First Sunday in Lent
February 18, 2018
“The Daily Battle, The Forever Victory”
Rev. John R. Larson
Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
We don’t like it when things aren’t how they are supposed to be. On Friday morning, after some freezing rain and an inch of snow on top of it, getting to work was not very easy. Some cars couldn’t make it up the hills and some couldn’t make it down them. The commute that was supposed to take 20 minutes took well over an hour. It left a few folks impatient. We don’t like traffic jams. We don’t like things that take us out of how life should normally be.
But did you know – the longest traffic jam was in China in August of 2010. It stretched 60 miles from Beijing to the northern province of Mongolia. Trucks were inching along at about 2 miles a day, and some drivers were in the jam for more than 10 days. (And all they went out to get was some milk and bread at the store!!)
The daily battle is going through the trials, problems, challenges and difficulties especially when we are inconvenienced. The daily battle is the testing of life. James, the author of our text, talks about the daily battle this way, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2-4)
We want to complain when life is hard. We want to let the world know how unfair this is. We want to throw a pity party and demand an answer for the question, “Why ME??” And God talks about the benefit of the daily battle. Romans 5 says this, “We rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us.” (Romans 5:2b-5)
Last Monday, our son, David, and wife, Heather, had Abigail Rose. They were delighted, but their son, Micah, who is 6, didn’t know about having another sibling. He suggested selling her. But our son said they should probably sell him because he is potty trained and would fetch a higher price. He hasn’t pursued the sale since!! In the Old Testament there were some brothers who did sell their sibling. Joseph, one of the twelve sons of Israel was sold by his own brothers. They thought that was his end and they wouldn’t have to think of him again. But God had other plans and he became a great leader in Egypt. It was Joseph who told his brothers, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Genesis 50:20)
On Thursday here at Ascension we hosted an event for Alzheimer’s patients and their care givers. You talk about living in a daily battle! It is hard for the one with the disease and it is a work for the one who is providing patience and kindness and love to the one whose mind is not working very well.
I imagine there are a few daily battles you have, as well. But the daily battle is not just the trials of life, it is the temptation to sin. “For our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:12) In our reading, the progression of the daily battle is spoken of like this, “But each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown gives way to death.” (James 1:14-15)
After church on Wednesday evening, Christy Williams and her son, Ben, who is about 8, wanted ashes on their forehead. They had arrived a little late to the service and had missed that part of the Ash Wednesday worship. Ben told me that he was giving up dessert for Lent. His mom, when pressed about her sacrifice, said she was giving up second helpings at meals during these 40 days. But Christy added, “I’m going to really load up the first time”. That’s how to fight temptation! That’s how to make a real sacrifice!
The daily battle against sin isn’t just during these 40 days, but it is every day, every year. Before Cain killed his own brother, Abel, God tried to prevent it. God said to him, “Sin is crouching at your door, it desires to have you, but you must master it.” (Genesis 4:7) But he didn’t. The temptation to let his anger control him was greater than his resistance.
That’s our daily battle. It doesn’t come because God is willing us to sin. James, “When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He tempt anyone.” (James 1:13) It’s in here. It’s in our own flesh. Do you know Romans 7? Every person who knows that they have a daily battle should know that chapter. “So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work within the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:21-24)
The first Sunday in Lent always has the reading of Jesus being tempted by the devil in the wilderness. For those 40 days He is in a daily battle with the prince of darkness, the liar, the deceiver, the accuser. It says in Hebrews about this, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin. Let us approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4:15-16)
The Daily Battle; The Forever Victory. James talks about the trials of life, then about the temptations to sin and the fall from faith – he then speaks about the triumph in Christ. “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of first-fruits of all He created.” (James 1:16-18)
The forever victory is found in the God who doesn’t change. He speaks and He keeps His promises. He is reliable and sure and faithful. We can count on Him. We don’t go through the daily trials alone. We don’t go through the temptation to sin and the temptation to take a step backward all alone. “I will never leave you, I will never forsake you”. He lives to make intercession for us. So we are being held and embraced by our God. The forever victory comes through Him. We will always have the option of giving up or looking up – we get to look up.
Yesterday I got here quite early to write the sermon. It is really dark in here before the sun comes up. I had to put a few things in the sanctuary and was heading back to the office and as I looked west nothing was lit but the four letters over the steps by the landing reflected the small amount of light that was here. VDMA – the theme of the Lutheran Reformation of 500 years ago – the words taken from I Peter, “The Word of the Lord Stands Forever” (I Peter 1:25) were seen in the darkness.
Those letters, that promise, is where we stand. As James said, “He chose to give us birth through the word of truth.” As Peter says, “For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.” (I Peter 1:23) The living word is the truth that Jesus was crucified to bear our sins. The living word is that we are healed by the wounds of Jesus. The living word is that He rose again from death and His word of life endures in our life.
That word says that when you repent of sin, when you acknowledge the failure to live in ways that glorify God, when you are broken and sorrowful, you look at the One who won the battle against the devil. Jesus Christ is the One who promises a full forgiveness of sins and the power of the Spirit to walk in ways that are strong and holy. We look to Jesus who gives us triumph in life and death.
The Daily Battle. The Forever Victory. That is what the life of a Christian always will be. Amen!!