The More Things Change the More They Stay the Same
I saw hulahoops on sale in Wal-Mart. Every other song on the boys radio is a 70s remake. Pepsi, the one time choice of a new generation, couldn't think of a new way to sell their product, so they remade old commercials with a new Brittany Spears. Solomon was right; there is nothing new under the Sun. Our Old Testament and Gospel lesson support this. In the Old, we are back at the dawn of creation. In the Gospel, we are thousands of years later, yet the same thing is going on. And 2,000 years later, it's still going on. There more things change the more they stay the same. The devil's tempting is the same in the Garden of Eden, in the wilderness of Judea, and in the City of Austin. Thousands of years passing has not changed the devil's method of operation.
He begins by asking Eve a question. "Did God really say, 'You must not eat from any tree in the garden?'" The devil starts by inserting questions. He doesn't start by making assertions. Moreover, he makes God look harsh. The devil knows that God had said they could eat from every tree in the garden except for the one in the middle. Where God had given them every tree but one, the devil pictures Him as not giving any.
Eve falls, then Adam falls and the whole human race with him. Thousands of years goes by, and then the Second Adam, God the Son, appears on earth. In His baptism, God the Father declared from heaven, "This is My beloved Son." The next thing that happens is Jesus is led by the Spirit out into the desert, and the devil shows up with an implied question. "If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread." If He really was God the Son, He wouldn't be left in hunger by God the Father.
The devil slithers into your life with a question. If you really are a child of God, why do you have such sickness, such troubles, such loneliness? If you really are a Christian, how come you have such unchristian thoughts? If you really are a Christian, why aren't you more spiritual, more pious? The devil says you too must do something to prove you really are a child of God.
The devil doesn't start with assertions, but He quickly gets there. Eve correctly tells the devil that they must not eat from the tree in the middle of the garden or they will die. The devil boldly says, "You will not surely die." The devil promises Eve life if she eats from the forbidden tree. God had promised life in not eating from the tree. Rather than believe what God says about the tree, Eve is to test the Word of God.
Thousands of years go by and again the devil shows up with Scripture. Luther called this the white devil since he quotes Scripture. He tells Jesus to throw Himself off the temple since the Father says His angels would catch Him. Rather than believe that God would watch over Him in all His ways, Jesus is to put God to the test to see if He would do what He says.
How is the devil tempting you to put God to the test? Is he saying, "Yes God says in His Word that He hates divorce, but maybe God is leading you to that." "Yes, God says you're to obey you're parents, but maybe it doesn't apply in this case." "Yes, God says you must surely die the first death, but maybe if you eat the right foods, do the right exercises, and take the right medicines, you won't die." So rather than doing what the Scripture says and numbering our days rightly, considering that our life is but a handbreadth, the devil would have us act like we won't die if we just do what he says. That way there is no need for the spiritual things that outlast death.
The temptation that really got to Eve was that she would know the things of God, have the things of God; she would be god. And what's so wrong with that? Don't you see? The devil seldom tempts with outright evil, but with apparent good. The fruit was perfectly good for food. It was pleasing to the eye, and desirable for gaining wisdom. But to think this way Eve had to believe that God was hiding beneficial things from her.
Thousands of years go by and Satan comes to the Second Adam tempting with apparent good things that God was hiding. From a high mountain the devil puts before Jesus all the kingdoms of the world. Jesus could have them all without the cross, without agony, without suffering and paying for our sins. Remember above all else, the devil is a liar. He lied to Eve. He lies to Jesus, and he lies to us. The kingdoms of the world aren't his to give. He shows Jesus what he could not really know. The future kingdoms of the world lay in the hidden will of God. Satan is playing Sister Cleo here claiming he knows what only God does.
Satan still lies today, still tempts with apparent good, and torments us with the hidden will of God. He lies when he says we can have the good things of God by serving Satan. God didn't put us on earth to be sexually unfulfilled. You can be fulfilled by fornication, adultery, pornography. God wants no child to be unwanted. You can prevent an unwanted child by abortion. God wants Christians to love each other. In the name of love, you can ignore doctrinal differences. Sexual fulfillment, wanted children, and loving Christians are all good things. Surely God wants them. What Satan is doing is using the hidden will of God against the revealed will of God. God explicitly says that sexuality is safe only in marriage; He is always for life, and it's never loving to ignore false teaching. In the hidden counsels of God, He can and does use sin and evil to His glory, but that doesn't give us license to do what He has revealed to be sinful and evil.
The more things change, the more things stay the same. Temptations are the same today as they have been for thousands of years. The victory is the same too. The victory isn't in our learning from Jesus how to parry the devil's thrust with the Word of God. This text is not revealed so that we can follow Jesus' example. No, it shows us where our victory is.
The victory can't be in how we use Scripture. Why? Because perfect man and woman were not able to overcome Satan. Certainly, Adam and Eve knew Scripture better than we do. Eve even quotes Scripture against the devil. Did that help? Adam and Eve loved God more than we do, and unlike us, there will was perfectly in agreement with God's. But that didn't help. If perfect man and woman could not overcome the devil, do you think you and I imperfect people can?
No, we can't, and that's why God the Father sent the Son into the world. In this text God the Son is in our flesh and blood on the field of battle. He defeats the devil by what is called His active obedience. That means Jesus actively does the will of God and keeps His commandments. In Lent on Wednesdays we primarily see the passive obedience of Christ. That means, He suffers as sinners guilty of the most shameful things ought to suffer. We need both the active and passive obedience of Christ. Christ had to suffer in our place for our sins or we would have to. Christ had to actively keep the commands of God, or they would still be hanging over our heads, undone, always accusing us.
As God, Jesus didn't need to keep the Law of God. Like a king in His own country, whatever God the Son did, thought or said would have been legal. But Jesus is also true Man, born under the Law of God. He stands here in the wilderness in our place. Where our first parents could not be faithful in paradise, surrounded by food, although perfectly holy, without a grief or care in the world, Jesus was faithful in a desert, without any food, although loaded with our sins, grieves and cares. Furthermore, Jesus defeated the devil not with divine power and might but by using only the Word. Like a helpless Man, the devil was able to whisk Him from temple to mountain top. All Jesus used to defend Himself was the Word.
Friends, I've tired to do like Jesus did here. I've been tempted by worry, fear, doubt, despair. I've tried to parry his demonic thrusts quoting back Scripture, and what happened? I ended up stuck with the very Word of God that I was using. I've tried to quote Bible passages to quite my worries, and found my worries all the more intense. I've tried to use Bible passages to silence the tempter's and found myself doubting the very Bible passages I quoted. What's the answer? I need the Word outside of me when Satan attacks within me.
When Satan shows up whispering, "Are you really God's child? Look at your sins; look at your lustful thoughts; look at your weak faith." My only hope is to go to outside of myself to the visible Word of my Baptism where God tells me He made me His child. Regardless of how I fear, how I worry, how I doubt God says He clothed me with Christ. My Baptism speaks louder and surer than Satan's questions and accusations.
What am I to do when Satan tempts me to put God to the test, see if God can save a real sinner? "Go ahead give in; go along with the world. Let's see if God can forgive this or that sin. Let's see how far you can go and still have His forgiveness." If I say, "Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God," the devil replies, "Chicken." The only way I silence the beast in my heart is by God's forgiving Word outside of me. God has already sent away from me a whole lifetime of sin. He has already freed me from what I could never free myself. Should I seek to enslave myself in what God has already freed me from? Do men who've been freed from jail seek to be locked up again?
What about when Satan shows up to whisper in my ear that God is hiding things from me, holding back on me? "If you take matters into your own hands, you can have the good things that God is keeping from you." I could quote Bible verses that say all things are mine in Christ, and that's true, but I am a being of flesh and blood. I need something in my space and time to set against the devil. The visible Word of Holy Communion can silence him. Here in my space and time Christ my Lord comes in flesh and blood. There He is in the Bread and Wine giving Me all of Himself. He holds back nothing from me there. With Him in my mouth, in my body I do get all the things that I need just like the Bible says.
I don't rely on my quoting Scripture to the devil who certainly knows Scripture better than I do. That is, I don't rely in my sanctification. I rely on what Christ has done in the desert and on the cross and delivers to me in my time and space through Baptism, Absolution, and Holy Communion. This is, I rely on my justification. Yes, Satan you can think up some Scripture or twist one to answer mine, but you can't swallow Baptismal waters. You can cause me to doubt how this or that Scripture applies, but you can't stop the Absolution from sending my sins away. You can make my Lord seem far away from me in Scripture, but you can't stop Him from putting His Body and Blood in my mouth.
Friends, the more things change the more they stay the same. Satan relentlessly attack God's people. That will never change till kingdom come. But the victory is the same through all ages too. It's in what Jesus did in the desert and on the cross and gives to us in time in Baptism, Absolution, and Communion. In these Satan is defeated and silenced because these are all Jesus and none of us. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
First Sunday in Lent (2-17-02) Matthew 4:1-11