A homily for Lent I
February 21, 2021
All Saints Anglican Church, Prescott, AZ
Text: Matthew 4:1-11
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be always acceptable in thy sight, O Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
Many, many years ago, the world was without form, it was nothing, but then God spoke earth into creation, and through the power of God all manner of things came into being.
As he spoke the earth took form, the waters filled the heavens, the streams, the lakes, the rivers, and the oceans.
As he spoke the mountains rose up out of the ground, and the valleys formed around them.
And the bushes, and the plants, and the trees sprung up in obedience to the Lord’s will. And all manner of creatures, flying, and swimming, and crawling, and walking came into being.
And the earth was bustling, with new life, perfect life.
But God noticed that something was missing, and so in His own image God created man and woman.
Each unique, each perfect, each created to work together to rule over the earth. The first man, and the first woman, Adam and Eve lived in perfect harmony with the Lord, lived in perfect obedience.
And it was very good.
But they were left with a test and an evil one entered the earth.
The ruler of darkness, the tempter, the adversary, the deceiver, the enemy of goodness – for he has been called many things over the ages – entered into the world in the form of a snake and he tempted Adam and Eve, tempted them with the same promise, same hope that caused him to fall from the throne room, to lose his privileges in the heavenly court.
He tempted them by telling them that they could be like gods, that they would not just have borrowed authority, but that they could have their own authority – for he was jealous of their privilege. He was jealous of their relationship with the Lord.
And they failed that test.
For God had command them one thing – do not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
Do not eat – for if you do this will be your death, for you will no longer depend upon me, you will depend upon yourself – you will die.
And in that moment death, and sin came pouring into the world, darkness beset them.
Work became hard.
Childbirth became painful.
They no longer lived at peace with one another, they lived at odds – they bickered and fought.
And the earth began to groan – groan for redemption, groan for renewal, groan for freedom from the weight of that single horrible act of rebellion.
But God made a promise on that day – God promised the young, fallen rulers – promised Adam and Eve that one day a king would come to strike down the serpent once and for all. One day, one who was an offspring of Eve would come to finally do what they could not. One day, one would come who was perfect in His obedience.
And soon one came – and it seemed likely that perhaps, just maybe, this one was the one – but when he was old and without child, in his desperation he slept with another woman – causing jealousy, and bitterness to seep into his marriage.
But he had failed.
God was still faithful to his man – and gave him a son from his wife. And from this child sprung up a nation – from this child sprung up the people of God, the chosen ones.
This man’s offspring did not obey God perfectly, the fell again and again. In the wilderness, in the time when God was most intimate with them, when God was close to them, when God was guiding them night and day, providing food and water for them, protecting them, spelling out the nature of his covenant with them. They turned their back on Him.
In this time of intimacy, they grumbled and griped, and finally, one day while God revealed himself to their leader, in the shadow of this incredible intimacy, as the undeniable power of God was revealed over their head – they created a false god, despite the fact that they bore His very image, they created an image that they could worship. They turned their back on Him.
And they too failed.
And one day, many generations came to pass a young shepherd boy defeated a giant, struck him dead, and this boy did so because he was zealous for God, he was jealous for God’s honor. Soon reputation of him grew – and not long after, despite some adversary – he was anointed king.
Perhaps – perhaps he would be the one to strike down the serpent, perhaps he would be the one to reign in perfection.
But then, he neglected his duty as king, and in that apathy, he assaulted a woman, and had her husband killed to cover up his sin.
His sin was dark, and evil. His sin was grievous.
But from that we saw true and beautiful repentance – a truly rent heart.
And God did not abandon him, but he too was not that long awaited for king.
He too, had failed.
And how the earth groaned, how the earth longed for redemption, how the earth hurt, and the people cried out “how long oh Lord?”
“Come, Lord come soon! Terry no more!”
Perhaps one of his offspring would be the king.
And one after another failed. One after another rebelled, one after another went to false gods.
And finally, a millennium later, finally a thousand years later in the city of David a child was born in humble estate.
Finally, the heavens burst open, singing praise – for finally The King was born.
And he lived in perfection – he lived as the humble and perfect king.
And one rose up to announce his ministry, to announce that finally the king was born, to call the nation to obedience, to preparation.
And the sign he gave for this obedience and repentance was baptism.
And one day the king came to him, the king, himself, came to be baptized, and as this king rose from the water, the trinity revealed itself, the trinity burst for in glory – the spirit fell upon the son, and the father pronounced his pleasure and delight in the young king. The Son of God who is King of kings was revealed in His majesty.
In that moment we glimpsed the divine love in the trinity as the Holy Spirit blessed the son, and the father rejoiced and the son obedience to the father!
What beauty! What joy!
But then the son was sent to be tempted in the wilderness – to be tempted as every king, as the whole nation had been tempted.
The son, the young king went into the wildness to be tested.
To complete the test that every generation, every person before had failed.
The son was sent into the wilderness to be tested – and proven – and shown to be perfect – to be the completion of all that humanity had failed to do.
And finally, the king had come.
It is really easy to read Matthew 4:1-11 and read it as a to-do list.
In fact, I have heard many sermons that go something like this – “my friends, this is how we rebuke satan!”
In fact, I have preached this.
And it is not bad advice, but if we fail to see what is going on here, we fail to see what God is doing. We fail to see what Christ is doing. And we miss something so much better.
Yes – we can rebuke and rebuff satan by saturating our minds with scripture, yes we can avoid temptation but habitual mediation upon all that God has done for us, yes we can live a fuller and purer life by having a life perfectly formed by the Holy Spirit.
But my friends – something more is happening here. Something so much better.
Christ is continuing to reveal that he is the perfect king that has come into the world to save sinners, the perfect king who would suffer for His servants, that would receive a humble crown of suffering, a crown of thrones that would be his crown of glory.
But first he had to fulfill all that Israel, all that the kings, all that Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and Adam and Eve had failed to do.
And St. Matthew shows us time and again that He has done this.
After Herod dies, Christ is called out of Egypt just as Israel was.
After his baptism, Christ is sent into the desert, just as Israel was sent into the desert after their baptism in the red sea.
And he goes into the mountain, goes up and proclaims the new Law, opens the new covenant, just as Moses did.
And so the temptation which we see today is more than a manual for rebuffing satan, it is so much more than just a guidelines how to live a good life now, a life with a little less sin.
It is Christ fulfilling his role as the perfect king.
Let that sink in for a moment. The perfect king had finally come, and in this He is tested for us – and he passes every test that we have failed to pass – he becomes the propitiation for our sins – He becomes the perfect sacrifice for our sins because in our imperfection we have failed and fallen short of the glory of God.
But Christ never did for he was very God made man. He dwelt among us – and lived perfectly – that in that perfection God’s glory is seen. His perfection is the glory of God.
And this morning we read how this drama unfolds, how Christ starts to show his perfection, show that soon he will trample down satan under his feet.
For satan tempts him on three fronts:
First, He tempts him with fulfilling food – after forty days of fasting.
I don’t know about you, but when I fast – whether it be a whole fast for a day or two or giving up something for Lent – within a couple of hours I start to long for food – I start to want to eat.
I find that often I have the weirdest craving. Suddenly, at 10 in the morning, I really want pulled pork, or sour patch kids, which I don’t even like, but my mind says “YOU WANT THIS FOOD NOW!”
Or, if I give up meat for lent, as I have in the past, within about a day, I am overwhelmingly tempted by a burger.
And sometimes I fail, and sometimes in my longing, I seek for Christ.
But Christ did not fail as I have so many times, I find Christ in my failure, we find Christ in our failure. For he was tempted as we have been, and he understands and knows the desire we face. But he did not fail as we often do. And he comforts us as no one else can.
And then satan tempted Christ to test God’s power.
We are prone to wonder – did God really say? We are prone to wondering if God will really see us through.
I suspect a lot of the uneasiness of this age for the church, as we wonder if God can really be sovereign, even over such chaos as we face today.
He has promised that he is soveriegn, again and again and again in scripture we see God’s faithfulness to His people, seeing them through ages of chaos, through ages of evil, through storm and temptation.
But we wonder – Did he really say?
And in our failure, Christ has not failed, he did not test the Father, but trusted Him perfectly.
And then Christ was tempted with power.
Sweet, wonderful power.
And how many men, how many women have fallen into this temptation?
“If you had control – you would be okay” we hear this again and again and again, and we have seen the devastated affects of men and women – in the church, and in the government, and in business, who have been allured by this sweet siren of power and prestige.
But Christ did not fail – for he knew that the Father was sovereign, he had surety that God is in control.
Where we have failed – Christ never failed. Where humanity has failed – Christ is faithful.
We enter into this season of Lent, we make our forty day journey towards the cross and if we chose to fast during this time – we know how quickly temptation besets us – we know how quickly we can stumble out of that thing we’d hoped to offer Christ in obedience.
But Lent is as much about the mortification of the flesh – as it is about learning intimacy with the one who will truly mortify our flesh, one who will truly wipe away every tear, who will make us perfect.
Last week we did a deep dive into the darkness of sin. These deep dives can be dreadfully painful, they can be hard – they can be exhausting.
My friends – sin can be painful to see.
Sin – can be hard to confront.
The adage of the age is that we are fundamentally good, and maybe we are just a little flawed, maybe we have some quirks.
But, when we look at sin as what it truly is it makes it impossible to believe this – rather – when we start to see our bend away from God – our bend to be our own gods and our own sovereignity, we realize – that this adage is untrue, and it can be painful.
But in our march towards the cross – in our march with Christ towards his death and resurrection we realize something amazing – something beautiful.
Christ has done it all.
Christ has paid it all.
In Christ alone we have been set free.
This morning – we have seen that Christ has perfectly fulfilled that which all had failed before him, what which we have failed to fulfill and in that perfect fulfilling his has set us free.
St. Paul quotes Isaiah and tells the Corinthian Christians “in a day of salvation I (that is God) have helped you.”
St. Paul tells them – that this is the day of salvation which Isaiah predicted.
Today – is the time of salvation.
All that the earth has groaned for, all that the earth has longed for – the longing of Eve’s heart, the longing of Sara, the longing of Bathsheba, the longing of Mary – has been fulfilled in Christ and we can now cling to Him.
Christ has never failed – Christ is this king of Glory – Christ has come into the world for our redemption, has washed away our sin, and is making us perfect.
My friends, no matter what the world brings, no matter what temptations and assaults the devil throws as us, cling to Christ.
For all our failures, for all the failures of the church, for all the failures of leaders, for all the failures of God’s people.
Christ has never failed.
And this is the good news.
Christ has never failed – and Christ will never fail.
Take heart in your Lenten journey – take heart as you mourn your sin – take heart as you tremble at the way of the world – take heart – that no matter what may happen.
Christ has never and will never fail.
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen.