SERMON FOR THE FIRST SUNDAY IN LENT, 3-1-2020
LUTHER MEMORIAL CHAPEL
Pastor Michael Larson
How many of you have ever been picked on by a bully? (raise hand) So where did he get you? Was it at school? How about at recess? Maybe he cornered you in the locker room. There’s nothing worse than a bully.
I had a bully too. He was a couple grades ahead of me, and he and some friends for some reason took a real interest in me and made my two-mile walk home from school feel like a very long and dangerous odyssey. They inflicted some real terror on me. They were bigger, stronger, merciless. And I just didn’t have much working for me. In hindsight, some wrestling, boxing, or jiu jitsu might have been a nice investment for my situation. Even my legs couldn’t save me.
Maybe that’s why as a Sunday School student the story of David and Goliath was the best for me. Because there’s a bully if there ever was one. He’s massive and terrifying. Nine feet tall he stands. Just the coat of armor on his chest weighs 125 pounds. The tip of his spear 15 pounds just by itself. And he comes from a whole tribe of bullies who had been terrorizing God’s people for a few hundred years.
So that bully, Goliath, steps forward to intimidate God’s people, to threaten them, and defy them. And because of his size, the terror of it all, and the overwhelming odds of that Philistine army, King Saul and his men cower in fear and step back. But not David. He’s just a shepherd boy. But he steps forward, an underdog, with only a sling, and five smooth stones.
Goliath laughed at David and cursed him. But faithful David warned that bully, saying, “You come to me with a sword and a spear and javelin, but I, I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel. And the Lord, on this very day, will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down. So that all here may know that the Lord saves not with sword and spear. For the battle is the Lord’s, and He will give you into our hand.”
That bully Goliath lurched ahead to take on David. David marched forward himself right into the fray of battle. Perhaps he prayed that prayer of his, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil. For thou art with me. Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” Then David reached in his bag. He took out a stone and slung it. It whistled through the air and sank deep into that bully’s forehead – so that he fell to the dust in death. The bully was undone. Goliath was no more and the army of Israel roared in victory.
Now in our Gospel this morning another battle is taking place. It’s Jesus, David’s Son and David’s Lord, but again, looking like an underdog. And He’s led out into the wilderness by the Spirit to go toe to toe with the worst bully this world has ever known, a bully straight from hell, the devil himself.
While Jesus was fasting, his stomach screaming with hunger, the devil tempted him, saying, “If you are the son of God command these stones to become loaves of bread.” Jesus answered: “It is written, man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Then the devil took Him to Jerusalem, the pinnacle of the temple. “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, God will save you, isn’t that right?” “Again it is written, you shall not put the Lord your God to the test.” In a last-ditch effort, the devil takes Him up a high mountain. Shows Him all the kingdoms of the earth. Promises Him worldly power and glory. All this I will give you, if you will just fall and down and worship me.” But Jesus strikes back. He reaches deep down, grabs a fistful of God’s promises, and hurls it right in the devil’s face: “You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.”
Folks, that same bully goes after you too. He uses the little word “if” on you too. And he bullies you with these thoughts, “If you are a child of God, why isn’t life going better for you? If you are a Christian, why do you live with so much heartache and disappointment … come on, think about yourself, carpe diem, live for the day. Abandon this whole bearing-your-cross thing and struggling against the flesh and leading a disciplined life. Just give in.
Those “if” questions and temptations from that hellish bully should not get us, but they have. He corners us! He’s got friends too on his side – like this world bent on evil, and even your sinful flesh bullies you and rages against you. In fact, every day we’re engaged in spiritual warfare, in a battle for our souls.
But this is the thing we need to come to terms with you. You see, it’s a battle we can’t win ourselves. In fact, if we try to rely on ourselves and our own inner resources, we’re beaten already.
In the fight against Goliath, take note that David sure didn’t rely on his own strength. He takes no credit for that victory. He goes forth in the name of the Lord to do battle. Those five smooth stones, that’s for the five books of the law. The Torah, God’s own word – and the very promise of the Gospel itself.
When Jesus is led into the wilderness, He’s the Lord almighty, the Lord of heaven and earth, and yet just think, what does he fight with, but again the mighty weapon of God’s Word. Words and promises that you yourself have to fight with! So just stop and think about that! The same resources and strength that Jesus Himself relies on are the same resources and strength that you yourself have – access to God’s own Word. The plain and clear words of Scripture which beat back the devil, calm your troubled conscience, and give you guidance and strength to pick up your cross and follow Him right into the fray.
Most importantly, folks, Jesus doesn’t go into battle for Himself. He goes for you. Fights in our place for us. Stands as our greater David, to go toe to toe with that hellish giant, Satan. Though Jesus looks like the underdog, looks came be deceiving. He draws from the five smooth stones of the books of Moses and slings the Word of God. The stone sinks into the forehead, and the enemy falls.
You see at the cross, that infernal bully, Satan, death, and hell were all laid in the dust. At the cross the devil’s head was crushed in order for our heads to be crowned. And up from the grave this conqueror speaks a word of absolution that delights and strengthens us sinners.
What bullies are you facing? Where do they corner you and try to pick you off? Sickness, addiction, family trouble, anxiety or a despairing heart. Sin bullies us all! Dogs us night and day! So we turn toward the Lord.
This morning our Holy Gospel invites us to enroll in Christ’s school for training warriors. For the front lines of Christ’s militia. This is how the apostle Paul puts it: “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil … And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.”
This is a strength that relies upon the Word of the Lord. You see for help to resist and overcome temptation, for assurance and strength, we come to church to hear those words of absolution that set us free. We march into the fray, up to the altar, tread under our feet that infernal bully, Satan, and death, and hell as well. We commune with Christ our conqueror.
And He graciously calls us to His Table to assure us in a special way that we are in partnership and communion with Him in our battle against temptation. We share in all that He is and has. We participate in all that He has done and will do for our salvation. His invincible power against temptation is ours. His victory over sin ours as well.
Risen from the grave and ascended, He sat down at the right hand of God and received power over every bully, Satan, death, and hell, even triumphs over your own sin. In this power, we share. With Him at our side, fighting for us and we with Him. In the name of Jesus. Amen.