Christ Is Victorious In Our Struggle

Mark 1: 12 – 13 (First Sunday in Lent - 2014)

“Christ Is Victorious in Our Struggle”

“And there was a war in heaven. Michael and all his angels fought against the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down – that ancient serpent called the devil or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him” (Revelation 12: 7 – 9). The insight Jesus gave to John in Revelation fills in the gap between Creation and the Fall into Sin.

            You and I know that the devil did not give up there. He picked a fight with God by picking a fight with Adam and Eve. He picked a fight with you and me. “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). God did not give up either. He sent his Son as our champion. He sent his Son as our King to defend his kingdom of heaven. This first Sunday in Lent we are comforted to see his victory over the Devil in the wilderness. He is victorious in our struggle! He goes anointed with the Spirit’s power. He goes with the sword of the Spirit in his hand.

1. Anointed with the Spirit’s Power

Mark tells us that it was the “Spirit’s command that sent him into the desert” (verse 12). In verses 9-10 he had recorded the Baptism of Jesus, at which the Spirit is also active. In the book of Acts Luke tells us about Peter’s instruction class at the house of Cornelius. Peter was explaining that the good news was to be preached to all people. In that explanation he says, “You know what has happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached – how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.”

His first order of business, assigned by the Holy Spirit, was forty day combat with the devil. Here is the picture: desert wasteland; wild animals; angels – likened to the ones that went ahead of Israel in the battles on their way to Canaan (Exodus 23: 20-33); the full-throated efforts of Satan – Matthew tells us about three temptations, all of which cut at the heart of Christ and throw arrows at his Word. As Paul reminds us: “Our struggle is not against flesh blood, but against the rulers … of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6: 12). Remember … the war began in heaven (Revelation 12:7).

The Holy Spirit anointed Christ with power upon his baptism. He was given the right and authority to do combat with Satan and defeat temptation. The almighty Son of God; attended by angels from Michael’s Holy Army (as he was attended in Gethsemane); commanded by the Holy Spirit; He went into the fray. Our King, like a good King should, went ahead of us into war.

We are not far behind. When the devil is too much of a coward to face Jesus, he attacks the little ones Jesus loves. He gets into our head and hearts. He lies to us. He creates doubts in our minds. He makes promises that he does not intend to keep. He seeks to devour the flock of the Shepherd he despises. And we fall for it. We either fall into sin, or fall into the dreadful pride that thinks we can take him with our own reason and power. We often go into the struggle unarmed and without Christ.

The writer to the Hebrews reminds us not to out without Him: “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weakness, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are - yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4: 14 – 16). Two chapters before he put it this way: “Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted” (Hebrews 2: 18). The power which the Spirit gave to Christ is the same power he gives to us in our Baptisms. Christ’ victory in our struggle is our power for each battle against temptation.

2. With the Sword of the Spirit in his Hand

We know that Jesus issued a counter attack to the three wilderness temptations. He used the all-important Weapon: the Word of God – the Sword of the Spirit. When tempted to fall into physical temptation, he said “It is written, ‘Man does not live on bread alone but un every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4: 4). When faced with the temptation to twist the Word of God into false teachings, he said: “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test’ ” (Matthew 4:7) When faced with the temptation to commit idolatry against his Father by bowing to Satan, he said: “Away from me Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’ ”(Matthew 4:10).

There is good reason why Paul calls the Word of God the sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6: 17). It is the one weapon which Christ used to conquer temptation in his war on Satan. It is also our much needed weapon in our struggle against the “powers of this dark world.” The same Word of God that he used to defeat the devil’s power is the Word of God which he taught and shared in his ministry. Today in these few verses we have all three offices of Christ as work in one Christ. He is the Prophet, preaching and teaching his gospel to others. He is the Priest sacrificing his life for us, acting as our substitute and mediator. He is our King, going to battle for us, ruling our hearts, ruling the heavenly realms by his mighty power. In each case he holds a scepter – the Word of God – His Gospel.

The struggle remains fierce. It seems to be getting more intense. The minions of our wily foe seem to be gaining ground. Our struggle is not against flesh and blood (Ephesians 6: 12), but against temptation, false teachings, persecution, and unbridled evil. The lion will pick at the sheep wherever and whenever he can. You are wise enough to sense where that struggle is and where it comes from. We are aware that he is seeking our loved ones, our children, our friends, and ourselves. We know the low fences and the open gates that he knows. The struggle remains fierce.

It is the Word that forces Satan to the ground. It is the Word of God that calls us to repent and believe. It is the Word that is connected with the water in our Baptism. It is the Word that announces the good news of God. It is the Word that unites Christ’s body and blood to bread and wine. It is the Word that changes hearts from unbelief to faith in Jesus. It is the Word that gives us peace that the world cannot give. It is the Word that is at the heart of our teaching and confessions of faith. It is the Word reaches out to the lost souls of an unbelieving world. It is the Word that is the back bone of every Christian song, hymn, prayer, or worship service. It is the Word that validates any method of education, method of outreach, purpose, plan, or goal of the Church. It is the Word that silences the fierce voices of the wicked and does not suffer fools gladly.

Paul urges us to put it on, as we would put on armor for battle (Ephesians 6: 13). As Christ took up the Sword of the Spirit in the desert and on the hills of Galilee, we take up that same Sword. We use it to say “Away from me Satan!” We use it to speak a word of gladness to the lonely and guilty. He daily helps us to read, learn and take it to heart. “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” – including the struggle against the devil’s schemes! (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

The war was won in eternity already. The battles go on. Life under the cross of Christ is a spiritual struggle. But take heart. On the cross forgiveness is yours. Jesus preached “the good news of God.” All is well. The devil lost and Christ our King has gained the victory – a victory he shares gladly with you, a victory we will fully celebrate where all battles will come to an end, and where peace and love will have no end. Even though our struggle continue daily, our King has is victorious in our struggle.

But for us fights the Valiant One who God himself elected.

You ask, “Who is this?” Jesus Christ it is, The Almighty Lord (CW 200:2)

Though devils all the world should fill they shall not over power us.

He’s by our side upon the plain with his good gifts and Spirit (CW 200:3)

Amen.