Lent 1A St. John, Galveston 3/1/2020
+ In Nomine Jesu +
Grace and peace to you, from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
“Sin, disturb my soul no longer:
I am baptized into Christ!
I have comfort even stronger:
Jesus’ cleansing sacrifice.
Should a guilty conscience seize me
Since my Baptism did release me
In a dear forgiving flood,
Sprinkling me with Jesus’ blood?
We have before us this morning Matthew’s account of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness at the hand of the devil. In Matthew 3, the chapter just prior to today’s reading, we’re given details of Jesus’ baptism. The proximity of these two great events in Jesus’ life, His baptism and His temptation, direct us to a number of remarkable parallels between the life of Jesus and the life of the people of Israel. In many respects, Jesus is the model Israelite. He is the sole person who lived and died as God always expected His Covenant people to live and die. More than a model Israelite though, Jesus is the true Israel.
When God led His people into the wilderness after the exodus from Egypt, it was to “test” them to see whether or not they would keep His word. They, of course, failed miserably. When the Spirit lead Jesus into the wilderness it was for Satan to tempt Him, in order that He might show himself the perfect and perfectly obedient Son of God on behalf of Israel, as well as, on behalf of the whole world, including, of course, you and me. Because the people of Israel failed when they were tested, because you and I continually and repeatedly fail when we are tested, Jesus was subjected to temptation in our place. Unlike the Israel of old, and unlike you and me, the true Israel emerged from temptation having defeated the devil at his own game.
And so, as we begin yet another Lenten season, we are confronted with Jesus’ temptation. And, I suppose, like good Lutherans, we find ourselves asking a whole series of fundamental questions about it. Chief among those questions is, what does this mean? What does it mean that Jesus was tempted by the devil and that He emerged victorious? What does it mean that He didn’t give in to the devil’s lies and promises? What does it mean, as the Book of Hebrews tells, that “Jesus was tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin?”
In some circles, it is common to view Jesus’ temptation simply as a lesson in “how to” deal with temptation. When we ask what Jesus’ temptation means, what it’s all about, we might well conclude that it gives us a course of action, a battle plan, if you will, for dealing with our own temptations. The devil comes at us with everything in his arsenal and it is up to us to follow Jesus’ example, to take up the word of God and stand our ground. In that sense, Jesus’ temptation is a source of potential help to us, but only to the extent that we are able to wield the word of God in a faithful and an unflappable manner.
The fact is, some people see the entire life of Jesus in this way. The Savior offers us a stellar model for holy living. The Scriptures, they would say, function more as an instruction manual than anything else, a book that teaches us how to live, and ultimately, how to die. Years ago, the WWJD movement capitalized on this way of thinking. WWJD was an acronym for “What would Jesus do?” Life affords us an endless series of choices and decisions. Those who see the Bible as an instruction manual, search its pages frantically, looking for a passage that deals with their particular quandary. Success in faith and life is measured by one’s ability to properly apply the appropriate principle from the Scriptures to life.
Certainly, there is a sense in which Jesus is a model for us to immolate. In His life and ministry, He was perfect in everything He thought, said and did. No life is more worthy of immolating than His. But, as it is for us under the Law, the model life sets a standard that is always outside of our reach. Our problem in life isn’t that we lack information, or, that we lack holy and godly models to follow. Our problem is that we lack the will and the ability to carry out what we know we should do. Thus, St. Paul, lends a voice to our cry to God for mercy. “The good that I would do I don’t do, but the very evil that I hate, this is what I do. Who will set me free from this body of death?”
Jesus was tempted by the devil, not simply to show you how to withstand temptation, but to be your perfect substitute, the One who went toe to toe with the devil and who emerged victorious, not for His own sake, but for your sake and mine. Jesus lived a perfect life, not simply to offer you a model to follow, but to be what you could never be, namely, a holy and pleasing offering to the Father in heaven. Thus, at Jesus’ baptism, the Father said, “this is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
The Gospel tells us that everything in Jesus’ life and ministry was done vicariously, in the sense that, it was done for you and for the whole world. His temptation was something He did actively, in that He perfectly obeyed His Father’s will by standing up against the devil’s lies and accusations. As you face temptations in your own life, it is good to remember, first, that what you experience is known to Jesus, which is to say, He understands your temptations. Again, “He was tempted in every way as we are, and yet, without sin.” Secondly, it is good to remember that, though the battle you fight with the devil is too much for you, it was not too much for Jesus. His victory over temptation is your victory over temptation.
And, of course, where you, like Israel, fail to uphold God’s will for your life, even Jesus’ death was vicarious. He didn’t die for Himself, for He was, “without sin.”
In his lecture on the Book of Galatians, Luther expounded on the true meaning of the vicarious nature of Jesus’ death. He wrote, “He took on the person of a sinner and a murderer, and not of one only but of all sinners and all murderers. For we are sinners and murderers and, therefore, guilty of death and eternal damnation. But Christ took upon Himself all our sins and died on the cross for them. This is the reason why He had to become a transgressor and, as Isaiah says, “was numbered with the transgressors.” And indeed, all the prophets saw in the Spirit that Christ was to be the greatest transgressor, murderer, adulterer, thief, sacrilegious and blasphemous person of all, the like of whom had never been in the world.”
Everything that Jesus did for you, both actively and passively, He then freely gave to you through your baptism. Israel passed through the waters of the Red Sea only to face temptations untold on the other side. So, you emerged from the water of your baptism as the avowed enemy of the devil. More than that though, you emerged as a dearly beloved child of God, an heir of the Kingdom of heaven. In that baptismal flow of water, Jesus’ life became your life and His death became your death.
In the midst of the temptations that are sure to assail you, if you ask yourself, will I be victorious, know that, in Christ, that is, baptized into Christ, the answer is a resounding YES. He is not merely a model of how you are to live your life. He is your life.
So, “Satan, hear this proclamation:
I am baptized into Christ!
Drop your ugly accusation,
I am not so soon enticed.
Now that to the font I’ve traveled,
All your might has come unraveled,
And, against your tyranny,
God, my Lord, unites with me!”
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.
+ Soli Deo Gloria +
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