Wednesday, February 17, 2016

The crippling power of doubt. . .

Sermon for Lent 1C preached on Sunday, February 14, 2016.

    We often presume the goal of Satan is to encourage us to be bad.  In reality, he cares less about whether or not we are bad than driving a wedge between us and the Word and promises of God. Satan’s method of operation is to call into question God’s Word and promises.  Is that REALLY what God said, what God meant? If you are hungry, doesn’t God want you to be full?  If you can avoid pain, would not God want you to take the easier path. If God says He has your back, why do bad things happen to good people?  How can it be wrong when it feels so good -- even Valentine’s Day fits into the scheme of the devil to plant doubt about what love is and to equate love with lust.
    Our Lord could not be tempted as easily as we are.  He is the Son of God.  So Satan had to use physical temptations.  Yet even in these there are spiritual implications.  Satan does not have to destroy God to wrest us from God’s grasp.  He has instead only to plant seeds of doubt in our heart about what God has said, done, and promised.  When we doubt God's Word and promises, he has done his job. 
    Though we are tempted to think that great men have great doubts - that doubts can be useful and fruitful.  Doubt is never the source of good and neither is it benign.  It will drive us from the faith unless we can answer it with the Word of the Lord that endures forever.  Wed require nothing less than the Spirit to keep our confidence in God's Word and promises.
    Temptation leads us to doubt God’s provision for our lives.   Eve doubted the goodness of the garden God had given them. We figure God helps those who help themselves and we go for what we want, worrying about later if it is good or right.  How can it be bad when it feels or tastes or seems so good?  Wouldn’t God want me to have it, to be happy, to be satisfied?  Surely that is the minimum?!?
    Temptation leads us to doubt God’s promises to us.  Abraham doubted that God would keep His promise and chose to create his own heir.  We look with our eyes and presume that eyes see more clearly than faith.  We lament God’s wisdom, His timing, and His judgement and so we justify our end runs to get what we think we deserve, what we think God should have done.
    Temptation leads us to doubt God’s providence in giving us the kingdom.  Like the prodigal son we refuse to wait for is to come.  Maybe heaven will not be as good this moment is.  Fearing that God’s future may disappoint, we pursue our own tomorrow.  And then we offer to God the ruins when it falls apart.
    So what is the answer?  The Word of the Lord endures forever.  This is no theoretical statement but the most practical of needs for a people captive to a world of change and fickle hearts.  Jesus answers temptation for us; He answers all our doubts with confidence in the Word of the Lord.  By the way, all of Jesus’ answers are Law, all from Deuteronomy.  Man shall not live by bread alone, you shall worship the serve God alone, and you shall not test the Lord your God.  The Word of the Lord endures forever.  In the crisis of doubt and fear, this is our confidence and this is our hope -- not feelings or what ifs.
    Did Satan really expect Jesus to give in?  Surely He knew that he could not match wits with the Son of God.  Satan knew the weakness of the Lord (His flesh) but Jesus knows the strength of God (the Word that endures forever).  Doubt rears its head in the pain of our hunger, in the heartache of our disappointment, and in our fear of the future.  Satan could afflict Jesus’ flesh but He could not  deprive Jesus of the comfort of God’s Word, promises, and gracious will.  How Satan tried to isolate Jesus from God is what Satan tries upon us.
    Doubts deprive us of all our strength, wasting our time on the what ifs instead of the what is of God’s actions.  Jesus does not give us clues how to be strong on our own but instead clothes us in His strength.  We see in Christ not an example to follow but the anchor of His Word and promise.  God will deliver His people, protect His own, answer those who call to Him, stand with them in their trouble, rescue and honor those who trust in Him...  If we stand in Christ, we stand firm.
    “Is it enough?” whispers Satan.  The answer to that lies in Jesus arms outstretched in suffering and His triumphant rise from death and grave's prison. It is enough to stand in Christ who gives us His flesh for bread, who reveals the depth of God’s love that we might worship Him without fear, and who endures the test so we may be endure to eternal life.  God is faithful.  He will do it.  Is this enough?  The cross says yes.  The Spirit says yes.  In the face of temptation, we answer yes.  The Word of the Lord endures forever.  Amen.

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