Crawling into Lent

Rev. Joel Fritsche

Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him. - Matthew 4:11.

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Three times Satan tempts our Lord, but each time without success. It's not Adam with whom he is contending. It's the Second Adam, conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary. Even the Word of God, though twisted and misapplied, can't deceive the very Word made flesh. Thanks be to God for that!

But temptation, even for our Lord, the sinless Son of God, is no easy business. Forty days without food, three times tempted, despite the devil's flight, Jesus must have been sapped. St. Matthew tells us that angels came and ministered to Him. Thanks be to God for that, too! In the Garden of Gethsemane, His soul was sorrowful to the point of death, knowing what was to come. Then, when His betrayer comes with the chief priests, temple officers and elders, Peter draws his sword and strikes. But Jesus replies, "Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?" (Matthew 27:53-54). No attending angels this time, Jesus forges ahead!

To be sure, Matthew 4:11 wasn't the end of Satan's barrage. Maybe it was for the moment, but surely he returned to take another stab. There's no account of another direct faceoff between Jesus and Satan in the Scriptures per se, but consider the cross. There Satan pulled out his "Hail Mary." It came in his assaults hidden behind the words of the passersby, the chief priests, scribes and elders, and even the robbers crucified with Him: "You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross...He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him. For he said, 'I am the Son of God'" (Matthew 27:40-43).

Satan's defeat came around the ninth hour when Jesus cried out with a loud voice and yielded up His spirit (Matthew 27:50). St. John records the words, "It is finished" (John 19:30). Don't read Matthew 4 apart from that, lest it become some lesson in fighting off the devil's cunning wiles. That's not the Gospel. As awesome as that scene is--seeing the devil flee so early in the ministry of our Lord--it's not the end. Read it through the victory of the cross. Then receive the victory that is yours by faith in Christ.

To read Matthew 4 apart from the cross is to think that you can charge into Lent with the right tools for victory. We don't march into Lent with Jesus standing on the sidelines cheering us on. I don't really think we march at all. We're on a course for the cross, led by the One who conquered Satan by dying there.

When your soul is sorrowful, beaten down by your failures to win the battle over the tempter, it's Christ's victory--His cross-won forgiveness that wins not only the day, but the battle itself, even as it rages on in your daily life. Satan has no "Hail Mary" left. Your "Hail Marys" and even your "Our Fathers" aren't enough to do the job.

In my house we struggle as a family to get along, to live in peace under the same roof. It's five sinners battling it out day in and day out. Are we terrible Christians? Are we Christians at all? I'm tempted to wonder. My boys are at each other's throats, fighting over toys, arguing over who gets to sit in the front seat, even having it out over who gets to pray. Wow! I lose my cool all too often. My wife shakes her head in dismay. What's wrong with us?! We pray the "Our Father" at least twice a day--even in Spanish for crying out loud. We pray for the Holy Spirit to help us be patient with one another, love one another and forgive one another. What's the deal? Are we simply not sincere enough?

We're right to pray such things: "Lead us not into temptation...Deliver us from evil." Yes! These are blessed gifts from the Lord. Pray. Use God's Word rightly to fend off Satan. But know that he'll be back. He will always be back. Part of his deception is that he wants you to try and fight him off. He knows that you can't win. He's battle-hungry. He wants the easy fight. He wants Jesus not to be your Savior, but your cheerleader, standing on the sidelines telling you that you can do it. He knows that's the best way to beat you down.

Yes, you have the gift of prayer, even the prayer that the Lord Jesus Himself taught us to pray. Pray. You have the Scriptures. Use them. But even more, you have the Word made flesh. He is the Angel of the Lord who comes to minister to you with His holy gifts. In the daily struggle you have His Baptism--His name upon you--to which you return daily in repentance and faith. You have His absolution, the sweet declaration that your sins are forgiven in the name of Jesus. You have His Supper, the very Body and Blood which have already vanquished the foe. Through these means you have not only the strength you need in the fight, but also the victory and the Victor Himself.

Tired? Hungry? Throw yourself down. Fall down and worship. March-no-crawl into Lent in all of your weakness. For in that weakness is all the victory you need.

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Rev. Joel Fritsche serves as a missionary to the Dominican Republic. He is also Secretary of the Higher Things® Board of Directors. You can find out more about the Fritsches and what they're doing in the Dominican Republic at http://www.lcms.org/fritsche.

Created: February 11th, 2016