2-21-21 Invocabit

Bible Text: Matthew 4:1-11 | Preacher: Pastor Christian Preus | Series: Lent 2021 | There is a character in one of Dostoevsky’s novels who finally convinces himself that God exists because he sees from the evil of the world that the devil must exist. The devil’s greatest lie has been to convince the enlightened world that he doesn’t exist. Because without the devil, without evil, people think they have no need for God, that they are gods themselves. This is the promise of Marxism and the communism so popular amongst the radical left in America. But the existence of the devil is obvious. That’s why Jesus has us pray as the last petition of the Lord’s Prayer, as a summary of it all, “Deliver us from evil,” or more accurately, “Deliver us from the Evil One.” Chesterton once wrote that original sin, that we are born sinful, with evil inclinations, is the one Christian doctrine that everyone can see – just look at a child. You don’t have to teach the child to be bad. It comes very naturally. And just look out at our world, look at every civilization that has ever existed, no matter how great the laws, no matter how cultured the citizens, you will find that stealing and cheating and fights and murder and corruption simply can’t be got rid of. And any honest look at our own lives will land on the same obvious conclusion, evil is among us and evil is in us. So there is no getting around the devil’s existence. His denial by the intellectual elite is as vapid and empty as their claim that mankind is born good and only turns evil because of societal influence. They scoff at the history of Satan tempting Adam and Eve in the garden and then make up a myth about humans evolving from slime. And this all to imagine that the devil doesn’t exist, that humans aren’t sinful, and that therefore humans need no saving and have no reason to rely on God. It’s tragically ironic that this modern arrogance of denying the devil’s and sin’s existence is the greatest delusion and temptation the devil has ever pulled off. And it leaves man as hopeless and meaningless as the devil, who has nothing to look forward to but separation from God and unending vanity.

So this is the first thing we focus on this morning. The devil is most certainly real. It is exactly as we sing, “I walk in danger all the way, the thought shall never leave me. That Satan who has marked his prey, is plotting to deceive me. That foe with hidden snares may seize me unawares. If ever I fail to watch and pray. I walk in danger all the way.” You wouldn’t even need the Bible to tell you that. You know the temptations to sin. You know evil, just as the devil promised to Eve. And you know it’s a horrible thing.

But the Bible does tell us about the devil. God mercifully instructs us how the devil works, how he brought evil into our hearts in the first place, why it is that we are sinful, why we all must face death, and most importantly why we have hope, sure and certain hope, grounded on that first beautiful promise God gave to Eve in the garden, that from her would come the Seed to crush the head of the devil, even as the devil bruises His heel, that the Lord Himself would come, born of a virgin, the Seed of a woman, to bear our sins and die our death and rise again and so crush the devil and all evil under His pierced feet. And in the temptation of our Lord in the wilderness we see the devil strike this Seed and we see the beginning of our Lord’s crushing his wicked head.

There is an old Latin proverb, fas est ab hoste doceri. It is good to be taught by the enemy. So we let the devil teach us how he works. And then we learn from our Lord and Teacher how to respond in faith to overcome him and finally to win the victory.

There are three temptations. And so the rest of this sermon will very obviously be divided into three parts. The first temptation is to despair of God, to think He won’t provide for you, that He isn’t in control. It will look like that. Look at Jesus. He’s in the wilderness starving to death. And He’s there because God put Him there. You notice that. It was the Spirit who drove Him into the wilderness. Jesus hasn’t eaten in forty days. His fat supplies are burned up. His body is breaking down his muscles into energy to keep alive. That process is terribly painful and it smells like burning flesh. If anyone had reason to think God had forsaken Him and wouldn’t care for His needs, Jesus did. But He wouldn’t be tempted to question God. God would provide. Even then. Even in the worst suffering, God would provide. Contrast that with Adam, and then contrast it with yourself. Adam and Eve were surrounded by food, well cared for, literally in Paradise, but the devil convinced them God was holding out, that He wasn’t providing like He should or could. And look at us. We see antichristian zealots gaining political power and an economy turning sour and we suffer our various common Christian struggles, and we ask, “Where is God?” even though we remain well cared for, in the richest country the world has ever seen, with right to bear arms, right to work, the God-given right to worship God as God tells us to, and the hope of everlasting life. And yet we complain and fear for the present and the future, as if God isn’t in charge. Learn how the devil tempts. Feel the absurdity of it. And learn from Jesus how to respond.

Jesus, every time, responds with the Bible, the same Bible you have. Think of that. Here is the almighty Son of God in human flesh, who could simply tell the devil to leave, not stand His presence. But instead He fights off the devil with the very Word of God that you have sitting at home and resting in your minds and hearts. He does that for you. He’s teaching you, he’s teaching us. He fights off the devil not only to crush His head and save you by His obedience, but also to teach you how to overcome his every temptation. And that’s with the Bible. Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.

Beautifully, that word of God told Jesus he must be handed over to the devil, be tempted by him, be driven by evil men to whips and scourging and mockery and pain and bloody death, that’s what the word that proceeds from the mouth of God told Jesus, and that’s what He lived by, that’s what He died by. And He did so because He knew His Father was in control. That by this His fasting and temptation and suffering and death He would finally conquer the devil, crush his head, and win for Himself us, His brothers and sisters, washed clean by His blood and born again by His Spirit and children of His Father. For the joy set before Him, he endured this temptation, and lived by the word that proceeds from the mouth of God.

Learn from Jesus. Especially when life is painful and the world seems a desert and the devil tempts you to think, why me? Or to imagine that God is far off and doesn’t care for you. No. Live by every word that comes from the mouth of your God. Know that He works evil to good. Know that there is nothing you suffer that is meaningless. Sin is meaninglessness. The devil and evil are vanity. And this is exactly what your God has saved you from, forgiven you of. And that God allows suffering to teach us the corruption of this world and even of our own bodies, to look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.

The second temptation is to test God. The devil takes Jesus to the pinnacle of the Temple and tells Him to cast Himself down, because God has promised to send His angels to protect Him. Jesus answers, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.” Don’t test God. The devil is very good at this. He wants you to live by cheap grace. I can do this sinful thing, because I know God will forgive me. So the weak Christian looking up filth on the internet tests God, or the crass Christian thinks he can have the third and fourth and fifth drink, day after day, or the lazy Christian thinks he can go without reading the Bible or praying or coming to church. God will forgive. Well, the devil’s skilled at telling half truths. It’s most certainly true that God forgives, that one drop of Christ’s blood has power to wipe away all the sin of all the world, and that when you come mourning over your sin and confessing it and wanting to be rid of it, your Father forgives every time without exception as generously as the blood once spilt from His Son’s pierced side. But the nature of testing God is that after you do it once and again and then live in it, purposefully sinning against your God, you stop crawling in sorrow back to God. Instead you make excuses, pretend that it isn’t so bad, and get used to the sinful life. And then worst of all, people will come to church with absolutely no intention of changing or fighting their sinful habits. This is the worst testing of God. Forgive, God, you promised, and I’ll pretend I’m sorry, but I’m planning (and God can see the heart), I’m planning on doing it again. No. You may as well jump from the pinnacle of the Temple and see if the angels will catch you. They won’t.

Do not put the Lord your God to the test. Don’t purposefully sin. Learn from every word that comes from the mouth of God. Yes, that word is forgiveness full and free. It is also rebirth, the sanctified life, bearing your cross and following your Savior, hating sin, living as if God exists and sees everything you do, living to please Him and to love one another. And then, when you fail, then when you sin, you will despise it and feel its hurt and run for the forgiveness that Jesus so happily suffered to win you. Then you are not tempting God but trusting in His mercy. And there is nothing your Father values more than that.

Finally, the devil promises Jesus the world, if only He bows down and worships him. We talked about this on Ash Wednesday. The world you can see. All its pleasures. But your Father is hidden. You can’t see Him. So it makes sense to our senses to treasure the things of the world, to treasure for ourselves treasures on earth. Which is to worship the devil. The dark beauty of Satan’s temptation here is that if Jesus desires the world and all the nations and wealth and the pleasure he sees, he’s already bowed down and worshipped the devil. But Jesus has learned not to desire them. Why desire what is passing away? What thieves can break in and steal and what moth and rust destroy? Why desire what sin has so thoroughly corrupted? No, Jesus has revealed the Father to us. He has shown us the Creator who by sending His Son to become flesh and blood like us has taught us to desire better things. We look forward to the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.

This doesn’t mean we don’t value things on earth. Of course we do. God is our Creator. He gives them to us. But we see that all of it, including our own bodies and souls, all of it is dirtied by sin and corruption. And all of it, including ourselves, groans to be freed finally, so that we can see the beauty of the mountain or the laughing of children or the pouring out of wine without the emptiness and meaninglessness that sin lends to our desires. And we get this now by living by God’s grace, receiving all things from His merciful hands; and we will receive it perfectly in the resurrection, in heaven, and it is in view of this, in view of heaven and eternal life with our Savior, that we treasure everything we treasure. You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only you shall serve.

Today is the day of salvation. That means living every day as if it is your last. Not in the heathen sense, to eat and drink and be merry for tomorrow you die, but in the Christian sense, the way Jesus teaches us, to live for eternal life, live with the happy expectation of seeing your Savior’s face, and so fighting the sin and temptations of the devil with eyes toward heaven, since God’s eyes are most certainly toward you. So live every day in prayer, in reading God’s Word, in thankfulness that you are baptized into Christ and eat His body and blood and get to live as a Christian here on earth and forever in heaven. Amen.

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