Today the Church reminds us that we are at war against our ancient enemy, the devil. There is no complacency. This spiritual warfare is serious. It’s been going on for thousands of years, since the very first days after Creation. But there is no dodging the draft. Everyone who is Baptized has been enlisted and is fighting. If the devil fought against our first parents, if he fought against Our Lord, what makes you think he’ll leave you alone? And if you think he is leaving you alone, then he’s already winning.
He’s been fighting against God from the very beginning. Arrogantly, he thought himself to be better than God. Isaiah records his internal dialogue: “I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God I will set my throne on high; I will sit on the mount of assembly in the far reaches of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High” (Is. 14:13-14). But when God defeated him and cast him to the earth, he continued his deceit. The father of lies slithered to Adam and Eve, called into question the eternal truths that God speaks, and tried to make himself appear to be like God, desiring nothing more than man’s happiness, man’s good. But man wasn’t lacking anything! Adam and Eve were not hungry. They were not tired. They didn’t know what discomfort was. And on top of it all, they had God’s Word and His promise. They had an intimate relationship with the Holy Trinity that none of us can fathom.
But instead of rejoicing in what he had, he fell for the world’s first commercial, the first ad campaign. He failed to protect his wife, he failed to love God, he failed to listen to God’s Word. Instead, he decided that his life was lacking something by not knowing what “evil” was. So, the devil signed up Adam and Eve for his army. They joined the whole human race to the devil. They thought what the devil offered would make them like God, but all it did was make them like the devil. Now they knew what it was like to have misery, to be apart from God, to be destined for death, and to be at war with God and His creation. No longer did Adam and Eve perfectly enjoy one another. No longer did Adam and Eve enjoy the food of Eden. Now they are at enmity with God, with one another, with the ground, with their own bodies. They plunged themselves into misery, into death. And not just themselves. Everyone born of their union is made in their sinful, deadly image and likeness, not God’s. You and I are born into all the awfulness Adam and Eve ushered into God’s once good creation.
But a strange thing happened. A great mystery takes place, something as unfathomable as the Holy Trinity or the virgin birth. God does not destroy Adam and Eve and start over. He doesn’t declare war on them even though they declared war on Him. He doesn’t allow Adam and Eve to stay on the devil’s side. He came seeking them. He still loved them, still wanted them to live, to be with Him. Even in their fallenness and rebellion, they were the crown of creation, and He would not battle with them, but would reconcile them to Himself.
Adam hid out of fear. He thought God came to destroy him, but He hadn’t. He came to talk to Him, to reconcile him. God would not let the devil win. He would win back that which was His by right. He would pay the price. So He puts enmity between us and the devil, makes us his most bitter of enemies. And then God joins Himself to our cause. God became like Adam, like you, so He can bear your sin, your shame, your sorrow, your death, so that in Him you can become like Him. You are the recipient of the greatest love, the greatest good—forgiveness and restoration. God placed Himself between humanity and hell. He, who is holy, allows Himself to be declared guilty, a sinner. He who is immortal died for the cause. He who is life rose again to usher in a new age, a new heaven and earth, a new intimacy with humanity, making us more than Adam and Eve ever were in the garden, making us His dear Bride, for whom He was willing to do everything to make us perfect, to give us life.
That is why Jesus suffers in the desert. It was a real temptation. For us, there is no such thing as temptation without sin. Even if we don’t physically give into the temptation, we have still given into it in our head. We entertained the thought of how good it would feel to have that thing our flesh lusted after, and Jesus tells us that the thought is just as sinful as the act. So where we think about how good it would be to turn stones into bread, to have all the world’s power, Jesus does not. He doesn’t participate in the devil’s propositions. He endures these things without using His divine attributes to free Himself, to satisfy Himself, to prove to the devil that He really is God. He allows Himself to be hurt, to be shamed. He is the scapegoat, sent out of the city to bear all our sin. He is the Passover, offered up to spare us from death. He is the Victim, who by His violent death has bought our peace.
But when the devil sees this death, he does not defeat God. He doesn’t get any closer to destroying us. Quite the opposite, in the death of Christ God accomplishes the salvation of the world. So the devil, instead of hurting God helps Him. As Jesus bears the punishment that should have been inflicted upon us for our rebellion against God, the devil is trapped and defeated.
The outcome of the devil’s battle against you was never in doubt, because God’s love for you has never been in doubt. His temptation and victory over the devil count for you. You are spared because He was damned. You are counted holy because He did not sin. And the day will come when the devil will leave you, just as he left Jesus. That will come when you rise to life, all because He has burst the doors of death’s prison and opened heaven. The kingdom yours remaineth.
Why does the Pastor preach? Scripture explains that the role of preaching the Word of God is how saving faith is created: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ … So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:14-17). The Augsburg Confession, seeing this connection between the Preaching Office and saving faith, summarizes Scripture on the Office of the Holy Ministry in this way: “To obtain [saving, justifying] faith, God instituted the Office of Preaching, giving the Gospel and the Sacraments. Through these, as through means, He gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when He wills, in those who hear the Gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe” (AC V 1-3). The whole reason the Pastor preaches is so saving faith can be created, so we know that “we have a gracious God” who loves us and has saved us from our sin by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.