Monday, February 22, 2010

Sermon on Luke 4:1-13, for the 1st Sunday in Lent, "Devil's Food?"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Welcome again to Emmanuel for our Children’s Sunday. I pray that God’s Word may richly bless you and your families today. Today’s Gospel lesson tells of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. This took place immediately after Jesus’ baptism with water and the Spirit in the Jordan River. It was the beginning of Jesus’ public teaching ministry in the land of Israel, that lasted about 3 years before His death by crucifixion. This lesson is very important for us, because it shows us an example from the life of Jesus where He underwent temptation to sin. Of course these weren’t the only temptations Jesus faced—as the reading says at the end, the devil departed from Him until an opportune time. The devil was watchful for the right opportunities to resume his tempting. Today we learn from Jesus how to face temptation, and how He faced temptation for us. Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Temptation is our daily struggle between good and evil. Our daily life is surrounded with possibilities, great and small, to do good or evil. From dishonesty and little lies, to stealing in all its many forms, to sins of the greatest magnitude—temptation is the lure, the seduction of evil. It’s the bait on the hook, dangled before your eyes. Temptation turns into sin when we swallow the bait and hook, when we give in to doing what is wrong. For that reason, and since Jesus’ first temptation was with food, let’s call temptation the “devil’s food.” It can look delicious and taste sweet, but when we eat the devil’s food, when we give into temptation, it sours our stomach and brings an unpleasant aftertaste. What do I mean by that? Simply that when the devil tempts us with doing wrong, it may promise a short-cut, an easy way out, or simply earthly pleasures, but it always ends up for our harm, rather than for our good.

To take a step backward for a moment, perhaps we try to deny that there really is this daily struggle between good and evil. We claim that we can’t really know what’s right or wrong. We even wish to believe that we determine what’s right and wrong. But while this is a convenient excuse for our actions that are immoral, dishonest, or hurtful—this kind of thinking is flawed logic. If we can’t know what’s right or wrong, or if we claim that morality is relative, then on what basis could you condemn, or even object to the actions of a tyrant like Hitler or Stalin or Pol Pot? Clearly, we know the difference between good and evil. It’s just when we apply it to ourselves, it’s more convenient to have a ready excuse.

Or, on the other hand, we could admit that good and evil exist, but excuse our wrong actions on the grounds that “well, nobody’s perfect.” Of course it’s true that none of us are perfect. The Bible says that more than mere imperfection, we have rebelled against God by sinning. It says “none is righteous, no not one.” (Rom 3:10) and “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God’ (Rom. 3:23). But imperfection is a poor excuse for failing to strive for what is good. Say you were sitting on your recliner in your living room, watching thieves make off with your neighbor’s jewelry and flat-screen TV, and did nothing to stop them or call the police. When asked why you didn’t do anything, you said, “Well, nobody’s perfect.” Would anyone accept that excuse? While we usually don’t try these excuses in such obvious ways, we try to make them stick in many other areas of life where we’re given the choice between right and wrong, in big or small ways. But excuses just don’t wash. Whether from weakness or from willingness, when we sin, it’s our responsibility to own up to.

So we come back to the temptation of Jesus, and we see how it’s an antidote to excuse-making and complacency. The Bible tells us that Jesus is “not unable to sympathize with us in our weaknesses, but… in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15). He faced temptation just like us, and it was not without human weakness. Was temptation easy for Jesus to face, since as He said and the Bible testifies, He was the Son of God? He alone among all humanity, was perfect; as it says He was “without sin.” But temptation was not simple for Jesus to face. When the devil tempted Jesus to make bread to feed Himself, Jesus was truly hungry. When Jesus later faced His own impending death, it was real human fear of pain and death that tempted Him to turn away in the Garden of Gethsemane where He was arrested. Jesus felt real human emotions of sadness, grief, pain, and fear. It wasn’t simply a matter of fact that Jesus would live a perfect life—this episode of temptations was just one of many places in life where He could have turned away from His Father’s will and disobeyed.

Learn from how He faced temptation. He didn’t rely on supernatural power to deliver Himself from temptation. He didn’t use something that we have no access to, in order to resist temptation. Instead, He relied on the same spiritual weapon that’s readily available to each one of us. In each of these three recorded temptations of Jesus, He silenced the devil by God’s Word. And although Jesus’ particular temptations were unique to Himself, as are the temptations we face—He was tempted with the same simple things that tempt us. Hunger, thirst, power, wealth, fame. How much better would the world be if there was no hunger or competition for food and water? What if neither governments nor individuals fought for power and used corruption and violence to attain it? What if greed didn’t make us obsessed with wealth, and if self-centeredness didn’t push us toward fame? It all seems unrealistic, but I think we could all agree that the world would be far better if that were the case.

Just as we can recognize what is evil, we can also recognize what’s good. We even see that it’s desirable, but we cannot reach it—certainly not to the widespread degree that I described. But instead of excusing ourselves due to imperfection or complacency, let’s engage in that daily battle against temptation, and daily seek to do what is good. Face the innumerable daily struggles to choose between right and wrong, armed with the same weapon that Jesus used against evil. The Word of God.

But the Word of God, the Bible, is not just a book of quotes to whip out against the devil. Jesus’ first temptation shows that the Word of God has a much greater use in facing temptation than being an encyclopedia of quotes. Jesus said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). We don’t just memorize the Bible for quotes to use against temptation, rather we live by the Word of God. Jesus chose instead of eating the devil’s food, to eat His Father’s food: the Word of God. God’s Word was the bread and the food that sustained Jesus against temptation. So also we make God’s Word our daily bread and constant guide. When we’re offered the devil’s food of temptation, with all its hollow promises, we feed ourselves instead on the Father’s food. Our heavenly Father who’s Word is our life, and gives us power to resist temptation, gives life and hope and comfort. God’s Word is the source of all goodness, the goodness we could not attain on our own.

But if you think that the temptation of Jesus just sets up an impossible example that we could never follow in our own faltering efforts to resist sin, think again. True, many times even when we’ve fought to resist what’s wrong, we’ve given in. Many times we sinned without even knowing it, and without realizing the consequences. We’ve done things we regret. We’ve hurt those we love by what we’ve said or done. We’ve looked back and seen the bad record of our failures against temptation. Clearly when left up to us, we cannot resist or overcome evil alone. But thanks be to God that Jesus’ defeat of temptation did for us what we couldn’t do for ourselves. What we couldn’t achieve, He won for us. Jesus’ victory over temptation in the wilderness was repeated throughout His life, as He resisted every temptation. At every turn in life where He was tempted as we are, He didn’t sin, but sought what was good.

Jesus’ victory over temptation was repeated again and again until His greatest victory over evil was achieved on the cross. When Jesus died on the cross, He once and for all broke the devil’s power, which was sin. He won because He lived on a constant diet of God’s Word. He fed on the heavenly Father’s food that is available to each one of us in the Bible. And His victory over sin and all evil at the cross means forgiveness for all of our failures. It means that the regrets and guilt that we have over sin can be taken away, if we’ll trust in His forgiveness for us. It means that Jesus didn’t just conquer sin and temptation once for us, but once and for all. Jesus won the victory against evil that the rest of sinful humanity could not. He supplies us by faith in Him with the goodness we couldn’t get; He supplies us with the peace that the world cannot give; He brings justice to a world that twists evil and good. When Jesus promises us forgiveness, life, and salvation, these aren’t hollow promises like the devil’s food of temptation. Rather, God’s Word is always true to what He promises. It’s a healthy and wholesome food that nourishes the soul. And it conforms us toward the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29), so that we’re equipped to resist temptation. So eat well and often from the Father’s food! In Jesus’ name, Amen. Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen.

Sermon Talking Points:
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1. How does Romans 2:12-16 (esp. vs. 14-15) show that we all know the difference between good and evil? Why does the logic of saying “there’s no right and wrong” fail?

2. How does the Bible affirm that no one is perfect, but in fact we are all sinners from birth? Read Romans 3:10, 23; Romans 5:19; Psalm 51:5. What does this imply about our responsibility for our actions? What’s the penalty? Rom. 6:23

3. Read a description of temptation in James 1:12-15. How does temptation lure us? Why is “devil’s food” an appropriate label for temptation? What’s the result of falling into temptation?

4. How does Jesus’ facing of temptation aid us in our struggle against sin? Hebrews 4:14-15; Hebrews 2:14-18. What experiences does He share with us? In what way is He different?

5. What did Jesus use to resist temptation? Is it available to us or not? How can we put it into use? Read Ephesians 6:10-20.

6. How is the Word of God our food and our “bread”? Matthew 4:4; John 6:22ff.

7. What was Jesus’ finally victory over evil? Romans 5:12-21. What does this victory mean for us? What good is brought to us through His victory, that was inaccessible to us?

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