Today we commemorate the day that Doctor Martin Luther died, as well as the First Sunday in Lent.
Like other saints, Luther is with the Lord. He has passed through the wilderness of this life. Now troubles and temptations are behind him. The struggle is over for him to remain faithful to the Gospel while all the world, as it sometimes seems, is against it.
Worse, the old evil foe fought against Luther and against every saint that has lived, us included. Luther was painfully aware of satanís attacks. On earth there is no equal to the devil. His power is like the giant Goliath, whom no soldier in Israel could hope to overcome. Even the strongest of them cowered before the giant.
But our David has come. He seemed weak, like nothing but a child before a giant. Yet our David is the Son of Mary and the Son of God. He who seems weak is actually the strongest of all. That Goliath, satan, stood no chance against the Lord of Sabaoth in human flesh. Jesus Christ our Lord took the field of battle and conquered satan and now holds the field forever.
The question many Christians want to ask is, ďHow do we overcome satan?Ē We are often painfully aware that satan can attack us and tempt us into sin. We are aware that we are no equal to the old evil foe any more than we could beat Goliath in hand to hand combat. So how do we beat the devil? How did the saints of old like Luther beat him?
Often we may wonder these things because we want to see ourselves in the role of David. Here comes the giant. God can give us the victory, if only we know the right technique. If we chose the right weapon, like a sling or a shotgun, then we could beat our enemy. If we think the right thoughts or do the right deeds or say the right words, victory will be ours.
But we should not try to make ourselves the won who earns the victory. The victor is Christ. Our champion fights for us, the Valiant One, whom God Himself elected for the task of crushing the ancient serpentís head. We are not the main actor in the story.
To see the way victory happens, we look to the wilderness, where the Son of Man seems to be starving Himself to death. That looks like no victory. The devil attacks with cunning temptations. We might wonder why the Son of God tolerates the presence of the tempter at all. Why not smite Him with power? Why not send angels to cast satan into the Abyss? But no, Christ sits meekly, enduring attacks that should never have happened. The devil has no right to tempt God. But Christ tolerates this atrocious insult to His person.
Christ in the wilderness does not seem like David flinging the stone into the giantís skull with a mighty, mortal blow. But it is. The Son of Adam, the new Adam, faces the same tempter that overcame our first parents in Eden. But Christ is not overcome. He becomes the new representative for the human race. He stands firm against temptation, and mankind is victorious in Him.
Of course, satan looked for more opportunities to corrupt Christ. The devil returned at other opportune times to renew his attacks. He could not resist the allure of trying to lead the Son of God into sin.
But Christ stood firm every time, all the way to the Cross and the Empty Tomb. Once the battle was joined in the wilderness of temptation, the inevitable result would be the cross and tomb. Again, the victory was not as we expect. There was no climactic struggle of warriors. Christ let Himself be killed. He did not struggle, but seemed to surrender. The devil did his worst, and Christ took it all without striking back.
Christís passiveness was the very thing that allowed Him to pay the price for us. He let Himself become the atonement that erases the devilís power to accuse us. He has shattered the devilís power of death by rising on the third day. All the weapons of the old evil foe are broken. Christ has destroyed them all.
So our David has won the final victory, and the victory is therefore ours. It was not only Adam and Eve that Christ substituted for in the wilderness. It was not only our first parents that failed when tempted. You and I have failed too many times to count. The devil has played with us like a cat with a mouse. He had all the power, and death seemed certain for us. But Christ meekly walked onto the stage and became a target for satan. Christ came in the form of a servant, born of woman under the law, so that He became the perfect substitute for every man, woman, and child in history. He resisted satan, from the wilderness to the hill outside Jerusalem to the empty tomb. The whole way, He did not slip, thanks be to God.
So how did Luther and others beat the devil? Simply in this way: They trusted in the Savior. They did not trust their own ability to beat satan. Oh, they tried hard to resist him in their own lives, and so should we. But they put no faith in their own strength. They did not try to make themselves the main actor in the story. No, Christ is the one they trusted.
Luther saw that the victory could only be in Christ, the Son of David. Only He is strong enough to save us from the wicked giant. Only He could fight and win.
May we continue to trust in Christ, the patient and perfect warrior who sits in the wilderness starving for us. May we trust the Man who let Himself be beaten by soldiers and spat upon and tortured and finally nailed to wood, even though He did not have to suffer one bit of it. May we see that this strange, passive victory is ours. May we remain steadfast in faith to receive the fruits of His victory in the life to come, by Godís grace and Spirit. Amen.
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