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The Written Word
First Sunday in Lent
March 5, 2017
Everything in the Church Year is meant to focus our attention on Christ. There are many approaches churches take in teaching the Word of God. When it comes time for the sermon, some go through a book of the Bible, really honing in on its application for daily life. Some will do a series on a particular topic that is relevant and timely. And there are always those that do whatever the Spirit moves them to do.
But the approach taken in going through the Church Year each year is the approach that follows the life of Christ. This is different from taking the Scriptures and determining how they might serve our current conditions or problems. The Church Year takes us through the journey of Christ in accomplishing salvation for the world.
The other approaches go to the Scriptures to seek what they have to say to us in our current situation. The approach of the Church Year goes to the Scriptures with the expectation that whatever it has to say to us now is what we need now. Just as it was what we needed last year and the year before that. And just as it will be what we need in the coming years. The Scriptures were written to show us Christ and that shows us also that that is what we need to be shown.
The written Word of God will never change. There is nothing new God is going to reveal to us. The life of Christ is what it is and it is what we constantly need to focus on. Nothing will ever change of what Jesus said and did. It is history, and it is written down. He came in order to bring about salvation. And it is what He said and did that accomplished this. What, really, is there other than this that we could think that we need to focus on that will help us in living as a disciple of the Lord?
There is nothing. And so we enter the season of Lent and see what it is our Lord shows us that we need. In the Gospel according to Matthew Jesus is Baptized by John. When He is Baptized the Father declares Him His beloved Son. The Holy Spirit anoints Him. This is who He is. With this bold beginning He will now go out and turn the world upside-down.
Except that, the Spirit has something else in mind. In today’s Gospel reading Jesus is sent out in the desert, which was a barren wasteland. And He’s not just sent out there for a time for meditation, He is sent out in order to be tempted by the devil. This is the plan of God, for Jesus the Son of God to be tempted by the devil. The mountaintop experience of being Baptized is followed by the dreary experience of fasting in the wilderness for forty days and being assaulted by the devil.
The devil knows what he’s doing. He’s going to use the same approach he did in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve, as we heard in the Old Testament reading. Did God really say? He uses God’s Word to tempt Eve but he uses them in a scheming way. He twists it so that it looks and sounds like the Word of God but it is a lie and an assault.
So he finds Jesus in the desert, fasting, hungry. So, if you’re the Son of God, put it to good use. Certainty Your beloved Father wouldn’t want you falling over from starvation. Tell these stones to become bread. We both know you can do it, and it seems to me if you’re the Son of God that You should do it.
But whereas Adam and Eve failed, Jesus wins. He responds to Satan not with explanation, not with rationalizations of why He can still be faithful to His Father and nevertheless alleviate some of His hunger pains. He doesn’t even speak of His own accord. What He does is speak the Word of God. He quotes the Scriptures. He tells Satan exactly where He will put His trust, in the written Word.
It’s true that I need food. It’s true that God has given us food. But I will not eat apart from the will of God. Man does not live by bread alone but by the very Word that proceeds from the mouth of God. This is what I will rest in, even if My body gives way. The hunger pangs are merely signals that My greater need is the Word spoken by My Father in heaven, that I am indeed His only-begotten Son.
Satan is a good listener. He hears what Jesus says. He heard what God had said to Adam and Eve. He heard what God had said to Jesus at His Baptism. So if Jesus is going to base His trust in His Father on the written Word of God, then that is how he will get Jesus to deny His Father.
He takes Jesus into the holy city, Jerusalem. He brings Him up to the pinnacle of the temple. Throw Yourself down. God promised in His Word that He will command His angels concerning You. He will deliver You up by their hands. You won’t even strike Your foot against a stone. He has said it, it is true. You trust in Him, show Your allegiance to Him.
But whereas Satan uses Scripture to twist it and bring harm, Jesus uses Scripture to declare the perfect, holy, and loving will of God. He says that it is written that you shall not put the Lord your God to the test. It’s true you must trust Him but you must not tempt Him to evil.
There is one last thing Satan will try. He can see why Jesus might not have been tempted to do the previous things. But now he will give Jesus an opportunity to gain what He has not had since He was born of a virgin, raised in podunk town, and has no position of power. Imagine beginning Your ministry with more power than any king on earth.
Satan takes Him up a very high mountain and shows Him all the kingdoms of the earth and their glory. It is a sight to behold and more than any person has ever achieved. With one swipe of his hand Satan could make Jesus the king of the entire earth and there would be no need to battle Pharisees and Sadducees and Roman governors. So much more good could be achieved from this position of power than simply going forward as a simple preacher who will need to walk around a limited area. If He will just fall down and worship Satan, everything will be His.
But for the first time Jesus doesn’t respond immediately with the written Word of God. He’s had enough. Be gone, Satan! Depart from Me. But then back to the written Word, You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only you shall serve.
And Satan left Him. Who has the true power? Who has the godly use of the Word of God and the true trust in it? It is Jesus. It is the Son of God.
It isn’t Adam or Eve. It isn’t the Israelites as they were led out of slavery in Egypt and time and again doubted God, tested Him, and simply denied Him. It isn’t you. It isn’t me. It isn’t any one person who has ever lived or who will live. There is only one person and it is Christ.
He is the one who overcame Satan. It isn’t you. Satan is perfectly fine if you want to believe that. But he in no way wants you looking to Christ for your salvation. He in no way wants you knowing the written Word of God because then you will see how he uses it to twist it.
When Jesus was hanging on the cross He was mocked. If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross. You trust in God, why doesn’t He save you?
Well, why did the Spirit lead Jesus into the wilderness to tempted by Satan? Why did God not save Jesus when He was on the cross? Because it is Jesus who saves you. It is Jesus who has overcome temptation and defeated the devil.
He has also set the pattern for you and me. He was Baptized and then sent out by the Spirit to be tempted by the devil. You and I are Baptized and then sent out into this world where we will be tempted. And here is where it is of utmost importance to believe, to really believe, what the written Word of God says. That you and I are Baptized is no small thing. It is what God gives us in which He declares to us, You are My beloved son, you are My beloved daughter.
The Large Catechism expresses the value of Baptism this way:
To be baptized in God’s name is to be baptized not by men, but by God Himself. Therefore, although it is performed by human hands, it is truly God's own work. From this fact everyone may readily conclude that Baptism is a far higher work than any work performed by a man or a saint. For what work can we do that is greater than God’s work?
But here the devil is busy to fool us with false appearances and lead us away from God’s work to our own works… We all think much more of the things that we do and merit ourselves. But the Scriptures teach this: Even though we collect in one pile the works of all [saints], however splendidly they may shine, they would not be as noble and good as if God should pick up a single straw. Why? Because the person [of God] is nobler and better…
Understand the difference, then. Baptism is quite a different thing from all other water. This is not because of its natural quality but because something more noble is added her. God Himself stakes His honor, His power, and His might on it. Therefore, Baptism is not only natural water, but a divine, heavenly, holy, and blessed water, and whatever other terms we can find to praise it. This is all because of the Word, which is a heavenly, holy Word, which no one can praise enough. For it has, and is able to do, all that God is and can do.
This is why Jesus staked everything on the written Word. It is from God Himself. Do not listen to the lies of Satan when he suggests that you need to hear something new or that God has not given you everything you need. Listen to your Lord. Man shall not live by bread alone but by the very Word of God. Worship the Lord your God, and serve Him alone.
You are Baptized. In Lent, as in all of life, what better thing to do than trust the very Word of God which says that you are His. Amen.
Pastor Paul L. Willweber
Lutheran Service Book Lectionary: One-Year, Gospel
Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, San Diego, California