Today’s Gospel brings us right into the midst of Jesus’ saving work–that Jesus went out and fought the devil. He fought against all the temptations that the devil would throw His way–and Jesus won. Never once did He fall prey to the temptations and sin. Jesus remained without sin all throughout His earthly life and ministry. Holy Scripture tells us [Hb. 4.15]: Jesus can sympathize with our weaknesses, [and] was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Jesus’ battle against the devil and His temptations was absolutely part and parcel of His saving work. For by being tempted and not sinning, by living a holy and sinless life, Jesus was fulfilling God’s holy Law–for us. God gave His holy Law to be kept–He’s a holy God after all. As a holy God, His Law must be kept. And that’s why Jesus came–not only to die on the cross for our sins but also to give to God that holiness, perfection, sinlessness that He demands of us but that we cannot keep. Because of Jesus and His perfect keeping of the Law for us, God’s demands in the Law have been kept–by Jesus, for us. Now God can open heaven to us–Jesus’ perfect keeping of the Law has been credited to us; God’s holy Law has been fulfilled–by Jesus for us. And when Jesus died on the cross and paid the price/ penalty for our sins–He took on all our sins, was made sin–God’s wrath over our sin has been poured out and absorbed by Jesus on the cross. Now we sinners are reconciled to God in Jesus.
Don’t think Jesus was born and then waited around 30 about years until He would die on the cross. No! Part of His work during His life was to lead a holy, sinless life for us, in our place; it was to face the temptations of the devil. Today’s Gospel is the account of just such an encounter. Don’t think that Jesus was only on this occasion. After all, look at how our text ends: When the devil had finished every temptation, he left [Jesus] until an opportune time. So ominous, isn’t it? The devil would strike again and again when Jesus was at His weakest–think of Gethsemane; think of Jesus on the cross being taunted by the crowds to show that He really is the Son of God; think even after feeding of the 5000 that crowd wanted to make Jesus a King–without Him having to suffer and die so miserably, forsaken by God and man. Certainly that, too, was a temptation. Certainly Jesus’ life was filled with many an opportune time.
Of course Jesus knew that the devil was always trying to lead Him into sin. Of course Jesus knew how hard each temptation would be–we know how hard it is to fight temptation and sin. Although in our text St. Luke writes that Jesus was led by the Spirit in the wilderness where He was tempted by the devil for 40 days, this was like Jesus going into battle. St. Mark [1.12] writes literally: that the Holy Spirit expelled Him into the desert. Yes, this was a true battle. It was not one that Jesus recklessly sought out, but He faced these temptations out of obedience, as part of His work to save us from our sins. That the Holy Spirit expelled Him into the desert shows the how terrible these temptations were. Jesus felt each one. Yes, Jesus is the holy God and unable to sin, but these were real temptations and they hit Him and He felt the severity of each one. Jesus was not a machine facing these temptations–He felt, endured and overcame the severity of each one for us. That means that each temptation we fall prey to, Jesus has endured that temptation, and worse, and He didn’t sin and He gives us His holy and perfect keeping of God’s Law. Not only has Jesus paid the price/ penalty for our sins but He has endured/ done for us what we cannot do. He is truly our righteousness!
That’s the Christian proclamation–Jesus is our righteousness; in Him we have the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. We have heard that proclamation; although certainly in no way as dramatic as did St. Paul when He confronted Jesus in that bright light and voice speaking to him on the road to Damascus, we have confronted Jesus when He came to us in His word. What do we make of Him? Of His claims–that He is the Son of God and our Savior from sin, death, devil and hell? Whenever the good news of Jesus goes out into the world and to us, He confronts us. What do I make of Him? Do I believe that He is the Son of God and my Savior? Do I put my trust and confidence for my salvation in Him? Do I trust in Him for the forgiveness of sins and eternal life? This is not just some “head knowledge.” The devil knew very well who Jesus is but he rejected, and in fact, hated Jesus. Look at how the devil began two of his temptations: If You are the Son of God… Knowledge is not the same thing as faith. St. James writes [2.19]: You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe– and tremble. The difference between mere “head knowledge” and faith is huge–and decisive! You could know all the “facts” about Jesus–that He was born in a stable in Bethlehem, of a virgin; that He performed miracles, that He died on the cross and even that He rose again from the dead and ascended into heaven–but if there is no trust or confidence in Him as my Savior from sin, death, devil and hell then all is lost for us. This season of Lent is the perfect time for each of us to examine his/ her own heart and conscience: what do I think of Jesus? Who is He? Do I put my trust in Him for my salvation?
The simple fact is this: the word of God, the Gospel, the Good News about Jesus demands/ calls for faith. That’s what St. Paul teaches us in our epistle: “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the word of faith that we are proclaiming. God’s saving work is there–in His word, in that Gospel message we have in Scripture and that we have in church! The word, the Good News about Jesus is not just some information about Jesus; it’s not like a biography that you read about a person. It is much more. The word of God, yes, tells us facts; it tells us about Jesus and who and what He is and did and still does. But it does more–the word combines Jesus and His righteousness and brings them to us. Because it is the word of God, the Gospel, the word of faith that we are proclaiming, not only tells us about Jesus but gives us Jesus and the fruit and blessing of Jesus and His saving work. All that Jesus accomplished for us is now easily accessible to us: The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart. God doesn’t call on us to discover or devise; instead, He simply calls on to believe it.
St. Paul continues: Certainly, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. This is the simple fact: Jesus is Lord. This is what God has revealed to humanity. The Gospel demands that we believe it: accept in faith the truth God that has revealed in His word about the crucified and risen Jesus. The thing is, this is absolute truth: Jesus is Lord. He is the true God and He is our Savior who died for our sins and rose again for our salvation. Although this is fact/ truth, we can do something whether He is our Savior. Yes, there is no person for whom Jesus did not die–He died for the sins of all, even and especially for the greatest sinner. Can we believe what God says/ what He has revealed in His word? Absolutely! God is truthful; He is truth. What He says is to be believed. That God is truthful leads us to trust in Him as St. Paul writes in our text: For Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in Him will not be put to shame.” And as he writes elsewhere [1 Ti 1.15]: This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief. So you see, dear Christian, God demands that His word of Jesus– the Gospel– is to be believed. If we don’t believe it/ accept it we will be condemned.
But the very fact that God’s saving word, the Gospel, is is near you, in your mouth and in your heart, is comforting enough–after all, we don’t have to seek it out, devise it, etc., it’s easily accessible. But what is also a great comfort is that the very faith that the Gospel demands, that same word of the Gospel creates. That’s because the Holy Spirit is at work through the word working faith so that we believe it. The very fact that you and I are Christians, that we place our whole trust in the crucified and risen Savior, that Jesus is our Lord of our lives–it’s all because of the work of the Holy Spirit in and through that Gospel word. For most of us it was that Gospel word of Holy Baptism; for others it was the Gospel word you heard later in life. In any case, that was the Holy Spirit’s working through that word creating faith in our hearts. The Gospel, the word [which] is near you, in your mouth and in your heart, calls for /demands faith and precisely through that same Gospel word, the Holy Spirit creates faith in the heart. The very fact that you and I, dear Christian, heard the Gospel, The word [which] is near you, in your mouth and in your heart, and believe, that’s not a feather in our cap! That’s the work of the Holy Spirit working through the preaching of the Gospel in us and with us. That we believe is faith; and faith is a gift of God. Dear Christian, just think of what great love and mercy of God we have experienced!
The thing is, faith saves! And only through faith–which the Holy Spirit has worked in us–are we saved, not by our own goodness or accomplishments. Faith doesn’t save because it’s such a good work we do; instead, faith saves because it takes hold of the promise of God’s grace to us in Jesus, it takes hold of Jesus and His saving work and clings to Him. Faith saves because it receives the gifts and promises God wants to give us in His word and sacraments–those very same gifts and blessings Jesus won for us by His life, suffering and death.
What faith holds to–namely the word and promise of God and Jesus’ work–is firm and solid, unwavering. That’s why faith will not be disappointed or deceived when it holds to the Gospel. That’s what St. Paul writes in our text: For Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in Him will not be put to shame.”
Dear Christian, when the devil comes to you and wants you to think your sins are too great to be forgiven; when he comes to you trying to get you to doubt your salvation, to doubt that eternal life in heaven awaits you–hold to the Gospel, that good news about Jesus. That is God’s final, absolute word. As you hold to the Gospel–to Jesus and His word and work–the Holy Spirit will be mightily at work strengthening and enlivening your faith that Satan may not destroy it.
Notice here as well our text: So there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, because the same Lord is Lord of all, who gives generously to all who call on Him. Yes, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” We know God is gracious to us and so we call upon Him. As we call upon the Lord, He gives us, in His word and sacrament, the riches of salvation He won for all and through faith we receive them.
This faith that the Gospel both demands and creates in us because the Holy Spirit is at work in and through it works a deep profound change in us. Our faith is rooted in our inmost depth but it shows itself outwardly as we profess our faith with our lips and with our works. Our text: For it is with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and it is with the mouth that a person confesses, resulting in salvation. A firm, active faith receives the Gospel–is worked by the Holy Spirit in the word–and leads to a confession of faith. Although faith alone saves, our lives of good works/ confession of faith are evidence of that faith. Our lives lived in faith, empowered by the Holy Spirit, are transformed; a renewal and newness of life follow. We give our Lord thanks, praise, worship, direct our lives according to His will, and tell others that good news about Jesus–yes, you get to tell them. Faith shows itself in confession of faith. The Gospel demands faith but creates that very faith it demands and leads us into confessing outwardly that faith in the heart. INJ