Invocabit – Historic Lectionary – Matthew 4:1-11 – March 5, 2017
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Temptation always works the same way.
It always works to entice us according to our passions.
It takes hold of our lust, our greed, our hunger, our jealousy, envy, anger and pride. And it promises fulfillment.
It never appeals first to our reason, it always appeals and entices our emotions, our passions.
In other words, temptation always attacks the very things that we don’t actually control, even though, we constantly comfort and justify ourselves with the opposite:
That we do contain our own passions, that we have practiced and even perfected the discipline of self-control, that we always know what we’re doing, and why we’re doing it.
But this is lie, and it’s the second step of temptation.
For as soon as temptation has taken hold of our passions, it quickly seeks to diffuse and numb our conscience by the lie that we’re actually in control of the whole thing, that this time, that same old sin, the one that you keep doing with same results and the same shame, that somehow it’s different this time; this time it’s reasonable, this time you need that sin, how could you be expected to live without it, that it serves you, that you’ll be made better for it, and most popular of all, that you can control how much and how long you use it.
Behold the passions of man; they are as consistent and controllable as the waves tossed by the sea.
We have been duped the devil with the same old lie, time and time again.
He tells us that we know what we are doing, that we’re in control, and yet, in reality we are being led straight back into death by the constantly shifting desires and sins of our heart.
Human passion is all over the place, it is without control, moderation and discipline.
This is what we mean when we talk about a passionate love or a crime of passion.
By these words, we do not mean that such a love or such a crime has any self-control, or direction, or reason to it, but rather that our emotions, our desires, our anger and lust overtakes us and now we are found diving headfirst, without reason, without consequence, without control into love and hatred.
We are tossed to and fro as waves tossed by the sea.
Yet today, as we embark on the journey to the cross that is Lent, the Temptation of Christ in the wilderness gives us a model and an example of what it is to suffer patiently under temptation.
This is not the only thing that Matthew chapter 4 is about, but it is something, and it is worth our attention, and our listening as we struggle in the passions of sin and death.
Here in the Temptations of Jesus we see the truth that the Father has, through His Son and by His Holy Spirit given you good and precious gifts so that you might engage in temptation for what it actually is.
And that is, that temptation is always a Holy War.
For St. Paul writes in his letter to the Ephesians, that our struggle in this life is not “against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Eph. 6:12)
Such is the nature of temptation. It is not just you, your sin and your guilt. It always engaged in baptism through the Holy Spirit, with the Son, pleading to the Father in your place, with the demons and the angels surrounding.
And in this the Lord gives you good and precious gifts, so that you might withstand, take hold, fight and be at peace.
Namely, in Matthew chapter 4, we see those gifts as that of fasting, of prayer, and of the Word of God confessed.
Regarding fasting, we should see this not simply as the abstaining from food and drink for set amount of time.
Rather, the Lord has given you, even right now, even where you find yourself life, the opportunity to deny for a time your passions and desires, and to submit to the passion of Christ Himself.
In this way, Holy marriage, by nature, is a kind of fasting. As every morning that you wake up you are given opportunity upon opportunity to deny what you want, to deny what you desire, and instead to submit to the passion of Christ in marriage and to serve your spouse; to learn the goodness that is sacrifice, indeed even the goodness that is suffering with and for one another.
But it is not just Holy marriage, the very nature of Baptism, wherever you find yourself, whether it’s in the family, in marriage, as a single person, as widow, as a child, in this, the Lord has given you the precious gift of denying what you want, and clinging instead to what He gives.
For this is the obedience of Christ that he shows you and fills up for you, that He is the obedient Son who waits upon the Father and is content with what is given, and even gives thanks for what is given.
So the Lord provides us with fasting to discipline the body and see that indeed, He sustains us from cradle to grave with every good gift, even despite and without the things we want.
Regarding Prayer, Luther preaches that prayer is as essential to the faith, as breathing is essential to being alive.
It is important for us to remember that when we are tempted, the Lord has given us His promises through prayer that we might call upon His name for his comfort and endurance, and if we fall, to also find peace through His grace.
Indeed, we also have been given the Word of God itself, the Word which we confess, does the work.
The Word which forgives sins, and calms troubled hearts, preaches the Law, gives the Gospel and grants the grace.
If we believe such wonderful promises about what God is able to do through His written and spoken Word, then indeed may we hold it fast in both times of temptation and in times of thankfulness and peace.
For it is our only comfort, our only peace, both as we struggle, and most assuredly as we fail.
The Temptations teach us much about what it is to bear in our sufferings, and cling to Christ in hope, and they are in part, an example, and a model to us…but that it is not all, and it is not even the main thing.
There is a part of us which only wants to hear what to do, how to live, how to defeat the devil and his lies.
We may desire this, but we also know it doesn’t keep us all the day long, it may send us out in excitement Sunday morning, but if that’s it, then it withers dies by the end of the week, inndeed that it is not where true peace and the true Christ leads us.
It is not to His example first foremost, but to His fulfillment.
Today as the Son of God is driven by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness, He is for us, tempted according to our passions, and not His own.
This is why He must go to the wilderness, it is not for Him, it is not for His benefit; it is not an exercise in endurance that would then grant Him the confidence to go to the cross.
It is necessary. It is needed, and needed for us.
The Holy Spirit is not driving Jesus to the desert to find himself, this is not some personal spiritual journey, but rather, Almighty God, the Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is in Christ and through Christ on the move to the cross for the life of the world, the redemption of mankind.
Every part of this is for you.
He goes to undo what Adam and Eve ruined in the garden, He goes to be faithful where we have been faithless, He goes to be victorious over death, the devil, and sin and in His grace and mercy, to give you the credit.
For He has been tempted according to our passions, and not His own.
For the Lord’s passion is not serve himself, it is not feed himself with bread even though he may be hungry, His passion is to feed and serve His people, no matter how sinful, unfaithful, lustful and greedy they might be.
His passion is not to protect himself or to keep himself in safety but to give up his life, to be delivered unto violence and to save you.
His passion is not love himself with power and glory and adoration, but to humble himself unto death, indeed his passion, his pleasure to you little flock, is to give you the kingdom, and give it in full.
This is why it is so significant, why it is such a dramatic reversal of language, such a watershed event, that we would refer to the crucifixion of the Christ, as His Passion.
For we do not mean by passion here that it is out of control or moved by emotion or that it has no deliberate action, we mean in fact the very opposite of these things.
That the Lord would set His face towards Jerusalem and go, despite His sufferings, despite His discomfort, despite the sinfulness of the people He comes to save.
The Passion of Christ is an unwavering obedience and love for the Father, it is self-denial, it’s epitome is sacrifice, and in that is the fullness of God’s love, poured out and given to you.
For this is what you have been washed and buried with in Holy Baptism.
Into Christ Himself, and everything that He has done for you…including His perfection and defeat of temptation.
It is why it can be said of you, that though you fail constantly and fall to your passions everyday, it is why it can be said of you, here is the Father’s beloved Child, Here is the innocent Son, Here is the faithful One, the One who is Perfect, like your Heavenly Father is perfect.
It is for you, and it is yours in Christ.
By that, we have peace with God, by that we have peace even in the midst of temptation and struggle, to know that it is not our righteousness and faithfulness that will win the day, but that it has been won already.
So struggle in Christ, for it is finished, He is for you.
As we journey through Lent, and even more than that, as we journey up to the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, here is some food for thought, some food for the journey ahead.
The heart of the Reformation, as it proclaims the free Gospel in Christ and for His sake alone to troubled sinners, is found in an important distinction between two things.
At the time of the Reformation, the Church had tried and failed to point people to living out the blessed life, this life would be their comfort, their confidence, the devotion of the monks, the prayers of the saints, the works of penance and mercy to find favor God.
As Lutherans, and more than that as Christians bound by the Holy Scriptures, we do not find our comfort in the blessed life, we find our comfort and peace in the blessed death.
Here is the Passion of Christ.
Here is the life of Christ given to you and fulfilled by Him and Him alone, and here is your peace to know that you can die in faith, trusting in the mercy of God given to you in Christ.
In that, we can begin to be about the blessed life. In that confidence we can look to Christ the author and perfector of our faith. In that peace, we can struggle in temptation through the precious gifts of fasting, prayer and the Word itself.
For in that peace, we do not struggle as those with confidence in ourselves, but with faith in Christ.
Temptation is frightening, it is terrifying and most of all despairing because we do not control it.
It comes, it tosses us around, it violates and confuses us, and leaves us in our guilt.
And for that we do not find peace but despair.
But here, in this passion, you also do nothing for it, you do not control the grace poured out in this blessed font, you do not decide how much of the kingdom is fed into your mouths at this blessed table.
But it does not come to toss your around, violate and confuse you.
This Passion comes to bring you out of death and into life, to hold you fast to the Passions redeemed, sacrifice, faithfulness, and love.
He is for you, He claims, He keeps you.
In this Passion. There is peace.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.