Immanuel Lutheran Church

Sermon

Lent 1

"The world is yours . . for a price"

Matthew 4:8-11

February 22, 2015

Stories abound about people who have sold their souls to the devil. From Dr. Faustus to modern rock stars, tales are told of pacts with the devil. The person offers his or her soul in exchange for diabolical favors.Those favors vary by the tale, but tend to include perpetual youth, knowledge, wealth, and power.

While some people make a formal deal with the devil, there are many who simply fall into the devil's trap. Although they don't sign anything, they are like mice nibbling at the cheese in the trap oblivious that the spring is about to unleash sudden death upon them. Instead of cheese, the devil lulls people with wealth or power or prestige. Initially, he may not throw out the whole prize. Instead, he throws a little here and some more there until the trap is sprung.

This is the crux of the last temptation of Satan to Jesus in the wilderness. Matthew 4:8-11. Again, the devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory; and he said to Him, "All these things I will give You, if You fall down and worship me." Then Jesus said to him, "Go, Satan! For it is written, 'YOU SHALL WORSHIP THE LORD YOUR GOD, AND SERVE HIM ONLY.'" Then the devil left Him; and behold, angels came and began to minister to Him.

The allure of the world is nothing new. Throughout the ages people have been tempted and corrupted by money, power, prestige and celebrity status. The Bible records some of these. Rather than following the Lord's instruction to fill the earth after the flood, people remained in the fertile crescent and began to build a monument to their human pride. We know this as the Tower of Babel. The Lord used the confusion of languages to disperse them.

The sad reality is human nature hasn't changed since the first temptation when Satan whispered those enticing and alluring words, "you will be like God." What makes us think we can be omnipotent like God? What makes us think we would use power for good? History tells us that power corrupts. Still, we find the quest for power and wealth as something to be actively pursued, for the greater good, of course.

The commandments warn against flirting with the devil. Which of the commandments admonish us to be on guard against these assaults of Satan? It begins with coveting. When we want something that belongs to others, especially if we don't want to work to have them ourselves, we begin to slide the slippery slope into the clutches of the evil one.

The first brothers are an example to us. Cain hated his brother Abel. Why? Abel made an acceptable sacrifice to the Lord. Cain coveted the honor the Lord gave his brother but refused to do anything to change his attitude. He murdered his bother thinking that once the "competition" was eliminated, he would have the honor of the Lord. Wrong. He was so wrong-headed that he murdered his brother. The only remorse he felt was being caught up in his evil and punished by God.

Cain wanted it all. History is filled with examples of those who sought to have it all. Jesus asked, "What does it profit a man to gain the world and lose his soul?" [Mark 8:38] Our Lord understands the human desire to "have it all." Here's the reality bite. You can't have it all.

As soon as you buy into this lie, you will fall into the clutches of the devil. Cain wanted it all. The mythical Faust wanted it all. Solomon who probably came the closest to having it all died a bitter and disillusioned man leaving us with his immortal words, "vanity, vanity, all is vanity."

Evil is a bully. It bullies its way into the lives of ordinary people. Those who sell their souls to the devil may have all kinds of heady ideas but the end is only death. How many of those receiving the Oscar awards tonight will use their microphone time to praise abortion, immoral life styles and the glorification on all that is weird and bizarre. In what they consider their enlightened worldly wisdom, they have become fools. The devil is laughing at them as they are more ensnared in his clutches.

In spite of learning from both the Bible and human history, we are tempted to worship Satan. It happens in seemingly small ways that don't make much difference. It begins when we distort the blessings of God and our daily bread by thinking they are something we have deserved. When you complain about how meager you think your daily bread is or that others have more than you do, you open the door to the devil. When you are no longer thankful for your blessings and daily bread, you open your door to the devil. When you want more in life for less, you open the door to the devil.

The devil also works through what seem to be lofty ideals and guiding principles. In the name of things holy, the devil unleashes death and destruction. We see this evil masquerading as godliness in the Middle East and Africa. It is Islam on steroids. Despite what the media and the political leaders claim, ISIS is evil. Here we have a group of people who are literally hell-bent to do the work of Satan. They come only to steal, kill and destroy. They do it in the name of religion, in this case Islam. They are not the first or the last who will use this an excuse for their evil.

The Nazis in Germany and the communists in Russia and China use their belief systems as the excuse to kill millions of their own people. In the process, they confiscated the wealth of those they were killing. They became drunk with power and the deeper they imbibed the evil they were perpetuating, the more crazed and dangerous they became. Eventually, their evil consumed itself but what was left behind was ruin.

The devil is busy in the world. He finds your weakness and works on you. Maybe you don't aspire to wealth.Then, the devil will something else. Maybe, you like pleasure. Satan can warp your enjoyment of pleasure into something self-consuming and deadly. Maybe you like excitement and adventure, the devil can push you into recklessness that not only puts your life in harm's way but others as well. It's not just wealth or fame that can get you into trouble. The devil is always looking for even those little things to snare you.

How do we resist the snares of Satan? Jesus gave us the same tools He used. We have His word. As St. Paul reminds us, we put on the full armor of God. We have prayer. We have the daily blessings of baptism flowing into our lives. We have the opportunity to confess our sins and receive absolution. We have the Lord's Supper. We have the promise that when we resist the devil, he will flee from us. We have the assurance that the Lord is watching over us and embracing us in His love now and forever. Amen.


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