First Sunday in Lent
March 1, 2020
“The Ongoing Battle”
Rev. John R. Larson
Ascension Lutheran Church
Luke 4:13 tells us how it really was for Jesus, “When the devil had finished all his tempting, he left him until an opportune time.” The devil wasn’t done with Jesus after the three temptations that we read about. He wasn’t done with the word about making stones into bread, nor when he said Jesus should jump from the height of the Temple, or even when the evil one said to the Holy One, “Bow down and all this will be yours.” He wasn’t done. He only left Jesus temporarily. The opportune time would come again and the liar would speak his lies once again. Jesus was involved in an ongoing battle.
So, when did the devil show up again trying to destroy the work of God in Jesus? Maybe it was at the moment when Peter began to rebuke Jesus telling Him that Jesus would not be going to the cross. Remember what Jesus said to Peter? “Get behind me, Satan! You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” (Matthew 16:23) Maybe that opportune time was in the Garden of Gethsemane when Jesus is asking for the cup to be taken from Him. Or, on the cross with the crowds mocking Him and asking Him to show His deity by coming down from the cross. Or was that opportune time when Jesus speaks in agony, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)
Temptations coming to Jesus were ongoing. And they are ongoing to us, as well. Satan didn’t give up then and he doesn’t give up now. Jesus had just been baptized (Matthew 3:13-17) and the voice from heaven confirmed the greatness of Jesus, “This is my Son, whom I love, with him I am well pleased.” And then the temptations began. First one – changing stones into bread. He hadn’t eaten for 40 days and his physical needs were great. Second one – showing His glory and majesty to all by falling from the top of the Temple and plummeting hundreds of feet only to be caught by angels. What a show. Third one (but, remember, not the final one) – receiving the authority over all things by bowing to the devil – choosing the easy path for the redemption of all people.
It was ongoing, never ending, constant, nagging. And it is the same for us. Do you know how the final petition of the Lord’s Prayer is translated in the New International Version? “Deliver us from the evil one.” (Matthew 6:13). Not just evil but evil with a face – the evil one.
I hope you know what an ongoing battle it is that we face. We have much in common with Jesus and how He had to fight the devil. We often speak about facing the devil, the world and our sinful nature in our ongoing battle. Our sinful nature, our will that does not want to submit to God’s will, can be our downfall. “I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:23-24)
We have a fight while we attempt to live in God’s ways within a world that has a different way for us to live. It can come in the form of peer pressure, or we can be influenced by friends whose acceptance we desire. We are told over and over again of a different way of living and believing, and though contrary to God’s higher ways, we begin to accept it and live by this different way. Ongoing battle. God says, “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Romans 12:2)
The battle is in us, around us and below us. “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith.” (I Peter 5:8-9a) The devil has all types of names. Devil = accuser. Satan= adversary. Destroyer. Thief. Prince of darkness. It says of him that “he comes only to steal, kill and destroy.” (John 10:10) He is not on your side. Revelation says of him, and his ultimate demise, “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)
You might know this. During this past month we recognized the 150th anniversary of the 15th Amendment to the Constitution. In 1870, following the Civil War, this is what was written, “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” Though that was written 150 years ago that battle has still been fought in some parts of our country in the 1960’s and 70’s, and in some places even today. When Pastor Voigt preached here 5 years ago on the 50th anniversary of his ordination, he spoke of his ministry in Alabama and the fears that his members, folks of all colors, had during those days.
Ongoing battle for Jesus. Ongoing battle for us. But, also, ongoing victory for Jesus. And an ongoing victory for all of His people. There are so many battles in life where we don’t know the outcome. We have to wait and see how certain things go before we can say how it all ends up. That is NOT the case here.
For 40 days in the wilderness He suffered the assaults of the devil and He stood strong. When Peter rebukes Him, He rebukes Peter. When He is in the garden asking for the cup to be removed, He speaks, “Yet not my will, but yours be done.” When He is berated by the crowd below the cross, He asks for them to be forgiven. Ongoing battle. Ongoing strength. In Hebrews we read, “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. (Hebrews 4:15)
The number 40 is significant in the Bible. Flood – 40 days. Moses on Mt. Sinai – 40 days. People of Israel in the desert for 40 years. Jesus in the desert for 40 days. When God’s people had been led out of Egypt they enjoyed the miracle of Pharaoh releasing them, but it wasn’t long before he changed his mind and went back to get them. God’s people found themselves in a bad place. To the east was the Red Sea and chasing them from the west was Pharaoh and thousands of chariots and spears. The outcome looked bleak. From Exodus 14, “As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians, marching after them. They were terrified and cried out to the Lord. They said to Moses, ‘Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have brought us out to the desert to die?’” (Exodus 14:10-11)
But that was not God’s purpose. This wasn’t going to be their final battle. Moses told them, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The Lord will fight for you; you need only be still.” (Exodus 14:13-14)
As strong as the ongoing battle was for Jesus, for the people of Israel, for us, the victory is where we stand continually and confidently. When I spoke about the battle in our flesh that is ongoing and raised Paul’s words, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24) God does have an answer. “Thanks be to God -through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 7:25)
Will it get easier? Will the battles with the devil and the world and my own flesh get easier? No, I don’t think so. But the victory gets stronger and clearer and more certain. Paul would tell us not to be overcome with the struggles. He says, “In all of these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” (Romans 8:37) When Paul speaks about asking God, repeatedly, to take away his thorn in the flesh, he gave us God’s answer, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (II Corinthians 12:9)
Some of you are weary. Much is asked of you in life. You struggle with a multitude of challenges. I can’t tell you that the battle will just go away. I bet it will be like what Jesus faced, “When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.” Ongoing battle. But more than that!! Ongoing grace. Ongoing forgiveness. Ongoing hope. Ongoing strength. Ongoing victory. Ongoing Jesus in our life. Amen!!