Invocavit, the First Sunday in Lent: The Word Endures Even While Satan Attacks

Lessons: Genesis 3:1-21, Hebrews 4:14-16, Matthew 4:1-11
Hymns: 434, 656, 424, 724, 422, 418

      Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

      Sometimes people will only believe what they see. After all, there is a that saying, “Seeing is believing.” If we hear something that sounds like a tall tale, we won’t believe it until we have some proof. The evidence we tend to accept is not the evidence we hear, but that which we can see. There are plenty of stories that are told, but it is far more difficult to deceive the eye.

      Yet, the eye can also be tricked. Videos and pictures can give an incomplete or distorted view. There’s plenty of so-called evidence floating around online of pictures that are photoshopped or videos that are heavily edited. Even our own eyes can play tricks on us. One thing happens and we somehow see another thing.

      I was talking to a pastor friend this past week who had extremely poor vision in one eye. He could only see the big E when it was close to him. Last year his retina became detached so he couldn’t see anything out of that eye. Yet, when he closed his good eye, his brain played a trick on him to make him think he could still see out of his bad eye. He was certain he could see something, but he could not.

      I’ll admit that I could not trust myself being an umpire or referee. I’d always be questioning myself if I really saw what I thought I saw.

      Juries sometimes weigh evidence in which one eyewitness sees one thing and another eyewitness sees another thing, even though it’s the same scene and the same people. Yet, their honest testimony may be completely contradictory.

      Is seeing always believing? Or is seeing only believing? After the disciples saw that Jesus had truly risen bodily from the dead, Thomas (who was not with them) refused to believe. He had heard the Old Testament Scriptures prophesying our Lord’s death and resurrection. He had even heard Jesus prophesy on multiple occasions that He will be handed over to men who hate Him and will be beaten and crucified and will rise from the dead on the third day.

      But then Thomas’s eyes witnessed something he could not unsee. He saw the brutal crucifixion of our Lord. He saw the trial of Jesus. He saw the severe beating the soldiers subjected Him to. He saw the nails pierce His hands and feet. He saw the cross lifted up. He saw Jesus die on that cross. And Thomas saw the soldier pierce our Lord’s side in which blood and water poured out. Thomas knew that Jesus was dead—very dead. Gruesomely dead. For that’s what he saw.

      Therefore, Thomas would not believe the report of the disciples. He had to see the resurrected Jesus. And he had to touch Him and His wounds to really believe it. Then, a week later, Jesus appeared before the disciples, including Thomas. Jesus said to Thomas, “‘Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.’ Thomas answered Him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen Me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed’” (John 20:27-29). Blessed indeed are those who have not seen, and yet believe! Blessed are all who believe the sure and true report of our Lord Jesus Christ as recorded in the Bible!

      Eve was told not to eat the fruit in the midst of the garden. Yet, after Satan came, she did not trust what she heard, but instead she trusted in what she saw. She no longer believed the true Word God taught to Adam and Adam to Eve. She heard the seeds of doubt planted by Satan, “Did God really say?” Did He really mean it? Take a look. Use those God-given eyes. What do your eyes teach you? Can’t you tell that your eyes are revealing to you another truth—another reality—another perspective? Don’t just listen. See for yourself.”

      Ah, the Tempter’s poison! He ever so subtly misleads people to distrust the Word of God and trust in their incomplete vision. He turns evil into beauty. Eve saw that the forbidden fruit looked good for food and that it was a delight to the eyes. So why not eat it? And so she ate. She handed it to Adam, who failed to protect his wife from Satan’s assaults and he also ate. They brought the world into sin.

      Their eyes were now opened, and they now knew evil. Yet, their vision was worse than before. Before they sinned, they could be in God’s presence and live. Being made in the image and likeness of God, they had good, pure knowledge of God. They saw God as good, for He is. Then, when they sinned, they didn’t see God as good. They tried to hide from Him. Their eyes deceived them.

      Satan continues to work day and night, trying to deceive our own eyes. One way he does so is that he tries to hide the hideous nature of sin and make it appear beautiful. That way he can lure us into his trap while we think we are safe.

      He’s so bold with this tactic that he even attempted it on Jesus. After Jesus had fasted 40 days and 40 nights, Satan knew this was his chance to get Jesus to sin. Jesus was hungry and weakened. Whenever we face discomfort or uncertainty, the Devil knows it is a fine time to approach us and sow the seed of distrust toward God.

      Satan seemed to have played his cards right during this pandemic. Instead of drawing many to Christ to hear Him and rely on Him, many have distanced themselves from God and His providing Hand in distrust. Whenever we are faced with these types of attacks, we must remember the words of our Epistle (Hebrews 4:16), “Let us with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

      Jesus was also in the wilderness alone. Satan knows the best way to tempt is to isolate people. He loves it when people think they have privacy online to go to areas no one should ever go. And so, Satan got to work on Jesus. “See these rocks? Look at them as if they’re bread. You can change them into bread. Aren’t you hungry? Go ahead. Pick them up. Turn them into bread and eat them.”

      When that didn’t work, Satan tried another route. Since Jesus will rely on His Father alone, let’s see if God will protect Jesus if He jumps off the Temple. “Look, Jesus. It’s safe. You said it Yourself. Jump!”

      And when that didn’t work, Satan tried again. “Look at the kingdoms of the world! All this can all be yours if you fall down and worship me!” Oh, how Satan loves to tempt us with all the stuff the world has to offer. He entices us with worldly things and tempts us to despise heavenly things. We see amazing graphics on giant screens and then we compare such thrills with going to church, watching a crucifix go down the isle, hearing a preacher go on, and seeing people receiving some bead and wine. These things appear insignificant compared to man’s inventions; but they are the power of God.

      In all three temptations, Jesus never gave in. In each of them, Jesus responded with the sure and certain Word of God. It is written, “Man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” It is written, “You shall not test God.” It is written, “You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only you shall serve.”

      Our weapon to face the assaults and attacks of Satan is the same—the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. Jesus is the Word made flesh and He came to defeat Satan. And He did just that when He went to the cross.

      What Thomas saw looked most pitiable. An innocent Man dying on the cross. But is this all there was to it? What they could see? No, much more. What those who witnessed our Lord’s crucifixion couldn’t see is that 1) our Lord Jesus was bearing the weight of the world’s sin as He was held accountable for all sin, 2) Jesus remained sinless and He would shed innocent Blood as the ransom payment for the sin of the world, and 3) the Father had forsaken Jesus because the He laid on Him our iniquity. Through this all, Jesus was paying the complete payment necessary to take our sins away. Jesus was earning our eternal salvation. He was making it possible for us to rest with Him in Heaven. Jesus was fulfilling the promise made when Adam and Eve sinned, that He is crushing Satan’s head as our Lord’s heel is bruised. That is, Jesus is truly defeating Satan. This defeat is seen in our Lord’s resurrection. Neither Satan nor the grave could keep our Lord dead.

      Today we blessed and placed into use a new processional crucifix. It’s the first crucifix in our sanctuary. While I haven’t heard any objections here, it is not unusual for people to object to the use of a crucifix. Some will say it appears too gruesome. What they are failing to see is the love Jesus had for us when He endured the cross to pay for our sins. Others will say He’s not dead, but living; therefore, we should only depict an empty cross. Granted, an empty cross teaches the resurrection, but a crucifix teaches the way Jesus paid for our sins and reconciled us to our Father. Of course, Jesus is no longer a baby, but no one has trouble depicting Him in a manger scene. What we can see in this crucifix is a reminder that we all deserve death for our sins, but instead Jesus endured death in our place. This is the way He paid for our sin. It is the only way our sins could be atoned for. It is the way of life. And Jesus did it, fulfilling the promise made to Adam and Eve. It’s no wonder, then, that Paul was determined to know nothing among us except Jesus Christ and Him crucified (1 Cor. 2:2).

      We can’t see in the crucifix what the disciples saw with their own eyes. But they couldn’t see all that He endured either. And so, with the eyes of faith, we listen to God’s Word of truth. We gladly hear and learn it. We rejoice in the Word of God that enters our ears. “For faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17). We fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of faith (Heb. 12:2). Amen.              

     The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting.  Amen