First Things

Text: Genesis 3; Matthew 4:1-11
Date: Lent I + 3/9/14

Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.

It’s not just a matter of getting older. Things really are worse than they used to be. Yet there seems to be nothing new under the sun. St. Paul wrote of the universal sinful nature of all human beings, saying, “since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done,” and, “though they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them” (Romans 1:28, 32). In other words, the best way to make a sin not to be a sin anymore is to bring it out into the open.

There can be no better description of our times. For people do not see practically anything as sin to be sorry for anymore. Same sex attraction and attempts to redefine marriage have been carefully promoted in the public square in the category of “civil rights.” How many couples freely admit with no shame to living together without the bond of marriage? There is no objection to or embarrassment over or seemingly endless advertising of remedies of sexual malfunction. In that same chapter of Romans Paul notes in plain words everything from “the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves,” “dishonorable passions.” Who cannot understand what he is talking about? But lest you think sin is only and all about sex he concludes with this catalogue: “all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless” (Romans 1:24, 26-31). “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one” (Romans 3:10-12).

No wonder people don’t see their need for a Savior, for they know not from what they need to be saved. The Lenten call goes out again, “Repent,” “Return to the Lord your God,” the disdainful response, “Repent, of what?” Could it be that the only normal life people know is Genesis 3 without the first things of Genesis 1-2 and the Savior’s warfare with Satan beginning in Matthew 4 without the first things of His miraculous incarnation and His holy life? Let us enter this season of Lent, therefore, considering the original design and goodness of life as part of God’s good creation. Then we will be better equipped to understand paradise lost.

We are told that God created everything to be very good. The physical world and existence is not evil in itself, not a curse to be liberated from. With God at the center of their lives Adam and Eve were at perfect peace and bliss, everything in their life in proper balance. The modern excuse for sin, “I’m only human,” is mistaken thinking that sin and weakness is somehow part of God’s creation. It was, as we heard again this morning, only when sin entered the picture that everything went haywire. God was no longer at the center and the naked pair in the Garden began the troubling task of now having to judge everything only from the perspective of whether it’s to my advantage or disadvantage, self the center of concern. Separated from God the pure joy of childbirth and the fulfillment of work in the garden without sweat became but pain and toil, thorns and thistles and eventual return to the dust of our origin. Genesis 3 made us quite forget God’s original glory, and ours.

We recall our celebration of the incarnation of the Son of God to be the Son of Mary. The joy that surrounds the Christmas story is nothing less than joy to the world. As with the devilish serpent in the Garden of Eden so the threats against the incarnate Savior began almost immediately. Yet He was preserved from murderous Herod and grew through childhood in favor with God and men. God His true Father was always at the center of His life. Yet He came on a mission, a mission to save, to redeem all people, to deliver them from sin and death. The only way to do that was, first, to meet the adversary, the devil, head on as of first importance.

We begin today the journey of redemption. But more than just hearing various stories of the Lord’s journey of preaching, teaching and healing, especially this year in the three-year lectionary we hear the four great themes of what the Lord’s work is not only to mean to us but to do to us, to make of us. Last Ash Wednesday we were called to repentance. “Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, when He said ‘Repent,’ willed that the whole life of believers should be repentance” (#1 of Luther’s Ninety-five Theses). Today we begin on that road again. Today by His temptation in the wilderness the Lord binds Satan as of first importance, sort of like clearing the deck in preparation for His redemptive work. From now on the old evil foe must obey every word Jesus speaks. Oh, the temptations will repeat themselves, not directly as today in the wilderness, but through unbelieving men of both Church and State, even through His own disciples. Finally, the Satanic charge, “if you are the Son of God,” will echo again, one last time on Good Friday, “if you are the Son of God, come down from the cross!”

The goal and result of our Lord’s life, death, resurrection and ascension is the opening of the kingdom of heaven to all who believe. The goal and result of our life of faith is the paradise of the resurrection and the life of the world to come. In the mean time, by faith we live not sinless lives but new life in the forgiveness of sins. We live not the perfection of holiness as yet but lives made holy because God is once again the center of our lives. All this happens by God’s working through faith.

As we will hear in the next weeks, that faith is given and grows through God’s Word and Sacraments. We learn with Nicodemus about Holy Baptism and how it is not a work of ours but God’s work of giving us a new birth of faith. We learn with the Samaritan woman at the well that Jesus is the Source of the never-ending supply of the water of life. With a man born blind we learn that faith gives us an enlightened heart and mind to see God’s grace and to be lights in the world. Finally, we recall our Lord’s mightiest act when He raised the man named Lazarus from the dead and learn that the promise of our resurrection is real.

The paradise that was lost in Genesis 3 is not only restored but made even better in the promise of salvation. But it is only to be received by repentance and faith. The initial temptations of our Lord in Matthew 4 not only reveal the true enemy but also the power given us by the same Word and Spirit of God so that by faith in Christ we can say, “Satan, I defy thee” (LSB 743:3), and with perfect peace believe and sing,

Though hordes of devils fill the land
All threat’ning to devour us,
We tremble not, unmoved we stand;
They cannot overpow’r us. (657:3).

Return to the Lord your God for He is your light and salvation. He takes away your sin and creates in you a new heart, a heart of faith filled with the love of God. He gives you hope even in the midst of suffering, light even though you walk through the valley of the shadow of death. He takes away fear. He keeps you in perfect peace. Come, let us return to the Lord our God, let us walk in the light of the Lord.