The First Sunday in Lent March 1, 2009
159, 285, 290, 283
Grace, mercy and peace be multiplied to you from God our Father, from God the Son, and from God the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Dear Fellow Christians:
It is an unfortunate fact that Satan has been successful more times than he has failed. Thanks be to God, however, that the Devil’s one great defeat means that he lost the war. Because of the victory of Jesus, as Luther says, “One little word can fell him.” [TLH 262:3] That “little word” of course is Jesus.
Satan lost the war, but he continues to win tragic victories in individual battles. Mankind has been offered free salvation through faith in Christ Jesus, but mankind has, en masse, rejected the offer. Each time a human being dies in unbelief, Satan wins another victory. What is even more tragic, some of the Devil’s greatest triumphs today are taking place right in the pews of (nominally) Christian churches.
Satan understands full well that the true invisible Christian Church will remain until the end of time. There is simply nothing he can do about that fact, for it is a promise from our God. Jesus Himself said, “The gates of Hell shall not overcome (the Church).” (Matthew 16:18) Yet that does not mean that the Devil is powerless when it comes to attacking the visible church that today calls itself Christian. The Devil continues to attack, but his strategy has shifted and that plan is as devious as it is effective.
Where once Bibles could not be obtained by the people at any price, now they are everywhere. The Devil’s only option then was to make those Bibles worth less (if not altogether worthless) in the eyes of mankind. In this he has been tragically successful. How? He effectively removed the rudder that gives direction to the Church by raising up Bible critics that denied the inerrancy of God’s Word. The Bible went from “God’s Word” to “the Good Book” to “a good book.” The result is that whole segments of the visible Christian church today are actually semi-religious organizations that can be blown about by every warm breeze of false doctrine that blows from Hell itself.
Any church without the inerrant, infallible Word of God is powerless to steer any but Satan’s course. It is no wonder that the Devil works so hard at discrediting God’s Word. God’s children literally live or die by it. For us it is therefore inspiration or expiration—we live by faith in the verbally inspired words of our God, or we die in unbelief.
The effects of the denial of Bible inerrancy today are tragic and terrifying. It has warped many churches to the point that they are now “Christian” in name only. The denial of inerrancy has twisted previously unchallenged truths of the Bible—even the very basics—into obscure and deceptive lies. Even the most fundamental Christian truths are now attacked relentlessly—bedrock teachings concerning sin, grace, the resurrection, the virgin birth, and the divinity of Christ. The Bible is clear on all of these subjects, and yet these truths have been clouded, distorted, and abandoned—lost not just to our godless society that never really knew right from wrong in the first place, but lost also to much of modern Christianity.
With this introduction we are prepared to hear our text, a portion of Scripture very familiar to us, but used today to teach us something very basic about the Word of God itself. Our text is found in the Gospel account of Matthew, the fourth chapter:
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil. And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterward He was hungry. Now when the Tempter came to Him, he said, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.” But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’” Then the Devil took Him up into the holy city, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down. For it is written: ‘He shall give His angels charge over you,’ and, ‘In their hands they shall bear you up, Lest you dash your foot against a stone.’” Jesus said to him, “It is written again, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God.’” Again, the Devil took Him up on an exceedingly high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to Him, “All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve.’” Then the Devil left Him, and behold, angels came and ministered to Him.
So far the very words of God. May that same God who gave us these words fill us with proper reverence for them, never for a moment doubting that they are what they claim to be—God’s verbally inspired words to mankind and the only sure source of all that is true. Even so we pray, “Sanctify us through Your truth, O Lord, Your Word is truth.” Amen.
We continue with something of a riddle: Who needs to study the Bible more than the person who knows almost nothing about the Bible? Answer: Anyone who believes he knows just about everything there is to know about the Bible.
The point is that only a fool imagines that he has ever done more than just barely scratch the surface of God’s great revelation to mankind. In fact, the more we study God’s Word—really dig into it—the more we come to appreciate the depth and wisdom that it contains. Our Lord spoke of the ever new revelations discovered in God’s Word each time we study it when He said in Matthew 13:52:“Therefore every scribe instructed concerning the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure things new and old.”
Our text today is no exception. It is a masterpiece of divine wisdom and revelation. In these few short verses is contained, among many other things, all the truth we need to know about sin and temptation, together with how the child of God can emerge from both victorious. What a pity we take so little notice of such great gifts from our God. It is for that very reason that we take up a question as basic as the inspiration of God’s Word. The world refuses to look and listen to what the Bible has to say and, therefore, the simplest truths elude them. We take up this study because we too are in constant danger of forgetting what God has said and adopting the lies of our great enemy instead.
I doubt anyone reading these words is in need of a lecture on just how evil are the times in which we live. Perversion of every sort is both rampant and appalling. What is particularly disturbing is not so much that the godless do what they do, but that Christians today do what they do, and accept what they accept. How do we explain, for example, that the head of the Anglican Church—the Archbishop of Canterbury—recently voiced his support for the importation of elements of Islamic Law? How do we go about putting the best construction on those who profess Christianity while they defend the crassest of sins like fornication, abortion, and homosexuality—even among their spiritual leaders? Are these folks just weak Christians trying to strike some sort of compromise with our perverse society, or are they unbelievers who are in fact acting out their true beliefs? The answer is probably that these are folks who have been sailing on the rudderless ship of modern “Christianity” and therefore have lost all sense of direction. They, quite literally, no longer know right from wrong, for their moral compass has been pitched overboard.
Once verbal inspiration of the Bible was lost, all moral direction was lost with it. With that loss of direction came the forfeiture of the knowledge of what sin really is. The result is that the Christian church today is little more than an assembly of Pontius Pilates all wandering about foolishly muttering: “What is truth? What is truth?” Consider for a moment: What is the definition of sin for those who have lost the Bible? A sin is now defined as that which hurts someone, or even something else. The natural result is that a man who tortures a dog is treated far more harshly than a woman who pays a doctor to murder her unborn baby. So too prostitution, pornography, drug use, and premarital sex have all become non-sins (because society believes that no one is actually harmed) while hunting, logging, and spanking a child are all now condemned as sinful.
The problems all began with Satan’s attack on the inspiration of Holy Scripture. If you and I are to survive, we need to understand just what is at stake here and the diabolical nature of the problem that we face.
Understand that this is not one of those problems in society that is “out there somewhere.” This is the sort of perversion that is growing in acceptance in our own country, our own community, our own neighborhoods and schools. Every time the topic of “adult entertainment” is discussed in the local papers, for example, the ever-present defense is the same godless “What’s the harm?” and “Who gets hurt?”
Satan has an ancient tie to this sort of nonsense. It was the basis for Satan’s temptation of Jesus in our text. You will note that, without exception, Satan tempted Jesus to do only that which would, at least on the surface, hurt no one else. Yet note too that with every single answer Jesus quoted God’s Word.
The Old Testament lesson spelled it out clearly as well. It began by giving us the basis for God’s right to set down laws and commandments for us: He created us. There we read “The Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being.” (Genesis 2:7)
God as Creator is a fact that has also been denied by the world, out of necessity, since any acknowledgment of God as the Creator of mankind would put their definition of sin in great doubt. More than that, it would be absolutely untenable. The Genesis account went on to describe how God provided for all of man's needs, and yet also set down one prohibition: They were not to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
Would eating from that tree “hurt anyone?” Not according to the world’s reckoning. And yet it was a sin. Why? Because God said, “Do not eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.” (cf. Genesis 2:17). Here we find our true definition of sin: Sin is disobedience to God. It is nonconformity to the will of God. Here we also find, amazingly enough, an even more vital piece of information: Mankind is and will remain lost without that clear revelation of God’s will that He has provided in the verbally inspired words of Holy Scripture. Our Bibles, therefore, represent God’s clear and permanent record for all time and eternity—His record of Law and Gospel, sin and grace, right and wrong.
The definition of sin is just one example of how important it is to have God’s inspired Word as our only source and guide. Salvation itself is at stake. For example, if sin were only a matter of not hurting someone else, then many of us could manage our way to heaven on our own in which case we would have no need for a savior. But the Bible teaches us that all men are shot through with sin from birth and inclined only to a life of sin. It is only in coming to understand and accept that fact that we come to realize how desperately we need a savior. That same inspired Word then teaches us that the only viable candidate for that job is Jesus Christ, and He is offered only in true Christianity.
Our Epistle lesson put is so well as it ties together the Old Testament lesson (the successful temptation of man) and the sermon text (the unsuccessful temptation of Jesus) when it says: “Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.” (Romans 5:18-19)
Today’s Old Testament lesson and sermon text give examples of two rather similar events, but with two very different results. You and I ought to be intensely interested in how and why Eve failed miserably, and even more interested in how and why Jesus was so successful. The key difference is that Eve’s actions were based on her own thoughts and desires, while Jesus’ actions were based on the Word and will of God as revealed in the inspired Scriptures. Where Eve saw the forbidden fruit as the means to satisfy her desires, Jesus condemned the Devil’s temptations on the basis of His Father’s desires.
Every temptation was met with a Bible passage that set down God’s holy will and therefore answered the temptation. Even when Satan tried to twist that same Word of God into a distorted half-truth, Jesus successfully countered with the Word of God—and nothing but the Word of God. That means He never allowed His gaze to linger on that which was forbidden. He never entertained fantasies about how much fun it would be to succumb to the temptation. In fact, some of the temptations were so subtle that only a thorough understanding of the Scriptures and a careful application of the same saw Him through—or, more to the point, saw us through. Ours were the souls that hung in the balance. Had Jesus failed, our only hope would have been lost forever. Therefore, the souls of all mankind depended on the correct understanding and application of God’s Word. The notion that that Word of God could contain errors never even entered the picture.
Now take these truths and fast-forward across the centuries to the present. In other words, transition from Jesus’ temptation to your own daily struggle. This is where our text becomes incredibly practical and provides us with some timeless, priceless, day-to-day guidance. You and I ought to share the same regard for God’s Word as was demonstrated by our Lord. Day by day, moment by moment, Satan tries to confuse us with half-truths and rationalizations. He would like nothing better for us than to have us adopt the world’s conception of sin as that which harms someone else. The Devil howls with wicked delight whenever a child of God begins to doubt that God’s Word is both verbally inspired and still applicable. To this end he would love for you to begin trusting your own inclinations and emotions when confronted with temptations—to imagine that what was sin in years past is no longer sin today.
His end-game is clear. With every sin that is shifted into the “no longer sin” column, the need for a Savior is reduced. Once man justifies enough of his sin, he naturally begins to need Jesus less and to rely on him less. The inevitable result of starting down that path is that man eventually arrives at the place described long ago by Jesus Himself: “Those who are well have no need of a physician.” (Matthew 9:12)
Let it never be so with us. Address every single diabolical attack of the Devil as Jesus Himself did in our text: “It stands written…” Will we lose many battles? Almost certainly. By God’s grace in Jesus Christ we will not lose the war, for again and again we turn to other bits of Scripture where it is also written: “There is now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1).
As we walk again through the season of Lent, we pause this day to give special thanks to our God who has taken care of our sin-problem by exacting the punishment upon His own Son. How blessed we are beyond compare that we now stand perfect, holy, and victorious through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. These things we know to be true only because we have God’s verbally inspired Word to teach us that it is so. God grant that we highly prize that Word of God, study it faithfully, trust it implicitly, and defend it tirelessly from all enemies. With this great gift and the power that our God pours out on each of us through that gift, victory is ours, never defeat. Therefore for us it will be inspiration, never expiration. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.