The Test: Lent 1

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In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Our culture is quite smitten with the yin-yang symbol from Chineses Taoism philosophy. In the dark half there is a contrasting dot of light and in the light half a contrasting dot of darkness. This symbol is meant to picture a dualistic philosophy of the universe with two equal and opposing forces of good and evil. The same philosophy is infecting our culture with belief and talk of karma, that good and evil work in harmony and counteract each other. It is also based on the assumption that even in goodness there is some evil and in darkness there is some light.

While it may be true that people the world considers good do some evil and people the world brands as evil do some good, this dualistic philosophy is not true and it does not reflect reality. At its heart, it is a false and deceptive philosophy that accuses God of evil and impotency to conquer evil. 

Dear saints in Christ, first off, good and evil are not in harmony with each other. At the baptism of our Lord the Father proclaimed ““This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” Thus the stage is set for the next 3 years, as good and evil battle to the death.  Immediately Satan sprang forth to attack that Word of God. This is one fight worth hearing about again and again and again – even the abbreviated account in Mark. Never try to imagine peace between these two combatants.

In Adam’s fall, all humanity fell into sin and death. Adam’s sin is our sin. Adam’s curse is our curse. Adam’s death is our death. But now the Second Adam stands on the earth. He partook of flesh and blood for one reason – to destroy the one who had the power of death, that is, the devil (Heb. 2:14). The battle is now joined! Still wet with the Jordan’s water, identified now by the Father’s delighted words we read, The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan.”

From Adam through Abraham down to Jesus’ day, no human being had ever stood firm against the devil. When it came to tempting man to sin, Satan’s record was perfect – whatever million/billion to zero.

There is no light in man’s darkness. In this life that we live, in this world that we live, darkness sometimes can be rather apparent.  Dark deeds like the recent shooting in Florida or the killing of helpless unborn children are stark reminders of the darkness of the world that we live in. But Scripture is clear that it isn’t just these humanly perceived dark deeds that make up the darkness in this world, for darkness is not a thing, it’s a lack of a thing– light.  Jesus Christ is the light of the world.  Without this light, many in this world still dwell in darkness.

That is why we always return to the temptation of Jesus on the first Sunday of Lent, our 40 day journey to the cross of Christ and His victory in the resurrection. He was tempted in every way as we are – in all points as we are. He was tempted not in order to set an example for you as this text is oftentimes preached. For if that is the purpose of His victory in the desert, to show you how to do it, how is your record by comparison? You face temptation everyday. Just watch Jesus to see how it’s done. Now you do it too. Truthfully, that take on this text is a recipe for disaster and for despair. When it comes to temptation and testing, Satan’s track record against us is flawless.

Yet here is Jesus, still wet from the waters of the Jordan in His baptism, being led by the Holy Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, while He is tempted by the devil. Now I want you to notice something important here. He isn’t tempted by the Holy Spirit. He is led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness where He is tempted by the devil.

Every day the Holy Spirit leads you into the wilderness, where you are tempted by the devil, the world, and your old flesh. Will you love your neighbor as yourself? Will you love the Lord, your God, with your heart, soul and mind? Like our Lord, you, too, are hungry and have physical needs. The day’s resources may make you weak. You may not have everything that you need, or at least it may feel like you don’t have everything that you need. But our Heavenly Father knows you, and what’s more, He knows your neighbor needs you. He knows that every day you have opportunity to love, to show mercy to the loveless and the unloved. You have opportunity time and time again to rejoice in the good the Lord your God has given you. And how do you do this? You do this by showing mercy to those around you, be they friend or foe, neighbor or enemy. You have opportunity to rejoice and give mercy, because Your God has shown mercy to you.

But the problem is that God sends you out to love Him by loving those around you, and we respond with a cold heart. Rather than give your bread to those in need, you feed your own face, not trusting that your Father will provide for you. We also self-righteously proclaim how they don’t deserve it or say someone else of other government program should do so rather than us. Rather than working where God has placed you, we long to escape our own wilderness for a place where the grass is greener, and where the cries of those in need are, well, a little better manicured, a little better behaved. Where we can serve others with a little cleaner hands. Rather than trusting that God will provide and care for you, you hoard and cling and test God by sinning and then pray that He will pick up the pieces of your own mess.

When we hear about Jesus’ temptation, what makes it so hard is that we fail to resist the temptation that is put before us over and over again. This is why we pray so often about temptation. Hear again. Luther’’s explanation.

Lead us not into temptation.

What does this mean? God tempts no one. 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 may finally overcome them and win the victory.

The devil, the world, and your own sinful nature all want to deceive you and mislead you. But notice what the goal of these three is. False belief, despair, and other great shame and vice. Finally, temptation is about faith, isn’t it? Do you trust that God will do what He promises, or not? Do you believe the lies and act on them, or do you believe the truth and act on it?

You, of course, know the answer. Left to yourself, you would fall into these pits. Truth be told, you wouldn’t fall into them, you would dive into them headfirst! But you, beloved, are not left to yourself. For the darkness of our sin is deep. We walk in the valley of the shadow of death each and every day of our lives, usually unaware of the forces of evil that surround us. There are the occasional outbursts where pure and unvarnished “evil” rears its ugly head and draws our attention. The mass shootings at schools and theaters and college campuses are one example. We may call the perpetrators “insane” because that’s the best description we have. But underlying it is a demonic darkness we don’t even want to discuss.

Through the Apostle James our Lord lets us know that your temptation comes when you are lured by your own desires. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. To bring forth death is the devil’s goal. To lead us into false belief and despair, Satan comes and whispers that the evil around is God’s fault. Just as Adam blamed God in the garden, “this woman whom you gave me, she gave it to me and so I ate,” we are tempted to blame God. Today the devil reverses the original temptation, as he said to Eve, you will be like God, he whispers and we mimic that God should be like us and think, act, and respond as we think He should.

To bring forth death is the devil’s goal. He came to tempt Jesus that He might sin and thus not be able to atone for the sin of the world. The Word made flesh conquered the devil’s temptations in the wilderness with nothing more than the power of the Word, for one little Word can fell him. Jesus entered this present darkness to bring the light of His life. That’s the darkness which trembled when Jesus prayed in the darkness, “Father into your hands I commit my spirit.” That darkness trembled at the sound of His “It is finished,” from the cross as Jesus finally completed victory and defeated sin, death, and the devil for you.

Jesus is the man James writes about, “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.” The man under trial is singular. The promise of eternal life is plural. We receive the crown of life because of the steadfastness of Jesus. God’s steadfastness to us sinners in His beloved Son never changes. There is no wandering, no error, no shadow of change in His Grace. And no fabricated yin-yang evil is His equal. Good and evil do not repay themselves and balance themselves out in some mystical form of karma. In Christ He delivers you from all evil, even…no especially when your last hour comes!

Nothing else will do but the gospel, the kingdom of God come to bring us sinners to repentance and faith. Jesus is still the good and perfect gift from above, coming down from the Father of lights. In Him, the Lord will provide for you. God grant that He would give you guidance, wisdom, and strength to resist the Temptation and to love those around you as He loves you. No matter what may come, no matter how many times you fail, no matter if the world crashes around you and hell itself seems to come knocking at your door, you have a Savior who provides for you, who brings you the Gospel, the kingdom of God present in Word and Sacrament for your forgiveness, life, and salvation. Amen.

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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