Sunday, February 14, 2016

Your Lord Leads You through this World to the World to Come

First Sunday in Lent
Commemoration of Valentine, Martyr
February 14, 2016
If you are certain that you have salvation and yet struggle with the daily grind of temptation and sin, then you have a sense of the tension of being a Christian. One is either saved or not. And for those who believe Jesus is Lord and believe that heaven is their home, it’s hard to come to terms with the weakness we experience in this life. How many times have you said the wrong thing to a loved one and wish you could take it back? How often do you feel emboldened to fight off temptation only to fall into it so easily before you’re even aware of it happening? How many times do you feel invigorated to take time to help others only to place your time and effort to more pressing matters?

If you recognize the struggle of these things and are uneasy about it, then you are seeing that being a Christian isn’t as easy as you might wish it to be. You are seeing that far from removing you from trials and unease you often find yourself struggling even more so. The Bible doesn’t help you out much here if you are looking to be relieved of this tension. The Bible actually goes out of the way to drive home the tension that characterizes the person who is saved and living new life in Christ.

That may not seem comforting. But there’s more comfort in this than there appears. In the Collect of the Day we prayed our Lord to lead us through this world to the world come. Heaven is indeed the destination, but it’s a long road there, isn’t it? It’s a difficult road. As you live you get closer and closer to the glory of the world to come, but along the way you endure the pain of heartbreak and the sting of loved ones and the guilt of hurting those you love. The road is long and in the tension of the now of full salvation but the not yet of the full glory of it.

It’s tempting to want to resolve this tension. But you know that’s not going to happen. In this life you will continue to sin and struggle against sin. The world will continue to entice you to the ways of fulfilling your desires. The devil will continue to attack you. When you die and are brought into the eternal glory of heaven, there will be no more tension. Instead of seeking to be rid of the tension, seek your Lord who will lead you through it and guide you. Getting rid of the tension won’t help anything, trusting in your Lord will.

On the First Sunday in Lent we are shown the way He deals with this tension. Jesus had not even begun His three years of ministry and He was led out into the desert to be tempted by the devil. It’s not that the devil just happened to tempt Jesus. This was a calculated action on the part of the Holy Spirit.

When Jesus had come on the scene to begin His three year ministry He did something that seemed not quit right. He went up to John the Baptist, who had been preaching and Baptizing, and asked John to Baptize Him. This is how Jesus was ordained into His ministry. He who had no sin was Baptized in order to fulfill all righteousness. He went down into those Baptismal waters in solidarity with us. The heavens were opened and the Holy Sprit descended on Him. The voice of the Heavenly Father spoke, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.”

This is where you see the tension of your life in Christ. It was exhibited by Him. In your Baptism, the Heavenly Father declared you to be His beloved son, His beloved daughter. In your Baptism, the Holy Spirit descended upon you and gave you new life in Christ. And then you know what happened? You were led out into the wilderness of this world where you are tempted by the devil. Satan has it out for you because you are a child of God. Your Baptism is a mark on you and what the devil sees is a bulls eye.

What is happening to you, though, isn’t anything new. Jesus Himself endured this. No sooner was Jesus Baptized, the Holy Sprit descending on Him, the Father declaring Him His beloved Son, than the Holy Spirit led Him out into the desert to be tempted by the devil. This, of course, was fine by Satan. He jumped at this chance to take Jesus down. And it worked well for him that Jesus decided to fast during the forty days He was out there. A person in a weakened state is a prime target for the cunning tactics of the devil.

Satan knew who Jesus was. He had heard the statement of the Father to His Son, “This is My beloved Son.” So that’s a good place to start. He said to Jesus, “So, if You are the Son of God, then tell these stones to become bread. That should be easy enough of a solution to being hungry and needing food. If you’re the Son of God You should be able to easily do it. This is an opportunity to prove You are who Your Father says You are. If You’re the Son of God, why should You go hungry and stay in this weakened state?”

But Satan can never stand against the one who trusts in the Lord. Jesus was indeed the Son of God. But far from wanting to be removed from the tension and the trial of fasting and being tempted by Satan, Jesus embraced it. He fully trusted in His Heavenly Father. That His Father was well-pleased with Him didn’t mean He would remove Him from the tension of living in this world. So Jesus entrusted Himself to His Father’s will. He relied solely on His Father’s word.

Jesus answered Satan, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” It’s really simple. It’s so plain that it seems it cannot be misunderstood. So that’s not really the problem we run into. We can understand it easily enough, but the problem is that it’s hard. Yes, we live not by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God. That you so often succumb to temptation shows how difficult this is. This tension is always there, between doing what God would have you do and what you see is so enticing, what the devil would have you do. Jesus shot down Satan with the simple Word of God. The hunger pains rebelled even more and His body got weaker by the moment, but Jesus entrusted Himself to His Father.

But Satan is not easily dissuaded. He comes back at Jesus, but with a different tactic. “Okay, I get it, You are the Son of God. I believe. You don’t need to do some silly miracle to prove it. And, yes, what You say is true, You should not go by your stomach but by what Your beloved Father tells you. So, here’s an opportunity to do just that. I’m helping You out here. You entrust Yourself to Your Father, so go by what He Himself says in the Bible. Cast Yourself down from the pinnacle of the temple, for it is written, ‘He will command His angels concerning you and their hands will bear you up, so that your foot will not strike against a stone.’ This would be a great way for You to show that You trust Your Father who loves You and has promised to protect You.”

Well, just because you quote the Bible doesn’t mean you’re getting it right. Satan knew the Scriptures, no doubt, but he used them by twisting them so that he could get people to fall into sin. It’s what he did with Adam and Eve and it’s what he was doing now with Jesus. But Jesus knows that Scripture cannot go against itself, and so He once again responded to Satan with the Word of God: “It is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” Once again, it’s really simple. You go to the Word of God and you take it as it stands, not twisting it for what you would like to make it say. And yet, once again, as simple as it is, it is hard. Entrust yourself to God, but don’t test Him. He will certainly protect you, but that doesn’t mean you should put Him to the test.

Being undaunted, Satan attempts one more thing. Taking yet another approach, He attacks Jesus where He seems to be most vulnerable. He’s God, but because He became flesh, being born of a woman, growing up into adulthood, and being in fact unequal to the Father in regard to His human nature, He is susceptible to the desire for glory, what is beyond what you have. So Satan takes Jesus to a place where He can see all the kingdoms of the world in all their glory. This can all be His if He will do the slightest of things and bow down in worship to Satan. It doesn’t have to be long. It doesn’t have to be forever, just one small act of worship and Jesus will no longer have to suffer the needs of ordinary people. He will have glory that everyone will see is worthy of the Son of God.

At this, Jesus shuts Him down, “Be gone, Satan! It is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only shall you serve.’” If Jesus will entrust Himself to His Father, He will do so in all things. The only glory He wishes to receive is the glory of His Father carrying out His will in His beloved Son. Jesus will walk this path of the tension of this life. He will defeat Satan with a weapon that is so simple even as it is powerful. Jesus will respond to Satan’s attacks with the Sword of the Spirit, the Word of God. And when it is time for Him to suffer on the cross for the sin of the world, He knows that it will crush Satan. Salvation will have been accomplished, and it will not have been through some display of glorious proof that He is the Son of God but through the glorious display of His pouring out His blood for the life of the world.

You will not reach the glories of the world to come by living a good life. Being rid of trials and temptations will not be a sign that you have achieved the life you were meant to.

You will reach the glories of the world to come, though, through the Heavenly Father having declared to you in your Baptism that you are His beloved son, you are His beloved daughter. You will be welcomed into heaven and be freed from the tension, the sorrow, the trial, the temptation of this life because your Lord leads you through the wilderness of this world to the glory of the one that is to come. You know He will do this because He Himself has gone through it before you. Amen. 


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