First Sunday in Lent (2023)

Lent -- Our Greatest Need  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  29:45
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“Our Greatest Needs – A Champion”
He was called a champion. In modern English that term could mean the winner of the local softball league, but champion is a term that used to refer to a very specific type of warrior, a single combat warrior. In our age of Modern Warfare, it can be hard to remember what single combat was like. For years, across time and culture the practice of single combat was common, and that meant the need for champions was great.
When armies gathered to fight, sometimes as a prelude to the battle, and sometimes in place of the battle, they would have two men fight each other. From each side, they would fight on behalf of their people. They were called the King's champion, the man who fought the King's battles.
They would meet in the middle of the field between the two armies, and with everyone watching, that would fight to the death. Like David and Goliath fighting as champions for Israel and the Philistines, like Hector and Achilles fighting before the walls of Troy. Champions fought for a king, for a people, for glory.
And our first reading today, we see how God had placed Adam into a perfect world, a world of peace and prosperity, a world in perfect harmony with its Creator. God made this perfect man and called on him to worship the Lord his God and to serve him only, but Adam did not. He worshipped himself and ate the forbidden fruit, and by doing so he condemned the world to darkness, death, and sin. The enemy of God could cry out in triumph and claim by accusation that all the children of men belonged to him (Revelation 12:10).
But God loved them. So, he made a promise: I will send forth my Champion, my Son. What you could not do, he will do in your place. Because man could not live perfectly and serve God faithfully, the Son of God would one day become a man to do it In our place.
The Situation
Jesus began his public ministry with his baptism. The first assignment in his ministry was to overcome the devil in a face-to-face confrontation.
Against the background of the Old Testament reading, todays gospel text presents Jesus facing the devil’s temptations to undo the damage Adam had done. Jesus was victorious in resisting the devil’s temptations as man’s substitute to bring righteousness and salvation to all men. The Epistle lesson explains the meaning of Jesus’ righteous obedience for all people in contrast to the tragic meaning of Adam’s sin. The Epistle reveals that Jesus’ righteous obedience has brought justification and eternal life to all people.
For forty days Jesus was tempted by the devil in the wilderness. Luke’s gospel relates that the temptations extended throughout that entire period (Lk 4:2). But out of all those temptations, the Lord has seen fit to preserve in the Scriptures only three of them. What is important is this:
Jesus as the Savior of mankind sinlessly resisted all the temptations to win man’s salvation from sin, Satan, and hell; and we who are Baptized into Christ have this victory as well.
vv. 1, 2—Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.
Jesus did not foolishly or haphazardly enter this confrontation with the devil. It was his Father’s will that he should be tempted by the devil and overcome those temptations to redeem fallen mankind. To that end the Holy Spirit led him into the wilderness.
There is a passive verb in this verse that states Jesus was led out to be tempted; it should not be understood that Jesus was reluctant or unwilling to go himself. Quite the opposite was true. Scripture plainly teaches that He had come to do his Father’s will by redeeming sinners. Jesus himself said, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work” (Jn 4:34). Jesus’ willingness to do his Father’s will is seen also in Philippians 2:8, where it is stated, “And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!” Therefore, since it was his Father’s will that he should be tempted by the devil to redeem fallen mankind, Jesus – our Champion – willingly went out to fight that battle with the tempter.
But hear this: Jesus did not fight that battle by using his divine power, which he possessed according to the personal union of his divine and human natures. He fought the devil armed only with the full armor of God available to God’s people, particularly with the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God (Eph 6:17). The humanness with which Jesus entered this struggle with the devil is brought out by the fact that he fasted and then became hungry, as any human would after forty days.
The Greek New Testament in this verse refers to the devil as “slanderer.” It’s an appropriate name for him who does not hold to the truth and who is the father of lies (Jn 8:44). In this text the devil recognized Jesus to be God’s Messiah, the One first promised to Adam and Eve in Genesis 3:15. The devil had been victorious over Adam, now he sought to defeat this Second Adam who had come to crush his head and destroy his evil work. He sought to defeat him at the very outset of his redemptive work. By cunning trickery and temptations, he attempted to prevent him from doing God’s will. If he were to prevent Jesus from doing God’s will just once, he would have the victory. But that is not what happened. After 40-days in the wilderness, Jesus Christ walked off that battlefield victorious. He is the Father’s Champion, sent to do for us, what we cannot do for ourselves.
So, how does is wonderful account help us?
In every Baptism, this scene is repeated. The Son has laced the water with his blood through the Word. Those who are baptized into Christ have put on Christ, his temptation, and his crucifixion. They are wrapped in the blood that saves. “Now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Eph 2:13), because the blood of Christ has been brought near to you in the baptismal font. It gives life because it covers us. “The blood of Jesus [God’s] Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 Jn 1:7).
This is exactly what happens when we are Baptized, AND, this attracts the devil. Those not walking by faith, embracing the ways of the world, are already in his grip; the devil has them right where he wants them. But we who are baptized into the New Life that Christ gives instantly become targets of temptation. It can’t be any other way; those who have become children of God in the washing of regeneration will face attacks from the master of degeneration. Why us? Because we are united with Christ Jesus. And because the devil could not crush our Savior, he turns his attention to us. When you think about it, the devil does us the compliment of attacking us. He leaves alone those who are already his. So, if you want peace in this world, best renounce your Baptism. Baptism attracts our enemy, who desires to kill the life given by the Life of the world.
Hearing this, I imagine, makes the parent’s heart tremble as we baptize infants. We prefer to hope the child’s life will be all sweetness and light. But we would be foolish to say so. Think of your own battle with temptation. When has the tempter ever let you alone? When has he stopped bullying, berating, and accusing you? Can you always see the Promised Land? Can you slap the shark on the snout so that he swims away forever? Compare your lives against the Ten Commandments: Can you honestly admit that you have NEVER put something in place of God, which the First Commandment demands? How about the Third Commandment, have you always faithfully gathered together with other believers on Sunday morning? What about the Sixth Commandment? Remember what Jesus said a few weeks ago about looking at another person with lust in your heart – in this case you’ve already committed adultery. What makes you think that Satan would leave you alone? If the Son of God has been treated this way, what makes you think this little dollop of flesh and blood will get a pass from the father of lies?
We, like Moses, will die east of the Jordan, knowing that the Promised Land is just over there, and only then, dying in faith, will we enter the peace and rest that is our inheritance through Christ. Though the victory has been won, Baptism still has us amid the battle. The experience of our Lord says so. He was led into the wilderness following Baptism. He faces the immediate onslaught of the evil one. It is no different for us. Life in the world becomes harder from here on out for the baptized because we live in the wilderness of sin. Like Israel, we walk forty years awaiting God’s ultimate rescue in the Promised Land, dying little by little until we are the people God wants us to be, and in the end falling asleep in the arms of Christ.
How shall we then live amid such attacks? How shall we live in wilderness with the Savior? With what shall we ward off the enemy’s approach to devour our baptized children?
Cling to the very Word of God and instill in your kids every word that comes from the mouth of God. The Word of God is a great weapon against the onslaughts of the liar. Why? Because that Word of God is the Truth. We combat the lie with the Truth. Teach your kids the catechism, so that it flows from their lips. Bring them to worship., Sunday school, youth group. Put them in Lutheran school. Your kids will live with every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God. Not opinion. Not entertainment. Not even religious opinion. Not with mere Law: Do not taste. Do not touch. But with the eternal Gospel of life, that their sins have been taken away in Christ through his death. Teach them that.
And the same goes for you! Cling to God’s Word. Become part of Bible class, if you’re not already. Attending worship regularly, to hear God’s Word and to receive His Sacrament. This is real food for your soul living in this wilderness of sin.
And for your children and grandchildren? Commend them to the care of our heavenly Father who will guard their life against the attacks of Satan. Will they always understand how his Father is protecting? No. Will they always appreciate how the Father is protecting him? No. Will our heavenly Father stop protecting Them? No. Not any more than his earthly father ever would. He will send his holy angels to guard him in all his ways.
And teach your kids and grandkids to worship God alone. Not you. Not themselves. Not other people. Not the stuff in the creation. Worship God! The very God who has redeemed them – and us – by his holy blood and covered them with that mantle.
The baptismal font is right here for us to see. We pass through it to enter the altar area to receive the Lord’s Supper – our food for this wilderness in which we live. And we pass by it to return to the wilderness. Into the water and up out again. Only with its power can we walk away from the altar. Only its power will draw us back to the altar. But it will also attract the devouring deceiver. That is the way it will be, until we pass into the Promised Land of perfect peace in Christ, when Baptism’s down payment of death is redeemed with its full life.
Baptism gives all of Christ to us so that we now bear the name “sons of God.” No “ifs” about it. We have the full deal in him. And with this full deal, we have the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 15:56). Now God calls us to go out – out into the wilderness. Out into the world. In it. Not of it. To serve there. To minister to those who also need Baptism and to bring them in, and even those who need to return to their baptism. The Holy Spirit also drives us out into the wilderness.
How Does the Christian Face the Temptations of the Devil?
The baptismal font needs to be our everyday companion, so that it can be used today, tomorrow, until God calls us home. Because we are baptized into Christ – God’s Champion, we can be confident that because He was victorious, God counts us victorious as well. For you see, baptism indicates that “the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever” (Small Catechism, Baptism, Fourth Part).
Satan is our enemy. As Luther wrote in that wonderful hymn, “A Mighty Fortress,” he reminded us that “One little word can fell him!” I am baptized.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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