The Kingdom of God is at hand in the Person of Christ Jesus, in His very flesh and blood. He has entered the wilderness and passed through the waters of the Jordan, in order to join Himself to you, and you to Him, both now and forever. Therefore, you also are a beloved and well-pleasing child of God in Christ Jesus, who has poured out the Spirit of His Father upon you. He has named you with His Name, and whatever belongs to Him is now yours by faith in His Word.
With that, you now find yourself living in an arena between God and the devil. Day after day you are driven into conflict with Satan, the accuser, the old evil foe, who tempts you to doubt and disobey the Word of God, to question His promises, and to contradict His commands. Whereas your God and Father does not tempt you to sin, but He does test you, and He tries your heart and mind in the midst of adversity, in order to strengthen your repentance, faith, and life in Him. Thus, by the Holy Spirit, you are daily being put to death and raised up to newness of life in Christ Jesus.
The truth is that life is a battlefield when the Kingdom of God invades the devil’s stomping grounds. It cannot be otherwise. There will be no peace, no truce, no armistice between God and the devil. And if you are the Lord’s, you cannot remain neutral or be left in peace in the midst of the battle. Nor can the Lord Jesus Christ. For He has been baptized to be your Champion. And so He is driven by the Spirit immediately from the waters of His Baptism out into the wilderness, there to be tempted by the devil and to engage that wicked foe in a strange and dreadful contest. He is the Man in the middle, who goes down into the valley between God and the devil in order to fight for you. He goes to meet the foe, to defeat him on your behalf, to win the victory for you.
It is in the wilderness that Christ engages this conflict and contends with Satan, because it is in the wilderness that you are tested and trained. The wilderness is where fallen sinners learn how to live in Paradise again. It is where you are called daily to repentance and taught to live in the Kingdom of God by faith in His Word. And it is precisely at those two points that the devil attacks you, as he tempts you to continue in your sins, and as he wickedly denies the promises of the Gospel.
The devil has nothing but hatred and animosity for you, and he is driven to destroy you. He often covers his vicious assaults under the guise of goodness and light, but he is not your advocate or friend. Though he first of all entices you to sin, Satan is then also the first in line to accuse you.
The battle is waged at every point in your life, and it shall not be over until your Baptism is finally completed in your death from this world. At all times, the Lord is at hand to sustain you with the preaching of His Word, whereas the devil keeps attacking with his lies and deceptions. When you prosper, the devil tempts you to pride and complacency. And when you suffer, the devil either brings to mind your many sins and condemns you, or else he shifts the blame to God Himself, as though the Lord did not love you and had no care or concern for you, in spite of His promises.
Sadly, the devil’s greatest ally in his hostility is your own covetous desire, your lust and greed and selfishness. Those passions of your fallen flesh are the seed bed of all temptations. And the devil stokes those flames into a relentless craving for what the Lord has not given you, and a desperate clinging to what you do have, as though such things were your god, your life, and your salvation.
But now, repent of your sins, resist the devil with his tricks, and return to the Lord your God. Listen to the Word of God, which the Father in heaven speaks to you by His Son in the flesh, and do not doubt that what He says and promises is true. In fact, let God be true, and everything else a lie. Cling to His Word, come hell or high water against you, and do not despair of His mercy.
Do not suppose that you will ever be able, apart from His Word, to keep your bearings in the midst of temptation. Your heart and mind, your wisdom, reason, and strength are all fallen and falling apart, as much or more so than your mortal body. And you are no match for that serpent, the devil. On earth is not his equal. Left to your own devices, Satan will deceive you and destroy you.
Sometimes he is crass, and sometimes he is subtle, but the devil is always clever and crafty. Make no mistake, he is smarter than you. He knows not the wisdom of God in Christ, but the devil is no dummy in the ways and wisdom of the world. He knows how to attack you at precisely those points where you are weakest. And every sin to which he tempts you is dangerous and deadly.
There is no such thing as a harmless sin. Do not excuse yourself by measuring your sins against your neighbor’s. The only legitimate measure is the Word of the Lord, which you have not kept. And do not suppose that, when you are tricked and deceived by the devil, you shall simply be let off the hook scot free. “The soul that sins will die.” That is both God’s Law and the devil’s boast.
Where, then, are you going to live? That is the question. Will you live in the Kingdom of God? Or will you live with the devil in his prison house of death and despair? That is what it all comes down to. You cannot reside in both places at once. You can’t have it both ways. “Simul iustus et peccator” does not justify your sins or make them safe and okay. It rather affirms that both the Law and the Gospel are the Word of the Lord. So, where do you stand? With God or the devil?
Repent of your sins, and do not despair, but do repent. Now is the time. Do not imagine that it can wait until tomorrow, or next week, or next year. Have you not heard the preaching of the Lord and His servants? The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, therefore, and believe the Gospel.
Sacrifice your idols, no matter what they are, and no matter how precious they may be. Is it your son, your only son, whom you love? Is that what you must give up to fear, love, and trust in God?
“Abraham,” God said, “take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and sacrifice him to Me at the place where I will tell you.” Abraham is always being called to go someplace he has no clue about. But he goes in faith, his own dear son bearing the wood on which he is to be slain, because father Abraham trusts that God the Father in heaven will provide for Himself the Lamb.
So he stretches out his arm, and he is ready to sacrifice his son, in the confidence that God, the Lord, will raise Isaac from the dead, as needs may be, in order to keep and fulfill His promises. And to be sure, the Lord is merciful. He spares Abraham that which He does not spare Himself for you and your salvation. For the Father gives His only Son in the flesh, who is indeed the Seed of Abraham, Christ Jesus, even to death on the wood of the Cross, the Lamb of God in place of all the sons and daughters of man. And He raises this same Jesus from the dead for you and for all.
To sacrifice your idols, then, is not to put your children to death, nor to destroy the good gifts of God in this world. It is, rather, to put to death in yourself your love and desire for creatures — in deference to the Lord your God, your Creator and Redeemer — by repentance and by faith in Him.
But is what God says to you too hard for you to believe? And is what God commands and requires of you too hard for you to bear and do? Does it sound crazy to suppose that living by faith in His Word and walking in the ways that He has set before you is ever going to prosper or work out?
But what is it that so frightens you? Why do you cling so desperately to your spouse and children, to your stuff, and to your place in the world? Is it because you think that your life is found there? Will any of these people or things raise you from the dead or preserve you in the judgment?
Repent of your sins and sacrifice your idols. Worship the Lord your God by faith in His Gospel. Not that He needs anything from you, but that you need Him for everything. Rest your hopes in Him and call upon His Name. Rejoice in His forgiveness, and know that He well provides for you. He saves you from every evil of body and soul. He raises you up, even from death and the grave.
Remember that you are baptized, and remember what God has said to you and done for you by that washing of the water with His Word. As father Abraham clung to the Covenant of Circumcision and persevered in the promises of God, so cling to the Word and promises of God in Christ Jesus, in whose Name you are baptized, whose Cross you bear, and whose Resurrection you share.
Renounce the devil, all his works and all his ways. That’s not a one-time deal; it’s a lifelong battle and a serious business. But your life and your allegiance belong to the Holy Triune God.
See here, you will not starve. The Lord your God will feed you according to His mercy. And you shall not go naked, for God the Lord will clothe and shelter you in peace. Nor shall you die alone. The Lord is with you, in death as in life, and in the Resurrection. He is your sure and certain hope.
There is no temptation with which you are tempted that He has not also endured and resisted on your behalf — in flesh and blood like your own — even in the wilderness of your sin and death. And there is no suffering that you suffer that He has not also suffered in your place, that by His Cross and Passion He should overcome them. He has defeated your enemies. He has atoned for your sins. He has conquered your death. His Resurrection from the dead is God’s own pledge and promise to you, which stands fast and forever, as Christ Himself lives and reigns to all eternity.
He has set Himself to be your Champion. He is by your side upon the plain. He has taken His stand against the roaring lion that threatens to devour you; He has smashed his teeth and broken his jaw. He has crushed the serpent’s shifting, hissing head beneath His own bruised and bloodied heel. He is faithful, and He does what He has promised. There is no shifting or turning with Him.
The devil is always shifting and turning. When one strategy fails, he simply switches to another. He’ll tell you one thing in the morning and another thing at night. From one day to the next, from one week to the next, the devil is full of nothing but constant lies and deceptions. He cares nothing for the truth, but only for your death and your damnation by whatever means he might employ.
Your own sinful heart is likewise full of guile, and the world is also deceitful and dishonest. But not so with your Father in heaven. He speaks from His heart in Christ Jesus, His beloved Son, and His Word is always the Truth. He will not change His mind concerning you. What God the Father says to you in Christ is and always shall be so. You are sheltered under the shadow of His wings.
Christ be praised, the Kingdom of God does not rest upon your faithfulness. It does not even rest upon your repentance or your faith. It does not depend on you. But the Kingdom of God is at hand for you in the Body of Christ. It is as sure and certain as His Nativity, as His Baptism, as His life, His death, and His bodily Resurrection from the dead. So it is that your repentance and your faith, your life and your salvation, rest firmly upon Him. And He shall not be moved.
Consider the example of your Lord Jesus Christ, therefore — though it is always much more than just an example — because everything He does, He does it for you, that you might live in Him.
Amid the wild beasts and the wicked assaults of the devil, the Lord Jesus, in humility and faith, relies upon His Father and receives the ministry of His Father’s holy angels. So, too, He sends His ministering spirits to care for you, both His holy angels and His mortal preachers of the Gospel, in order to preserve your faith and life in body and soul, even unto life everlasting.
He provides the sustenance that you need in the midst of the wilderness. Not miraculous bread from desert stones, but the Living and Life-giving Bread of His own Body, which is given for you. As He thus serves you with Himself, will He not also freely give you every good thing?
It is most certainly true. For you are beloved of the Lord. You are a son or daughter of the Father in Christ Jesus, and He is well pleased with you. That is the truth. Your sins are all forgiven, and God holds none of them against you. From the waters of your Holy Baptism, He has clothed you in the righteousness and holiness, the innocence and blessedness of Christ, the incarnate Son. He cleanses and restores you with His holy and precious Blood, which is poured out for you to drink.
By Himself He has sworn, He has bound Himself to you. He is yours, and you are His forever. The heavens stand open, and the Kingdom of God is here, for you. Amen, Amen, so shall it be.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.