Sermon: “Perfect Perseverance”             

LSB Series B; 1st Sunday in Lent

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Epistle Reading: James 1:12-18

Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

It takes a lot of perseverance to run a marathon. It takes a lot of perseverance to learn a musical instrument. It takes a lot of perseverance to train up children in the way of the Lord so when they are old they will not turn from it.

It takes a lot of perseverance to endure conflict at work or at home. It takes a lot of perseverance to undergo medical testing with no answers in sight. It takes a lot of perseverance to continue receiving cancer treatments while enduring the side effects.

As you no doubt guessed, our sermon for today is about perseverance. Our Scripture reading began with these words: Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life.

To remain steadfast under trial is to have perseverance. It is to keep going when the odds are against you. 

No one knows this more than Jesus who persevered under the great trial of being tempted in the wilderness by Satan surrounded by wild beasts. Looking at the other Gospel accounts of Jesus’ temptation, we know that He was tempted with bread after forty days of fasting. He was tempted to throw himself off the pinnacle of the temple to show His power. He was tempted with power to rule the world if He would just bow down and worship Satan. 

Here we see the very nature of Satan and also the perseverance and steadfastness of our Savior. 

Scripture tells us that Satan only works through deception. He is the father of all lies, and when he lies, he is functioning out of his own character. He is really good at it too. He has been doing it ever since he did it in the garden of Eden with Adam and Eve. So, he has a lot of practice. He knows all the right buttons to press. What’s more, he is very bold in his deception. If he is willing to go toe to toe with Jesus, then what makes us think that he won’t go at us?

He will, and he does. Ever since the day of our baptism, the devil has been going at us with his temptations. But we have One who stands in our stead. When Jesus took Satan on in the wilderness, He was doing so on our behalf. 

Like the nation of Israel before us who disobeyed God, we also have failed to persevere under every trial and temptation. We have grumbled, complained, and sinned against God time and again. Everything we have to show for in life proves that we are no match for Satan’s attack. So, that means that the crown of life that is given to those that persevere under trial is not ours to be had. We can’t earn it, and we certainly don’t deserve it.

But that doesn’t mean we won’t receive it. We who find ourselves under constant trial and temptation have a Savior who took a crown upon Himself to win for us the crown of life. But where our crown that awaits us is one of heavenly royalty, His was a crown of thorns. Carrying His cross, despising the shame, persevering through mockery and ridicule, He went to Calvary wearing that crown of thorns piercing his brow, and there He bled and died for us.

But that was two thousand years ago. How can that possibly help us now as we endure countless temptations and attacks of the evil foe? The answer comes in your baptism. There at your baptism, the One who perfectly persevered under trial and conquered sin, Satan, and death has joined Himself to you.

That is good news for us to delight in, because we will continue to face temptation after temptation as long as we live on this side of heaven. What temptation do you continually face? What is acting like a trap, and no matter how hard you seem to try, you keep falling right into it?

In our text for today, James likens a temptation to being lured and enticed by his or her own desire. 

My son Will has been fascinated with fishing for quite some time now. I think he asks me to go fishing on almost a weekly basis, sometimes daily. Unfortunately for him, he has a father that knows almost nothing about fishing. 

Several months ago, I took him to the store and we bought him a fishing pole with some birthday money that he had kept saved up. But, you just don’t need a pole, do you? There are hooks, fishing line, and of course, lures.

There are seemingly endless lures that you can buy. And they are all guaranteeing the same thing. Use this lure, and you will be sure to catch the big one, or at the least, you will catch…one.

The purpose of a lure is to do what? It is to trick the fish into thinking that this is a tasty meal to bite into. And as soon as the fish has been “lured” in, the person fishing sets that hook and reels the fish in.

Temptations work the same way. Satan is no dummy. Like a lure with its flashy colors and streamers or whatever the manufacturer puts on those things, Satan uses our own desires and attaches false promises to them. 

“Go ahead, take the bait, it won’t hurt you” … then bam…he’s got you, hook, line and sinker, reels you in and pulls you to your own fate. The wages of sin is death, after all.

James says much the same thing in his text: Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death (James 1:15).

That is the devil’s goal. Like a person fishing for supper, Satan is going in for the kill. He is not interested in merely stringing you along on the line forever. His ultimate goal is your destruction, specifically the destruction of your faith.

So, James writes: Do not be deceived. Don’t be tricked. Don’t be fooled. Don’t be like that fish that is so easily lured in. Ever caught the same fish before? I have heard the stories. It happens. That’s because those fish are quick to be deceived. The same can be said of us if we do not guard and protect ourselves from the traps of the evil one. 

Like Jesus, when He was tempted in the wilderness by Satan, He used the Word of God to combat the evil foe. That is God’s weapon given to us. Equipped with God’s Word, we are able to discern truth from lie. We are able to see whether it is a lure to reel us in or if it is true food without a hook worth biting into. 

But such equipping takes time. Any outdoors man or woman will tell you that it takes time to hone their craft. They didn’t learn the hotspots and the techniques overnight. It took time and dedication. 

That is even more so true when it comes to faith. As I tell our catechumens, confirmation is not graduation. We are life-long learners of the faith. We are never done learning about Jesus and how He reveals Himself in His Word.

To adopt a mentality where we would think that we are done studying God’s Word is to put ourselves at greater risk of being attacked by the evil foe, and greater risk of falling headfirst into being lured into his lies. That’s because if we can’t distinguish truth and lie and anymore, how are we going to be able to persevere under trial and steer clear of the lies. We won’t know the difference.

So God calls us to gladly hear and learn His Word. James tells us this in the text for today: Every good gift and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures (James 1:17-18).

Ultimately, that good and perfect gift that came down from the Father is none other than the Word who became flesh and dwelt among us. It’s Jesus. He is the Word that remained steadfast in the wilderness and all the way to the empty tomb. And when it comes to our being tempted and lured in by Satan, the only way we can truly combat the devil is by His coming down to earth to fight in our stead. 

You and I are no match for the devil. We are lured in every time. Jesus on the other hand, perseveres perfectly every time. He doesn’t waver. He doesn’t fall. He reigns as champion every time, and the crown of victory He won two thousand years ago, He gives to you.

So, the next time you are tempted to be lured in, turn to the One who perfectly persevered under trial for you. Call on His name. He is your help in every time of need. As our text said: Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.