First Sunday in Lent—Sermon
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Bread. It would have taken nothing more than the the mere mention of the word bread, for the devil to throw his greatest tempt at our Lord. Just the world alone would have sent hunger pains raging through his body as he flirted with starvation in the wilderness. For biology is biology is biology and Jesus did not escape it, but rather entered directly into it. And I know having grown up in a family of good cooks and bakers, that there are times when the mere mention of what they are making begins that craving in my stomach. Followed by my mouth starting to salivate. How much more true of Jesus, whose own mother would have spent her day not only preparing the family meals, but baking the family’s bread. How many times would he as a child have helped Mary mix the flour and kneed the dough? How often would have the scent of bread wafted throughout their small house as the oven created its daily offering. A scent which even for us today still brings us to salivate and hunger when confronted with it. There is nothing more decadent than opening the front door of a bakery and letting the smell of bread surround and fill you. Even for those who need gluten-free, they too still know the joys of bread or pancakes as we found out on Tuesday at lunch. All of those memories would have flooded the mind of Jesus as he grew up in a home and a faith built upon bread for daily meals and daily life. From hearing about the manna (the bread of heaven), to the bread of the Presence, to the grain offerings, and the Passover meal, bread was a continual part of his life. Given the devil’s craftiness and flare for the dramatic, I wouldn’t put it past him that even his words were spoken with the breath of baked bread. This temptation strikes the hardest as it hits Jesus where he is most vulnerable and weakest, in His flesh.
Yet our Lord knew His Torah. He knew the same weakness that Israel had shown throughout the wilderness and life in the Promised Land. He knew they did not heed the words of the Lord. That they did not receive their bread with faith, but were consumed by the need to be fed by other things; other foods, other nations, and other gods. Thus choking down the constricting pains and speaking louder than the rumbles of His stomach, He cries out with the words of His Father, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Having overcome the devil at this turn at his weakest the other temptations seem to fail in comparison, yet they are undoubtedly true temptations as well. Tempting Jesus to use His power not for the glory of the Father but for His own. Here the devil seeks to drive a wedge between the Father and the Son, who are one, by getting Jesus to do something apart from the Father’s will. To use His divine power not for the sake of those for whom He came, but solely for Himself. A temptation that will be echoed again by the masses as they shout for Jesus to come down from the cross and save Himself. And again Jesus know that this is what Israel failed to do as it sought its own glory and power, while neglecting the poor, the orphan, the widow, and the alien. Where Israel sought its own will, Jesus keeps to the Father’s, “you shall not put the Lord your God to the test.” He will make that even more clear to the devil as He rejects his third temptation, “You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only shall you serve.”
The devil wrought his worst, and where he had succeeded so many times in the past with countless men and women, he now departs defeated and rejected waiting for another opportune time to strike: the Garden, the trial, and the cross. Watching him breathe his last breath, he will foolishly think he has won and as Jesus dies. He will descend into hell, this we confess, though not as a captor, but a liberator. He will defeat the grip of death and the kingdom of the evil one, as the Father who is one with His Son will raise Him up and vindicate him. He will clothe him with the life that He is and give it back to the body that was broken. The Father will call forth his angels to bear Him up, just as He sent them to minister to Him after His first successful defeat of the devil. By the Resurrection of Jesus, the devil’s kingdom and his power is forever broken and shattered, where sin will be forgiven and the Father will bestow life upon those who persevere in the faith of His Son to the end.
Yet that is not to say, even with the devil’s defeat, that we ourselves do not face our own temptations in a similar way as our Lord. We too are tempted when we are weakest by the hungers of the flesh, the pursuit of our own will, and giving our worship to others who are not the Lord our God. This is why, I think, Jesus’ temptation always follows immediately after his baptism, for we too after having been baptized are put on devil’s radar screen. It is after Jesus is proclaimed as the Son of God, that the devil tempts, “If you really are the Son of God.” How much truer is it of us, who in our own baptisms are claimed as sons and daughters of God, and our tempter asks, “are you really God’s”? Throwing our sins in our face, luring us to behave and speak outside of God’s will and intent, and giving us a world filled with other gods and things to worship and occupy our time with, the devil tempts us. Not simply in bread, power, or worship, but our faith in who and whose we are. It is the temptation to forget our God given identity. The devil seeks to shake us from the belief that we are loved sons and daughters of God. Yet that is exactly who we are. As we are baptized in His name, God has put the full weight and power, glory and splendor of His kingdom and nature on the line by attaching His name to ours. God’s name and his kingdom given to us in that water is what the devil truly wants to rob us of. Seeking to devour us as a roaring lion, but by Christ he does so as a toothless lion.
This is not to say he can never lead anyone astray, but rather that one little word subdues him. That Word is Jesus Christ. It is the Word Jesus spoke to the devil in Holy Scripture and it is in the very Word of His flesh, that Jesus is our shield and defense. For though we cannot conquer, He has. For those we fall into temptation, He has not. For where we have sinned, He has covered with mercy and forgiveness. Where we have wondered astray from the path, He has sought us as a shepherd looking for His lost sheep. Therefore it is in His very life that we Christians are defended against the devil’s tricks. Through His Word and His Holy Sacrament we are given and we are made to live in the Word that will subdue ever attack against our identity as God’s own beloved. Luther writes of this necessity to avail ourselves this Word in the Large Catechism, “If you could see how many daggers, spears, and arrows are aimed at you every moment [from the devil], you would be glad to come to the Sacrament as often as you can.” Jesus is the only bread, the only Word by which will truly live.
It is our identity as God’s beloved sons and daughters made known and given the assurance of HIs promise in the Word and Holy Sacraments, that is the foundation and sure defense, because of that our new council has spent our meetings talking about our identity and who we are at RLC. We can not move forward until we know and are assured of who and whose we are. I know others have made comments that the devil has been at work among us for some time, if doing nothing else but causing turmoil, anxiety, and worry. For we are at a weak moment and that is fertile ground for him to stir the pot, cause us to be more anxious, lose sleep, and begin to forget whose we are. But my brothers and sisters, one little word subdues him and breaks his work. It is in to that Word that we spend this season of Lent being reassured of our identity. Through Bible study, private devotion, and often reception of Holy Communion, God is making us His own and confirming our identity as His. An identity upon which God has staked heaven and earth, even His own Son, upon. It in that Word that we may rest from the devil’s anxiety and taunts for it is only His word that His church will persevere.