Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Sermon on Matthew 4:1-11, 1st Sunday in Lent (1 YR lectionary), "The Truth vs. the Liar" (Bonus: hymn composition)

With me Stands the Righteous One
78 78 77
LSB 609
Text: Joshua V. Schneider

1.Near me stood the Evil One,
though from my own eyes he’s hidden.
“Shall I throw the righteous down?”
Mocking words into the heavens.
“Will he trust in God each day;
if you take his goods away?”

2.“Harm his family, harm his life,
then we’ll see if he still raises;
Prayer and thanks to God above
lifting high his holy praises.
Only when his life’s secure
will his trust in You be pure.”

3.How could I perceive the cost,
knowing not the war was waging;
for my soul the devil wants,
threats and accusations raging.
“Ah dear God please tell me why,
these afflictions round me lie?”

4.“Life on earth is all too short,
Can’t you see this human weaken?”
Father knows that we are dust,
has compassion on His children
Cast your burdens, every one
On my Chosen, Righteous Son

5.Near Him stood the Evil One
In the desert tried to tempt Him
Mocked the Holy Son of God
tried to turn Him from God’s mission.
But Christ Jesus did obey;
Satan’s efforts turned away.
6.God would prove His saints are true,
helping them withstand temptation.
Will not give too much to you,
He provides you help to face them.
Showing Satan he is wrong,
we are weak but God is strong.

7.With me stands the Righteous One
In baptism I’m adopted
“God shall make the righteous stand”
Glorious words ring in the heavens.
“Put your trust in God each day;
He takes all your sins away.”

8. “What you here on earth have lost
For my sake, my Son will give you
Strength to take up, bear your cross
And redeem your soul for heaven.
There in glory hundredfold
Treasures worth much more than gold.”

This hymn was based on reflections about the life of Job, especially verses 1-2, which describes the devil’s hidden attack against him, and how that relates to our own Christian struggle with crosses and temptation. Often the spiritual battle behind our struggles remains hidden from us as well (vs.3). Verse 4 echoes the words of Psalm 103, especially verses 13-17. Verse 5 parallels our temptation with Jesus’ own testing in the wilderness. Verse 6 tells us how God uses temptation and helps us. Verse 7 proclaims our victory in Jesus, and parallels to verse 1, capturing the theme of the hymn. Verse 8 looks to the eternal restoration of what we have suffered while bearing crosses and living for Jesus’ sake. Luke 9:23-26, Matthew 19:28-30.

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. Every year at the 1st Sunday in Lent, we witness Jesus’ temptation by the devil. Forty days of Lent echo the forty days Jesus fasted in the desert. What are we to learn about temptation from this reading? First and foremost, it shows us Christ’s victory over the devil and over temptation. In 2 Corinthians 2:11, Paul says we should not be outwitted by Satan, because we’re not ignorant of his designs. Christ certainly knew the designs of the devil, and wasn’t outwitted or outsmarted by him. Paul implies that in order to avoid being outwitted by the devil, we must be aware of his designs, as Christ was.
Instead of cartoonish pictures about the devil, let’s hear some of what Scripture says. Not to waste more ink or words on the devil than he’s worth, but to hear as much as Scripture finds necessary to teach us, to know our enemy and his designs. Who was this devil that stood next to Jesus, tempting Him in the wilderness at the end of that marathon fast of 40 days?
The Bible talks about the Devil in many places. In Genesis 3 today we heard about the serpent who deceived Eve, and tempted our first human parents. In Matthew 4, the devil tempts Jesus, and fails. Jesus, in one of His fiercest rebukes to those who refused His Word and were trying to kill Him, says  “you are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I tell you the truth you do not believe me” (John 8:44-45). In the great vision of Jesus Christ, in the book of Revelation, the devil is called “the great dragon,” “the ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him” (Rev. 12:9).
In 2 Corinthians 11, we are warned against the devil cunningly leading us astray from “a sincere and pure devotion to Christ”, by proclaiming another Jesus or a different spirit or a different gospel. Paul is shocked the Corinthians tolerated this easily enough (!), which serves as a reminder to us that we can’t take false teaching lightly, and that it’s a natural human weakness to love hearing lies that flatter us. Be on guard as Paul warns against “false prophets, deceitful workmen, [disguise] themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.” (11:3-4, 13-14). And Peter tells us that the devil is like a prowling lion, seeking whom he may devour.
So what do we learn from this about the devil and his designs? He is thoroughly set on evil, he’s a murderer, liar, deceiver of the whole world. He wants to split us from pure devotion to Christ by false teaching or a different gospel. If he’s  the deceiver of the whole world, that means he’s pretty effective at what he does—he’s a slippery character. He can disguise himself as an angel of light, and so do his false workmen disguise themselves as apostles of Christ. This is why we can’t afford to be ignorant of his designs. But his M.O. gives him away. We recognize him and his workers by their bad fruit. Lies, discord, death, slavery, hatred, these are all his tools in trade. He employs distraction, deception, and false appearances that look like the truth, but are not. His first deception was “Did God really say?”, and to distort God’s Word.
So now we have a better picture of who was standing next to Jesus, and what he was attempting. Satan offered Jesus, who must have been ravishingly hungry after 40 days, the temptation of food. He offers Jesus the opportunity to show off His divinity in dramatic fashion, by leaping from the Temple and having everyone witness His rescue by angels. He offers Jesus earthly power and glory, in exchange for a bow of worship to him.
When it comes to temptation, the devil has achieved victories against every human being before and since. Everyone from Adam and Eve till you and I, has succumbed to the power of temptation, and not just a few times either. Whether it was what we think of as minor victories—the loss of patience and burst of anger—or a spectacular failure, like King David’s sins against Uriah and Bathsheba, and ultimately against God—big or small, the devil counts it as a victory. Because it doesn’t take a big sin to separate us from God. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. All sin drives a wedge between us and God. The law only needs one point of failure to condemn us for our sin. And the devil had achieved big and small victories against every last person—until he faced Jesus. Did he think that self-gratification would work against Jesus, like it so often works against us?
Because this is ultimately what our reading is about—not the devil trying and failing to tempt Jesus—but it’s about Jesus, the Victor, who withstood the devil at every turn. The One who never bowed down or succumbed to temptation—even when His body was wracked, even when the weight and pain of our sins tormented Him on the cross—Jesus did not bend. He never relinquished the Truth, not even for an appetizing lie or an easy way out. Now Jesus’ victory wasn’t in the Olympic fashion, like we’re treated to this month, with spectacular displays of human strength. In fact, at first, it didn’t look like a victory at all. His victory came, not in self-gratifying displays of power like the devil wanted, but in humbly laying down His innocent life for our sins. It came by the hard, true road. Showing the greatest love ever known, to lay down His life for His friends—yes even His enemies. It is the victory of His cross and empty tomb, the resurrection life, that showed He never succumbed, never bowed down to Satan’s designs. A victory that brought glory to God through perfect humility and self-sacrifice.
See the victorious Christ—while the devil is a liar and deceiver of the whole world, Jesus is the Truth, and all that He speaks is truth. The truth is not always easy or welcome, we know—in fact, quite often people hate the truth; the fact that they crucified the Truth should come as little surprise. But when Jesus speaks the Truth, lies come unraveled, deceptions fall apart and crumble. Jesus is the Truth, and the teacher of Truth to the whole world. The truth will set you free. If we want to know the Truth, we will listen to Jesus’ voice.
While the devil is a murderer from the beginning—Jesus is the very Author of Life. At the dawn of creation, He created and gave life to mankind and all things. But now He redeems us with new life; redeemed from death in our trespasses and sins. Jesus authors life out of our dead flesh, He authors life out of His empty grave, He authors life out of hopelessness and despair. Where you see dead ends, He calls you to Him, to the hard, true road where life begins. Wherever sin and death once reigned, His kingdom rule brings new life. Where Christ is, life and goodness flourish.
While the devil may frighten as a prowling lion or dragon, seeking whom he may devour—Jesus is the Lion of the Tribe of Judah (Rev. 5:5), and He has conquered and is victorious. There’s no contest between the power of the devil and Jesus. C.S. Lewis said it was a common mistake to think of the devil as an equal but opposite counterpart to God. But he is not in any way equal, but in all ways inferior to and beneath God. The devil cannot create—he can only corrupt, twist, and destroy. The devil is not eternal, but is a creature existing in time. Christ is the conquering lion, and the devil’s head lies crushed under His heel.
Jesus describes the devil as the “ruler of this world,” (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11), and Paul describes him as the “prince of the power of the air” (Eph. 2:2). But Christ is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords (1 Tim. 6:15; Rev. 17:14; 19:16). Whatever the devil might have mockingly thought about being able to transfer power and glory to Jesus, was an empty dream—Jesus commands all authority in heaven and on earth (Matt. 28:18), and at Jesus’ name, every knee shall bow and tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Phil. 2:10-11). Jesus claimed no earthly kingdom, doomed to end, but rather rules the eternal kingdom.
In every way the devil is outmatched, outsmarted, outwitted, out-powered by Jesus Christ. Jesus answered him with a simple Word of God each time. “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Jesus lived and ate the Word of God, as His daily bread. He was sustained, even in physical human weakness, by every word from the mouth of God. In your every human weakness, God’s Word is your living bread. It teaches you to tell the Truth from the Lie. Jesus said, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.” God does not play games with us, and we should not foolishly throw ourselves into danger, expecting Him to bail us out. And Jesus ended the temptation with these words: “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’” The first commandment—worship God alone.
Jesus outwitted and outmatched the devil, not with superhuman power, but with the Word of God. God’s Word is an ordinary book we hear, read and spend a lifetime of studying—but extraordinary in every way. By God’s Word we see the devil’s designs for what they are, so we’re not outwitted by him. By God’s Word we’re wary of anything that would split our pure devotion away from Christ, knowing it is promoted by the deceit and malice of the devil. By God’s Word we know that Jesus will sustain us in every temptation, and not let us be tempted beyond what we can bear, but will always provide a way of escape. By God’s Word we know that Jesus was tempted in every way, just as we are, yet without sin. God’s Word is the Truth.
And in this matchup between The Truth and The Lie, the Truth won. And again at Jesus’ cross, the murderer and father of lies tried to extinguish the Truth, by killing Jesus. But even there, Jesus, the Way, the Truth, and the Life won. And Jesus remains ever victorious over sin, death, and the devil for us—He is King of kings and Lord of lords. We can always recognize Jesus by His M.O.—humility, truth (even when hard), and self-sacrificing love. Whenever we have faced temptations and grown weak or fallen; remember His victory—look to His Word, speak His truth, and call on His mighty name. Trust not in yourself or your own cleverness, but His certain and proven victory. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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  1. Read 2 Corinthians 2:11—in order to not be outwitted by Satan, we should not be _____ of his designs. What description of the devil do the following passages reveal? Genesis 3, John 8:44-45; Revelation 12:9, 2 Corinthians 11:3-4, 13-14; 1 Peter 5:8.
  2. What is the devil’s “M.O.” (mode of operating)? How do we recognize his plots and his false workmen?
  3. How successful is the devil in waging his war of lies, death, and destruction on mankind? Are only “big” sins victories of temptation for the devil? Why is all sin poisonous to us?
  4. What did Jesus endure physically, mentally, and spiritually as He resisted the devil’s temptations at every turn, all the way to the cross?
  5. If the devil is a liar and a murderer, than what is Jesus? Acts 3:15; John 14:6. If we want to know the Truth, who will we listen to? John 18:37.
  6. If the devil is a “prowling lion” (1 Pe. 5:8) or a dragon (Rev. 12:9), then who is Jesus, and what does He do to the old serpent? Revelation 5:5; Genesis 3:15.
  7. How does Jesus describe the devil in John 12:31? How does Paul, in Eph. 2:2? But what title and authority does Jesus bear? 1 Tim. 6:15; Rev. 17:14; 19:16; Matt. 28:18. What is the final conclusion of who will bow in worship to whom? Philippians 2:10-11.
  8. By what power or weapon did Jesus respond to temptation? Is it available to us? Ephesians 6. Whose victory always and only matters?

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