1st Sunday in Lent, Proper A1         
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Matthew 4:1-11 Sermon                                              
March 13, 2011

Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal):
354 "In The Cross Of Christ I Glory"
261 "Lord, Keep Us Steadfast In Thy Word"
402 "O God Forsake Me Not"
416 "Oh, That The Lord Would Guide My Ways" 


TEXT: (vs. 1) “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.”


            Do you renounce the devil, all of his works, and all of his ways?  If so, answer:  "I renounce them."

            For most of us, this is not a strange question to hear.  It is a question that is asked on several different occasions in various services of the Church.  The two that come to mind right now are Baptism and Confirmation, but there are other times as well.

            It is a fair question for us to be asking, because everything that Satan, or the devil stands for and promotes is the direct opposite of God's holy will.  So when we say that we renounce the devil and everything he stands for, we are giving in effect a type of "pledge of allegiance" to God and his will.  We are stating our desire that God and his ways would be number one in our lives.

            That is wishful thinking.  More accurately, we should be inclined to answer the question more honestly.  Do you renounce the devil, all of his works, and all of his ways?  Well yeah, but maybe not so much yesterday; he seemed to get the better of me.  Perhaps today will be better.  And then there was that argument I had last week...I don't think I renounced the devil as well as I should.  Hmmm...maybe I shouldn't have spread that juicy bit of gossip, or maybe I shouldn't have yelled obscenities at that driver who cut me off in traffic.  No, I don't think I renounced the devil very well at all; in fact it seems more like I embraced him!

            These are hypothetical statements.  I wasn't referring to anything specific in anybody's life.  However I think we can all identify with what's going on here, and each of us could add a variety of statements of our own.  Satan works on each of us, individually and specifically.  As Christians, he wants us to walk his road, and not God's.

            The real scary part of all this, is that Satan knows us very, very well.  He knows us in many ways, probably better than we even know ourselves.  He knows exactly how to tempt us, and what it takes to lure us off of the proverbial "straight and narrow."

            This is the whole concept that Christian author C. S. Lewis realized.  Back in 1942, he wrote a novel entitled "The Screwtape Letters."  In satirical fashion, he writes 31 letters, supposedly between a senior demon named "Screwtape," and his inexperienced novice nephew named "Wormwood."

            Wormwood had been given a specific assignment.  He was to work on a gentleman, referred to only as "The Patient," to undermine his faith and promote sin.  So Screwtape proceeds to write letters, giving his expert advice to Wormwood, to turn this man toward Satan (referred to as "our father below"), and away from God (referred to as "the enemy"). 

            Screwtape and Wormwood have differing theories on how to accomplish this.  Wormwood, being the overly enthusiastic and grossly inexperienced demon, thinks that the best way is to get his subject to commit sins that are extravagantly wicked and socially deplorable. 

            But the master demon, Screwtape has different ideas.  He contends that: "the safest path to hell is the gradual one."  He sees a demon's primary goal to befuddle, confuse, and eventually corrupt a person rather than to tempt in such grand fashion.

            Oxford scholar C. S. Lewis covers a wide range of sin in his book.  The point is, that it doesn't matter how prestigious, or well educated, or intelligent, or wealthy a person is, nobody is immune to Satan's evil attacks.  Everybody is fair game in the devil's book, and it is a "no holds barred" attack on everybody who bears the name "Christian" or promotes the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  The one main reason that "The Screwtape Letters" has become such a 20th Century Christian classic, is because it helps us understand Satan and the way he works on everybody, irrespective of who or what they are.

            This past week, I happened to come across another "Screwtape letter."  I have no idea who wrote it.  It wasn't written by C. S. Lewis, however it is in much the same style.  This morning, I am going to share it with you.

Dear Wormwood,

            This is your affectionate Uncle Screwtape. I know. I know. Haven't written for quite a while. Been much too busy and having a hard time, I'll have you know. The great high Satan himself has had me on special assignment tempting this guy Jesus. That's what's been so tough; but more about that later.

            First I'd like to respond to your last letter to me, in which you reported the difficulties you've been having getting your intended victims to choose evil instead of good. For Satan's sake, Wormwood, didn't you learn anything at that school I paid all that money for you to attend for four whole years? Rule number one: when it comes to tempting, especially tempting those who believe in God (and they're the ones we're after, no?), never, never ever think in terms of good and evil.

            As difficult as it is for a devil to admit, your average human being, as bound to sin as he is, is not passionately committed to the cause of evil. To be sure, as you and I will know, there are some who are. But they're not the ones we're concerned with, Wormwood. Forget ‘em. They already belong to us.

            No - the ones we're concerned with are the folks who sincerely want to do the good--at least most of the time. The last thing you want to do then, dear nephew, is to give them a clear-cut choice between good and evil. Chances are they'll pick the good, which is exactly what we don't want them to do. So a good tempter has to confuse them, cloud the issue, and present their choices to them in other terms, any other terms besides evil and good.

            For starters, get them to believe that everything they do is okay as long as it doesn't hurt anybody else. That way, strangely enough, they'll never get around to thinking about whether they're hurting themselves.

            Or tell them the choices they make boil down to nothing more than personal preferences. This is particularly effective because it gets them thinking that distinctions between right and wrong are really just one person's opinion stacked up against another's. All values are equally valid, or so they say. So in the end it doesn't matter what you do. And this, dear Wormwood, is what we devils have been trying to get them to believe all along! They only diminish themselves when they think what they do doesn't matter. And that's exactly what we want.

            So I repeat, dear Wormwood: don't ever let your victims think in terms to good and evil! Here's a good one. Get them to think in terms of hard and easy instead. Easy and hard.

            Easy, mind you, is what everybody wants. Convenience. Humans love convenience. They have convenience stores, convenience foods, and even convenient sex.  No fuss.  No muss.  It's easy.

            Given a choice between what's hard and easy, humans seem almost incapable of serious thought.  They'll go for the easy way out every time.  And that, dear Wormwood, is one of our best weapons against them.  And it's one of the best weapons we have against God.  Because God, the muddle headed old fool that he is, never promises anything easy.

            Jesus - the Son of the muddle headed old fool - he actually told his followers that - more than once.  He said that following him would be like carrying a cross.  It wouldn't be easy.  It'd be hard.

            So, Wormwood, we have all the advantages. Ours is the easier way. The easier way to hell.  Ha, ha!  Ho ho!  Just don't tell ‘em that, dear nephew.  They might think twice about it.  Just tell ‘em it's the easier way.

            Speaking of Jesus, I mentioned earlier that the great Satan himself gave me the assignment to tempt him.  This is what he said:  "The muddle-headed old fool has sent his Son to earth to bring in the kingdom of God.  And you know how he's going to do it?  By dying!  Do you get that?  By dying! So," Satan said to me, "go, Screwtape. Go and convince him there's an easier way."

            Well - I tried. I tried for forty days to show him there's another way to glory besides personal sacrifice. "Boy, do I have a bargain for you," I said.  "Just worship me, and I'll give you authority over all the nations of the world."  Jesus didn't buy it though.  Just mumbled something about how he'd get authority over heaven and earth anyway, but first he had to die.

            So he's a hard nut to crack.  But I know, I know for sure how I'll get him.  He's going to be crucified, you know.  Just wait.  Let him feel the nails through his hands and feet.  Let him start breathing a little heavy.  That's when I'll whisper in his ear, "Hey, Jesus, why don't you come down off the cross and follow me."  And of course he will.  I know he will.  It'll be a piece of cake.

Until then, your confident Uncle Screwtape.

            Well, we all know the outcome of this.  Christ Jesus would be victorious, and Satan would come crashing down in utter defeat.  Jesus would not come down off the cross, even though it was well within his capabilities to do so.

            The reason this didn't happen is because of something that Satan and all of his forces cannot even fathom.  They have no concept of love, and the power it has.  If we look carefully, we will note that all of Satan's temptations are entirely self-serving.  It all has to do with what a person reckons is good for themselves, and nobody else.  Temptation doesn't come in the form of sacrificial love or in genuine concern for others.

            The Apostle Paul encourages the congregation at Philippi with these words recorded in chapter 2 verses 4-8: "4Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross."

            Satan doesn't understand the depth of God's love for humanity, a love that Jesus demonstrated throughout his ministry.  The words I remember seeing on an old poster ring very true:  "It wasn't the nails that held Christ to the cross, but his love for you and me."  

            The temptations Jesus faced during those 40 days in the wilderness are far more intense than anything we could imagine.  From strictly a human standpoint, the temptation for Jesus to get down off the cross and avoid the pain and suffering must have been overwhelming.  Jesus would have been justified in throwing up his hands and saying, "Ah, forget you thankless bunch of human beings.  I'm going to let you get what you deserve; I'm getting out of here."

            But he didn't do that.  Instead, he endured the temptations you and I do.  He understands what it's like.  When we're tempted to say, "Jesus, you just don't understand how I feel," Jesus comes back and in effect says, "Oh yes I do!  I know what it's like, because I've been there.  I've experienced it."

            Sinners the likes of you and me have the absolute assurance that we can come to Jesus through faith alone, and experience the forgiving love he has for us.  With this forgiveness comes understanding, and that's just as important.  There is nothing that we will ever experience or know that Jesus hasn't experienced or known himself.

            C. S. Lewis put together 31 articles, consisting of fictional letters written by the demon Screwtape to his nephew Wormwood.  Read the book if you haven't done so; it's not difficult reading.  Lewis wrote this to show just how tricky and crafty Satan is.  He wanted everybody to know what their enemy is up to, and to be ready for the attacks, because they are sure to come.  All of us have experienced Satan's activities in our lives.  There are no exceptions.

            But we've also experienced the forgiving love of our Saviour Jesus Christ.  This is the love that Jesus demonstrated throughout his entire time on earth.  This is the love is God's grace that we experience through nothing more than faith alone.

            As God's dearly loved and redeemed children, we can remember the words of James chapter 4 verse 7:  "Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you." In much the same sense, the writer to the Hebrews in chapter 4 verse 16 says, Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

            May our Lord continue to grant us grace and strength in the face of all temptation, as we renounce the devil, all of his works, and all of his ways, for Jesus' sake.