Monday, February 15, 2016

Sermon on Luke 4:1-13, for the 1st Sunday in Lent, "With Me Stands the Righteous One"

*Please check out an accompanying post for a hymn that I wrote that speaks of our temptations and how Christ is with us, with the same title as the sermon.

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. As we study the temptation of Jesus today, let’s first discuss the significance of temptation in general, then look specifically at how this passage gives us courage and hope in the face of temptation. No story of Jesus’ life would be complete without seeing how Jesus faced temptation. The Gospels show the teachings and miracles of Jesus, they follow the trajectory of the Old Testament prophecies that Jesus lived and knew—and follow Him all the way to the cross. But had the Gospels not recorded Jesus’ temptation, we would never have seen inside His personal struggle against the devil—who tempts Jesus, just like us, to commit sin and evil. The New Testament tells us that we are blessed to have Jesus as the One who represents us before God—the One who is our great High Priest—because He is like us. He’s no stranger to our struggles, our weaknesses, and temptations, but rather He is like us because He became a human in every way, except without sin. He faced temptation, just as we did—but He always and faithfully obeyed God. In other words, He resisted the attacks of the devil at every single turn.
Temptation is an everyday struggle for every Christian and unbeliever alike. The world of sin that we live in has no shortage of opportunities for evil. Many of them, we simply don’t recognize, because we don’t know God’s law like we should. St. Paul would write that if it weren’t for God’s law, he wouldn’t have known what coveting was, or that it was wrong. But whatever our weakness, or whatever the sin, humans face the choice between good and evil thoughts, words, and actions on a daily—even on a moment by moment basis. Many people, Christian or not, might choose to do something good instead of evil out of simple decency or out of common sense to avoid punishment by the law, or retaliation from those whom they might harm by bad deeds or actions.
That’s to recognize that when we make bad choices, when we fall into temptation and choose to think, speak, or do evil, instead of the good, there are consequences for what we do wrong. Sometimes the consequences mainly affect us—sin poisoning our thoughts, or teaching us the habit of lying, or creating a blindness to our own wrongdoing. Sometimes the consequences of our sin are not so contained, and they spread and hurt others. Hurtful words and actions that we sin against others can sometimes cause lasting damage to ourselves and those around us. Some things, like a murder, or permanent injury, may never be able to be healed or restored in this life. Other things may be partially restored or healed in this life. But the point is that sin inevitably leads to damage of one sort or another. It’s not unimportant—it causes real harm, whether we can see that immediately, or whether it is fully or partly hidden. God’s Law, that directs us to do only good, is not arbitrary and without purpose.
So on the other hand, to resist temptation by making a choice to do something outwardly good is still not finally enough to put people right before God. Making good choices is better and wiser, and leads to better consequences and usually better results. As I said, a believer or an unbeliever can certainly make conscious choices to not act in a criminal way, to do what is outwardly good. But they cannot, by doing so, make themselves righteous before God. Even the most decent, upright person doesn’t get special recognition or standing before God. Even with a pretty good “batting average” of good choices, no one stands a chance on their own, of being found innocent before God. It takes only one sin to have a guilty record before God. Temptation is not a game won by batting averages. And truthfully, none of us would even measure that well if it were.
If it were, we could read the story of Jesus’ temptation like a “What would Jesus do manual”, and practice our skill at following those user instructions. And of course there is much to be learned from Jesus’ particular example. But it’s not by your success in imitating Jesus, that God will count you righteous. You cannot be saved by your good works. Rather, you can only be saved by Jesus Himself! The story of Jesus’ temptation is not a user manual, but a play by play of His victory and win for us! And Jesus is not a retired “hall of famer” whose “win” remains in the history books, waiting for another great achiever to copy—but Jesus is the living Lord who is with us and who reigns in our lives even now. He’s not a coach from the sidelines, who sends us to battle alone, but He lives in us by faith and through His Holy Spirit. When we conquer temptation, it’s not by our strength or cleverness, but by the fullness of His life in us, and His fighting on our side. What else does it mean when Scripture says, “If God is for us, who can stand against us?” (Romans 8:31). Don’t try to face temptation alone, but stand with the God who is for us in Christ Jesus.
Even Jesus did not face the temptation alone. The beginning and end of the reading in Luke 4 show us how He faced it—after His baptism, it says, “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil.” Then the verse after our reading says Jesus “returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee”. Jesus faced temptation full of the Holy Spirit. Paul says in Romans that we can have our mind set on the flesh—which is death, or our minds can be set on the Spirit, which is life and peace. Jesus most certainly had His mind set on the Spirit, and sought life and peace by obedience to God’s perfect commandments. By the Living Spirit of God, Jesus did not give into any of Satan’s lies or temptations. He could not be deceived, like we so often are.
Just like how Satan tempts us, the devil tried first to make use of Jesus’ physical need and exhaustion. The first temptation, to make bread from stones, to satisfy Jesus’ hunger, came at a time of what must have felt like near starvation for Jesus. Without food or water for 40 days, Jesus had completed a marathon fast, that would have drained any human’s energy and strength. Jesus’ hunger would make that offer seem very satisfying. We face times in life where we feel at the brink of our patience, our sanity, our strength, our finances, or whatever else might be whittled down to almost nothing. And sometimes in those moments, pushed far beyond our limits, our mind flies to quick but sinful solutions. Perhaps to steal, to cheat, to hurt, to lash, or whatever “short-cut” might be easier than doing what’s right. It would be so easy to rush into satisfying, but evil courses of action. The apostle Paul warns us against this, not to be overcome by evil, but to overcome evil with good. Even when we are at our weakest, God compels us still to do what is good. The Spirit lives in us, to convict us of right and wrong, and to supply us with His gifts to grow in spirituality, in faith, hope, and love.
Jesus’ answer to Satan’s temptation is deeply profound. “Man shall not live by bread alone.” It’s a quote from Moses, from Deuteronomy 8:3. The rest of the verse says that man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word from the mouth of the Lord. Moses was teaching the people of Israel why God fed them the manna, the bread from heaven. It was so that they wouldn’t count their survival on bread alone, but that they would look up to God to ultimately supply and provide all they needed to live. God tested His people, to see if they would obey His commands. Their survival, He’s saying, was not a mere matter of physical food. Their survival depended on listening to His Word.
Think about what that means for us. Our spiritual life and existence lives and feeds off God’s Word. We can’t live without it. A man without God’s Word, is spiritually speaking, like a starving man without bread. He’s missing something even more essential for his life than food. God’s Word gives us life, and is the only thing that can sustain us beyond this mortal life, into eternal life. Peter, after eating his fill of bread with the crowds of 5,000, confessed to Jesus, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life!” Jesus’ word is eternal life. Man shall not live by bread alone. Man lives by Jesus’ words of eternal life. Living is about much more than digestion and supplying energy to your body! We are living souls, meant for relationship with God, and that cannot survive without His Word.
Though it may be invisible to us, that the devil prowls around us like a roaring lion, we are not ignorant of his schemes. God’s Word warns us about what the devil is up to, and that he marks us as His prey. But though it may also be invisible to us, we can be just as certain that Jesus is with us—even more certain—as He has promised to be with us till the end of the age. When the evil One stands against us for temptation, there is a still great fighter who stands with us—Jesus the Righteous One. In our baptism we’re joined to His death and resurrection victory. We know that God stands for us, so nothing can stand against us. If the devil is a strong one, than Jesus is still stronger, and He proved it during the first 40 days after His baptism.
When you are baptized, it doesn’t mean that you won’t have to strive and struggle with temptation—it doesn’t mean that you get a free pass from cross and trial—but rather it means that you receive the gift of the Holy Spirit and the forgiveness of your sins. And guess what that makes for you? The devil is your perpetual enemy. But far better to have the devil as your enemy and God on your side, than to be on the losing side of eternity, and the burning side of God’s anger. Better to have the Righteous One, Jesus Christ, who loves you and lays down His life for you—than to side with one who hungers for your death, and tempts you with lies and false promises. And in your baptism you have Jesus to lead you in the way of life and peace.
And if and when we fall into sin, Jesus stands near to lift us up, to call us to repentance, to turn away from our sins. He stands with us to forgive the humble and repentant, and to make us stand again with Him in His forgiveness. Jesus is with you every step of the way. Don’t go it alone! You have the champion that has fought for us and won, and who still lives with us. Jesus is that Righteous Son of God, and by faith, His righteousness is ours as well! Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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  1. In Luke 4:1, Jesus is described as “full of the Spirit,” and “led by the Spirit” to the wilderness. What role does the Holy Spirit play in equipping us to face temptation and trials? Do we stand alone against temptation?
  2. What might happen if we treated the story of Jesus’ temptation like a “users’ manual” for us to face temptation on our own?  Instead, how do we face temptation, and by what power do we resist the Evil One? Matthew 6:13; Ephesians 6:10-20; 1 Peter 5:8-11
  3. How was the time period of Jesus’ temptation like other significant events in the history of God’s people? Genesis 7:4, 14; Exodus 24:18; Numbers 14:33-35; 1 Kings 19:8. What about the location of where Jesus’ temptation occurred? Deprived of many luxuries and things they wanted or desired, where did this force them to look for help?
  4. God has declared that “Man shall not live by bread alone” (Deuteronomy 8:3). What lesson did God intend to teach His people by this statement? Read all of Deuteronomy 8, esp. vs. 1-6. Since God has declared this of mankind, what does it mean that people who do not heed or hear God’s Word are missing? What aspect of our existence lives and feeds on God’s Word?
  5. Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 6:13; the devil quotes Psalm 91:11-12; Jesus replies quoting Deuteronomy 6:16. What was different about Jesus and Satan’s use of Scripture? What does this teach us about the cleverness of not only the devil, but of false teachers, that can use the word of God, seemingly to their advantage? How do we avoid being led astray? John 5:37-40; 1 John 4:1-12
  6. The devil departed from Jesus, until an “opportune time”. What sort of “opportunities” do we unwittingly offer the devil to tempt us? How do we make ourselves vulnerable and open to temptation? What are your personal weaknesses the devil may use to exploit?
  7. In all temptation, fear, and need, who stands with us and gives us the victory? How and why do we foolishly try to face temptation alone? Why must we trust Jesus alone?

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