17 March 2014

Homily for Lent 1

(Better late than never, here's my homily for Lent 1 - Invocabit, focusing on the Gospel reading of Matthew 4:1-11.)

The REAL Bible C.O.D.E.

Perhaps you’ve heard those ads on the radio or seen them on your favorite websites. They’re about a secret code that, once you learn it, will unlock some hidden message in the Bible. There’s “The Biblical Money Code.” According to this code, you’ll learn “lost investment principles of Scripture to go from making $15,000 a year … to giving away up to $50,000 a year.” Sounds appealing. And there’s the ad for a “Hidden Bible Code” that gives an unknown treatment for cancer. When you search the Internet, gobs and gobs of Bible code sites come rushing for your attention. Supposedly, if you can discern the correct letters of the Hebrew or Greek text, you can unlock the “real” hidden message of the Bible. People have been trying it for centuries.

Well, today let’s play along just a bit. But today let's figure out right here, right now what is the REAL Bible C.O.D.E. And to do that, we’ll use the letters of the word “code”—C-O-D-E. And, by the way, once you learn this “code,” I guarantee you that you will never need to waste your hard-earned money or your precious time on any of those books or CD sets at Barnes & Noble or on the internet.

The “C” in the real Bible C.O.D.E. stands for “Christ.” Martin Luther said that the Scriptures are the manger that hold and deliver Jesus the Christ. When you have Christ, you have THE key that unlocks all of the Bible. Without Jesus, the Bible will always remain a locked book. That’s what leads people to search for investment secrets or patterns in Hebrew and Greek letters. They miss the real secret—the true mystery—that comes through in every page of the Bible. And that mystery is Jesus Himself.

When you begin reading your Bible, you can see Jesus there, always there, from the very beginning. He is the Word through whom “all things were made…and without Him was not any thing made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men” (Jn 1:3-4). Christ is even there in the Garden when Adam and Eve fell to the serpent’s wily deceit. What? You didn’t hear that in our first reading? Just because you didn’t hear it doesn’t mean He wasn’t there.

After Adam and Eve ate the fruit that God told them not to eat—after they brought sin and death into God’s good world—they tried to hide from God. “And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden.” The Hebrew word for “sound” is literally “voice.” “The VOICE of the LORD God” was walking in the garden. And what is that “voice” but the Word of God—the same Word that created; the same Word that goes walking and running to find and rescue His fallen creatures. Not only that, but Adam and Eve also tried to hide themselves from God’s presence. Literally, it says, “from the FACE of God.” And which Person of God has a face? Jesus the Christ.

And, if that weren’t enough, Christ Himself shows up in the first promise of the Gospel. God told the old evil foe in serpent’s guise: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.” Not only was Christ right there in the Garden, but, as God promised, He would also come to squash the satanic serpent’s head. Christ Himself would rescue His fallen creatures—all human beings—from sin and death. And just to give a foretaste of how that feast would taste, “the LORD God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.” A small gracious act that prepares all of us for God’s grace in Christ on a cross. A sacrifice would be made. Blood would be shed. Adam and Eve, all humanity, including you and I, would be recipients and beneficiaries.

So, Christ Himself is THE key to the real Bible C.O.D.E. When you fix your eyes on Him, you see what the real and quite apparent message of the Scriptures truly is. No spiritual hucksters need apply.

What about the “O” in the real Bible C.O.D.E.? It can stand for “overcomes.” Or “outwits.” Or “overthrows.” Or even “offsets.” From the Garden, we fast forward to a desert. Jesus Christ goes fresh from His Baptism into the hot, dry, dusty wilderness to be tempted by Satan. The old evil foe wants to try his wiles on the Son of God made flesh and blood. “Hey,” he thinks, “it worked in the Garden all those centuries ago. Let’s make it work again in the barren wilderness.”

But that first Gospel promise was still in effect. In fact, it was kicking into gear in fullest measure. This hungry, thirsty, tired, worn out Man who is also God, overcomes the devil’s seeds of doubt. He overcomes the traps of temptations. And how does He do that? Jesus Christ outwits the sly, satanic foe by trusting His heavenly Father and appealing to the Scriptures. You see, those Scriptures are not a book of magic incantations to unlock secret pearls of wisdom. They are very clear and open truth. They reveal God’s rescue story for all of us.

Not only did Jesus overcome and outwit Satan in the wilderness, but He did the same things on the Cross. And all for you. Let’s add the word “overthrow.” What Jesus did on a smaller scale in the wilderness, He did on the universal scale on the Cross. He fully and finally overthrew Satan and his evil, lying schemes. He fully and finally overthrew all of the temptations that lead you away from God, that lead you to think you are in control of your world and everything in the world. He overthrew your sin and your death. We call that “forgiveness of sins.” And all by being weak, by suffering, by dying, and finally by rising again.

Now let’s add the word “offsets.” It’s a synonym for “redeems” or “atones.” Jesus Christ “offsets” your sins, your doubts, your weaknesses in time of temptation. He has made amends for you before God. He has made restitution for you before God. He takes Satan’s accusations against you, and He offsets them, makes up for them, atones for them. Oh, those accusations are true, to be sure. You are a sinner. You and I have not feared, loved, or trusted God as we should. You and I have not loved our neighbor as we should. But your Lord Jesus cancels out those sins by His shed blood and His innocent death.

Now to the “D” in the real Bible C.O.D.E. Just in case you haven’t figured it out yet, let’s attach two words to this letter—“death” and “devil.” Here’s the good news for you today and every day: Christ, true God from eternity and also true Man, overcomes and offsets death and the devil for you. We see it in the Garden; we see it in the wilderness of temptation; and we see it especially on the Cross. And we’ll celebrate the victory in full measure on Easter.

And finally, what does the “E” stand for in the real Bible C.O.D.E.? We could say “everyone.” After all, Jesus suffers temptation and cross to redeem the whole world. But let’s keep two other words in mind—“everyday” and “eternally.” Christ Jesus overcomes, outwits, overthrows, and offsets death and the devil each and every day for you, and His victory lasts into all eternity.

You know how you are tempted. You know how you often give in to those temptations to stray from God and His way, to doubt God, to ignore God. You know how you constantly give in to temptations to not love your neighbor. So, Jesus is always at work to overcome the wiles of Satan and the stench of death in your life. Hebrews 4 reminds us that our Lord knows exactly what you and I go through day after day. “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.”

That’s how we begin this season of Lent—fixing our eyes on Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith. His work of overcoming sin, death, and the devil continue each and every day. We cannot win the battle. But Christ already has. And so you and I may “with confidence draw near to the throne of grace.” You and I “may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” That, dear saints, is the real “code” to the Bible—hearing and receiving Jesus and His forgiveness, His life, and His salvation.

And one final thought. You’ve probably noticed that Hollywood is getting into “Bible-based” movies. A movie called The Son of God just came out, and a movie called Noah will soon come out. I can imagine some Christians saying, “Awesome! Bible-based movies.” I can hear others asking, “Is that really how it happened?” Well, don’t let those kinds of movies replace the real thing. Read the book! Use this time of Lent to open your Bible and see Christ at work for you. Go to the source. You don’t need  to rely on Hollywood’s version of the Bible, and you certainly don’t need any secret codes to unlock some hidden mysteries in the sacred pages. You have the  real C.O.D.E.—Christ overcomes, outwits, overthrows, and offsets death and the devil. And He does it everyday and for all eternity. Just for you. Amen.

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