Rev. Matthew Zickler’s Sermon for March 5, 2017

March 5, 2017
Matthew 4:1-11

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.  This morning we meditate on the Gospel Lesson, the temptation of our Lord Jesus.  Amen.

Hopefully you’ve never heard someone say that being a Christian is easy.  Certainly, as we reflect upon our salvation being by grace through faith in our Lord Jesus, it should be the easiest thing in the world. After all, our God has promised to us the entirety of eternity, the wholeness of the richness of standing face to face with Him, basking in the glory of His love for us.  And it’s something He has promised to us without any merit or worthiness in us.  It wasn’t something we have earned, it’s not something we can earn, it’s not something that anyone can earn for us except Jesus.  And He’s done that.  By His death and resurrection, He‘s done it all, for us.

And yet, because the mutilation of sin will be with us until we die and our Lord Jesus raises our bodies from the grave, it’s not easy.  It’s hard.  The devil comes to us and he poke us and prods us and he tries to use every weapon in his arsenal to draw us from faith.  Whether he can draw us from the faith by creating such doubt that we deny the faith by our confession, or whether he can draw us into unrepentant sin that destroys that faith, he is going to push and push and push.  And this is exactly what he does in temptation.

And this is where we see our Lord Jesus in the Gospel lesson this morning.  Satan is trying to attack Him too.  He attacks Jesus’ identity as the Son of God.  He attacks Jesus’ proper understanding of faith in God.  He attacks the pull of Jesus’ humanity toward desiring complete rule over the world.

But as we look at Jesus, we can see that in His temptation He shows Himself to be the faithful Israel withstanding our trial in our place.  As I say that, think about Israel.  If you remember the story of the Exodus, you remember where they went after they were freed from Egypt.  Do you remember that?  They went through the waters of the Red Sea, and where did they go to after that?  They went into the wilderness, the desert.  And in the desert, they underwent trials.  Do you remember that?  They go into the wilderness, being led by God Himself in the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night.  And eventually they reach the trial of their own hunger.  They need provision, and what happens?  God gives them quail, then He gives them Manna.  Miraculous provision from God Himself.  And yet what do they do?  Eventually, they grumble.  The devil attacks them in that wilderness and convinces them this isn’t good enough.

But it continues.  Moses goes up on the mountain to talk with God for them—after they heard the voice of God giving the Ten Commandments, and they were scared and told Moses to go on their behalf!—and what happens?  They build the golden calf.  They heard the voice of God and they are pulled by the devil into rank idolatry!  You can see the temptations!  And that doesn’t even get into the grumbling that brings the snakes when Moses made the Bronze Serpent.  It doesn’t include Korah’s rebellion against the Lord’s Servant in Moses.  It doesn’t include so many temptations that they fell into.

But finally, at a point the generation that started is condemned not to finish their sojourn.  They don’t get to see the Promised Land.  They send twelve spies into the land, and ten of them bring back a report that intimidates them from thinking they should keep on.  That land devours the people who come onto it, the inhabitants there made the spies feel like grasshoppers, they said.  And the devil tempted them to not trust God’s promise to give them the Land.  Moses intercedes for them so their sins are forgiven, but they are condemned not to enter into that land promised to them.  And even Moses doesn’t make it.  The devil convinces him to take matters into his own hand striking the rock rather than just telling it to bring forth water as the Lord had said.  And so, they are tempted and tested.  And they fail.

But the Lord cannot deny Himself so eventually after forty years He takes the next generation through, not with Moses, but Joshua.  Because God is faithful to His promises.  He is faithful to His Name.  But think about that, what that means – that Lord cannot deny Himself.  We’ll be talking about that a bit with the Name on Maundy Thursday as we talk about the Command to not take the Lord’s Name in vain.  But as I say that, think about it a bit now that God cannot deny Himself.    Even when the Israelites failed, He still gave them the Land because that’s who He is.  He is the God who keeps His promises.

And in Jesus we see the same thing.  Jesus shows us again that God can’t deny Himself.  Look at what we have.  Jesus has been baptized by John.  He’s been declared by the Father to be the Son.  And with everything that goes along with that, He “was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished.”  Think about this, the Israelites are being repeated in Jesus.

Jesus is baptized, that is to say He goes through the waters of the Jordan.  Then, He’s thrown out into the wilderness.  Just like the Israelites, He has only the provision of the Lord.  Of course, it’s only 40 days, so not quite the same, but He also isn’t given the same provision.  Jesus doesn’t have any Manna, He doesn’t have any quail.  In fact, I don’t think we can even be sure that there’s water, so provision is all the more miraculous.  By that I mean, people aren’t going to survive those kinds of conditions, but Jesus does.  He survives and He’s hungry.  And there it is: the trial, the temptation.  Think about the hunger, the thirst, the exhaustion He must have been feeling.  I don’t know about you but I have a hard enough time thinking well and dealing with trial when I am only short on one night’s sleep and a little hungry before dinner after having had lunch that day.  But this is beyond that.  Forty days.  And what’s the first attack.  Right at the heart of this: ““If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”  “If you are really God’s Son, prove it!  Didn’t God just say that’s who you are?  Show it off, make some food for yourself.  You’re hungry, there are plenty of rocks here, you could have all the bread you want!”

And then, again, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”  Prove who you are Jesus!  Prove you’re God’s Son.  You’re not acting very powerfully!  You’re not showing off this Divinity you supposedly have!  Prove it!  God will make sure you don’t get hurt!

And one last time; “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”  This is all about a Kingdom, right?  I’ll give you a Kingdom.  A whole world of Kingdoms, with cushy palaces, soft beds, comfortable sheets, a cozy pillow to rest your weary head.

But what happens to Israel this time?  He makes it.  You could say that Jesus is Israel embodied, and this time there is success.  He’s Adam like we heard about in the OT lesson.  Except this time the serpent slithered up and Jesus crushed His head, showing Himself to be the offspring of the woman sent to redeem man.  He’s the Second Adam we heard about in the Epistle.  The Second Adam through who we have life.  He was tempted, but faithful.

And He did this for us.  You see, we are that Israel too.  Israel’s journey in the wilderness reflects the Christian life.  Just as they were baptized in the waters of the Red Sea, baptized into Moses as Paul says, we were baptized into Christ.  Just as they were fed by the Manna, we’re fed by the body and blood of Jesus.  Just as they were tempted, had their trials in the wilderness, we have our trials.  We have temptations.  We have serpents biting us.  We have desires to fall into false worship.  We rebel against authorities, even those given to speak God’s Word like Moses was.  – which as a note, in our day we often try to align ourselves with the figures of heroic faith, the Moseses and the Abrahams.  And when we see how even they fell short, it’s comforting, but we should realize more often we’re the Israelites.

But Israelites that we are we have our Joshua, our Yeshua, our Jesus—you see, Jesus is the Greek form the Hebrew Yeshua, Joshua.  We have our Joshua, the One who remained steadfast where we fail.  The One who withstood temptation and crushed the serpent for us, as the perfect man.  And look at how He did.  Through the Word.  Think about this.  What an example set for us.  When you know the Word, that Word is a sword against the evil one.  And you have to know it well, because He will even use it against you.  After all, the devil quoted the Word against Jesus.  But Jesus knew it better.  So, Christians know that Word.  Know that Word because the Lord will use it when you are tempted.

But even I say this, much, much, much more importantly understand that we still we aren’t going to make it without the One who did it for us.  The One who lived that life we should live, but ultimately suffered the death we deserve to suffer. We won’t hold up in temptation without our Joshua the Crucified.  We won’t hold up without Him because it’s by His life, by His blood, by His new life that in baptism He raises us to us new life.  He continually encourages us with His promise that He has done it all because when that promise strikes our ear and enters into our heart, the Holy Spirit enlivens us so that we can actually stand firm in temptation.  Not because we are so strong in that temptation, but because that serpent tempting us has already been crushed underfoot by the Offspring of the woman.  What a blessed hope we have Christians.  In fact, in the great difficulty that this Christian Life is under sin, this is the only hope that we can ever have to survive to eternal Land Promised to us in our Joshua, in Jesus.  Amen.

Rev. Matthew Zickler