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Delivered By
Pr. David Fleener
Delivered On
March 10, 2019 at 10:30 AM
Central Passage
Luke 4:1-13
Lent 1C

Pr. David Fleener

Sermon: March 10th, 2019 – 1st Sunday of Lent

Romans 10:8b-13; Luke 4:1-13


Already Done


            You heard it, folks. Let’s pack it up and go out to Richard’s. Jesus has already beaten the devil at his own game. There’s no need for Lent, no need to continue letting the pastor haphazardly put ashes on us, no need for us poor wretches to keep confessing our sins (or at least trying to confess them) Sunday after Sunday. Jesus has already done everything. And St. Paul makes it crystal clear. All you need to do to be saved is to “confess with your mouth ‘Jesus is Lord’ and in your heart…have faith that God raised him from the dead.” That’s it! That’s all there is! Just say that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him. Nothing could be simpler. So let’s just wrap up this whole silly service and go out to dinner.


            Nah, just kidding. But how awesome would it be if that was the sermon? That would be a story to rival one Ted Waters told me: Once, on a scorching hot Sunday morning, a Catholic priest was leading worship. After reading the Gospel, his sermon consisted of a single half-sentence. “If you think it’s hot here….”


            Part of what I said is true, though. Jesus has already done everything necessary for us to be saved from sin, death, and the power of the devil. But there are consequences to this. We often use that word in a negative way. Parents or teachers warn children about the “consequences” of their actions. But that’s not the way I’m using it today. There are tangible consequences of what Jesus has done for us in resisting the devil’s temptations, in our public profession that Jesus is Lord, and in heartfelt faith in his resurrection.


            First consequence? Our salvation is not up to us. Our salvation from sin, death, and the power of the devil is not rooted in anything we have done or can do. There is no ladder of proper religiosity (well, there is, but we get ourselves in trouble when we start climbing it). There is no dipstick of righteousness in each one of us that God will have to pull out and measure to see if we can get to heaven. (Can you imagine what that would be like? “Oh, I’m sorry David, but you were two good works short. Enjoy hell!”) Everything we are, everything we have, and everything we will be is due to God’s mercy. Saving faith in Jesus Christ is granted by the Holy Spirit alone.


            Second consequence? Since the Spirit grants us faith, resistance to temptation is not rooted in our own strength. Resistance to evil is not rooted in our own abilities. Any resistance we have is rooted in the One who completely triumphed over evil personified that day in the desert. It is he and he alone who makes us able to stand up in any way to those powers. And it is he and he alone who picks us up again after we inevitably fall to them, again and again.


             Third consequence? Jesus frees us from our fear. We naturally fear a lot of things. And some fear has a God-given purpose. After all, it was probably the one who was watching out for saber-toothed tigers who lived to have children, and not the one who smelled the roses all the time. And yet, fear can be paralyzing. Many of the fears we have today are a corruption of this gift of God. Much fear keeps us self-obsessed; dwelling on a romanticized past; dreading a future that seems bleak. Jesus’ victory today frees us from the lord of fear; from the insidious one who tells us that we aren’t a good enough individual or a good enough church community to serve God and our neighbor. This father of lies, as Jesus calls him in the Gospel of John, wants to paralyze us in fear so that we keep focusing on ourselves and our survival and not on living out the good news of new life in Jesus Christ in our community and world. The devil wants to tell us that, besides, there isn’t much to this whole church thing other than being a good person anyway, so why not live like you want to live now? Fear, apathy, and disengagement from the church are the primary fruits that the devil produces in us.


            Thank God, then, that Jesus frees us from that fear and from all subsequent effects of it. Remember that the Jewish conception of the devil started out as “the Satan”, or “the accuser”, a figure in the Books of 1 Chronicles, Job and Zechariah that acts as a prosecuting attorney of human beings in the heavenly court. (Yep, that’s right – the devil is a lawyer!). Whenever, then, we feel the weight of his accusations upon us; that we have failed time and time again; we he whispers the insidious lie that we ought to be ashamed of ourselves; when he points out that we are the biggest hypocrites on the planet, we ought to respond in genuine God-given faith in these words from Luther’s commentary on John’, “I concede, devil, that I am a sinner burdened with the old Adam and subject to the wrath of God. But what do you, devil, say about this: God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that all who believe in Him might not perish but have eternal life? These words I believe!”[1]


            And so we get to the last consequence of what Jesus did that day in the desert, that day on the cross, and in our subsequent faith in his victory over death. Freed from fear; freed from self-obsession; freed from sin’s ultimate power over us, we are also freed for our neighbor. Confessing that Jesus is Lord and having faith in his resurrection – genuine faith – does something to us. It changes us. It makes us new people. It roots us in our baptism, where God drowns our sinful nature and raises us up. It enables us to, as Luther said in Thesis 1, to “live the whole Christian life as one of repentance.” Freed in Christ, our lives are a constant turning away from ourselves and back to the Lord. Our lives are a constant exercise in renewal and recreation; of falling and getting back up again on the strength of Jesus. Since Jesus has done it all, we can do all Jesus calls us to do, not for him, but for our neighbor. There’s no need to pack it up and just go out to Richard’s. And there is no reason to live as if nothing has happened. Jesus has won. He won that day in the desert. He won that day on the cross. He won that day when God raised him up. And he will win in us, too. When we take hold of that God-given faith in each of those things, our lives will change in ways we never imagined.


            Let us pray.


            Lord Jesus, through your victory you have freed us from sin, fear, death, and the power of the devil. Renew that faith the Spirit gave us in baptism, that we may be continually converted to your gospel which frees us to serve the neighbor. Amen.


© 2019, David M. Fleener. Permission granted to copy and adapt original material herein for non-commercial purposes with appropriate credit given.



[1] M. Luther, Luther’s works, vol. 22: Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 1-4, J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald, & H. T. Lehmann, Eds., Vol. 22. (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999), p. 359.