Until An Opportune Time
1st Sunday in Lent – C LSB # 521 v.1-4, 6
Text – Luke 4:13
And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from Him until an opportune time.
UNTIL AN OPPORTUNE TIME
…the years rolled slowly past & I found myself alone. Surrounded by strangers I thought were my friends, I found myself further & further from my home. And I guess I lost my way. There were oh so many roads. I was living to run & running to live; never worried about paying or even how much I owed.
Moving 8 miles a minute for months at a time – breaking all of the rules that would bend.
I began to find myself searchin' sear chin' for shelter again & again against the wind; a little something against the wind. I found myself seeking shelter against the wind.
Well those drifter’s days are past me now. I’ve got so much more to think about – deadlines & commitments – what to leave in, what to leave out. Against the wind, I’m still runnin' against the wind. I’m older now but still running against the wind.
You don’t have to be a cross country runner to relate to those words. And you don’t have to be Jesus to understand the words of the sermon text for this morning. We too know intimately what it is like to be tempted by the devil. Even if we manage to put him off, it’s clear he will return at a more opportune time.
Being alive in this world has a lot in common with running against the wind. Bob Seger was inspired to write the words to the song partly by the time he spent on his high school cross country team. As I took up running at the seminary I vividly recall the stormy spring days & coming around the bend on the ¼ mile track. As I turned into the wind it would hit like a truck.
You only made that turn once per lap. And yet, as you began to tire, you’d have to steel
yourself for that turn in order to keep going. It would have been a lot easier to just quit. Are any of you at a point in life where you’re coming around the turn? Do you feel like you’re running against the wind & you’re not sure if you want to keep fighting it? Even people who do not follow Jesus recognize that trying to live well is a constant struggle.
That wind against us consists of two things – our own sinful nature & the sinful world around us. Since Jesus is holy & without sin the wind against Him was made up only of the sinful world around Him. The Holy Spirit leads Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted for 40 days, & the Son of God eats nothing during the entire time.
In a bit of masterful understatement, St. Luke writes that when those 40 days were ended Jesus was hungry. Satan goes right at Him: “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” No doubt you recognize the intent. You’ve been in Jesus’ shoes.
Whether you were hungry, or tired, or depressed, satisfied, wide awake or happy, you’ve been there, in a vulnerable spot & ripe for the picking. You remember God’s Word to Cain, don’t you? “…if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.” (Genesis 4:7b-c ESV)
The Holy Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted. In our lives we also experience that sort of leading by the Holy Spirit. Students seldom enjoy them, but quizzes & tests are given in class, not just to evaluate their learning, but to further it. Likewise, we are tested spiritually for the purpose of growing our faith in Jesus as Lord & Savior.
The Holy Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted, but His Father in heaven did not leave His Son defenseless. Likewise, we too experience wilderness times in our lives, & our Father in heaven does not leave us defenseless. In today’s reading from Romans 10, St. Paul wrote: “The word is near you, in your mouth & in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, & believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” You see, the good news of the Gospel is not that we will never fall into sin. The good news is that even in falling to temptation it is possible for you & me to be saved.
Jesus endured every temptation we do, because He would not fail & His righteousness is then available to be applied to everyone who trusts & believes in Him as Savior. Jesus didn’t only pay for the evil we have done, He accomplished the good that we have left undone. He did all that simply through using the Word of God, the sword of the Holy Spirit.
As Hebrews 4:12 says, “…the word of God is alive & powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul & spirit, between joint & marrow.” (NLT) Like Jesus, we are not left defenseless as the devil attacks, & even if we don’t know which Words of God to use, we have help even in that regard as Romans 8 makes clear:
“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” That groaning of the Holy Spirit coincides with the groaning of our saintly nature over our temptations & failures. Through suffering & the cross we come to God, not through glory.
As Satan tempts the Son of God, he asks for only a little compromise: “To you I will give all this authority & their glory… If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” (Luke 4:6-7 ESV) He offers Jesus the kingdoms of the world, & their glory, without the excruciating pain & agony of the cross. Later, at Gethsemane, we will hear Jesus pray:
“Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” (Mark 14:36 ESV) There, Jesus expresses His desire to bypass the agony of the cross, for it is a fearful suffering. However, even then Jesus places that decision into the hands of His heavenly Father. Jesus will come to the glory of His resurrection, but not until after He comes to the cross. In John 15:20a, Jesus tells His disciples, “Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’”
Our efforts to avoid suffering in this life, & leap straight to the glory, are in effect a denial of Christ. Jesus took the way of the cross. So shall His disciples, but it’s not that God takes pleasure in our suffering. It’s that our Lord knows our sinful nature must “…be drowned & die with all sins & evil desires.” (LSB p. 325)
Our sinful nature sees all manner of serving our neighbor as suffering. Our sinful nature sees all manner of weakness & poverty & sorrow as suffering. In Luke 4, Satan tempted Jesus to bypass His suffering & go straight to the glory. You & I face the same temptation, each day, even if crucifixion is not part of our future. We long for glory already in this life.
In Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, the devil even uses Holy Scripture as part of his test: “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,’ & ‘On their hands they will bear you up,
lest you strike your foot against a stone.’” (Luke 4:9b-11 ESV)
In a similar way, many people, throughout history, have taken the very Words of God & twisted them to serve their own desires. Sadly, a great number of those have been pastors. We use the Word of God to justify our sinful actions. We use the Word of God to cover our tracks. We use the Word of God to avoid serving our neighbor. Then we say, “See, everything is good.”
The devil knows well how to bide his time & wait for the opportune moment. He sets the trap & then leaves us alone until we ourselves dive headlong into it. The glory we lost, at the fall into sin, is a powerful attraction. On a daily basis we try to regain that glory without the help of God, according to our own plan & our own devices. Many churches are complicit in that glory seeking as they aim still today, to restore God’s kingdom here on earth. We too are tempted, especially when it comes to the visible church, to want God’s glory in the here & now. After all, shouldn’t the church have God’s special favor in order to draw men to it?
St. Paul painted a very different picture of that as he wrote to the church at Corinth: “But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong…” (1 Corinthians 1:27 ESV)
In line with that plan, he later wrote: “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions & calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:10 ESV)
History makes clear that the Church of God never flourishes when men try to make it outwardly powerful & glorious here on earth. In those times, rot sets in & the church slowly withers & dies. On the contrary, God’s Church grows & becomes vibrant when it endures suffering & persecution. When outwardly it appears weak, then it is strong.
When outwardly, Christ was hanging on the cross, suffering hell & dying for our sins, to those who see with the eyes of faith, Jesus was conquering sin & death, winning the victory & enjoying His finest hour of glory.
In our own lives especially, we need to live by faith, not by sight. As our Lord gives us those opportunities of temptation, His plan is for us to grow in our faith, through that testing. As we fall to temptation, Jesus has already forgiven our sins, & is working to turn back again to His Father’s mercy & love. Jesus is working to turn us away from our glory seeking selves.
First the suffering. Then the glory. First the running against the wind. Then the running with the wind at our back. I sort of doubt that Bob Seger was intending to write anything of spiritual value, but his song Against The Wind does express something of what life is like in this sin broken world. Without a doubt, the Word of God reveals that Jesus is the one & only answer.
“…the years rolled slowly past & I found myself alone. Surrounded by strangers I thought were my friends, I found myself further & further from my home. And I guess I lost my way. There were oh so many roads. I was living to run & running to live; never worried about paying or even how much I owed.
Moving 8 miles a minute for months at a time – breaking all of the rules that would bend.
I began to find myself searchin' sear chin' for shelter again & again against the wind; a little something against the wind. I found myself seeking shelter against the wind.”
On this 1st Sunday in Lent, as we again examine more closely our own sins, let us find shelter against them in the incredible love & sacrifice of Christ on the cross. Although this life commonly seems to be a running against the wind, Jesus has borne the brunt of that for us at Golgotha. So let us rejoice in our sufferings as God uses them to draw us nearer to Him. Amen.
Jesus came, this word fulfilling, trampled Satan, death defied; bore the brunt of our temptation, on the wretched tree He died. Yet to life was raised victorious; by His life our life supplied. Jesus, send Your angel legions when the foe would us enslave. Hold us fast when sin assaults us; come, then, Lord, Your people save. Overthrow at last the dragon; send him to his fiery grave. Amen. (LSB 521:4, 6)
 Seger, B., Against The Wind, (Capitol Records), 1980.
 Romans 10:8b-9 ESV
 8:26 ESV
Pastor Dean R. Poellet