February 14, 2016 AD
Old Testament: 1 Samuel 17:40-51
Epistle: Hebrews 4:14-16
Gospel: Matthew 4:1-11
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Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Our text for this day is from the third and fourth chapters of St. Matthew’s Gospel:
And when Jesus was baptized, He went up immediately from the water, and, behold, the heavens were opened, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on Him; and, lo, a voice from heaven saying, “This is my beloved Son, with Whom I am well pleased.” Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And the tempter came and said to Him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”
It was of course C. S. Lewis who said that Satan’s greatest success in modern times is his success in persuading countless souls that he is a harmless myth— despite the fact that the last century saw evil perhaps unparalleled in human history. And what shall we say of this new century, now halfway through its second decade? Well, C. S. Lewis was right! Satan’s greatest success is his success in persuading countless souls that he is a harmless myth, a joke.
Not so St. Paul who wrote of Satan, “We are not ignorant of his devices.”
The gospel writers Matthew, Mark, and Luke all tell us that immediately after Jesus’ baptism He was led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil.
Now there is a great deal which can be said about this deeply mysterious story of God-Incarnate’s battle with the Prince of Darkness, but for today let’s focus on just one aspect of that battle. At Jesus’ baptism, just before His fasting and temptation, Jesus hears the voice of God the Father proclaim: “This is My Beloved Son.” But what then does Satan do? He tries to sow seeds of doubt in our Lord’s mind and heart. God the Father says, “This is My beloved Son!” Satan whispers, “If you are the Son of God…”— if you are the Son of God— “command that these stones be made bread… if you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from the pinnacle of the temple…,” as if to say, “God the Father’s word is not enough. ‘This is My beloved Son’? Let’s have some proof here.” Satan says, “If you are the Son of God,” echoing his words to Eve at the very beginning of the human story: “Did God say? Did God really say?” No wonder we call Satan “The Old Evil Foe”— up to the same old tricks he’s been up to since the beginning.
Now at your baptism, you didn’t literally hear God the Father say, “This is my beloved Child,” but you were through the waters of that heavenly washing truly made “the child of God, a member of Christ, and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven.” But just as Satan tried to sow seeds of doubt in the mind and heart of our Lord, just so he tries the very same thing with us. He tries to bring about doubt as to what and who by God’s tender mercies we truly are.
Sinners, yes! But sinners forgiven and cleansed through Jesus’ precious blood: as our baptism assures us, as the word of absolution assures us, and as Christ’s truly present-in-the-Sacrament Body and Blood assure us. More than anything else Satan wants you to forget, to forget all that. He wants to sow seeds of doubt in your mind and heart: “You? You as you are!— a child of God?” Satan whispers, “How can that be? Just look at all your troubles and difficulties. Yes, look at your sins!” And Satan is past master at bringing to life the memory of sins long ago repented of, forgiven, but which still come back to trouble our conscience. “You, you as you are, a child of God?”
Our Lord held fast to the word His Father spoke at His baptism: “This is My Beloved Son”; just so we cling to God’s word of tender mercy put upon us with the water of our baptism whose power is the Blood of Jesus. Just listen to some wonderful words of that splendid preacher John Donne. Donne says:
Against this [accusation of the devil] there is no other medicine but the blood of Christ. And therefore, whensoever this apprehension of God’s future judgment bites on you, be sure to present to it the blood of your Savior. Never consider God’s judgement for sin alone but rather in company with the blood of Christ. It is but the hissing of the Serpent, the whispering of Satan when he surprises you in a melancholy midnight of dejection of spirit and lays your sins before you. Look not on your sins so inseparably that you cannot see Christ, too! Come not to Confession to God without consideration of the promises of the Gospel.
In the words of John Newton:
How sweet the name of JESUS sounds
In a believer’s car!
It soothes his sorrows, heals his wounds,
And drives away his fear.
By Him my prayers acceptance gain,
Although with sin defiled;—
Satan accuses me in vain
And I am owned a child.
And the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus to life everlasting. +Amen.