The First Sunday in Lent
March 12-13, 2011
Text: Matthew 4:1-11
Dear Friends in Christ,
There was a song a few years ago called “Holding Out for a Hero.” It was recorded by Bonnie Tyler and was included in the sound track to the movie “Footloose”. It speaks of this girl who was just barely holding on waiting to be rescued by her hero. The video was set in the old west and she was being attacked by villains dressed in black. At the very end she was rescued by a man in white. We have all sorts of versions of this. One of the oldest is the Swiss hero William Tell, the great crossbowman who shot an apple off the top of his son’s head. Another hero of this period was Robin Hood. Many stories about knights in shining armor fall into this genre. Zorro, which means the “the fox” was a hero from the Spanish Pyrenees Mountains who gets relocated into America. There are Zorro stories set in both North and South America as well it’s original local in Spain. Then we had the Lone Ranger, Roy Rogers, and the Cisco Kid in the old west. As we moved forward we had the comic book heros, Superman, Captain America, Wonder Woman, Batman and Robin, the Green Hornet, the Shadow, and the like. When I was in high school we had “The Greatest American Hero,” a television program that parodied the old hero stories. They really are all the same story, when it comes down to it. They are all about the helpless victim, often a woman, who needs to be rescued from the villain. And the hero always comes at the nick of time to save them. The very first hero story is in the Bible. It goes all the way back to Genesis 3 where God promised a hero to rescue us from sin and death.
We don’t like to think of ourselves as victims, as hapless heroines. And yet, that is one the images we see for mankind the Bible. We are trapped by Satan, sin and death. We are in bondage to the devil. This is what happened when mankind fell into sin. We can no longer fight for ourselves. We are powerless. As Martin Luther say of us when try to fight the devil: “Soon were our loss effected.” That mean we are quickly defeated. We cannot stand up to the power of the evil one. Christ Himself calls us slaves to sin.
This is the problem that we have. We want to fight the battle ourselves. We don’t want to let someone fight for us. We want to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and spit in the devil’s face. But we have no power in this fight. We are helpless. We have no power against Satan. We are like the heroine tied to the saw mill, slowly moving toward the spinning blade. Such is the power that sin exerts over us. Sin is the devil’s weapon to destroy us. So long as we are in sin, we belong to Satan. We are his property. And we have no power to change this state of affairs.
Our only hope is that a hero comes and rescue us from sin and death. At His baptism, Christ accepted the role of our hero. He now stands in our place and everything He does counts as if we had done it. It is credited to our account. So immediately after His baptism, Christ is driven out into the desert to be tempted by the devil in our place. He is here enduring our temptations. He faces the devil we cannot face. One of the aspects of Christ’s work that is often forgotten is His obedience. Here we have obedience in the face of Satan’s direct temptation. We are disobedient. We sin. No matter how we struggle this never changes. Sin is like an onion. We put some sin out of our life. We think we’re doing well. Then God pulls off the next layer and we see that we haven’t been very good at all. So we strive to do better and we clean up that layer of the onion, then God pulls back another layer, and we see that we are no better then we were before. I have often commented that maturity of faith is found in the recognition of our sins. The more mature our faith, the more profoundly we recognize our sins. Fighting our sins, by our power, is, in the end a fruitless task. For even if we can make some outward change, it does not change the fact that we are sinners. But Christ is obedient. He does not sin. He faces the devil and fends him off. He does this in our place. His obedience becomes our obedience. We who are sinners are counted as obedient because Christ faced the devil and did not sin.
Of course this is just the beginning of the battle between Christ and Satan. The temptation was the opening salvo, the first campaign. They would continue to battle for three years. The final decisive battle would come in Jerusalem. Christ, as a victim would win the day. He would give His life as our ransom. He would pay the price of sin, He would bear our punishment. Then, just as the devil and his minions were dancing for joy that God had died, Christ burst from His tomb, victorious. Satan’s power was broken. It was broken because his power is sin. Without sin, Satan has no power over us at all. Now, because Christ has shattered the ranks of hell, one little word will fell him. And that word is liar. Satan is a liar. Everything he says is either a lie or spoken for some false purpose. And so when we confront him as a liar, he must flee. He must flee because Christ has already rendered him powerless. Christ has castrated him and stripped him of his ability to propagate his evil. He is reduced to being a powerless liar.
Many Christians think that they have the ability to fight the devil. In fact much of what claims to be Christianity in America is completely Christless, leaving us in our sins and at the devil’s mercy. We have no power to defeat the devil. Only in Christ, do we find the victory. Christ fights Satan for us. This is our battle, but Christ fights in our place. This is the very center of who we are as Christians. We are people who depend upon a hero. That hero is Jesus Christ. Christ defeated Satan. Christ was obedient in our place. He died for our sins. He rose victorious over sin and death. This is what the Christian faith is all about. It is about Christ and what He has done for us.