Sunday, March 9, 2014

First Sunday in Lent (A) 2014

+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti Amen +

Text: Matthew 4:1-11
Theme: The Battle Engaged

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

God determines the parameters of reality. He gifts us with faith to believe that, in spite of what we often sense and see, things really are as He says. Wednesday began the Season of Lent. Lent is a time for removing facades, to see things as they are. It entails a march to the apex of the church year. God’s people of old observed the Passover. The saints of the new covenant celebrate Christ’s completion of redemption’s plan. The journey will take us to the lowest depth- the brutal death of God’s own Son- and the highest height, the glory of the resurrection.

The journey begins with a pivotal reality check: Jesus confronts Satan in the wilderness. Many people of this era disconnect already at this point. Satan is happy to be considered an imaginary character. It makes his power of deception that much more potent. Fictitious foes are of little concern to those who already believe they are masters of their own destiny. Such is the mindset of the modern soul so sanitized by rationalism that it often sees scientific empiricism as the final authority. To state the skeptical perspective succinctly: “If science can’t prove it, it doesn’t exist. “

Yet a deep yearning for things spiritual still exists. Here people look not for proof of existence, but value and meaning. Society is so permeated with an ideology of relativism that spirituality too is subjugated to its influence. In practice this means there are no absolutes for the individual when it comes to moral judgments or spiritual assessments. The individual’s perception of how they feel- their sense of fairness or discontent- is the determining factor. This leaves little room for objective truth, standards of right and wrong or categorizations of good and evil. All determinations of value have a fluid premise. It’s difficult to build a house of cards on a platform floating in the sea not to mention unwise to build your house on the sand.

So, for the post-modern, self-referenced cynic it’s not enough to wonder at the magnificent complexity of the universe, the mechanism by which it came to exist must be proven. But, ironically, moral judgments or spiritual valuations require little or no standard of authority. Everything becomes tangled, confused and provisional. Faith becomes a mystical self-awareness, loves becomes tolerance, morality is contextual, and absolutes are nearly completely denied. If all this sounds a little beyond the pale of good common sense, let alone basic Christian teaching, there’s good reason for it. The loonies are taking over the asylum.

Such is the milieu we find ourselves in as we bear witness to the unchanging truth in this turbulent age. Christianity is a tough sell not only because of all the things on offer in a secular, affluent society, but because Christians themselves don’t know or can’t agree on what they believe. Yet, there’s nothing new under the sun. “Did God really say?”1That was the question posed to Eve from the tempter.

Satan was an angel once; a ranking member of that class of spiritual beings created to serve and glorify God. In rebellion he turned a vast company of angels against the Creator. In punishment they are forever banished from God’s kingdom. Their state of residency is called hell. Yet they will not cease their deceptions until Christ returns in glory.

Don’t even consider trying to stand up to Satan on your own. Only foolish arrogance would lead one to believe they can match the devil stride for stride. He’s no fool. But before Christ he must submit. By the Spirit’s word and promise he is driven away. He has no real power over Christ’s own people.

The manner in which Jesus resists Satan is not only exemplary, it is programmatic for Christians. He says, “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”2Christ was a man of the book. He quoted the Scriptures. He interpreted the Scriptures. He fulfilled the Scriptures. He validated them as the words of the Spirit, the words of the Father and His own words. Jesus was not confined or limited by the Scriptures, rather He identified with them even as they reveal Him to be their source and centre. He said to the Jews, “These are the Scriptures that testify about Me.”3

In Lent these Scriptures issue to us a non-negotiable call. We cannot live a life that testifies to Christ if we’re living a life of falsehood. We can’t be generous if we’re intentionally self-indulged. We can’t be kind if we’re habitually hard-hearted. We can’t be humble if we’re deliberately seeking praise. We can’t be obedient if we’re enslaved to our worldly agendas. We can make no excuse for our sins or ourselves as sinners. At least not any that will qualify with God. Thank God that in Lent grace is seen clearly for what it is.

Lent is often construed as a time when sinners identify more closely with the humility, suffering, and poverty of Christ. And this is so. More importantly, it is a time to recognize that Jesus was willing to identify with us. Leaving the glory of heaven He came to us in our need. He did not abandon us in our time of desperation. Rather, He was abandoned on the cross. There He became the sacrifice for the sins of the world. There He became your Saviour.

From baptism to the desert, the Jordan to the wilderness: That’s the route to the cross. It’s the way to the promised land. It’s also the itinerary of our Christian life. What does the Bible say about the power and significance of baptism? It is “a life-giving water, rich in grace, and a washing of the new birth in the Holy Spirit,” and our sinful nature “should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned.”4

Dear friends, when you are baptized you are cast into the wilderness; that is, exposed to the attacks of Satan. Yes, this is what the church does to infants who are baptized; children, and, adults young and old. It is what she (the church) must do. The faith of the baptized is confronted head on. You see, unbelievers do not fall within the scope of the devil’s operations because they are already under his power. But Jesus is there, in the wilderness. He is on the front line. If He weren’t we’d immediately be torn to bits. Where He is Satan has no power, death has no sting, and falsehood gets no hearing.

Lent is a time for the refocusing of motivations and priorities. God grant that we would hunger for His word and sacrament with the purity and intensity with which Christ met Satan’s challenge. Satan offered bread (though of the Saviour’s own making), a morsel to satisfy the stomach. We are offered the food of immortality- the true and living bread from heaven- nourishment for the soul.

Especially in Lent we are alert to the fact that Satan doesn’t miss his opportunities. But the equal of Christ he is not. His schemes cannot prevail. The apostle Paul strengthened the Christians in Rome saying, “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.”5 Indeed, the head of Satan, that is, his power and rule, have been crushed by the sacrifice and immortality of Jesus the Christ. May this truth fortify our resolve and give peace to our souls during this sacred season. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

1 Genesis 3:1
2 Matthew 4:4
3 John 5:39
4 Luther’s Small Catechism
5 Romans 16:20

First Sunday in Lent
9 March 2014
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt