Deut. 26:1-11; Ps. 91:1-13; Rom. 10:8b-13; Luke 4:1-13
Confess, [I]f 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. For with the heart, one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved (vv. 9, 10).
Men and women on entering military service verbally confess an oath of allegiance to defend the nation and obey all lawful orders. When God brought Israel out of Egypt his covenant people, they professed allegiance (Ex. 19:7, 8). The twelve tribes of Jacob were no longer “wandering Arameans” (Dt. 26:5), but Israel, the host of God dedicated to his strategic campaign in the world.
The tribes arrayed for battle (Num. 1) mobilized and bivouacked about the ark of Presence. Israel had been reconstituted, from being aimless slaves to a new dedication, setting off for the Land God had promised their fathers. As the march to Canaan progressed rebellion erupted in the ranks against Moses’ lawful command.
The tribes passed through the desert in relative short order. Through martial discipline Israel was made fit for invasion, poised at the door to the Land, awaiting orders from on high.
Spies from the tribes were sent to reconnoiter the Canaanites. After forty days, the report came back that the occupants were too strong; so that the people feared the battle.
If Israel were to continue as God’s army their confessional metal would have to be strengthened. For disobedience to the Lord’s leadership, the first exodus generation was denied entry into the Land becoming again desert “wanderers”.
It would take forty years for God to re-fit his army committed to relying solely on his word and direction; now their call to duty would be under a new captain, Joshua.
Jesus, baptized in the Jordan with the HS became God’s new Israel, called to a son’s faithfulness where old Israel had failed. Apart from the sole weapon of his “word of faith [that] is near [us], on our lips and in our heart” (Rom. 10:8), we too would fail a soldier’s call to fidelity.
Ash Wednesday informed of our destination at the beginning of these forty penitential days in which the battle against our enemies would be joined at the cross. We don’t journey into a land, a stone temple, or citadel; rather we follow Jesus who advanced to engage, to the death, the strong enemy.
In Baptism we are daily directed to the place of our assured victory, into the courts of a Mighty Fortress, “the secret place” (NKJV, Mt. 6:6, 17) of our communion with God, our Temple in the crucified and resurrected body of Jesus.
At the cross we have been inducted, receiving Baptism’s commissioning into Jesus’ kingdom and reign, one with him, brother and Captain, for the church’s warfare in these end times.
The Spirit led Jesus into the desert to stand in the place of failed OT Israel, there he fasted outside the land looking in, to be true Israel for his people. At the fast’s end, Jesus at his fleshly and spiritual weakest, receive the devil’s opening salvos; all these he repelled by the word of God alone.
Before considering but one of the devil’s temptations; recall our preparation in blessing for battle. In his “Sermon on The Plain” Jesus imparted four odd blessings: poverty, hunger, tears, and hatred from men (Lk. 6:20-22).
These blessings had the effect of reducing Jesus and his followers in the face sin to a common denominator. On first thought they seem to leave us bereft of God; but in fact, they are martial virtues intended to strengthen and reform us to confess and rely on God’s word, and nothing else.
We are blessed in physical and spiritual poverty, hungering for the bread of angels the world does not possess, we are blessed in tears on account of our sin and rebellion, and stand against devilish men, opposed to our Captain; in blessing we are thus trained and ready for exodus.
Fear is the enemy of every soldier. If there is to be military glory; fear of privation, fear of harm, and fear of death must be overcome. Fear speaks to everyday lives; insufficient money, clothing, shelter; distrust of enemies, flagging friends, and familial disloyalty; fear of men who glory at our expense in worldly affairs; and fear of hell for lack of faith.
In context of our odd blessings of apparent weakness, Satan spiritually transported Jesus to Jerusalem’s temple, atop a high pinnacle. Satan had prepped the battlefield in Jesus’ flesh, pointing out that if he entered the land with the intent to recapture, that his devils were far too strong, and every bit as fearsome as the Canaanites were to OT Israel.
From where Jesus stood on high, Satan surely thought the sum of all man’s fears would overtake this Son of God. Not only, would Jesus die; but if Jesus insisted on invading his stronghold in the world he would do so impoverished, hungry and thirsty, without a place to lay his head, cry over Jerusalem’s rejection (Lk. 13:34), bear the scorn of men who would afflict his body and soul; and in the end be abandoned by God (Mt. 27:46).
How could this be the “glory” God intended for his Son and Christ? Satan suggested a short-cut around these “dubious blessings”; instead, a soldier’s glory, if you will, like Jews leaping from the Masada cliffs during Rome’s 1st century siege.
“Jump!” And if Jesus really believed the Voice from heaven at his Baptism, that he is “Son of God”, then Jesus would be spared harm and death on angels’ wings (Ps. 91:12) that would draw people to him.
The problem is, angelic rescue might be Jesus’ salvation, but not ours. Jesus would be written out of the script of man’s salvation. Rather by obedience to God’s battle plan, Jesus secures victory and draws all people to himself in being lifted on the cross in death and raised to life by God (Jn. 12:31, 32).
If Satan could induce Jesus to accept a different “glory” than ordained by his Father, a once for all sacrifice for the sin of the world, then man’s salvation would be turned on its head. Satan would de facto become “high priest” before God; even as some pray to avoid the cross in this life, “O God bless me with a beautiful wife, a powerful husband, obedient and perfectly formed children, a house if not a mansion, health, wealth, and all the “good” things the world affords.”
What Satan offered Jesus, he offers to you and I, a glory apart from Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross in poverty, hunger, tears, and persecutions, as Jesus urges us to daily take-up our crosses in following. Satan offers a church without the blood of martyrs; a glory desired by Peter on the Mount of Transfiguration, a glory without Gethsemane and Golgotha.
But in Lent that is precisely where we are headed in martial discipline and faith, to prevail in Christ over sin, the world, and rebellious flesh. Our heart-felt confessional fidelity assures partaking warfare spoils; a Bridegroom now and on the Last Day.
In Lent, we are armed only with the sword of the Spirit, the pierced body of Christ who is word of God; daily we thrust our Captain before us as the One who puts all satanic powers and authorities under his feet in his church.
At the cross of Christ’s victory, we confess we were “wandering Arameans”; but now by grace in Christ we “confess with [our] lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in [our] hearts that God raised him from the dead” … a God pleasing glory on earth and a glory in heaven for our transfiguring in him. Amen.