Lent – time where we consider testing and temptation. Today’s collect really just commentary on Lord’s Prayer – “Lead us not into temptation”. “be gracious to all who have gone astray from your word, and bring them again to embrace and hold fast the unchangeable truth of your word…” Really prayer for neighbor who has given in to temptation. By extension, also for us, that we would remain faithful – “hold fast unchangeable truth of thy word.”
Gospel reading, Jesus casting out demon. Remember two weeks ago when Jesus said, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.” Exactly what they do here. He casts out demon, they accuse him of using power of demon to do that. They think Satan is casting out one of his own to deceive people. But Jesus has been doing that over and over. Not just deceive people – actually cleansing the people from demons. Actually healing from diseases. Actually having Gospel preached to poor. That’s not Satan’s work. His work is to destroy, and kill, to lead people away from God, to lay waste. Jesus is healing and giving life. If Satan’s doing that, then surely his kingdom is about to fall, because he’s working against himself. No, says Jesus, this is a good thing that’s happening. And it means it is being worked by the finger of God. It’s proof that the Kingdom of God is coming among them. Will and work of God being done right there.
Jesus not working in league with Satan to lead people into temptation. Fulfilling God’s will to bring down kingdom of Satan. Jesus calls Satan prince of this world – and he is. Not by right. He is a thief and a liar and a murderer. He is prince of this world, because this world submits itself to him, the people in this world belong to him because of their sin. So, yes prince of this world, even though he has stolen this world from God the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
Satan has his spoils of war – his treasure – in the form of human souls. By their sin, all men belong to him. Luther writes in the hymn: Fast bound in Satan’s chains I lay, death brooded darkly over me. Sin was my torment night and day, in sin my mother bore me. Yet daily deeper still I fell my life became a living hell. So firmly sin possessed me.
And yet, God would have all men to be saved, “so he sent his son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the Law so we might receive the adoption of sons.” Now, through your Baptism, you have been freed from the curse of the law – from sin death and eternal damnation. You have been reclaimed as God’s own child. You are no longer under the dominion of Satan. You have been forgiven your sin, given a new heart of flesh in place of your heart of stone, rescued from Satan’s grasp, and made a co-heir of eternal life through Jesus Christ your Lord.
But do not be deceived, God is not mocked. And Satan does not just give up what he worked so hard to have, and what has been reclaimed from him by Jesus. That is why a prayer like our collect – where we pray for those who have gone astray from his word – is necessary. It isn’t specifically for those who have never accepted that word and received salvation – although by extension we include them in it. It is specifically for those who once held the faith, but have fallen away.
Satan is there tempting. He wants you back. And He will use anything – any trick to get you.
Luther suggests that there are different temptations for different ages. Of course, it’s not just this easy, but it makes a good guide. He says, “Young fellows are tempted by girls, men who are thirty years old are tempted by gold, when they are forty years old they are tempted by honor and glory, and those who are sixty years old say to themselves, “What a pious man I have become”!
Of course, there are many temptations from Satan. He is not quite that predictable. But those temptations certainly align in a general way with the temptations of the flesh at various ages. Lust, greed, power and fame, pride. That’s what we fight against. Because Satan wants to use those to call into doubt our faith. He wants us to question whether it is worth it. To convince us that somehow we really don’t have to spend all that time in church. That we are fine on our own. We can do it all by ourselves without the assembling of ourselves together to hear and receive the word of forgiveness – even though Scripture explicitly says to it because we are in desperate need of it.
Hypocrites in the church? A scandal! We don’t need to be there where all those hypocrites are! Let’s just go off on our own, and be with the one true believer, myself! Of course, that’s a bigger prideful hypocrisy than any.
When we are drawn into sin, it starts so easily – but as the sin grows, so the hatred of God’s word grows. We just don’t want to hear that word anymore. We don’t want to be confronted with sin. And so we withdraw from hearing the Word. Convinced that the church is wrong and we are right, we call it crisis of faith. But it is really just sin run amok. Lust, greed, power, pride, whatever it is that would draw you away. Satan is, even now, trying to lead you away from God and his word.
That’s why Paul says, “sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.”
Not even named among you. Don’t let it even have so much a place that it is talked about as an option. Because then Satan will make it seem like a reasonable alternative to God’s word and law. And then, just try it. And then, shame at the sin, but the desire to do it again. And again. Each time, the shame grows, and yet each time the sin gets easier. Until the shame is so great, and sin is so easy, that one of the two needs to give. Either give up the sin, or give up the shame – that is, reject God’s law.
In bondage of the will, Luther says that man is like a horse – ridden either by God or by Satan. There is no middle ground. No point at which you can walk on your own. You are either a slave to sin or a slave to righteousness. You are either God’s child, or you have rejected your baptism and placed yourself once again under the law, and under Satan. And Satan is really good at using your weaknesses against you to lead you away from God – to regain control of the saddle. He has more experience with temptation than you have with resisting it. He’s been doing it since Adam and Eve in the garden, and even before, when he rebelled against God and was cast out of heaven. It’s a testimony to the strength and power of God’s word that we can resist at all, that we can ever believe the Gospel, that God can claim us in Baptism at all. It’s because he is stronger than Satan, not because we are.
We don’t come to church so we can get strong enough to defeat Satan. We come because we are too weak to overcome him, and need God and his word to help us, through the power of the Spirit, from day to day and week to week.
One of the last warning signs of dying faith is that there is no longer a hunger and thirst for the word. What you had once considered to be necessary to your life is now just another annoyance another thing to be done, and perhaps better to be done without. Like a man starving to death of hunger, at a certain point, you stop being hungry. That’s what happens to us when we have begun to abandon the Word.
We aren’t in trouble when we are aware of sin, and hunger and thirst for righteousness, and worry about our own worthiness to be in the presence of God – those are all good signs that the Word is doing it’s work in us. Law condemning our sin according to the Ten commandments, and the Gospel bringing us forgiveness according to Christ’s work and mercy and merit.
It’s when we start to think that we don’t need those things that we are in real trouble. That’s the sign that we have given into temptation, that we are going astray, and need to get back while there is still time. That we need to return to the source of our Life – our Lord Jesus Christ, and his holy church, where we are fed with his holy absolution, and with his own body and blood. That is what sustains our faith, not our own powers and efforts.
And when you are tempted to sin, know that God is not responsible for that. He tests you it is true. That’s an opportunity for you to prove your faithfulness. As God did with Job, when he tested Job, and Job would not curse god and die. He praised God, even in his suffering and misery. He was found faithful.
Satan tempts. The world tempts. Your flesh tempts. The goal of tempting is to lead you into sin. God does not do that. But that doesn’t mean that God testing you, doesn’t result in Satan tempting. Again, that’s exactly what happened to Job. We see it again and again in our own lives. God tests us, gives us a chance to rely on him and his word. Our flesh wants to reject God and his word. We struggle against the flesh – sometimes standing up to the temptation, and taking the way out that God provides. Sometimes in our weakness succumbing to the temptation.
That’s why we must pray every day, lead us not into temptation. So that the devil, world, and our own sinful flesh do not take advantage of our weakness to lead us into false belief, to lead us to despair of God’s love and mercy, to lead us into some great shameful sin. It’s why we remain in the word and prayer, in the church. It’s why, by daily contrition and repentance you must return to your Baptism. Why you return again to hear God’s word. To take eat and take drink. Here is where you find your salvation – not in yourself. But in the sure and certain promise of Jesus Christ given for you.
Lord, strengthen and keep us in your word and faith until we die.