1st Sunday in Lent, proper C1               
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
Luke 4:1-13 Sermon                                               
February 21, 2010

Hymns (from the Service Book and Hymnal):
157 "Lord Of Our Life And God Of Our Salvation"
374 "God Calling Yet, Shall I Not Hear?"
467 "Dear Lord And Father Of Mankind"
520 "Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah"


TEXT: (vs. 1-2; 13) "1 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the desert, 2 where for forty days he was tempted by the devil....13 When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time."

            Theodore Seuss Geisel--I've talked about him before.  He's the one who wrote all of those "Cat in the Hat" type children's books, using his middle name as his pen name.  He's who we fondly know as Dr. Seuss.

            There's an interesting story about how he got his start.  Back in 1954, an article appeared in Life Magazine by John Hersey entitled "Why Do Children Bog Down on the First R?" in which Hersey discussed the difficulties experienced by educators in teaching young children to read using the standard primers of the era. Hersey felt that typical school readers were too "uniform, bland, idealized and terribly literal" to hold youngsters' attention in a world full of other entertainments; he called for books featuring illustrations that "widen rather than narrow the associative richness the children give to words," and suggested that works produced by authors such as Theodore Seuss Geisel might be more effective educational fare for young readers.

            Well, Dr. Seuss took the challenge to heart.  He began writing books that had a first grade vocabulary level which also included illustrations that captivated children.  Out of this came his "Cat in the Hat" series of books, along with his other various stories, like "Green Eggs and Ham," "Hop on Pop," "Horton Hears a Who," along with many others.

            In teaming up with his friend Bennet Cerf at Random House publishers, they came up with a series of limited vocabulary books called the "I Can Read It All By Myself" books.  These books had appealing story lines and illustrations, all aimed at encouraging children to read at an early of an age as possible.  There were (and still are) other authors who write books in this series, but Dr. Seuss will always get most of the credit.

            I can do it, all by myself.  I think that this has been a fabulous concept in training young readers.  It piques their interest in books, and helps them develop reading skills.  And I'm sure that these books have spawned a lot of interest in recreational reading.

            I can do it, all by myself.  Let's broaden this out a little bit.  This is the attitude that has been drummed into us from a very early age.  If we go back to our very beginnings, we are trained to eat on our own and drink out of a cup by ourselves.  We're encouraged to develop a vocabulary so we can communicate by ourselves.  And every parent I know can't wait until their children are out of the diaper stage.

            As children grow up, they can start going places by themselves, stay at home by themselves, learn how to ride a bicycle by themselves, and eventually learn how to drive a car on their own.  And when the child is old enough, parents hope that they have taught their children enough skills so that they can live on their own and earn a living by themselves out in the world.  It's all this attitude of self-reliance that has been drummed into us.

            In the adult world, we can see numerous examples of this being carried through.  We hear stories about the proverbial "self-made man," who will talk about starting out with not much more than two pennies rubbing together in their pocket, which they have amassed into a small fortune.  And others will talk about how they have improved their lot in life by things that they have done and accomplished on their own, no thanks to anybody else.

            Is it any wonder then that people will carry this attitude through into their relationship with God, with their church, and with their Saviour.  And that, I think is one of the biggest temptations we have out there.  We remember all of those times we have been encouraged to do things on our own, by ourselves, without anybody else's help, and we approach God in the same way.

            I think that this is something we need to keep in mind as we look at our Gospel lesson for today.  And at the outset, the whole situation seems to be rather cut and dried.  Jesus has been baptized by John in the Jordan River.  The Holy Spirit comes upon him like a dove, and God speaks from the clouds, "This is my Son whom I love, with him I am well pleased." 

            Jesus is an adult.  He grew up in the home of Mary and Joseph in much the same manner that any other boy would have, except of course that Jesus was without sin.  Everything was preparing him for what was ahead.

            But now it was official.  Jesus had been anointed as God's Son, the Messiah, the Christ, the Saviour.  His ministry was beginning.  He was going to accomplish what God had in store for him, and he was going to fulfill all of the Old Testament prophecy that had been written concerning him.  God's plan of salvation was going to be carried out in Jesus.  And Jesus was the only way it was going to happen.

            That plan of salvation called for God's Son to become human and take our place.  He had to take our place under the law and fulfill it perfectly.  He also had to take our place as the target of God's wrath and so fulfill God's judgment against us.

            In order to fully take our place, Jesus had to be just like us.  He could not use his divine powers to give himself an advantage.  He could use his divine powers to help others.  He could use his divine powers as a sign that he was the promised Messiah sent from God.  He could use his divine powers in many wonderful ways, but he could never, ever use his divine powers to give himself an advantage that the rest of us humans do not have as we live out our lives.  When he took our place, he could use no resources that we do not have.

            Satan, on the other hand, could use every power at his disposal.  Remember, if he could Jesus to sin just once, God's plan of salvation would fail.  If he could get Jesus to use divine power to help himself just once, then the devil would win.  If Satan could convince Jesus with the "I can do it, all by myself" attitude, then Jesus' purpose would go down in defeat, and his entire ministry would gurgle down the drain.

            The first temptation is rather basic.  Jesus is hungry, he has the power, so he could indeed turn the stones in the wilderness into freshly baked bread.  Satan comes at him with the "do it yourself" angle.  Certainly God wouldn't want his only Son to starve himself; why not take matters into his own hands?  Wouldn't it be okay for Jesus to follow Satan's advice just this once and satisfy his hunger?  A seemingly simple situation with some very grave consequences.

            The second temptation is a bit more complex.  Satan offers Jesus a real short-cut here.  Jesus came to pay for the world's sin, to reconcile all of humanity with God.            You can almost hear Satan saying, "You created the world and gave it to Adam and Eve.  They gave it to me.  Now I want to give it back to you; all you have to do is worship me just once.  You can have the whole world for your own; and the icing on the cake is that you don't have to go through all that suffering and death stuff.  It's a win-win situation."

            Now this had to be really tempting.  Jesus knew what was ahead of him.  In Matthew chapter 26 verse 39 Jesus says as he was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, "My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will."  But we know that there was no other way.  It was not possible.  Even though Satan may have had another plan, it certainly wasn't God's plan.  Another huge temptation.

            The last temptation spoken about in our Gospel lesson is a bit trickier.  Here's a place where Satan has taken the clear Word of God and twisted it completely out of context.  The Bible verse he is using is from our Psalm for today, Psalm chapter 91 verses 11-12: "For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone."    

            Now listen to what Satan said to Jesus in our Gospel for today.  "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, "'He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,' and "'On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.'" The devil left a few words out, namely "in all your ways."  Pretty sneaky, huh?

            In all these attacks, Jesus didn't rely on some self-made attitude.  Instead he uses clear Scripture to combat Satan.  Jesus himself reached back into the same Deuteronomy that you and I have in our Bibles. 

            In the first temptation, Jesus answers Satan by quoting Deuteronomy chapter 8 verse 3: "It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone.'" Jesus used the same Deuteronomy that you and I have in our Bibles as a weapon against the temptation of the devil. 

            And then, Jesus puts a stop to the second temptation with more words from Deuteronomy; this time from chapter 6 verse 13: "It is written, 'You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.'" Once again, Jesus stopped the devil's temptation using the same Word of God that you and I have in our Bibles.

            And finally, when the devil twisted Scripture out of context and tried to tempt Jesus into a shortcut to glory that avoided the cross, Jesus was ready.  He properly used Deuteronomy chapter 6 verse 16 and answered him, "It is said, 'You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.'"

            The important lesson being taught here, is that we can't do it by ourselves.  We cannot fight the devil using our own wit, or intellect, or reasoning, or even our own strength.  Dr. Martin Luther knew this only too well.  In his famous hymn "A Mighty Fortress," he writes, "Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing; were not the right man on our side, the man of God's own choosing."  There is no place for the "I can do it, all by myself" attitude here.  If we try to persuade ourselves otherwise, then we've already succumbed to defeat.

            In Ephesians chapter 6 verses the Apostle Paul writes:  "10Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. 12For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God."

            God the Holy Spirit works through God's Word, the Bible itself.  The example we see in our Gospel lesson for today is how Jesus himself used Scripture alone to combat Satan and his tricks.  In the section from Ephesians I just read, the Apostle Paul employs some very powerful metaphors as to how effective God's Word is against the power of Satan.  To quote Dr. Luther's hymn again, he says: "The prince of darkness grim, we tremble not for him; his rage we can endure, for lo! his doom is sure, one little word shall fell him."   Just one little word, spoken by God, can throw a huge wrench into Satan's machinery.

            We can certainly be thankful that Jesus never sinned.  He never allowed Satan to take control, because he effectively used the Word of God against him.  He took our place under the law with his perfect life.  He took our place under God's justice with his sacrificial death.  With his resurrection, he proved his power over death and the devil.  His resurrection gives us the certainty that our sins are forgiven and that those who trust in him will live with him forever.  Everything he has he lovingly gives to us.  He offers them through his Word.

            "I can do it, all by myself."  This is an important thing when it comes to learning how to read and take care of the other necessities of life.  But just as important, we also need to remember that we can't do everything alone.  There are definitely those times that we need the help of others.  When it comes to our Christian faith, we know that this is a gift of the Holy Spirit.  When it comes to doing battle with Satan, we need God's help.  And when it comes to our salvation, we need the righteousness of Christ that is ours through nothing other than faith alone.  When it comes to our salvation, we certainly can't do it on our own; God has to do it all.  God's holy and precious Word is the key ingredient here. 

            Through his Word, Jesus offers us forgiveness, life, and salvation, for it is through his Word that the Holy Spirit gives us the faith to accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Saviour; and by keeping in that Word, our faith remains strong.

            The Apostle Paul wrote in Romans chapter 10 verse 17:  "Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ."  Through that faith the Holy Spirit gives us the forgiveness that Jesus earned for us with his death on the cross.  Through the faith that comes by the Word of Christ, comes eternal life in heaven where we shall live and hear the wonderful word of God forever.