“FORGIVEN! NO “IF OR “BUTS”
Text: Luke 4:1-13
Sunday March 6th, 2022 – Lent 1
Trinity – Creston/Mount Ayr
Grace, mercy, and peace is yours from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Our text for this First Sunday in Lent is the NT lesson from Luke 4 that was just proclaimed.
Let Us Pray: Dearest Jesus, send your Holy Spirit working through your unchanging Word of truth to remind us that we who trust in you alone for salvation are forgiven, period, no “if ‘s or buts” Amen
Dear Fellow Redeemed in Christ:
I heard a co-worker once say, “If “ifs and buts” were candy and nuts!”
All too often we are tempted to agonize over "what if?" "What if I had done this or that? What if I hadn't done that? But if it wasn’t for this or that! Maybe things would be different."
Closely related to this life-derailing mindset is the "if only" game that we so often engage in when things aren't going as planned. "If only things could be different. If only we did this instead of that."
Yeah, there's also the sense of uncertainty that this little conjunctions so powerfully convey. "If I get my job back…, if so-and-so gets their life together…, if things don't change…." We don't know what the future holds, and it's that uncertainty that can drive one crazy!
And then there's the conditional nature of this little two-letter word, “if”. This is where the word "if" is at its greatest. This is where the word "if" wields the most power, influence, and potential for harm.
"If you really love me; if you want to keep your job; if you want to keep this quiet and make sure no one else finds out, then you will do this, that, and the other thing for me."
With this in mind it should come as no surprise that as we turn our ears to the Gospel lesson for this morning we hear Satan himself wielding this powerful two-letter conditional sword against Christ Jesus in an attempt to bring some sinful harm and chaos into the already troubled life of Jesus.
After forty days of fasting in the middle of the desert wilderness the devil comes to Jesus with three simple propositions. "If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.
If you fall down and worship me, all of this earthly authority and glory will be yours. If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from this highest point on the temple and let God's angels catch you."
Do you notice what the devil is NOT doing here? He's not coming at Jesus with all the fires and terrors of hell. He's not forcing and coercing, scaring Jesus into doing something against His will.
Rather, the devil is using an almost childish playground approach against Jesus. "If you really are the Son of God, prove it! I dare you! I double-dog dare you!”
But Jesus didn't bite. He didn't give in to such sinful foolishness. He didn't give in to the temptations aimed at exploiting the most basic human weaknesses; weaknesses like an empty stomach, or selfish feelings of no respect or power or authority, or the weakness of doing whatever you want and then expecting God to cover for you.
But that's just it: Jesus didn't give in and fall prey to very basic temptations that you and I fall prey to all the time. Our Lord met and countered every temptation with the unerring and all-sufficient Word of God.
He didn't enter into a debate or argument with the devil. He didn't try to reason with the devil. He simply countered the lies with the Word of God alone.
So…it should come as no surprise that this leads us to the logical conclusion that everybody seems to naturally arrive at: If you want to beat the devil when you're tempted then you just need to do what Jesus did. It makes sense, right?
Well…I don't mean to burst your bubble, but such a conclusion is actually wrong. It's amazing how good "saved by faith alone" Christians can become so foolishly synergistic and methodological in their faith. What do I mean by that?
Basically, people wrongly approach this text as a model for what we need to do in our life as we confront temptations. "What would Jesus do? Simple! The answer is right here.
All we need to do is simply copy Jesus and everything will work out just fine. Follow this method; follow the poster-boy Jesus, and you too can triumph over the devil!"
Here's what is so wrong about this approach: If Jesus is the poster-boy example of what you need to do in your own life; if Jesus' actions against Satan are nothing more than easy-to-follow examples that we must duplicate in our own lives, then why did Jesus have to take on our flesh and suffer and die?
If it comes down to nothing more than "do what Jesus did," then our salvation would no longer be grounded in faith and grace. It would be founded upon the rock of personal willpower and self-righteous works. "Do what Jesus did, and if that's not working for you, then try harder!"
I don't know about you, but I can confess that if my salvation hinged upon my abilities to be just like Jesus, I would be doomed, no matter how hard I tried!
And that's just it: I can't be just like Jesus. I can't do what Jesus did. This is precisely why Jesus came to do what He did—because I can't do it! And the same goes for each and every person born of sinful Adam.
What we see here in this Gospel lesson is not a method or how-to guide in overcoming temptation and beating the devil. No! What we see here is our perfect and complete substitute, Jesus, taking our place and doing perfectly what we fail at miserably, all so that His perfection could be credited to us for our salvation.
I want you to think about that for a moment, because it's something we often miss. Jesus Christ isn't just our substitute on the Good Friday cross. He's our perfect and complete substitute in every way, shape, and form, from His conception to His resurrection.
Jesus came to do what He did, not just because we're unable to work perfection in our lives, but so we will never have to go through what He did.
He was forsaken by God so that we'll never have to experience that hell. He suffered all our sins so that we'll never have to pay that wretched, unbearable price.
All this He did for us because of His great unconditional love for us and His unwavering, perfect love and obedience for His heavenly Father, who willingly and unconditionally gave His only-begotten Son to die for us so that we could have everlasting life and salvation with Him.
I want to bring attention to a point in the Gospel text that is often overlooked. "And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from Jesus until an opportune time."
Folks: The devil didn't simply quit after Jesus had bested him that one time in the wilderness. The devil never quits! Evil is not a one-and-done kind thing.
Case in point: Satan came right back at Jesus with the very same two-letter temptation three years later when Christ was hanging on His cross. "If you are the Son of God save yourself! Prove it! Come down off your cross!" Talk about a more opportune time!
What's more opportune than being at the very end of your rope, completely forsaken and forgotten by everyone you love, including God Himself?!
"Okay…you can overcome the temptations of an empty stomach, bruised ego, and wrongly putting God to the test, but things are different now! Those were small things compared to your reality right now.
This is a matter of unbelievable pain and suffering and torment. This is for all the marbles! If you really are the Son of God put that almighty power to good use and end all of this nonsense. Save yourself, come down off that cross and let these losers get what they deserve."
And that's just it: If Christ would've given in and come down off that cross we would be finished. But that's not how it worked out. Christ Jesus didn't give in. "It is finished" was spoken in victory by the Son of God on His cross as the plan of our salvation was fulfilled.
The reason I bring this up is because all too often we fall prey to the devil's temptations when things really heat up in life and get difficult. We can stand firm and resist once, maybe twice, when the temptations are relatively small and easy, but when life really hits the fan its almost as if the rules change for us.
We begin to falsely reason that extenuating circumstances call for extenuating measures. "Normally this would be wrong and I wouldn't do it, but things are different here. This is a matter of life and death! It'll be okay this time. God will understand."
Believe me: The devil is no dummy! He didn't stop working on Jesus. He didn't even bother to use different temptations. He used the same old temptation. He just waited for a more opportune time to strike; a time when that temptation would have more influence and leverage and power.
If this was the case with Jesus, what makes you think the devil is going to stop working on you simply because you overcame his temptations once before? And here's why I lay all this out to you:
It doesn't matter how good or bad life is going; it doesn't matter how or when the devil tempts you. The answer is always the same: look to and hold fast to your Lord and Savior, Christ Jesus.
Don't look to Him as a poster-boy model of what you need to do. Nothing makes the devil happier than getting you to foolishly believe that different circumstances call for different measures and that you can actually assist in working your salvation and deliverance.
Instead look to and hold fast to your perfect and complete substitute who did it all, perfectly and completely, for you. Hold fast to Son of God and His victorious and eternal proclamation, "It is finished!" No ifs, ands, or buts about it. Amen.
Now may the peace of God which passes all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord and Savior. Amen.