February 17, 2002 -- FIRST SUNDAY IN LENT
Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7
Psalm 32
Mercy embraces those who trust in the LORD. (Ps. 32:11)
Romans 5:12-19
Matthew 4:1-11
Color: Purple


Mercy embraces those who trust in the LORD.


What a beautiful summary of the lessons for this day!  The one who trusts in God is wrapped in His faithful love.  This speaks to the ideal, to the intent of God – that we trust in Him and we will be filled in body, mind and spirit.  We see this in Jesus, as He was tempted in the wilderness.
       The rest of the scriptures show us the other side of the coin.  We see sin and the result of sin -- death.  Paul writes, "It was through one man that sin came into the world, and through sin death and thus death has spread through the whole human race because everyone has sinned."  It all began in the beginning.
       God created everything good.  He created man in His image.  Adam was first and then Eve.  They lived in the Garden of Eden, walked in the presence of God, and knew only peace and joy.  God said to them, "You are free to eat of all the trees in the garden.  But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you are not to eat; for, the day you eat of that, you are doomed to die." 
       God's word is good, right and true.  The tree of knowledge of good and evil was set there by God for a purpose -- to test the love of His children.  It was not a test He wanted them to fail, it was a test of their love.  Would they listen to His word and trust that it is right?  For a moment they believed, but then along came the tempter, the serpent.  He worked from three directions -- the flesh and the belly, the word and the mind, and the spirit.  The first lie was to question whether God was providing Adam and Eve with food for their bellies.  His asked, "Did God really say you were not to eat from ***any*** of the trees in the garden?"  This was designed to make Adam and Eve doubt God's provision. 
       With the question "Did God really say...?" Satan cast doubt on the very Word of God.  He added to this doubt with the lie, "No! You will not die!"  The tempter then twisted the knife with the statement, "God knows in fact that the day you eat it your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods, knowing good from evil." 
       He planted the seeds of doubt in God's provision and His Word and then offered the world to Adam and Eve.  They fell for it, hook, line and sinker. 
       The tempter returned some years later.  Jesus had just been baptized by John the Baptist and God spoke His anointing on Jesus, "This is my Son, the Beloved; my favour rests on him."  Then the Spirit led Him into the wilderness to be tested.
       God's testing is not temptation.  In the Lord's Prayer, Jesus taught us to pray "And lead us not into temptation" yet James writes, "Never, when you are being put to the test, say, "God is tempting me"; God cannot be tempted by evil, and he does not put anybody to the test." (James 1:13) What does this mean?
       Martin Luther wrote in the Small Catechism, "God tempts no one.  We pray in this petition that God would guard and keep us so that the devil, the world, and our sinful nature may not deceive us or mislead us into false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice.  Although we are attacked by these things, we pray that we may finally overcome them and win the victory."
       Yet, God does test us.  There are two reasons He does.  The first is so that He knows that we love Him. "
The LORD your God is testing you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and with all your soul." (Dt 13:3b)  The second is to build us up.  "...to humble you and test you and so make your future the happier." (Dt 8:16)
       Have you ever had a really hard teacher, so hard that you were certain he or she was determined to fail you?  The tests had questions that you could not answer.  I think after all the years Bruce tried for promotion to Chief, he was beginning to feel that way about that test.  But God's testing is not something He wants us to fail.  As a matter of fact, He rejoices over every one who knows His love and mercy and who trust in Him.  As the Psalm says, "Mercy embraces those who trust in the Lord." 
       So, the Spirit led Jesus out into the wilderness so that He could be tested.  God wanted to know that Jesus loved Him and to build Him up for His ministry.  Just like Adam, the tempter came to test Him in a different way.  The tempter, Satan, gives tests and hopes we will fail.  He planted seeds of doubt in Adam and Eve's mind, and then went in for the kill -- offering the world.  He did the same to Jesus.  He tried to plant doubt in Jesus' mind about God's provision, then questioned God's Word, then offered Jesus the world. 
       The first temptation is found in Matthew 4:3, "If you are Son of God, tell these stones to turn into loaves."  There is no doubt about whether Jesus is the Son of God; God's word established that at Jesus' baptism.  "This is my Son, the Beloved; my favour rests on him."  When Satan used the word "if" he was testing what it meant to Jesus to be "the Son of God". 
       Satan first tempted Jesus' belly.  "If you are Son of God, tell these stones to turn into loaves."  The temptation here reaches well beyond the needs of one man.  Jesus would need no more than one loaf for Himself.  Satan is presenting Him with the opportunity to feed others.  This, of course, is a good thing.  Feeding the hungry is wonderful, however Satan was tempting Jesus to do it at the wrong time and in the wrong way.
          Jesus answered the temptation with God's Word, "Scripture says: Human beings live not on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God."  This quote comes from Deuteronomy 8.  The Hebrews had been tempted in the wilderness and God provided them with the lesson that would build them up to trust God and obey His commandments.  With these words, Jesus established that His purpose was not to feed the crowds or fill their bellies but to give them life through God's Word.  Satan answered with the next temptation -- testing God's Word in Jesus' life.
       "'If you are Son of God,' he said, 'throw yourself down; for scripture says: He has given his angels orders about you, and they will carry you in their arms in case you trip over a stone.'"  Satan was abusing the Word of God -- tempting Jesus to use God's promises at the wrong time and for the wrong reasons.  Jesus answers a second time with scripture. "Scripture also says: Do not put the Lord your God to the test."  With these words, Jesus establishes that He will not abuse the Word of God or use it for His own purpose. 
       Such an act would have been quite a public display of faith.  Oh, how the world would ‘oooo’ and ‘ahhhh’ over the angels coming to save Jesus.  They would have worshipped Him right then and there.  Jesus would not allow Himself to become a road show, a celebrity with groupies.  He even asked those who benefited from His miracles to keep them to themselves.  He was not looking for fame and refused to put God to such a test.
       So Satan tried to cause Jesus to doubt His Father’s provision and His Word, but Jesus did not fall.  Satan pulled the final card out of his sleeve.  He offered Jesus the world.  "I will give you all these, if you fall at my feet and do me homage."  Satan was not offering Jesus anything that wasn't already His.  But to gain the nations, Jesus had to die on the cross.  To be obedient to His Father, Jesus had to suffer.  Satan was offering Jesus the nations without the pain, the rule without the servant hood.  All Jesus had to do was turn away from God and believe the liar. 
       Jesus answered, "Away with you, Satan! For scripture says: The Lord your God is the one to whom you must do homage, him alone you must serve."  Jesus stood firm in the Truth.  The devil left Him. 
       Immediately angels visited Jesus to serve Him.  Jesus sought the Kingdom of God in the midst of temptation; He stood firm in His Word and refused the tempter's lies.  Then everything else was given to Him.  He promised the same for us, "Set your hearts on his kingdom first, and on God's saving justice, and all these other things will be given you as well." (Matthew 6:33)  "Mercy embraces those who trust in the Lord."
       We are born sinners, separated from God by the sin of one man -- Adam.  We are born into bondage to our flesh, sure of our end which is death.  Adam failed the testing in the Garden, gave in to his belly, gave in to his doubt of God's Word and grasped for that which was not his.  Paul says, "He prefigured the One who was to come."
       Jesus passed the test, refusing the lies of Satan and keeping firm in God's Word.  Where Adam brought death, Jesus brings life.  By dying on the Cross, He was obedient to His Father and brought justification to the world.  Paul says, "There is no comparison between the free gift and the offence. If death came to many through the offence of one man, how much greater an effect the grace of God has had, coming to so many and so plentifully as a free gift through the one man Jesus Christ!"
       If Adam could have such an impact on the world, how much more God does for us through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!  It is important for us to see Jesus through the temptation -- that moment when we can truly see that He is fully man, tempted in the flesh, mind, and spirit, yet remaining the perfect Lamb of God.  We would much rather a Messiah that came to feed our bellies, show us great miracles and rule the world.  However, God's way is much better -- if the Son of God had fallen to the tempter's lies, we would not have life.  Death would continue to reign.  Instead, we have a Lord who was obedient unto death, becoming death for us so that we can live once again as we were in the Garden -- walking intimately with our Creator in a relationship that glorifies Him above all else.
       "Mercy embraces those who trust in the Lord."  God's mercy comes to those who look to Him for His provision, who use His Word for His glory and who do not seek to rule over the things of this world.  God's faithful love comes to those who trust in Him.  Thanks be to God.

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