Homily read at Our Saviour Lutheran Church on Invocavit Sunday, 17 February 2013.
Text: Genesis 3:1–21, Matthew 4:1–11
In the name of + Jesus. Amen.
When the preacher declared in the book of Ecclesiasticus that there is nothing new under the sun, he was not joking. The history of the world was told pretty much in its entirety in the first four chapters of the Bible: its creation in love by God, man’s place in it with his wife, their temptation by the Devil and the fall, and the subsequent falling apart of everything: man’s relationship with his wife, man’s relationship with nature, and the beginning of the murder that makes up the significant part of all history books.
Everything since then has been a series of variations on this theme, with the emphasis being on the sinful half—although God in His unfathomable love graciously continues to allow the sun to shine and the rain to fall on the righteous and the unjust, and the goodness of the creation continues to speak of the goodness of its Creator.
What this means is that the large part of our lives on this planet is built on an arch-lie, first spoken by the father of lies in the Garden: “Did God really say?” Did God really say? And the moment they listened to that lie, everything went wrong for Adam and Eve, and for everyone ever since.
The basic message of the Devil’s lie is simple: God is not good, and His will is not good. The boundaries He has established are those of a tyrant or a spoil-sport. And from that lie arises every sin.
You shall have no other Gods—but what about me and my things?
You shall not take the name of the Lord, your God, in vain—but what about my faith and my opinions?
Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy—but not for too long and not too often, because there are other pressing matters to attend to as well and life’s too short.
Honour your father and your mother—but what about my will and my self-determination?
You shall not kill—but I cannot and will not love this or that person, and I will not let go of my grudge.
You shall not commit adultery—but that look, that thought, that joke, is just a bit of harmless fun. Am I not allowed to be happy?
You shall not steal—but I need it, I want it, and I must have it. And why should I give from what is mine?
You shall not bear false witness about your neighbour—but I must get this thing off my chest.
You shall not covet your neighbour’s house, wife, or other helpers—but I’m only human, and we’ve got to be realistic in this dog-eat-dog world.
And so the lies go on and multiply. The world is full of them, and we are full of them. Did God really say?
And to all this, God says: The day that you shall eat of the forbidden tree, you shall surely die. The lies are not white, and they are not harmless. Rebellion against God is rebellion against life itself, and the wages of sin is death.
Cain discovered this when he slew his brother. The whole world discovered this when God flooded the sinful world. Pharaoh discovered this when he thought he could stop God’s will with his stubbornness and his armies. The people of Israel discovered this when they found themselves going around in circles for forty years in the wilderness until the whole rebellious generation that left Egypt was dead and buried.
And we discover this at every funeral, and at every sign that we, too, are dying. The wages of sin is death, because the Devil’s lie has cheated us of God’s love and separated us from the Tree of Life.
But just as the Devil cannot and will not stop lying, God cannot and will not stop loving. While the world kept going round, repeating day after day in different ways the story of the Fall, God stepped into the world and cut introduced something entirely new under the sun in the incarnation of His Son, in the life of Jesus.
At His baptism, Jesus placed Himself under the burden of mankind’s sin, and became the scapegoat, bearing our guilt on His innocent shoulders. And like every scapegoat since the Exodus, He too was driven out into the wilderness to grapple with the Devil, His accusations, and His lies. As the merciless rain fell for forty days on the world in the days of Noah, so the merciless sun fell for forty days on Jesus. As Israel wandered for forty years in the foodless wilderness, so Jesus wandered for forty days in the wilderness without food, growing hungry.
And like the world in the days of Noah and Israel in the wilderness, Jesus faced the lie of the Devil: did God really say?
At your baptism, did God really say that He is well-pleased with you—and here you are, languishing, starving in the wilderness? Go on, if He really said so, command these stones to turn into bread.
As you came out of the Jordan, did God really say that you are His beloved Son? Go on then, throw yourself down from the pinnacle of the Temple and let’s see whether He really meant it.
When you left the Father’s right hand, did God really say that He will make your enemies your footstool? Here, fall down and worship me now, and I will give you all the kingdoms of this world, just so, without suffering, without the cross, without dying.
But in the heat of the wilderness, in His hunger, and under the weight of these lies, Jesus replied simply, “It is written”. It is written! God has spoken, and God cannot lie any more than you, Satan, can speak the truth. God has spoken, and He stands by every word. What He has threatened, He will do—and what He has promised, He will do. Go away, Satan, for God is God, He cannot lie, and therefore you shall die!
And so this second Adam, this new Israel, Jesus Christ, defeated Satan’s temptation once for all in the wilderness, and He went on to defeat the power of death itself on the Tree of Life that is His cross on Calvary. In John Henry Newman’s beautiful lines from the Dream of Gerontius:
Praise to the Holiest in the height
And in the depth be praise;
In all His words most wonderful,
Most sure in all His ways.
O loving wisdom of our God!
When all was sin and shame,
A second Adam to the fight
And to the rescue came.
O wisest love! that flesh and blood,
Which did in Adam fail,
Should strive afresh against the foe,
Should strive and should prevail.
In the season of Lent, all of us Christians are called strive against the foe: the Devil, the world and, above all, their own sinful flesh. We are called to stand up and name the lies fed to us, and above all the lies we have told, about the truth of God’s Word.
But we strive against the foe, not in order to gain victory, but as those who stand in victory. Christ has defeated the foe for us, and we now stand over against a defeated enemy. You cannot defeat the devil—but you don’t need to. You may hold the perfect obedience and cross of Christ over against Him: “Be gone, Satan—Christ has dealt with you once for all, and I am now a member of His body. I claim His victory as my own. Baptised into Him, your lies and your accusations cannot harm me.”
May the Lord Jesus, who has defeated every enemy for us, keep us in Him so that we do not receive His grace in vain. He is faithful and He will surely do it.
In the name of the Father and of + the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.