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Non-answers

3/9/14

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In Dostoevsky's Brother's Karamazov there's a scene where Christ appears at the height of the Spanish Inquisition. The Cardinal Inquisitor berates Him for responding wrongly in all 3 of the temptations. Jesus remains silent throughout. He never gives an answer. In our text, Jesus does answer not a fictional inquisitor but the real Tempter.

But Jesus' answers strike me as non-answers. A non-answer is a reply that is inadequate or unsatisfactory. When a teen answers why is there a dent in the car by saying, "I parked where I always do," he is giving a non-answer. What's wrong with making bread from stones? If am hearing the news right, turning stones into breads would solve many world problems. Who wouldn't follow a man who was able to do that? It would be the end of food shortages, food riots, food stamps, and more.

And why doesn't Jesus openly display His Divine nature? I don't know how many people saw Jesus standing on the highest point of the temple, but surely some did; a crowd might have gathered. Scholars think the place the Devil took Jesus might have been a drop of 400 feet. Hear the screams as Jesus flings Himself off the temple. Hear the oohs as angels swoop in to flutter Him safely to the ground. Jesus says elsewhere that if people won't believe His words than they should believe His works. What is a more spectacular work than being saved by angels?

Finally, why refuse the world when it's offered to you? Jesus was offered the whole world past, present, and future. Luke says that the Devil was able to show Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor in a moment of time. Jesus sees Solomon's golden age, the hanging gardens of Babylon, Persia's magnificence, Greece's glory, Rome's rule. Jesus sees China's great wall, Soviet military might, the United Arab Emirates wealth, and the fruited plains and mighty industry of America. And He can have all this, all these people, all these souls as a gift. Why not take it? What better way to save the world than by ruling it?

It seems to me Jesus' answers to the Devil's temptations are non-answers. My regarding them this way answers where the real temptations are for me. It's not like I can be tempted to turn stones into bread. No one challenges me to throw myself off the Frost tower, and no one has offered me a kingdom of the world let alone all of them. Jesus not giving the answers I want shows me not only where I am tempted but that I have already fallen.

I am not content to live from God's words alone. That's the wrong way to say it. I can't do it. In fact, I act as if I do live on bread alone. Let anything interfere with the satisfying of any bodily need of mine and woe is me! God's Word about what baptismal water does for me is nothing in the face of a garden that needs rain. God's word that sends my sins away is hollow and empty if what I need is money. And I can sing, "Feed me Bread of Life till I want no more," all day and no amount of Jesus' Body or Word will be able to satisfy my empty belly.

When it comes to demanding Jesus prove His divinity, I'm the Devil himself. God must prove Himself to me before I believe or at least till that dull, aching doubt is answered. It's a non-answer to me to say, "Do not put the Lord your God to the test" because I think I have a right to. Even as a 13 year old kid listening to the rock opera "Jesus Christ Superstar" I thought Herod's demand of Jesus on trial was reasonable: "Prove to me that you're no fool; walk across my swimming pool." Don't act like you haven't had similar thoughts. Prove Yourself just this once Jesus and that will be enough. After all as soon as Satan departs the angels come. In Gethsemane's too an angel will come. At His arrest Jesus says He as 12 legions of angels at His beck and call, so why not use them now to prove He is the Son of God?

Aside from the fact that would be dancing to the tune the Devil called, there is a darker evil here and it is all mine. Jesus saying that He won't because it is a sin to put the Lord to test is a non-answer to me because the demonic demand for proof resonates with my dark doubts and the even darker thought that I do have a right to expect God to answer them. This is Job when he finally gives into the relentless tempting of his "friends." This is the Romans who think they can question the free grace of God. This is the creature who can't fathom the depths of creation demanding the Creator explain them. This is the pot questioning the potter. This is a son questioning his father.

That last one ought to hit home exposing the demand that God prove Himself for the dark sin that it is. Let a kid demand his parent prove himself to him, let a kid doubt a promise of his parent to his face and let you be that parent. You're not God; you're not perfect; you not only make mistakes but you sin. But no parent worth his salt will tolerate a child demanding proof from him or even the child thinking he has a right to demand it.

You would think I would have no problem with Jesus' last answer. The Devil himself wants Jesus to worship him. Duh! What kind of fool doesn't see that's wrong. The kind that is blinded by the world's splendor and glory. Sure I know that it doesn't profit a man to gain the whole world but lose his soul, but most men who trade their souls do so for a lot less than the whole world. Most trade their whole soul for just some of the world. Some power, some dollars, some sex, some fame. But Jesus is really being offered the entire world. It's not that I think it would be proper for God in flesh and blood to worship Satan; it's that I worship worldly splendor and glory.

Jesus' answers don't answer my sinful nature, and they didn't answer the Devil either. Both the Devil and my flesh remain unanswered. I know that's true of my flesh because Romans 8:7 says, "The sinful flesh hates God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can it be." I know the Devil isn't answered either because he doesn't leave on his own accord. Jesus orders him to go. Jesus is done with him; the first step in answering our sinfulness has been completed. Yes in the midst of showing me my sins, my sins and sinfulness were being answered for by Jesus.

Right before our text Jesus was baptized and the Man Jesus was anointed by the Holy Spirit and declared by God the Father to be His only beloved Son. Our text begins with "then" which connects it immediately to His Baptism. "Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the Devil." Jesus is led into the desert to join battle with the enemy. The first Adam in paradise with all his needs of body and soul satisfied was no match for the Devil. The Second Adam, Jesus, does battle with the Devil in a desert with none of His needs of body or soul fulfilled. And using nothing but what is available to any ordinary man, the Word of God, Jesus defeats the Devil.

But don't think Jesus did this easily or without cost. No, angels had to be dispatched immediately to minister to Jesus. I hate to tell you this, but it was sort of like getting a prisoner healthy enough so you can put him to death. It's really worse than that. God the Father is going to do what President Andrew Jackson could not.

Jackson was going to fire the Postmaster General because he had supported Jackson's opponent in the election. This elderly man waited for Jackson outside a party until the guests had gone. He confronted Jackson with his decision and proceeded to remove his coat and shirt. Jackson demanded he stop. The man refused; he was going to show Jackson the wounds he received while fighting for this country against England. The image of the scarred old man's body stayed with Jackson all night. The next day two of Jackson's staff arrived to do the firing. Jackson leapt to his feet; threw his pipe into the fire and roared, "'I will not remove that old man...He carries more than a pound of British lead in his body...'" (American Lion, 84).

Jesus bore all the scars from standing firm in the face of the temptations we have fallen time and again to. Jesus stood firm in our place. His courage, His faithfulness is counted by God in place of our cowardice and unbelief. But that wasn't enough. Angels came to minister to the scarred Jesus here and one will come in Gethsemane, so Jesus can be healthy enough to die for our sins. His scarred body has yet more scars to endure. Whips must shred His back. Thorns must pierce His brow. Spit must run down His face. Nails must pierce His hands and feet and a spear His side. Why? To answer for my sins, to answer for your sins. To pay the debt we owe for giving into temptation and for not even needing to be tempted before sinning.

Having endured and overcome every one of our temptations and having paid the last penny of our debt of sins, Jesus is able to forgive the unforgivable. When we have no answer, and there never is one, for not living by God's Word, for daring to tempt God, for worshiping the world's power and glory, Jesus has the answer. His risen body still retaining the scars of His victorious battle is proof positive that He has answered for every one of our sins and all our sinfulness. In your Baptism that scarred Body has been put on you. In your Absolution that battle-scarred Body has carried away your sins from you. In your Communion that wounded Body is given into your body. So now God sees not what you use to be but Jesus.

In "The Grand Inquisitor" Christ doesn't answer the Inquisitor . He kisses him on the lips instead and leaves without saying a word. Dostoevsky [Dos*to*yev*ski]writes, "The kiss glows in his heart but the old man [still] adheres to his [sinful] idea[s]." Dear friends the kiss of Christ on your lips by means of the Waters of Baptism, by means of the Body and Blood of Communion, do more than glow in your heart, they answer your sin and sinfulness which is to say they free you from them. Amen

Rev. Paul R. Harris

Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas

First Sunday in Lent (20140309); Matthew 4: 1-11