Sunday, February 21, 2010

First Sunday in Lent

+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti Amen. +

Text: Luke 4:1-13
Theme: Evil Spirit, Holy Flesh

Dear baptized in the Lord Jesus,

Protection from evil is a gift. It is a divine blessing of unmerited grace. It is no coincidence that the season of Lent begins with reference to Jesus’ confrontation with Satan in the wilderness. The entire account is to be intentionally understood as a microcosm of the Christian’s pilgrimage through this life. Evil spirits cannot peacefully co-exist in the presence of the Holy One of God. Christ and Satan are mutually incompatible. The resolution of this problem is part and parcel with our salvation. Satan is not someone we can finally learn to put up with. He must be fully exiled. And he will be; that is God’s promise. The same is true for the power and consequences of sin.

Sinfulness is not a state which causes only minor headaches in our lives. It is not a nagging issue that can be safely ignored or easily overcome. To place the power to overcome sin within human ability is a grave error. To downplay the consequences of not having the problem of sin resolved can be spiritually fatal. No one can enter the kingdom of heaven unless their sins are fully forgiven through the blood of Jesus Christ. When this is lost sight of people ultimately think they don’t need to be protected from Satan, rescued from death, and redeemed from hell. They only need a little help, encouragement, and advice along the way. Eventually heaven is no longer the place only true believers in Christ go to receive the reward of eternal rest with the triune God. It is just the designation for a “better place” where all but the very evil will live in the afterlife. The very appealing nature of this theology of universalism is self-evident. Everyone does their best- or at least their part- and merely assumes everything will work out in the hereafter.

When Christianity tries to re-image itself according to such an anemic understanding of sin the gospel is consequently compromised. The good news of Jesus Christ becomes primarily a tool, an example, and a method. That is, the gripping and heroic teachings and sacrifice of Jesus are interpreted to be inspiring examples which people can follow to rectify their own lives. Led by the Spirit to exercise their will to ‘choose the good’ they can then find purpose in life and assurance of salvation through their obedience and imitation of Jesus’ example. But in fact, this is nothing more than legalism in disguise and an exercise in works-righteousness.

Dear friends, the Holy Spirit doesn’t make your salvation dependent on your obedience. He assures you it all depends on Christ’s sacrifice. The integrity of your devotion is always vulnerable; but the truth of His sacrifice unassailable. Our confidence is in the unfailing and unchanging nature of God’s compassion in Christ and His ongoing intercession. Sin cannot finally overcome you because it was overcome at the cross. Satan cannot ultimately best you because Christ has robbed Him of his power. The Bible says, “The One who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.”1 You need not match the devil’s wit- indeed; you cannot- because he is no match for Christ. The individual soldier doesn’t need to be more skilled than his opponent he only needs to have the greater fortress and the superior weapon. “A mighty fortress is our God, a trusty shield and weapon.”2

The theme of Lent helps us to re-identify who is to be feared and why. The unrepentant or despairing person might well fear God’s judgment or power even more than the activity of Satan. Remember the account of Jesus driving a group of demons from a man into a herd of pigs. The townspeople were afraid of this man controlled by a legion of demons. But were they not more afraid to see him in his right mind? Yes, the One who freed him was infinitely more powerful, and of this they were afraid. Afraid, perhaps because they were uncertain of Jesus’ intentions. But when the will of God (His intentions) in Christ is revealed, the greatest cause of fear becomes the greatest source of comfort. For who else can say “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever. And I hold the keys of death and Hades?”3

Eternal death is locked away the moment the Holy Spirit kindles spiritual life. Baptism is the means Christ has appointed for this. The church baptizes because it is the command of Christ. We trust that the Holy Spirit grants faith through the gospel. We believe Christ did not die in vain or only for some. We rejoice that His forgiveness is not limited by anyone’s age, or knowledge; is not dependent on the strength of their will or denied because of their lack of comprehension. The pledge of your baptism is the promise that sin cannot win the victory. The Holy Spirit does battle for you and within you. His presence indicates that the living inheritance of God, the fullness of the kingdom is yours already now. Only the individual can forfeit his inheritance. No power can take it away. But no one can authorize or demand this inheritance either; it is God’s alone to give.

Lent is a great opportunity to refocus our perspectives and realign our priorities. The Christian continually strives to become detached from earthly things. We must learn to take leave of certain things that are no longer retrievable in this life. God never promises the believer the acquisition of all hopes and dreams. On the contrary, our agendas may have to be largely abandoned or significantly amended for the sake of the kingdom and for the sake of others. The pruning of our overgrown or out-of-line ambitions is painful. Our prayers should constantly seek that we learn to accept God’s will, not in grudging concession, but in grateful appreciation, asking that our desires would joyfully resonate with His purposes. When this happens faith deepens significantly.

To the dying soul who stands at the threshold of death; to the timid spirit terrified at the threats of Satan; to the despairing heart that has already consigned itself to hell; to the faltering mind beset with confusion and doubt, what else matters than to know Him who holds the keys of death and Hades! Of what value are fame and fortune, wealth and power when faced with the frailness of our mortality? One trip to the Lord’s Table is worth more than wealth or fortune. The apostle expresses it most poignantly, “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord…I consider them rubbish that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ…I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in His suffering, becoming like Him in His death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.”4

Even for the newly baptized infant or the young person whose entire life lays ahead, what meaningful expectation can be hoped for if the journey and destination do not revolve around Christ and His unconditional love? Thanks be to God that our time in this wilderness is short and our residence in heaven lasts an eternity. Amen.

+ in nomine Jesu +

First Sunday in Lent
21 February 2010 Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt
1 1 John 4:4
2 LH # 195
3 Revelation 1:17-18
4 Philippians 3:8-11