Sermon: “Defying the Opposition”
Lectionary Series A; The First Sunday in Lent
Sunday, March 1, 2020
Gospel Reading: Matthew 4:1-11
Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
In the movie Hoosiers, the unlikely Huskers from the little town of Hickory find themselves in the Indiana State Basketball Championship playing against the highly favored Bears from South Bend. By any stretch of the imagination, Hickory did not stand a chance, and yet as the great underdog stories go, Hickory defied the opposition and took home the State Title, going down as one of the greatest upsets of all time.
In the movie, right before the game, the team chaplain leads the team in a Biblical devotion. He bases his devotion on the story of David and Goliath. Likening the team from Hickory to David, he attempts to inspire the players to victory as they recall that Goliath, though the heavily favored opposition, was defeated.
Defying the opposition is exactly what David did in the face of Goliath. Goliath was the champion warrior of the Philistines. The Bible records that he was nine feet tall. Like many favored athletes, arrogance oozed from his very being as he taunted the Israelites to send someone to fight him. When David heard Goliath speak, he set out to defy the opposition. Even though he was only a youth, and by far the underdog, in the strength of the Lord, he went to fight Goliath. And with one stone from his sling, David defeated Goliath.
By all appearances, immediately after Jesus was baptized, when the Spirit sent Jesus out into the wilderness, He looked like the underdog. Here he was all alone with no one to comfort or support him. Here he had fasted for forty days. In every respect physically, Jesus was weak and isolated. He was vulnerable to defeat.
The devil saw his chance, and he took it. If only he could get Jesus to fall to his temptations, even just once, then victory would be his. The hope of the world would be shattered.
So in a series of three carefully calculated temptations, Satan went in for the attack. First he went at the obvious, the belly. For one who has not eaten for forty days, this would seem to be a simple step.
But, Jesus defied the opposition. It is written, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).
So the devil went in again. Only this time, he tried to fight fire with fire. He used the very word of God against Jesus tempting him to defy death by throwing himself off the pinnacle of the temple.
But, once again, Jesus defied the opposition. “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test’” (Matthew 4:7).
The devil continued his prowling around like a roaring lion seeking to devour Jesus, and tempted him with all the kingdoms in the world and their glory.
But Jesus didn’t hesitate to defy the opposition once again putting him in his place. “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve’” (Matthew 4:10).
Then the devil left him. The enemy was defeated. Though by every stretch of the imagination, Satan looked to be the highly favored foe. But looks can be deceiving. For even in Jesus’ weakest human state, His strength far surpasses that of the devil. You see, this text is not to teach us how to fight temptation, but rather to assure us that Jesus has already fought in our place and won the victory.
Jesus’ whole purpose in coming to this earth was to defy the opposition of the devil and defeat him once and for all. And that is what He did. Fast forward in Scripture, and it looked like all hope was lost. It looked like Satan had finally won the victory he had so coveted. But as I just said, looks can be deceiving. For there on that cross, beaten, bruised, and bloodied, was none other than the devil’s worst nightmare. In a knockout punch heard round the world, Jesus finished Satan off by dying our death.
We now live in that victory even as we walk through this valley of the shadow of death. Though sin still entangles us and temptations to sin are sure to come, we do not go into battle isolated, weak, and unarmed. We go into battle in the confidence of Christ who fought in our place and was determined to save us.
I recently watched the movie Hacksaw Ridge once again. It tells the story of the Seventh Day Adventist Desmond Doss who refused to bear arms in the Second World War for religious reasons. Serving as a combat medic in his unit, he found himself in Okinawa with his fellow comrades. When all hope looked to be lost, Doss distinguished himself by saving 75 men who would have most likely died in the battle. And he did it all without a gun in hand. While the fighting was the fiercest, he secured those soldiers safety by dragging them out and hoisting them upon his shoulders.
Jesus has hoisted us upon His shoulders. We were helpless, doomed to die. We were no match for the devil and his temptations, nor are we ever. Just look at us. Here we are gathered once again…another week of being beaten and bruised by the devil. And how many times have we fallen to those temptations? We can’t even keep count. Each of us was left for dead, dead in our trespasses and sins.
But the God and Father of all mercy, sent His Son to save us…to stare Satan down…and to take him down. And that’s what He did as He hoisted our sins upon His shoulders and hung upon the cross in our place. He forgave us, and He finished Satan off once and for all.
Oh sure, Satan may still prowl around for awhile until Christ returns again, but know this: It is finished! Satan is a defeated enemy.
Defeated by none other than Jesus, our Savior who (as Scripture says) in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. So as Scripture continues: Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:15b-16).
We do need help when we are tempted. But the good news is that Jesus came to be our help. Our Savior stood up for us when we couldn’t stand ourselves. He took the blows that Satan threw, and counter-punched and came out on top.
So, when you are tempted…and note the word “when”. It is not “if” you will be tempted, but “when”, because we will all be tempted. When we are tempted, we do not rely on our own strength to defeat the enemy. We rely on Jesus who has already won. He is our Savior. He is the King of kings and Lord of lords.
And so we pray in the confidence of Christ’s victory, again and again; “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” And that is exactly what He already did.
You see, as Scripture tells us, No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it (1st Corinthians 10:13). (Pause)
Look, if we could resist temptation, then we wouldn’t need Jesus. But thanks be to God, we have Jesus standing in our place, victorious, with His foot firmly planted on the Satanic serpent crushing his very head. (How’s that for an awesome image of victory?)
It is as we just sang: “Though devil’s all the world should fill, all eager to devour us, we tremble not, we fear no ill; they shall not overpower us. This world’s prince may still, scowl fierce as he will, he can harm us none. He’s judged; the deed is done; one little word can fell him” (A Mighty Fortress Is Our God; LSB #656).
That word is Jesus. We rejoice today in our champion Jesus, who took Satan on, head on, and won, not once, twice, three times…he is down for the count. And now Jesus has passed His victory on to us. He defied the opposition in our place. He didn’t sit on the sidelines to watch us lose the battle. He valiantly fought for us, carried us upon His whip-laden shoulders, and brought us home to safety.
As we journey through Lent, take comfort that our salvation is secure. Jesus told us we can take heart, and we most certainly can. We don’t have a God who succumbed to temptation, and lost the fight. Our God has made sure that finally when our last hour comes, He will give us a blessed end, and graciously take us from this valley of sorrow to Himself in heaven.
Let us pray. Almighty and everlasting God, through Your Son You have promised us forgiveness of sins and everlasting life. Govern our hearts by Your Holy Spirit that in our daily need, and especially in all time of temptation, we may seek Your help and, by a true and lively faith in Your Word, obtain all that You have promised; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.