But above all of these ideas remains God’s Creation. We cannot escape it, not even with a clever story about it creating itself. He made it. He made us. He set its limits, and ours too. He gave it purpose, and He defined our purpose. It was the tempter’s purpose to corrupt it. Break it all down. He began in the hearts of Adam and Eve. Much of his work is still done in the human heart.
It’s easier for us to see this when we’re looking at other people. When we look in the mirror, we tend to check our fig leaves and hold them close. We do want to seem righteous, after all.
But the devil continues with the same temptation now. We hear and speak the confession of sin along with the whisper of doubt, “Am I really so bad?” We hear the absolution while the devil whispers, “Did God really say…” And we hear God’s promise in holy Baptism along with Satan’s temptation, “If you are a child of God, ….” And we look at the holy Supper of our Lord with wonder at the words we hear, along with the temptation, “It’s not surely the body and blood of Christ.”
Those are the temptations to doubt that would rob us of Jesus in the ways that He delivers the salvation He won on the cross. The fact that we have those temptations or doubts is troubling and even dangerous to our faith. But those are not the most common temptations we experience.
Usually, it’s in the area of love for our neighbor. “Did God really say that I must love the one who shows hate toward me? The one who accuses me of horrible sins and assumes things about me without knowing me?”
“It’s not surely wrong to pass by my neighbor in silence without helping, without showing the lovingkindness that I have received. It’s not surely wrong.”
And the tempter whispers, “If you truly are a child of God, then prove your righteousness by laying into your neighbor with mockery. Repeat the rumors you hear. Show you are on the right side of history (whatever that means).” So evil is called good and good, evil. Our heads are twisted around until the tempter leads us gently by the hand to look back at our actions with a growing dread of what we will see.
There were no “good old days.” Nicholas Selnecker wrote the hymn Lord Jesus Christ, with Us Abide (ELH 511) in 1589. There he includes the prayer:
And ever is there something new
Devised to change thy doctrine true;
Lord Jesus! As Thou still dost reign,
Those vain presumptuous minds restrain.
The tempter has deceived and drawn many allies to himself. He wants you, too. Over 2,000 years before Selnecker, Isaiah wrote (5:20-24) :
Woe to those who call evil good; and good evil,
who put darkness for light and light for darkness,
who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!
Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes,
and shrewd in their own sight! …
who acquit the guilty for a bribe,
and deprive the innocent of his right!
… for they have rejected the law of the Lord of hosts,
and have despised the word of the Holy One of Israel.
But Satan quotes God’s Word too, even as he casts doubt on it. That’s what he did in the second temptation of Jesus. With our sinful flesh, we can resist, but losing becomes a habit. Lord, have mercy! Our consciences are like a white carpet on a rainy moving day. Everything ends up in shades of gray with darker smudges, and it doesn’t come clean.
Sometimes we look at that mess and say, “Well, it’s not a white carpet anyway. It’s really a sort of mottled grey.” We want to feel good about our righteousness, so we redefine what righteous is.
Then God enters with His Law and boy do sinners hate Him for it! He points out that the carpet was once pure white. It’s not the “lived experience” we would choose! But it’s true. So perhaps the conscience gets tuned up, and we see what kind of sinners we really are.
And that’s where our Gospel is such a comfort. In Jesus’ place, you or I would have had some excuses for failing the temptations. But He did not fail. After fasting forty days (as long as Lent!) Jesus knew that physical needs come in second to God’s Word. Asked to show that the doubters are wrong about Him, He refused to treat God’s Word like a toy. Offered a way around the shame and pain of the cross, He wouldn’t let something else take God’s place.
Good for Him! But also good for you and me. After all, this was our rematch. We all fell with Adam and lost our righteousness. But with Christ, we have all defeated temptation and been justified.
When God speaks to you, His words are true. “See how I love you. I have taken your place myself. You and I are reconciled, for your sins are forgiven. The breach made in the Fall is healed, and your corruption is cleansed. You are Mine, and will remain Mine forever.”
Penitent sinners are truly absolved in the declaration of your forgiveness, because your forgiveness is real. Baptism’s promise is proven true, as are Jesus’ words when He says, “This is my body,” and “This cup is the New Testament in my blood.” Your conscience is cleansed by the power of His blood. Yes, your carpet was white after all, and that’s exactly how God sees it in Christ.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
Soli Deo Gloria!