It’s that season again! This is the season where tireless commitment, perseverance and sacrifice are called for. This is the season that will bring suffering and struggle and even perhaps disappointment and failure when some get off to a good start, but fall short of their goals. Yet, it’s a season full of hope of what is ahead.
Now, do you think I’m speaking of Lent? Well of course your pastor has Lent in mind, but at this moment I’m talking about Spring Season. Spring Training has arrived and the boys of summer are in full swing working hard for the season ahead. The regular season hasn’t even begun and already fielders are diving to make outs and batters are swinging away increasing their averages. They risk injury even now, even when it doesn’t “count” before opening day.
I remember Spring Training in little league. Once I was day dreaming at second base when a line drive came straight at my head. I was staring off somewhere toward left-center field. My coach cried out, “Eric!” Immediately I awoke from my stupor put up my glove and caught the ball inches away from my nose and even turned it for a double play. My coach pulled me aside to give me a little lesson. He was a World War II veteran and his lesson could be summed up like this “As you train, so shall you play.” It was a little play on the military saying, “As you train, so shall you fight!”
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ the Lenten season is here to remind you that you’re not just playing a pastime or something just for sport. You are in a battle; in fact all of humanity is in the fray. As you train, so shall you fight! Our Gospel lesson depicts this contest for us and it shows us everything we need to know about to be equipped.
Firstly, this lesson teaches us to know our enemy. Secondly, this lesson teaches us to know your victor!
So, to start off, know your enemy. At this time of year pitching and batting coaches are already studying hours of video finding the weaknesses in pitchers and batters alike. They’re strategizing at all times. It is written that Satan the evil one prowls around like roaring lion looking for whom he can devour. He too has his strategies and he knows our weaknesses.
Epiphany began with the baptism of our Lord where we heard God say, “This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.” Then we heard the voice of the Father again at Transfiguration where He said, “This is my beloved Son, listen to Him!” This morning we meet another voice; the voice from the depths of treason and hatred for God; “If you are the Son of God…” The devil’s strategy is always to present a conditionals statement. “If you are the Son of God…” So the devil’s trick is always to call the divinity and the authority of God to into doubt. “Did God really say?” the serpent asked in the garden. Now he asks God’s beloved Son the very same question.
Sadly this trick has often continued to work on humanity. One of Satan’s oldest tricks is convince people he doesn’t even exist. It seems to be working even in the church. Barna Group recently issued a survey that concluded that 4 out of 10 Christians do not believe Satan is real or a living being. By the means of modernistic thought that hails science as the only truth or by the cultural relativism that says there is not such thing as good or evil the devil has convinced Christians not to believe the Scriptures that speak of the Evil One as real and powerful. What a feat the devil has accomplished that the very same people who believe that Jesus is Lord and is Son of God can deny the very one whom Jesus called the “Father of Lies.”
If he doesn’t convince us of this then he does what he does best, he twists the word of God. It’s always just a little off the truth, “Did God really say…” He minimizes God’s Word and tries to soften it. Temptation to sin often comes with it that little voice in the back of our minds that asks “Did God really say?” It’s the lie implanted into Adam’s heart and inherited by all humanity ever since. Satan would like you to find your meaning and security outside of the one true God. Most of the time Satan wants you to trust yourself. His lie has filled our minds with our “holy” wants, our “holy” needs, and our “holy” desires. He wants to fill your thoughts either with the comforts of this world or with your worries. The irony is that he doesn’t care whether what you trust makes you happy or miserable. He only cares that whatever it is you set your heart on it is not the things of God.
Satan tried to tempt Jesus by having Him provide bread for himself. Hidden in that lie was calling into question whether God the Father really loved the Son and would provide for Him. He tried to divert Jesus from the course that the Father planned for Him. The path that awaited Jesus was a course of suffering and struggle and battle for us all. If Satan could convince Him that the Father would not give Him daily bread, then maybe he could convince Jesus the Father would not raise Him from the dead. The devil dares Jesus to test God on this by throwing Himself from the temple to see if God would save Him. Why not test things now before the going gets really tough? He then tells Jesus that he can give Him all the glory without the suffering. All Jesus had to do was find His identity and security in Satan instead. At all costs Satan wanted Jesus off the path that would lead to the glory of His suffering, death, and resurrection for the salvation of all humanity.
So the enemy uses these tricks on us. He calls us to doubt God’s provision. When we’re tempted to sin He asks, “Did God really say…” When suffering comes he promises us comforts if only we should follow him instead of the Lord. He promises earthly glory now if only we should trust his ways.
That’s why we must know all the more our victor! As we hear about these lies and tricks of our enemy we can all think of times we’ve fallen into his snares. Thank God we have a victor! Where the first Adam and all others failed, the second Adam, Jesus, has prevailed. While the Evil One has studied the reels and knows how to monopolize on our weaknesses our victor’s strategy won every inning of this battle.
Jesus’ strategy was simple. He knew that true identity, meaning, and security could only be found in God His Father. Jesus did not focus on Himself or on His experience. He did not say to the Devil, “Didn’t you hear what my Father said back at the Jordan?” He did not say, “I’m a good Jew and have the right credentials.” Every attack was replied to the same way, “It is written…” In every instance Jesus uses the Word of God to thwart the attacks of the Evil One and Satan has no recourse. The very thing he desires Jesus to doubt is the very weapon that can deflect and destroy him. And with that Jesus says, “Be gone!” The devil always has the same strategy throughout the Scriptures, but Jesus stayed the course. And thank God He did! For by doing so He went the way of suffering and the cross and bore every sin of humanity that the devil’s lies brought about in the first place. He paid humanities penalty for believing the lies and God the Father is pleased in His beloved Son for doing so.
“As you train, so shall you fight.” Brothers and sisters the fight has already begun. You face temptation daily and the prowling lion would like to devour you. But, you know your enemy and you know your victor. Christ has given you a temptation strategy that cannot fail. Your identity, meaning, and security are found in God alone. You are baptized into Christ and there you became a new creation. You are wrapped in Christ and His victory for you at all times. We are still in the flesh and for this time we will struggle with temptation, sin, and the devil. Yet the Lord has equipped you as He fights for you. He has clothed you so you live each day in full-battle-rattle. You have the weapons of warfare. You have His Word which instructs you. You have His absolution that forgives you when you fall. When the devil accuses you, you can say to the devil, “Go talk to my victor, the one who died and put an end to your lie!” We even have our victorious Lord’s presence in His body and blood at the altar to forgive, strengthen and renew our faith. “As you train, so you shall fight.” Now we can see that these gifts of Word and Sacrament are not optional. The devil would love to keep us from these things, but the Lord gives them to us that we might share in His victory! In Jesus’ name. Amen.
SDG ~ Rev. Eric M. Estes