Printable PDF: 2-26-2020 Ash Wednesday Sermon
Pastor Mark R Jacobson ~ Ash Wednesday ~ February 26, 2020
We do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. – Hebrews 4:15
The classic TV series M*A*S*H tells the story of an army field hospital located mere miles from the front lines during the Korean War. In one episode, the army chaplain, Father Mulcahy, cannot comfort a wounded soldier because he’s admitted that he’s never experienced what it’s like to be in battle. After some introspection, the chaplain makes a decision. He secretly stows himself away in a truck headed for the front. Upon his arrival he finds himself in the middle of a full-fledged firefight. When it’s finally over, he returns to the hospital where word of what he’s done has already spread through the ranks. The final scene of that episode is Father Mulcahy sitting down once again with the same soldier. The chaplain looks him in the eye and says, “Now, let’s talk.”
Our Lenten Series theme is, “The Son of God Goes Forth to War.” As we make our way through this series each service will have a focus on Jesus as the warrior who fights and defeats sin, death, and Satan. Tonight we focus on skirmishes. What is a skirmish? I don’t remember learning about George Washington and the Revolutionary Skirmish or about Abraham Lincoln and the Civil Skirmish or about World Skirmish I and World Skirmish II. Skirmishes are not those long and drawn out battles that are easily remembered. Skirmishes are short battles, sometimes those battles are so short a person doesn’t realize they were in a skirmish until the skirmish is over.
Adam and Eve were in the first skirmish with Satan. Satan attacked them very strategically. Satan approached Adam and Eve in a friendly manner. Satan directs his question only to Eve and not to Adam. Satan’s question, “Did God really say, ‘you must not eat from any tree in the garden,” was not a boldface lie, but a seemingly innocent question. And yet when Adam and Eve fell into temptation they both fully realized they had been in a skirmish with the Evil One and they had lost.
Satan now skirmishes with us and he is just as strategic with us as he was with Adam and Eve. Satan, of course, is not God. Satan can’t read our hearts or know our thoughts, but Satan can study our behavior like Satan is the Internet. Social media studies our clicks. The Internet knows about what you just bought, about where you are thinking of taking your next vacation, and whether or not you think cat videos are funny. The technology on your Internet will then offer you links to buy more stuff or to watch the next YouTube video and the next one and all the commercial advertising on the sides of your screen. The Internet studies your behavior and has a well laid out plan to manipulate your behavior and so does Satan.
Where has Satan found you at your most vulnerable spot? With what temptations are you struggling? In national religious surveys on temptation, people said they struggle most with worry (worry about finances, relationships, health – we even worry about worrying). The survey said most people struggle with a lack of self-control (that could include eating too much or spending too much or too much time on electronic devices). Another struggle was lust (especially the viewing of pornography). Another struggle was with lying and cheating. Amazingly, when asked why they had given into temptation a few said they enjoyed it and some said their sin gave them an escape from real life, but many said they didn’t know why they fell into temptation. Satan doesn’t care why you fall into temptation, only that you do fall into temptation. Satan is happy to get your minds away from Jesus. He wants you damned. And He could guarantee your damnation if he could get your Savior to fall into temptation, too.
At his birth Jesus Christ stepped into our humanity. Jesus wasn’t born with a sinful nature. Jesus was pure like the original Adam. But Jesus succeeded where Adam and Eve failed. Jesus’ victory over Satan wasn’t just one major battle. Jesus’ victory over Satan was any number of skirmishes every day. In the wilderness Satan went one-on-one with Jesus for forty days. Satan strategically studied Jesus. Satan tried to use Jesus’ hunger against him. Satan tried to show Jesus an easier path to victory than suffering and dying. Later, Satan would seek allies for his damning work. Jesus was rejected by his own people. Jesus was deserted by his own disciples. Finally, perhaps even to Satan’s surprise, Jesus own heavenly Father had also forsaken him. Jesus remained pure and holy throughout his entire life and yet Jesus was tempted in every way, just as we are! So when you realize that Jesus was perfectly faithful every second of his life, you begin to understand how massive the battle of temptation and sin really was!
This victory over Satan’s skirmishes wasn’t a divinely appointed exercise to see if Jesus could keep his own commandments as God AND man. Rather, Jesus faced those daily skirmishes and the final battle with the devil because none of us could handle the job. Sinful humanity needed a perfect human to serve as their substitute. Sinful humanity also need a holy God so that his victory over Satan could count as their victory. Jesus won the victory over Satan’s skirmishes for us and our salvation!
Our great hero hasn’t left you alone to face the skirmishes of your enemy. Jesus understands your skirmishes. When you are hurting, Jesus knows what you feel like. When you have problems, you know Jesus experienced all kinds of problems. When you talk to Jesus in prayer, you’re not talking to some far-off God. He hears the words of your heart and he can relate. When you tell Jesus you’ve reached your limit, he knows what you mean. When your plan doesn’t seem to match up with God’s plan he knows what it’s like to journey down a difficult road. And yet Jesus also knew God’s promise to protect us and rule over all things – Satan included for our good. Our Savior taught Peter, James, and John, “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.” Peter would later teach us in his epistle, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” Believe in the power of prayer! When you are tempted to keep quiet about our Savior, pray as King David did in Psalm 51:15, “Open my lips, Lord, and my mouth will declare your praise.” When you are surrounded by impurity and immorality, pray as King David did, “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me” (51:10).
Believe in the power of prayer. Also believe in the power of God’s Word. That was how Jesus defeated Satan. Jesus didn’t listen to his gut! Jesus didn’t follow his instincts. Jesus listened to God’s Word, and Jesus did what the Word said! Isaiah said in the Old Testament, “Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not faint. St. James, the Lord’s brother wrote, “Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). Satan is not almighty. Satan’s strength is limited and as we win our skirmishes with the strength the Lord provides in the Word, Satan will give up on us as the loser he is and come back at another time.
Tonight has been good for us to have this talk with God. He knows what it’s like to be us. He’s been where we are, and he’s won the victory we couldn’t. Because of him we are forgiven! And now at the right hand of God, Jesus aims to help us win our daily skirmishes. We are not alone. We have a Savior who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet did not sin. Talk to him. He won all his skirmishes. Let him also talk to you. He understands our skirmishes and he helps us win. Amen.