Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’” Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him. (Matthew 4:10-11 ESV)
Let us all pray. “Love caused Your incarnation; Love brought you down to me. Your thirst for my salvation Procured my liberty. Oh, love beyond all telling, That led you to embrace In love, all love excelling, Our lost and fallen race.” (O Lord, How shall I Meet You? Lutheran Service Book 334)
Dear fellow Pilgrims journeying to the Paschal Feast:
For almost three days now we have been shown the terrible destruction caused upon the country of Japan and its people by Friday’s earthquake. It is possibly the worst Japan has ever suffered. Certainly it is the worst in recently recorded history.
It was followed by tsunamis and now failure at nuclear power stations. The earthquake brought down buildings. The tsunamis brought in tidal waves and further devastation and flooding. The inability to cool nuclear reactors have meant melt downs. And what we are shown looks like a Hollywood disaster movie –or possibly even the end of the world.
When such events come we Christians can’t help but think of the end of the world. The rest of the world might scoff, and the scientists might objectively tell us that the earth shifted and all of Japan moved eight feet –but we also remember the words of Jesus in Matthew chapter 24,
For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains. (Matthew 24:5-8)
Not long ago we took our kids out to eat. That was a treat for them, since it was in the middle of the week. When we sat down –and after we had ordered –we told them we had something we wanted to talk about with them. Anna said, “Oh, no!” and Andrew, thinking he had already been left out asked, “what? what?” Anna said, “Andrew –I remember a time when Mom and Dad took us out eat and said they had something to tell us…and we ended up finding out we’re were going to have a brother!”
Mindy and I sat there taking it all in with amazement. All we wanted to do was talk about spring break this year. That’s the idea about the signs of the end times. Christians don’t know when the end will come. But we know the signs. We may very well not know the hour, but we can say that the end is near. No wonder thoughts of the end of the world pop into our heads when we see such death and destruction!
But if you are still skeptical–remember the Apostle Paul reminds us in Romans 13:11,
Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.
So, why do such terrible things have to happen in the world? Why doesn’t God prevent them? And where does evil come from? The answers to these questions are found in our Lessons for this first Sunday in Lent (Genesis 3:1-21).
Sin is the reason for earthquakes and every other natural and man made disaster. Adam and Eve were given a beautiful earth and a beautiful garden to live in our. Our first parents chose to listen instead to the devil and rebel against God. They brought a curse down upon us all.
The Apostle Paul explains in today’s Epistle Lesson,
Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned – (Romans 5:12)
God did not make evil or sin. The devil did. God does not tempt us, the devil does. We have lost the image of God with which we were created. We walked and talked with God. We were meant to be friends with God, and as his creatures to love and serve him in holiness and righteousness. In that world we were made to be happy.
The Apostle Paul also tells us elsewhere about the devastating effects of sin upon the whole creation. Just as people suffered in the earthquake, so did the planet. The ocean left its limits. The earth shifted and left huge cracks. Plants and animals too, were washed away or buried in mud and debris by the tsunamis. Paul tells us in Romans chapter 8,
For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. (Romans 8:19-22)
We might even be tempted to think that since the Japanese are a godless people as a whole and that Christianity makes up a very small number of the people–perhaps one or two percent–that they are suffering because of their sins. People thought that way when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and the Gulf region. They said that God was judging those people for the way they carry one–especially just before Lent at Mardi Gras; that the drunkenness and prostitution and everything else that goes on brought God’s wrath upon those people at that time.
But good people suffered along with the evil ones who do those things. Our St. Paul’s Missouri Synod Lutheran Church in downtown New Orleans suffered a great deal of damage then, too.
In Luke 13:1-5 we read about Jesus answer to the idea that all suffering is direct punishment because of particular sins.
There were some present at that very time who told [Jesus] about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
I remember this text as the assignedGospel Lesson for the Sunday following 9/11! I also remember one of my former seminary professors telling me later that he lost a nephew in one of the towers.
Jesus says, “No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
In our Gospel Lesson Jesus contends with the devil. He takes up the battle with Satan where Adam and Eve left off. God told our first Parents the first Gospel:
“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspringand her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” (Genesis 3:15)
We have now entered the Time of Easter and the Season of Lent. Lent is a penitential season. We ponder the holy Passion of our Savior, Jesus. The devil did go after Jesus heel and bruised it. He struck him terribly in the foot and hands and side. Our Savior’s brow bled. His beard was ripped out. His face was struck multiple times. He was beaten to a pulp. He was psychologically mistreated. Spat upon. Abused. Murdered.
But that was just a heel wound in comparison to what our Savior did to Satan. You see, Jesus struck the devil down. He stomped on him. He crushed his head. Jesus fought with Satan and He won. And our Gospel Lesson shows that all the temptations and ways that Satan comes to us and would try to harm us –it is undone by this one word: Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners.
As we see the world get worse around us. As we see the effects of sin upon our bodies. As we wonder what might be happing to us and our loved ones as each disease and hardship threatens us, we keep in our minds these words and promises of God. That He sent Jesus into the world to suffer and die for us –to save us from the sin of Adam, and from all of our sins. That He is victorious over Satan. That He will come again some day to take us to be with Him forever. And that nothing can ever separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus. Amen.