“But Deliver Us From Evil"

Lent 1
March 5, 2017
Matthew 4:1-11


The greatest temptation that you will ever face in your life is the temptation to sidestep the cross.

That was what every temptation was designed to do that the devil hurled at Jesus in the wilderness.  They were all meant to tempt Jesus into taking a different path—the path of least resistance, the path of glory, instead of the path of suffering and death.

But, in the wilderness, and throughout His life, Christ had you in mind.  He knew that the only way in which we could be delivered from sin, death, and the power of the devil, was if He paid the ultimate price.  Therefore, the Scripture tells us, “for the joy that was set before Him, He endured the cross,” (Heb. 12:2).

Everything that Jesus did during His life here on earth, He did because of His great love for you.  He lived, He suffered, He died, and He rose again for us.  He was even tempted on our behalf; because, as we heard in the Old Testament reading, Adam—and in him, all mankind—failed in their attempts to remain steadfast against the devil’s temptations.

Do not fool yourself.  You are no match for the devil, even as you cannot overcome your own sinful nature and you cannot do anything to prevent the inevitable consequences of sin—namely, death.  You are as helpless as little Daphne is to be able to fend for herself.  She needs her parents to care for her.  More than that, she needs her Savior to protect her; especially now that she belongs to the Lord and has incited the hatred of the devil.  She will need Christ’s ongoing grace and power for her entire life—not just for this moment.

But, herein lies the greatest temptation—it is foolishly to think otherwise.  It is to imagine that any of us—young or old—can go one single day, hour, or minute without crying out to God for His mercy and aid.  It is a false confidence, a false hope, that would result in us ceasing to be here as often as we possibly can in order to confess, “Our help is in the name of the Lord, Who made heaven and earth.”  “I said, I will confess my sins unto the Lord, and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.”

Dearly beloved, do not be tricked by what some might see to be the ‘monotony’ of their lives, wherein each day seems the same and we get lulled into a sense of false security, thinking that the only ones who have an impact upon our lives are those whom we can see and hear.  How easy it is to forget the fact that, “We do not wrestle 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).

There is another, very real world that surrounds us that is filled with mortal enemies.  Martin Luther writes, “We lead a precarious existence and are the target of our enemies. Hourly the devil seeks to destroy us all. No sooner are you baptized than the devil lies in wait for you. If possible, he would kill you in your mother’s womb. He begrudges us every kernel of grain in the field, every fish, every morsel of bread, every cherry or apple, or any happy experience. Much less does he spare those of us who expose our back to him, who step before his very nose and preach as our duty demands about God’s mercy and the devil’s works. He would rather break my neck forthwith than permit me to stand here and preach and assail his kingdom.”

It’s a frightening picture and it is meant to be so—to frighten us from the complacency and self-righteousness that foolishly imagines that we can take care of ourselves.

But, know this—it is not merely the devil of whom we need to be guardedly aware—it is also a just and holy God, Who would not have His most precious Gift treated with contempt.  When we gloss over our sins and even welcome the temptations of the devil to satisfy our desires, then we treat Christ’s death in vain.  The unrepentant heart has a great deal to fear indeed; for unbridled sin cannot exist in the same heart in which the Holy Spirit is working to convict us of our transgressions.  

Do not sidestep the cross.  Jesus suffered and died to reconcile us to the Father by His blood, so that nothing will ever be able to separate us from His love.  How senseless and tragic, then, it would be to ignore God’s grace freely given, when it is the only strength we have in times of trouble.  To think of ourselves more than we ought is to pave an open road for devil’s attacks.

And that is why all three of our Scripture readings today virtually shout out of the fact that we need Christ!  We need the forgiveness that He earned for us upon the cross.  We need the benefit of His holy life to claim as our own before the throne of God.  We need the strength of His Spirit Who bestows such life-giving faith upon us through His Word and blessed Sacrament.  As Jesus said, “apart from me you can do nothing,”—and that is especially true in regard to the spiritual forces of evil.

The devil is real.  Our sin is real.  And the imminence of our death and our appearance before the judgment seat of Christ—that is as real as it gets. 

The greatest temptation is to think that we don’t need Jesus every moment—that our Baptism is reserved for our infancy, or that His Word is better left to those who can demonstrate some proficiency with it, or that the Lord’s Supper is like any other ordinary meal that we simply can choose to skip.  How dare we diminish the gifts of God.  

“You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.”  “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”  “You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.”

Dearly beloved, return to the Lord, your God; for He is gracious and merciful.  Return again and again to the cross of Jesus, where He promises that His death alone is able to bestow the abundant life.  

It is there, on the cross, that Christ was bruised but the devil was crushed.  On the cross, your sin became Jesus’ sin, so that, in exchange, He might bestow His righteousness upon you.  And in the empty tomb, you have the assurance that all who have been united to Him in a death like His, through Holy Baptism, are also united to Him in a resurrection like His.  Stand behind the protective cross of Jesus and let Him win the battle for you, as only the Son of God is equipped to do.

Over and over again, you heard in our Epistle, the resounding words, “the free gift,” “the free gift,” “the free gift,” again and again.  You and I need do nothing to earn or to deserve this heavenly grace.  God’s gives to you His most precious gifts, His powerful gifts, His life-giving gifts always.  But do not allow the fact that He is so generous cause you to be complacent.  

From the very beginning, it was out of His great love for us that God sent us His Son.  He wants us to look to Him as the compassionate, protective Father that He truly is, Who desires to bless His children with all that they need, not only for this body and life but for life everlasting as well.  His plan for us is that we be restored again to the way things were in the perfect Garden of Eden; to live in the presence of His glory forever and ever.

But the way to that Paradise is only through the cross.  Jesus still gives His life for you—not as a sacrifice for sins, that price has already been satisfied—but He gives His life to you to replace all of the guilt and all of the fear that accompanied that corrupted life of yours that was nailed to the cross with Him; so that daily a new, forgiven, hopeful, devil-and-death defying life might rise forth and live before God in righteousness and purity forever.  This, then, is God’s greatest power to overcome the greatest temptation—the gift of His Son, your Savior, Jesus Christ.  

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