Jesus, Plain and Simple
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It was heartwarming to see neighbors banding together this past week to help those in need. If someone needed help with an HVAC system frozen over, there were people with the knowhow ready to help. If someone needed help with burst pipes, there was someone able to help. I also realized, as all this was going on, that if you aren’t in the business things can get confusing pretty quickly. Talk of shut-off valves and pressure relief valves – how do I know the difference? Where are they? Explaining the defrost cycle on an HVAC unit which reverses the compressor and makes a different sound – How do I know if that sound is the defrost cycle or a motor burning out. If you aren’t in the business, it can all get really confusing. There’s a need to simplify the terms and the process. Someone to explain it in a simple, understandable way.
Sometimes we do that, right? We overcomplicate things. Or we get down into the details of something when really just a simple explanation is all we need. We can do that at church, too, I think. We can get wrapped up in the details of the ritual, or give overcomplicated explanations of how God “justified you by the propitiation of his Son so that you can live a life of sanctification until the second Advent of our Lord.” Sometimes we overcomplicate it. And it’s not that these things are wrong. Ritual has its place, and the details of salvation in all its intricacies is stunningly beautiful and comforting. But sometimes it’s good to just peel that all back and get down to the simple truth. So that’s what we are going to do today on this first Sunday of Lent. We are going to talk about Jesus, plain and simple. And there’s just 2 points I want you to go home knowing today. Satan defeated, and Salvation completed.
Mark is the gospel writer that often gets straight to the point, plain and simple. So whereas the other Gospel writers, Matthew and Luke, detail some of the temptations that Jesus faced as he went head-to-head with Satan in the wilderness, Mark’s account is rather bare bones. He simply says, “At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan” (Mk 1:12-13). And yet, this conciseness conveys a mood for the deadly one-on-one struggle between the King of light, and the Prince of darkness. There’s a sense of isolation, a sense of focus, a stripping down of all that’s going on to just spell it out plainly – Jesus fought against the temptations of Satan. In concise writing, Mark spells out the essence of Jesus’ 40 days in the desert – really a snapshot of what’s taking place throughout Jesus’ 33 years on earth: a fierce fight with the devil. A one-man war only he could wage and win.
The temptations were continuous and ongoing during the 40 days. And although Jesus is fully God, he was also fully man. These temptations were real, and they were a struggle – just as you and I struggle against temptation. The most powerful of the evil angels attacked Jesus in full strength. He had to. Because certainly Satan, who no doubt knew the Scriptures and prophecies, also remembered when God promised his defeat. “Cursed are you… I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; He will crush your head [Satan], and you will strike his heel” (Gen 3:15). Satan knew what these words promised. Satan knew that God always makes good on his promises. And so he fought with the frenzied fierceness of a cornered animal. If he could get Jesus to sin just once, Satan would have won for all time!
The plain and simple story would end very differently if it was you or me out in that wilderness going head-to-head with Satan. In fact, it does end very differently for you or me whenever we separate ourselves from our Savior and try to do battle on our own. Satan still uses the same twisting of Scripture that he tried to use on Jesus – only sometimes we believe his lies and justify his deceptions and we are the ones defeated. He shows us the splendor of the world – the money, the power, the lusts – and says, “All this I will give you” (Mt 4:9), and we actually believe that he has the authority to give us such things. We actually believe that what he promises to give will be good for us. He still tries to isolate us from others who would support us and care for our spiritual wellbeing, by isolating us from Christian friends, and isolating us from our church family, and keeping us distant from God’s Word. And when he’s got us all alone, tempting us with our deepest, sinful desires, then he’s got us. We fall. He is victorious over us, and you and I are the ones defeated.
That’s not how the battle went down though. Do you remember the simple truths? Jesus, plain and simple. Satan defeated. Salvation completed. Yes, Satan was defeated! His victory is implied in Mark’s account by the angels ministering to him. Of course, it’s spelled out in greater detail in the other accounts. But plain and simple, Jesus won! The angels were a reminder of the Father’s love for him. A display of his concern for Jesus’ mission. This victory, however, did not mean the end of Satan’s effort to trip up or trap the Savior. Luke says, “[Satan] left him until an opportune time” (Lk 4:13). No doubt Satan was constantly trying to prevent his defeat and the Savior’s victory. Although there was never again a graphic head-to-head encounter such as this, Satan put Jesus to the test in subtler ways. Crowds tried to kill him (Lk 4:29). They tried to crown him with earthly glory (Jn 6:23). Satan used Peter to try to distract the Savior from going to the cross (Mt 16:23). He was in Pilate’s sneers (Jn 18:38) and the Jewish hierarchy’s taunts (Mt 27:42). Yet through it all Jesus remained sinless and perfect though “tempted in every way, just as we are” (Heb 4:15). He remained victorious, and Satan remained defeated. Jesus had remained perfect and sinless, just as God required.
Picture it like this. This is a little oversimplified, but hey, that’s what we are going for today. Picture all the blessings that Jesus won for us when he defeated Satan and completed salvation as a big water tower. In this water tower there is forgiveness of sins, there’s perfect obedience, there’s salvation, and eternal life. And all of this flows to you through pipes – the pipes being God’s Word, Baptism, and Holy Communion. Right? All of these things give you what they say – body and blood for the forgiveness of sins! Be baptized and wash your sins away. These words are written that you may believe, and have life in his name. It’s all there! But what happens if you cut yourself off from God’s Word? What happens when you shut off the pipeline of Communion? What happens when you empty baptism of its meaning? The gifts are still all there, in the water tower. Satan is still defeated. Salvation is still completed. But you have cut yourself off from it all. Satan has separated you from all of this and gives you instead sin, guilt, and condemnation. And what then? Can you ever turn the spigot back on? Can you ever reconnect to Jesus?
Yes, of course! The Good News still rings out. The kingdom of God is still near. God still works through the Gospel. “Repent and believe the good news!” (Mk 1:15). Repentance always has to do with “turning.” Turning away from sin and Satan. Turning to God and his gift of salvation that still stands completed.
Thankfully, Jesus didn’t just defeat Satan for himself. He defeated him in the wilderness and defeated him on the cross for you and for me! Yes, it’s true, we have at times elected to do battle alone. We have been defeated and fallen into sin. That sin and guilt now lingers over us and clings to us. But Jesus, plain and simple means that Satan is still defeated and your salvation is still completed! Jesus welcomes you back. In fact, he goes out seeking to bring you back. He doesn’t leave you alone in your daily battles against Satan, but keeps you connected to him. He fights for you, so that you never have to battle Satan alone. “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Rm 8:31). And if God is for us, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, not anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rm 8:35-39).
Sorry, I plunged into the details there a little bit. It’s just so exciting! Connected to Christ through his words and his sacraments, you cannot be defeated. Satan is defeated and your salvation is completed.
What Jesus speaks of here is near and close at hand in God’s gracious rule of love – his kingdom – in the hearts and lives of his believing children. Standing before those Galileans was the King of that kingdom, speaking the Words of salvation. And now he stands here, through his Word and later in his Sacrament, proclaiming his message of Salvation: Satan is defeated. Salvation has been completed.
As we go through the season of Lent, and toward the end have a number of special services with all their intricate and impactful details, if it ever becomes too much just remember to back up and remember Jesus, plain and simple. If ever you find yourself doing battle with Satan, falling into temptation, or burdened with guilt just back up and remember, Satan is defeated. If ever life becomes too hectic or stressful and there are so many things to worry about – like a natural disaster – just back up and remember salvation is completed.