10 March 2019

No More Looking for Life in All the Wrong Places

The Season of Lent, from the earliest days of the Church, has always been a time — not only for repentance — but especially for catechesis in the Christian faith and life, either in preparation for Holy Baptism or in the exercise of the ongoing significance and discipline of Holy Baptism.

To this day, for you, as well, Lent recalls you to the active remembrance of your Baptism into Christ, to the drowning and death of your old Adam through daily contrition and repentance, and to the rising and new life that are yours in the New Man, Christ Jesus, by faith in His Word of the Gospel, His daily forgiveness of your sins.   For you know that you are crucified, dead, and buried with Christ Jesus by your Baptism into His death, that you might also rise and live with Him.

As surely as you have inherited the fall into sin with all its curse and consequences from Adam and Eve, so that you are subject to death and return to the dust of the ground, so much the more do you inherit by grace the Sonship of Christ Jesus, His Spirit and His Name, His Victory over Satan, sin, and death, and His Life with God the Father, by the new birth of water with His Word and Holy Spirit.  As a child of Adam you are born to die, but in Christ Jesus you are a brand new creation.

Conversely, as Lent is training for the life that is yours in Christ Jesus by means of Holy Baptism, so does His Baptism send Jesus into a Lenten wilderness as the One who has taken upon Himself your sin, your death, and your damnation, and bears all of this in His Body under the Law of God.

Henceforth, everything that Jesus does and suffers is not for Himself or His benefit, but in your stead, on your behalf, and for your sake.  That includes His Temptation by Satan, the deceiver and accuser, and His defeat of Satan, not only by resisting all of the devil’s temptations, but decisively by way of His Cross when He will crush that wily serpent’s head.  He wins the victory, not by an exercise of His divine power, but by the exercise of steadfast faith as the true and perfect Man.

The Temptation of our Lord recalls the testing and training of Israel in the wilderness following the Exodus from Egypt.  For having been baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and having been declared the chosen people of God, His holy children, at Mount Sinai — but having sinned repeatedly against the Lord with their complaints and outright disobedience — the sons of Israel were also disciplined in the wilderness over the course of forty years, an entire generation.

So also Christ Jesus.  Having been declared the beloved and well-pleasing Son of God the Father at His Baptism, anointed and filled by the Holy Spirit in His Body of flesh and blood like yours, He is led by the Spirit into the wilderness, in order to be tested and tried by Satan on behalf of all the people.  He is called and given to do and accomplish, for you and for all, what Israel could not — and what you could never hope to do.  In the heat of the harsh desert, in hunger and thirst, He goes toe-to-toe with the old evil foe, in order to resist and overcome his assaults and accusations.

The point is not so much a test to see if the devil might lure Jesus into this or that sin.  It is rather that Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, is tempted in every way that you are, yet without sin.  Where Israel in the wilderness failed in every respect, Jesus in the wilderness passes the test.

It is not only that He sets an example for you to follow.  It is far more that He first of all wins the victory on your behalf.  To that same purpose, throughout His life, from His Baptism to His Cross, He suffers all that you deserve by your sins, and He accomplishes all that you could not.  He does it all in perfect faith, which is to say that He lives the truly human life that you and all the children of Adam were created and meant to live.  He does not rely on Himself, nor does He seek glory for Himself, but He trusts His Father for everything, relies on His Word alone, and receives all things from His hand, including the Cup of suffering and the Cross of death.  So has He accomplished the faith and life which He now delivers to you, by His grace alone, through His Word and Spirit.

Now, then, as you are born again as a child of God by your Baptism into Christ, and as you are called to bear and carry His Cross and follow after Him as a disciple, you also are confronted by the temptations of the devil, the world, and your own mortal flesh in the midst of the wilderness.

Not only are you tempted to do this or that wrong, as you might normally think of temptation, but especially to doubt the Word and promises that God has given and pledged to you in your Baptism.  In much the same way, Adam and Eve fell into sin when they doubted the Word and promises of God in the Garden, His life-giving Word of Creation, His promises of grace and every blessing.  They questioned whether God was faithful and for them, or whether He was holding out on them.

So are you tempted to doubt your sonship in Christ Jesus; tempted to doubt and despise His Word of Holy Absolution; tempted to doubt His Body and Blood in the Sacrament, that these are truly given and poured out for you to eat and drink for the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation; and tempted to deny and flee His Holy Cross, doubting the sure and certain hope of His Resurrection.

Hand-in-hand with those temptations to doubt and question the Lord’s Word and His gifts of Life, you are likewise tempted to rely upon yourself instead, on your own wisdom, reason, strength, and experience — to measure all of life by your own thoughts and feelings — rather than trusting your God and Father in Christ Jesus for all that you need, in body and soul, for this life and the next.

With that in mind, consider the temptation to make or acquire “bread” for yourself — whether it be food and drink or whatever else you might seek to satisfy the appetites of your fallen flesh.  Such temptations are pursued, and lead to sin, and bring forth death in a wide variety of different ways.  But they are far more a matter of your heart and soul than of your stomach or your body.

It is no sin to work at your job and thereby earn your living.  Indeed, your calling and station are from the Lord, and “whoever will not work, let him not eat.”  But it is a sin to suppose that you are providing for yourself and taking care of yourself, refusing to recognize that your work, your pay, your daily bread, and whatever you have, it all comes to you by grace from the hand of God.

It is likewise a sin, therefore, to neglect your other vocations in life — as a husband and father, for example, or as a wife and mother, as a son or daughter, as a sister or brother — on the pretense that you must work more and more to make money and earn a living for yourself and your family.

At the heart of it, that sort of attitude and that way of life are simply another form of righteousness by works — the self-righteousness of self-chosen works — and not the righteousness of faith.

It is not that faith is lazy or negligent, for the vice of sloth is also sinful and contrary to the Word and will of God.  “Six days you shall labor,” says the Lord.  In love you are called to work and sacrifice for the benefit of your neighbors, beginning with your own household and family, and so also for the household and family of God, and for the poor and needy, the widows and orphans who are with you always in this body and life on earth.  But you thus do what you are given to do because it is given by God, and not because your life depends upon it.  Your life depends on God.

Jesus understood that, and He lived accordingly, even to the death of His Cross.  He was hungry, and He could easily have fed Himself by turning stones into bread or in some other way.  But He lived instead by faith, trusting the Word of His Father, and knowing that God would provide.  He also knew and trusted that His Father’s love is constant and certain, regardless of circumstances.

By contrast to that faith of Christ in the faithfulness of His God and Father, you are tempted to calculate and conclude that, if you are going hungry or going without what you want or need in this life on earth, then the Lord your God has either forgotten you or doesn’t love you, or maybe there is no God after all.  And by the same token, you are likewise tempted to suppose that, if and when you do have plenty of food and money, then God must certainly be very pleased with you.

Neither conclusion is valid.  Neither food and money nor the lack of them are any indication of God’s attitude toward you.  For that you must rely upon His Word, irrespective of your situation.

The most dire predicament may well be the blessed sign of the Holy Cross from the hand of your dear Father in heaven, whereas wealth and riches often become a snare and temptation of Satan.

With or without such things, it is well that you recall the Word of your Lord from Ash Wednesday: “Do not lay up for yourself treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and thieves break in and steal.  But lay up for yourself treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy and thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

The Lord Jesus knows what He is saying.  And He knows better than you do that it is not easy.  In the wilderness He has been tempted by the devil, as you are, to lay up treasures for Himself on earth — to turn aside from the Kingdom of God and trade it for the kingdoms of this world — to seek after comfort and power and glory, instead of enduring His hunger and suffering and death.

So it is that you are tempted to give up on the Cross and the hope of the Resurrection, in exchange for instant gratification.  Instead of waiting quietly and patiently on God, you chase after idols.

But the Lord Jesus Christ exercises confidence in His God and Father.  He waits upon the Lord to open His hand and provide the daily bread that He needs to serve and support His body and life, according to the good and gracious will of God.  He trusts His God and Father throughout those long, hard forty days of fasting, without bread, even as that lying and murdering tempter whispers those challenging and taunting questions of doubt: “If You are the Son of God. . . .”

Ah, yes, the big “if.”  Did God really say?  But though Christ Jesus is the Son, He learns obedience through what He suffers in your place.  In godly fear He does not fight temptation as the powerful Son of God, but rather as the true Man, as your Brother in the flesh, as the perfect Second Adam, who lives your life as you are called to live, who faces all the same temptations that you face, but who relies upon the Father and clings to His Word even when all hell breaks loose against Him.

The beloved and well-pleasing Son will not bow down to Satan.  He will not trade the ways of God for the comforts of the world.  His only treasure is the Kingdom of His Father, on earth as it is in heaven.  His heart is set upon His Father’s Will, no matter the cost.  And in the strength of perfect faith and holy love, He renounces the devil, all his works, and all his ways, and willingly receives the Cross from the hand of His God and Father.  That is where He looks for Life, and nowhere else.

It is likewise in the Cross and Passion of the same Lord Jesus Christ that you are granted real life and real glory in the Kingdom of His God and Father.  Despite appearances and feelings, you will surely not find comfort or happiness anywhere else, for everything else will vanish like smoke in the day of trouble.  There is no lasting glory in the kingdoms of this world, no forgiveness of your sins, no resurrection of your body, no life everlasting.  Only empty promises and disappointment.

But take heart, for you are in the wilderness with Christ Jesus.  In the waters of the Jordan you also have received the sign of the Cross from the hand of your Father — not to burden you forever, but to raise you up in glory on the Last Day.  Thus, the daily drowning of your old Adam always brings forth the rising of the New Man, Jesus Christ. Your repentance is always met with His forgiveness.  Your tears of grief and sorrow are replaced by shouts of joy.  Your Lent brings you into Easter.

That is what these forty days are all about.  They teach you and train you to look for Life, and to find it, in the Cross and Passion of your Lord Jesus Christ, in the Fruits of His Cross and Passion.  Thus are you returned to the dying and rising of your Baptism into His Cross and Resurrection.  And here at His Table in the midst of the wilderness, in the presence of your enemies, you are fed upon the Bread of Christ, the Word-made-Flesh, by which you live in God, and He abides in you.

By these gifts Christ freely gives, by His Word and Holy Spirit, by the grace and mercy of His God and Father, you are well able to sing — together with all those who live by faith in Christ Jesus, including those who have gone before us into glory: “Take they our life, goods, fame, child, and wife; though these all be gone, our victory has been won, the Kingdom ours remaineth!”

In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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