First Sunday in Lent March 5-6, 2022
“Never Ending” Luke 4:1-13
Rev. John R. Larson Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
I bet you know this section of Scripture. We read about the temptations that came to Jesus on this Sunday, the first Sunday in Lent, every year. “If you’re the Son of God, make these stones into bread.” He hadn’t eaten for over a month and that was a real temptation. First temptation – the needs or wants of the body. Second temptation – compromise. “Just bow down and worship me”, says the devil, “and all you see will be yours.” No suffering. No cross. A much easier route. The devil thought they could work out some kind of arrangement. The third temptation? Let the angels catch you in your free fall from the top of the Temple. What a spectacular show you could give to all. Three temptations and Jesus defeated them all. Jesus stood strong and didn’t fall.
All over, right? He won. The devil lost. Not so fast. Those were only the early rounds of this battle. The final verse in this reading says a bunch about what was in store for Him. It tells us much about what is in store for us. “When the devil finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.” (Luke 4:13)
Some things never seem to be over. They hang around and make life more difficult and challenging than it should be. What are those things in your life that never seem to end? Have you grown to hate another person over a past event? And it won’t go away. How about a sexual desire that is not pure, yet it keeps on controlling your life? Is it a pride or arrogance that makes you think that your way is the only way that can be right? Do you live with a distain to others? Does your mind plan how you can exact revenge on the person who harmed you? Or is your never-ending temptation greed? Is life all about accumulating stuff, buying stuff, looking at your wealth and in that way you determine your security? As Peter writes, “A man is a slave to whatever has mastered him.” (II Peter 2:19) If the devil wasn’t done with Jesus he isn’t over with us. Some of the hard stuff that we face in life is never ending.
That is what Paul says, clearly, and repeatedly in Romans 7. We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good that I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing.” A few verses later he summarizes this ongoing, never-ending dilemma – “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:14-19, 24) That smudge of ash that I put on your forehead just a few days ago is still there.
The lies of the devil are never ending. The false promises from the one the Bible names as “the accuser”, “the liar”, “the deceiver”, “the adversary” or “the tempter” don’t fade with age, they just change. He enters with his deception at the opportune time. Beware.
So, the devil was not done with Jesus at the end of those 40 days. When did he come back? In Matthew 16, Peter makes the bold confession of who Jesus is. Remember? Peter says to Jesus, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus praises Peter for his words, “Blessed are you, Simon, son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven.” (Matthew 16:16-17) Great confession of faith. Praise for what he said. But what happens next was the devil’s opportune time to change the moment. Jesus then talks about the suffering that He will go through, the rejection He would endure, His terrible death followed by a resurrection. But Peter would have none of it. “Never, Lord. This will never happen to you.”
Jesus knew that voice that was never-ending. He answers Peter’s rebuke, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” (Matthew 16:23)
In the Garden of Gethsemane, the night Jesus would be arrested and turned over to crucifixion, the devil came to Him and caused Him great anguish. Jesus lamented, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” After falling to the ground Jesus prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:38-39)
And of course, at the hardest moment, on the cross, the devil danced. Just like he said in the desert to question the uniqueness of Jesus, “If you are the Son of God…”, he says it again on that Black Friday. “Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying…Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God.” The various religious leaders were also used by devil to say, “Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him.” (Matthew 27:39, 42)
So, what do you do when the tough things in life are never-ending? Grief and loss – never-ending? Struggles and problems – never-ending? Guilt over being so easily beguiled and tricked? Never-ending?
There is something else that is never-ending. God and His faithfulness are never-ending. Paul speaks, “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall. No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so you can stand up under it.” (I Corinthians 10:12-13) Whatever you face, however overwhelming and difficult, God doesn’t allow you to face it on your own. He is faithful and He is present and will allow you to find yourself standing when it is all done. When Jesus suffered the temptations in the desert Matthew tells us, “Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.” (Matthew 4:11) God sent angels to Jesus in His weakest moment. The Father’s presence in the life of Jesus was never-ending.
When Paul moaned, “When I want to do good, evil is right there with me,” and asked that question, “Who will rescue me from this body of death?”, the greatest answer, ever, was given – “Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord.” And a few verses later he adds, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 7:21, 24-25, 8:1) Forgiveness by Jesus, especially in that time when every finger points at us, is ours. Such a work by our God is never-ending.
It would be just horrid to think that the devil had all the power in our lives. It would be terrible to face never-ending temptations and never-ending accusations. But the never-ending power of God, the never-ending forgiveness of Jesus, the never-ending strength of the Holy Spirit is ours. Forever and ever, Amen. Right?
In the Revelation that God gave to John we read about the battle between Jesus and Satan. This ending, our ending, is good. “Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say, ‘Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of God, and the authority of his Christ. For the accuser of our brothers, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down. They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony.” (Revelation 12:10-11)
Jesus faced spiritual warfare and won. Again and again, He won. We face spiritual warfare and we have the never-ending care of our merciful, loving, strong and victorious God with us. As the Bible says, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.” (Ephesians 6:10) That truth, God’s truth, never ends. Amen!!