Sermon for March 05, 2017

Sermon for First Sunday in Lent, March 5, 2017

St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas

Sermon Text:  Matthew 4:1-11

Sermon Theme:  “Get Thee Behind Me, Satan!”

(Sources:  Anderson’s Cycle A Preaching Workbook; Brokhoff, Series A, Preaching Workbook; original ideas; Emphasis Online Commentaries; Emphasis Online Illustrations; “Temptations,”; Temptation jokes from Hee Haw)

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

On the TV show, “Hee Haw,” Doc Campbell is confronted by a patient who says he broke his arm in two places.  The doc replies, “Well, then, stay out of them places.”

He may have something there.  There is no way we can regularly put ourselves in the face of temptation and not be affected.  When faced with the problem of temptation, we need to take the good doctor’s advice and “stay out of them places.”

We begin this first Sunday in Lent with Satan’s temptation of Jesus, which calls to mind the temptations we are confronted with.  The question I had as I began to prepare this sermon was, “How do we pastors prepare ourselves and others to withstand temptation?”  In one of the sources I used to prepare this sermon, the commentator wrote, “If you’re looking for illustrations on the meaning of Lent, then you might as well start where it begins, by looking in the mirror.”

In other words, don’t lecture others about not being able to resist temptation, when you yourself might be guilty.  You want an illustration?  Use yourself.  It struck me as funny that one pastor preaching a sermon on resisting temptation began, not by using himself as an example, but his wife.

This poor country pastor, barely making it from paycheck to paycheck, confronted his wife the day he received a bill for a $250 dress she had bought.  “How could you do this?!”  he shouted, unable to control his anger.

“I don’t know,” she said, sobbing.  “I was standing in the store looking at the dress on sale.  Then I found myself trying it on.  It was like the Devil was whispering to me, “Gee, you look great in that dress.  You should buy it!”

“Well,” her pastor-husband replied, “you know how to deal with Satan!  Just tell him, “Get thee behind me, Satan!”

“I did,” replied his wife, “but then he said, “It looks great from back here, too!”

That takes me back to the question, why should Lent begin with each of us looking in the mirror? 

Well, Lent begins with Jesus in the wilderness.  Lent begins as Jesus is tempted b y Satan to turn from God in order to have food, safety, and power.  Lent begins as Jesus refutes every one of Satan’s temptations.  Lent begins as we are reminded that “we are not to live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God,” says verse 4.  Lent begins as we are reminded that “we are not to put the Lord our God to the test,” says verse 7.  Lent begins as we are reminded that we are to ”worship the Lord our God and serve only him,” says verse 10.

And Lent begins as “Satan leaves Jesus, and God’s angels come and wait on Him.,” says verse 11.  And then, and then, — Lent continues as Jesus turns from Satan’s temptations, leaves the wilderness, and begins to preach and teach the Good News of God.

Aha!  Now I think I understand why I should look in the mirror!  Before Jesus could begin to preach and teach the Good News of God He had to come face to face with the power of Satan.  Before Jesus could journey toward the cross, He had to see that the need for salvation was great, — that’s why He had to become a human like us, to understand our weaknesses.

You see, when we look into a mirror we are reminded that we, too, must look into the depths of our souls and see the need for God’s forgiveness.  It’s easy to point out how others fail to resist the temptations of this world without noticing our own weak-kneed submission to the Devil.  I wouldn’t go as far as to say what Pope Francis said recently, that “atheism is better than hypocrisy,” but I do think that to live the life of a hypocrite is one of the Christian’s biggest temptations.

The three temptations which Satan presented to Jesus portray the nature of his spiritual struggle throughout His ministry.  In the first suggestion to turn stones into bread Jesus is tempted to fulfill the popular conception of an earthly Messiah/King.  Satisfy the peoples’ physical needs and you will be worshiped.  “No,” said Jesus, “man does not live on bread alone.”

The second temptation is to jump from the pinnacle of the temple and land unharmed.  Be a miracle worker.  People like a good show and will be sure to applaud.  Jesus answered “no” once again.  “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”

In the final temptation, the Devil takes Jesus to a high mountain and offers Him all the kingdoms of the world, if Jesus will fall down and worship him.  The offer here is to exercise political power.  “Go away, Satan,” says Jesus, “for it is written, worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.”

Jesus withstands the assaults of Satan because He has stored up God’s word in His heart.  It is interesting that in both the temptations and the rebuttal of the temptations, Scripture is employed.  Satan took certain passages out of context and made them pretexts to deceive Jesus into accepting His point of view.  In rejecting the temptations, Jesus also used Scripture, but in its proper context.  Think about it, — do we use the Bible to support our preconceived ideas and our established behavior patterns, or do we permit God’s Word to shape and inform us?

So what do we learn from this story about Jesus being tempted by Satan that we can apply to our own lives here at the beginning of Lent?  How do we prepare ourselves and others to withstand temptation?  There is no one “cure-all.”  We have already considered avoidance, — avoidance of certain conditions and places where we know the allurement will be strong and our resistance weak.  Like Doc Campbell said, “Stay out of them places.”

Still, the circumstances of life bring us unexpected temptations.  How do we keep from being overcome by them?

Satan set it up so that the temptations would be very alluring – tempt Jesus to create food after fasting for a long time when in His human nature He was famished.  Jesus readied Himself in two ways.

FIRST, He fasted and prayed.  The fasting was not for the purpose of making Him weak, but to make Him strong.  The fact that Jesus fasted answers the question whether we should fast or not.  Fasting means eating less food, it doesn’t mean eating no food.  In forty days and forty nights, a human being would die without any food.  So fasting and prayer can keep us strong in the war against temptation.

SECOND, When He was 12 years old, Jesus wowed the Rabbis in the Temple with His knowledge of Scripture.  So He knew God’s word and used it to resist Satan’s verbal and visual onslaught.  He recognized the devil’s deceitful twisting of Scripture.  It’s obvious that Jesus taught His apostles to do the same.  Peter’s sermon on the Day of Pentecost was loaded with Scripture.  You must prepare for Satan’s challenges by immersing yourself in the word.

Children and adults, go to church!  Children, attend Sunday School and Vacation Bible School (that’s why it’s so important for us to provide signing for Dylan, — we can’t leave him vulnerable to the attacks of Satan).  Children and adults, — own a Bible and read it – that’s why a Baptismal God-parent is urged to provide the child with a Bible and why the Church gives each person a Bible at his confirmation.  Of course you could own a dozen Bibles and still not read any of them .  So, — READ THE BIBLE!

To be sure, you don’t have a chance to combat temptation without these things, — fasting and prayer and Holy Scripture.  Armed with Holy Scripture, you can boldly say to the Devil, “Get thee behind me, Satan!”  As Luther says in our closing hymn, “One little word will fell him!”  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.