Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Lent 1 of Series A (Genesis 3:1-21)

“I will put enmity between you and the woman and between your offspring and her offspring; He shall bruise your head and you shall bruise His heel.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this morning comes from the Old Testament lesson read a few moments ago from the third chapter of Genesis. Dear friends in Christ, when you were baptized, you were cast from the baptismal font into the wilderness of temptation. Christ claims us as His own through those blessed waters, which gives us an enemy, and this enemy is ready to attack. So the first stop after baptism isn’t the reception, it is the wilderness. In this way we simply follow the example of our Lord. Jesus was baptized in Matthew chapter three, and in one glorious moment the Holy Spirit descended as a dove and the Father’s voice sounded forth: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” The opening of our Gospel lesson tells us the aftermath of this event: “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” I think we’re seeing a pattern here: first baptism, then the wilderness. This pattern is hardly new. Adam and Eve weren’t baptized, but they did have a birth of sorts, as the Lord God created the man from the dust of the earth and the woman from man. They didn’t enter the wilderness, instead they dwelt in paradise. But lurking in God’s perfect garden was temptation.

“Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?’” Did God actually say? Every temptation that Satan throws at us begins with this question. He wants us to doubt God’s Word, to explain it away or ignore it. Did God actually say to love your neighbor as yourself? Did God actually say not to commit adultery? Did God actually say to honor your parents? If Satan can introduce doubt about God’s Word into our mind, the game is almost up. He wants us to reinterpret God’s Word to suit ourselves and our culture. Sometimes whole church bodies listen to this question: did God actually say that homosexuality is sinful? Sometimes entire countries do the same: did God actually say that all human life is sacred? Satan used this same tactic when he encountered Jesus in the wilderness. He began each of his three temptations with the phrase, “If you are the Son of God…” At His baptism, God had declared to Jesus that “This is my beloved Son,” and now Satan wants Jesus to doubt that word from God. That little word ‘if’ is a powerful weapon in the hands of Satan, bringing doubt and uncertainty.

When we begin to wonder if God actually said what we think that He said, we begin to stray from His sure and certain Word to our own emotions. “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.” Desire always precedes the sin; that is why God has commanded us not to covet in the ninth and tenth commandments. Satan tempts us to doubt God’s Word, places the desire before us, and then simply watches us fall into sin.

The result of sin is immediate and devastating. “Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made for themselves loincloths.” Guilt and shame follows sin; that’s the part that Satan doesn’t tell you. You know exactly how this works. Satan tempts you, asking ‘did God actually say?’ and then showing you the great pleasure that this sin will give you. Then you commit the sin, and all you feel is shame, deep guilt and regret. You vow that you will never commit that sin again. But then Satan starts the process over and before you know it, you’re dwelling in guilt again. The first man and woman lived without shame, as Genesis chapter two teaches us, but when they rebelled against God, can you imagine the shame they felt? It was an emotion they had never felt before, and it was overwhelming. They wanted to hide from God, but there is no hiding from God. We cannot hide our sins from God; to even think that we can is as laughable as Adam and Eve thinking they could hide from Him behind a bush.

And so we must face our Lord’s wrath. What is the penalty for sin? To Adam God said, “Cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you.” God’s perfect creation has been corrupted, poisoned by our sin. Thorns, disease and injury will become a part of life, in fact so much a part of life that we cannot imagine being without them. And after that, all we have to look toward is death: “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Death now reigns in this fallen creation, and it seeks out everyone, even you and me.

Martin Luther expressed our plight in this way in the hymn we just sang: “The old evil foe now means deadly woe; deep guile and great might are his dread arms in fight; on earth is not his equal.” We have an enemy that we cannot beat, who is persistent in leading us into sin, and sin can only lead to death. On our own, we are doomed, as Luther says, “With might of ours can naught be done, soon were our loss effected; but for us fights the valiant One, whom God Himself elected. Ask ye, who is this? Jesus Christ it is, of Sabaoth Lord, and there’s none other God; he holds the field forever.” That ‘but’ in verse two is the most glorious conjunction in our entire hymnal: “But for us fights the valiant One, whom God Himself elected.” We were lost, indeed condemned to death, but Jesus Christ, the One appointed by God Himself, went forth from His baptism to do battle with Satan.

Jesus refused to doubt God’s Word; in fact He wielded it as His weapon against Satan. Every time that the evil one said, “If you are the Son of God…” Jesus replied with “It is written…” The Word of God is what we use to combat Satan; when he says, “Did God actually say?” we can give him chapter and verse, saying, “Yes! He did actually say that!” Satan’s lies can only be conquered by the truth. When we have no confidence in God’s Word, then we cannot help but fall into sin. That is why you see church bodies slide down the slippery slope into endorsing more and more sin after they have given up on the truth of God’s Word. Without the Word to grip onto, we cannot fight any of Satan’s temptations. And I think you know what this implies: we need to know God’s Word. Simply having a Bible on the shelf does no good against the assaults of Satan; we need to learn it, to study it so that when Satan asks, “Did God actually say?” we can answer like Jesus with “It is written…”

But Jesus didn’t go to the wilderness simply to give us a tutorial on beating Satan; no, instead He went to the wilderness to beat Satan for us. We are tempted by Satan each and every day, and we fall for those temptations each and every day. We cannot beat Satan on our own, so Jesus goes forth to defeat him in our place. Jesus is our substitute on the battleground of the wilderness, and He triumphs, He defeats each of Satan’s temptations, even the greatest of all temptations. Satan shows Jesus all the glory of this earth and then says, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” But Jesus triumphs over this temptation as He did over the other two, and casts Satan away: “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve.”

The encounter in the wilderness was only the beginning, the first shots fired in a war between Satan and Jesus. God had promised Satan that this fight was coming: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring.” Jesus beat Satan in the wilderness, but the evil one is persistent. He used the religious leaders, even Peter and Judas, to try to drive away Jesus from the final showdown. But Jesus in His great love for you and me would not be deterred. He was out to fulfill God’s first promise of the Gospel, spoken to the serpent just nine verses after the first sin: “He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.” Satan struck the heel of Jesus by inciting sinful men to hang Him on the cross. There Jesus suffered, there Jesus died, as God had declared so long ago, but in that moment of seeming defeat the first half of the prophecy was fulfilled. In the suffering and death of Jesus, Satan’s head was crushed. Man’s ancient enemy, the one who led us into sin in the first place, is now defeated, crushed under the mighty foot of our Savior. Jesus was struck, but in being struck, even in being killed, He triumphed, for He died to take away our sin, He died to pay our penalty, He died so that we will live. The empty tomb then declares to the entire world that though Satan struck the heel of Jesus, he couldn’t keep Him in the grave.

The second Adam triumphed where the first Adam failed; His victory reversed the penalty of sin, the corruption and death that had reigned since Adam. St. Paul wrote in our Epistle lesson: “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.” Guilt and shame are taken away by the overflowing forgiveness of Jesus; death is abolished by His death in our place. Because He lives, so we too will live forever. We can declare with Luther in the words of our hymn: “Though devils all the world should fill, all eager to devour us, we tremble not, we fear no ill; they shall not overpower us. This world’s prince may still scowl fierce as he will, he can harm us none. He’s judged; the deed is done; one little Word can fell him.” That Word, which can fell Satan, is a name, ‘Jesus.’ Jesus has conquered Satan for us, and so he is a defeated enemy, he has no more power over us. Death’s sting is gone, the penalty is erased; guilt and shame are washed away in the waters of Holy Baptism. These are the fruits of victory- the victory Christ won for us. In the name of the second Adam, who triumphed where the first Adam failed, who triumphed in our place, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.

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