Sunday, February 22, 2015

Homily for Lent 1 - Mark 1

(adapted from a 2007 sermon by Rev. Todd Peperkorn)

          “We know that for those who love God, all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose,” - Romans 8:28.  That is important to keep in mind as we plunge into the holy season of Lent.  You need to recognize that when Jesus is tempted, suffers, and dies – it is all done to benefit you, to be worked for your good.  It is all going according to God’s plan for you.  Jesus does not get caught by surprise in a hidden trap laid out by the devil.  Martin Luther said, “Even the Devil is God’s devil.”  In other words, God will work even the devil’s works for the good of God’s people.
          That is so easy to forget in the midst of temptations – both when you are pressed up against it, and also when you hear today’s Gospel text.  Still wet behind the ears from Baptism, immediately Jesus goes to
spend His 40 days in the wilderness being tempted by the Devil.  Note that Jesus does not accidentally wander into the wrong place at the wrong time.  It was not His idea to go there, but the Holy Spirit “drove Him out into the wilderness,” as St. Mark reveals.  Matthew and Luke let us know a few specifics, detailing three of Satan’s attacks, trying to lure Christ away from righteousness and into selfishness, fake faith, and idol worship.
          However, St. Mark skips those details to get to other things.  As we listened along to the rest of Mark chapter 1 this past month, it might have seemed like everywhere Jesus went, He was battling against demons.  And that is St. Mark’s point.  He wants you to see the temptation as the opening battle of the Kingdom of God invading the stomping grounds of the Devil – and as Jesus casts out more and more demons, the battle intensifies until He gets to the Cross, where He decisively defeats the Devil once and for all people.  Even though Christ’s death looked nothing like a victory – until Easter that is, when Christ’s resurrection proves that Satan does not win in the end.
          Knowing Christ wins in the end strengthens you as you find yourself in this battlefield of sin, the arena between God and the Devil.  Day by day the prince of darkness works to recruit you in his rebellion against the King of the Universe.  “Come, join me, and we will throw God off His throne all on our own.  And you will not have to put up with Him telling you what to do anymore.”  He tempts you to reject, neglect, forget about and revolt against the Kingdom of God that comes to you in Christ Jesus our Savior.  In both good times and bad, Satan would convince you that God is too far from you – so that you falsely believe that God cannot help you out of your failures, or have any hand in your successes.  That serpent constantly asks you, “Did God really say…?” until your thoughts question God’s Word, your words contradict it, and your life shows more concern for what the world says than what God says.  After all, the world that you can see and touch is so much more real to you than the God whom you only know by faith.  But when you fear offending the people at work or in your home more than you fear offending the Holy God, you have broken the First Commandment.  You have committed idolatry.
          St. James warns, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and He Himself tempts no one.  But each person is tempted when he is lured and
enticed by his own desire.”  Lured and enticed are the words of hunters and fishermen – baiting the hook with the lure, enticing into the trap, to make the beast or the fish to want to come unknowingly into the danger zone.  And you know what is to happen next to the victim.  This is how St. James describes your sinful nature, your own desires, as baiting the hook to catch and kill you.  “Sin, when it is fully grown, brings forth death.”
          When it is not just the Devil out to get us, but we serve as our own worst enemies when our evil desires get a hold of us – who will save us from these bodies of death?  Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord who gives us His victory.  When Jesus went out to be tempted by the Devil, He did not do it for Himself.  He is led by the Holy Spirit to face these temptations for you.  Where you fall into the snare of seductions, Jesus remains steadfast under His trials to give you the crown of life.  He went into the wilderness of this world so He could be your substitute, stand in your place, and earn the credit for you to be counted as blameless and free before God.
          More than just forgiving and cleaning up your past failures at temptation, Christ’s testing in the wilderness also strengthens you for the trials you will face later today and throughout the rest of your life.  Listen to what Martin Luther beautifully said when he preached on this Gospel:
          Christ has served and helped us by His fasting, hunger, temptation and victory. Also, whoever believes on Christ shall never suffer need, and temptation shall never harm him. Instead, we shall have enough in the midst of want and be safe in the midst of temptation because the Lord triumphed in our behalf. Christ’s fasting also encourages us to believe that, by His example, we can cheerfully suffer want and temptation for the service of God and the good of our neighbor, like Christ did for us. Therefore this Gospel is sweet consolation and power against the unbelief. It awakens and strengthens our conscience, that we may not be anxious about the nourishment of our bodies, but be assured that God can and will give us our daily bread. (Luther)
          Note that Luther does not promise an easy life to those who follow Christ.  If you want to avoid suffering then maybe you should be looking to find a different religion.  For a Christian will face many temptations away from faithfulness to God and love for your neighbor.  However, what Luther does say is that even in the midst of hard, dark, and difficult times, you do not need to worry.  Christ’s temptation,
fasting, hunger, and victory demonstrate for you that God will always take care of you too.  You do not need to worry about tomorrow, because God will be there with you.  Christ has come to be your shield as He suffered the brunt of God’s wrath against our sin on the Cross. 
          Now the Lord feeds you not only with daily bread for your body, but also with the bread of His very body to keep you body and soul in Him.  At His Supper, the Son of God calls us in a special way to assure us that He is in communion with us in our battles against temptation.  Not only does Jesus know what we are going through because He was tempted like we are, but as one pastor put it, Jesus shares with us all that “He is and has, in all He has done and will do for our salvation.  His invincible power against temptation is ours... He sat down on the right hand of God and received power over all His and our enemies, also over Satan.  In this power we share, He is at our side in every battle.  With Him at our side, fighting for and with us, we must conquer” (Lindemann, vol 2, pg 60).

          “Even the Devil is God’s devil,” said Martin Luther.  There is so much comfort in those words.  While that evil foe is trying to bring down the Son of God, the Son in the wilderness successfully does His work to save you.  Satan is much more powerful than us, yet his power only goes as far as God will let it.  Even to the point that God actually uses all the evil things Satan does to bring about good in your life – with no greater example than the Cross, when the devil attacked Jesus with death, and the Lord produced life eternal for you. 
          Amazing, right?  What kind of wonderful God do we have who can turn even the evil things of this world for our benefit?  This is none other than the true God come down from Heaven to save you.  Trust that when He gave you His Spirit in Holy Baptism, you are now in His hands – safe from the assaults of the Devil, even when God tests and tries you to strengthen your faith.  When your own sin, or other people’s sin in this world attacks you, take heart.  Find peace in knowing that Christ has overcome the world, and He creates a new world for you.  Believe it for Christ’s sake.  Amen.