Sunday, March 4, 2007

The Divine Do-Over

Texts: Genesis 3:1-19; Matthew 4:1-11

WHEN YOU WERE A KID, AND YOU messed up while playing a game, did you ever ask for a "do-over"? I believe grown-ups have the same thing in golf; it’s called a mulligan. So many times in our lives, we wish we had a do-over. We want our mistakes and our foolish acts to be wiped out. We want things to go back to the way they were before we said those terrible words or committed that awful deed, so we can try again and do the thing over right.

But we saw from our reading from Genesis that there aren’t do-overs like that in this life. God told Adam and Eve not to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. They ate from it anyway. "God, couldn’t You cut us some slack? Couldn’t You ignore our sin just this once? We want a do-over!"

The Lord God had said that if they ate of the Tree, they would surely die. This wasn’t God being arbitrary. It was the way the Universe works. When Adam and Eve disobeyed, they rebelled against the source of all Life. They set up on their own as their own little gods. God was still ruler over them, no doubt about that, but the peace, the wholeness, the spiritual life was gone.

So God couldn’t give them a do-over. Their sin had real consequences, for them and for us their descendants. Curses in childbearing. Curses on marriage. Curses on work. Curses on the land and curses on the serpent. No do-overs. Not then. Not ever.

Or is that totally true? Did God hold out the possibility that humanity could try again and do things over right?

In verse 15, God says to the serpent, "I will put emnity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel." God is saying that someday a man born of woman will come along and get the better of that old tempter Satan. That this "seed of the woman," as some translations put it, will get a do-over for obedience and he will do it over right, though at great cost to himself.

Centuries later, the Lord God chose a people for Himself. He led them into the wilderness, out of slavery in Egypt, and gave them His law at Mount Sinai. God willed that Israel would be obedient to Him. They were follow His covenant and show the nations what human life was like lived in glad obedience with the Lord of all Creation. For forty years He proved them in the desert, to see if they would indeed follow Him. You might say that in Israel, God was giving humanity a do-over.

But Israel failed the test in the wilderness, and with rare exceptions, they kept on failing throughout their history. They got their do-over and they did it over wrong again and again.
And you know, Israel was just like you and me, and we’re just like Israel. We would do just the same in their position, and in many ways, we have.

And God wasn’t surprised by Israel’s failure. From the very beginning, the Lord declared to His servant Moses that the people would disobey. But God was working out His purposes in Israel. He made them to be the channel through which the Seed of the Woman would come into the world, the Son of Man who would get the cosmic do-over and do it over right.

We know who this Promised One is. He is our Lord Jesus Christ. The gospel writers record that as Jesus was baptised in the Jordan River, heaven opened and the Holy Spirit of God descended like a dove and a voice from heaven proclaimed, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased." Jesus was about thirty years of age when this happened, and in all that time He had never needed a do-over, because in all those years He had always pleased His Father; He had always done what was just and good and right.

But what good did that do us? Jesus didn’t need a second chance; He’d never rebelled or disobeyed His Father’s will. Israel was the son who’d displeased the Father. Adam and Eve were the children who tried to set themselves up in the god business. We’re the ones who’ve been following in their crooked footsteps ever since! Jesus’ goodness does me no good unless He is good for me.

And God has willed that Jesus should be very good for you and me. He took what was wrong between us and God and went back and did things over on our behalf. That’s exactly what Jesus is doing as He is tempted in the wilderness. Like Israel, Jesus is led into the desert to be tempted and tried. Like Adam and Eve, the Devil offers Jesus food, glory, and power. Jesus has been fasting for forty days and nights. He’s famished. Exhausted. Perhaps light-headed. What an excuse to make a foolish decision! What a justification to reach out and grab what was desired, regardless of how God said things should be!

But Jesus resisted the Tempter, and passed the test. You’ve heard it preached that Jesus was tempted to show you and me how to resist temptation when it confronts us. Like, just memorize the right Bible verses and you’ll be fine. I’ve probably preached a few sermons like that, myself. But if that’s all this is, we’re missing the point and we will fail. No, here in these forty days in the desert, Jesus is taking our do-over for us, and He’s doing it over right. He’s the new Adam, and He says No to Satan’s offers of perverted food and perverted glory and perverted power. He’s the new Israel, and instead of rejecting God’s word, He affirms it and confirms it and lives by its light. He’s doing what Adam couldn’t do, what Israel couldn’t do, what we couldn’t do. Jesus does it for us, and God accepts His offering in our behalf.

God demonstrates this most fully when Jesus is dying on the cross. We would not submit to the Father’s rule and authority: Jesus submits to a death He does not deserve in order to bring many sons and daughters to the glory of God. We did not obey the word and Law of God: Jesus keeps to the letter what is written and fulfils God’s promise of triumph over evil for us. Jesus gives us His obedience that we might obey; He gives us His death that we might have life.

As Protestants, we know we’re under no obligation to given anything up or take anything on for Lent. If you’ve chosen to, it’s between you and God alone. Nevertheless, as a minister of our Lord, I do call upon you to do whatever you have vowed to do, in the Spirit of Christ. Between now and the Feast of the Resurrection, I call on you to learn the meaning of Jesus’ fast and temptation in the wilderness. I call on you to take a tighter hold on the meaning of His cross.
If you have made a special vow, you’ve already learned it’s harder to keep it than it was on Ash Wednesday! That struggle is exactly where Jesus’ temptation and cross come home to you.
Maybe the Tempter is whispering, "True, you did tell God you’d read your Bible every day. But it’s so hard to find time, and nobody’s making you do it! You can drop it now if you want!"? Maybe you’re being tempted to lie to God!

Or worse, maybe that "Me-voice" in your head is saying, "Oh, I’ve given up chocolate every Lent for the past ten years! I am so successful at this! Temptation has no hold over me!"? Maybe the Devil’s tempting you to give up a mouthful of candy for a bellyful of pride instead!
But you have promised God, and you know you mustn’t take His name in vain. And you know God cares about the attitude of your heart as much or more than He cares about your outward behavior. But your behavior is bad! And your heart is wrong! You’re locked in mortal struggle--and that struggle is the very wilderness that the Spirit of God has driven you into.

When you’re earnest about your Lenten discipline, you discover you can’t do things over right for yourself, you have to have Jesus do it for you. You’ll learn how absurdly dependent you are on silliest habits and indulgences. Me, I find it helpful to give up computer games for Lent. And it’s frightening how the childish, old-Eve self in me keeps whining, "But I want to play Spider Solitaire! I can’t be happy this evening until I can play Spider Solitaire!" That’s when I have to cry out, "Lord, I can’t do this! Do it in me!"

And I’m sure you’ll find it’s the same with you in your Lenten discipline. In fact, it’s the same whenever we make any covenant or promise to do something to please God, whether it’s big or small. We cannot do it right, unless Jesus does it in us. In a few minutes, we’ll be receiving new members into this church fellowship. These new brothers and sisters will be making vows before God and the church and we will reaffirm our own membership vows right along with them. They’ll actually be making a commitment to be and do something they cannot be and do on their own. God will accept their promises. He’ll expect them to keep their promises. And He wants them to know they really can’t keep those promises, not as mere sons of Adam and daughters of Eve.

That’s exactly where God wants them, and where He want us. It’s good for us to understand how weak we are. It’s good for us to admit we can’t keep our church membership vows unless we are members first of the Son of God. It’s good for us to realize we can’t resist the smallest of temptations outside of the power of our Lord Jesus Christ. That’s our wilderness. It’s there we discover for ourselves that only Jesus the sinless Son of God could do over humanity’s cosmic error of rebellion against God and this time, get it right.

The Cross of Jesus is the supreme do-over of history. On that one dark Friday afternoon Jesus wiped out all the mistakes, all the foolishness, and all the crimes humanity would ever commit and wiped our account clean. In this season of Lent, look to the Cross and what Jesus did for you there. Commit ourselves anew to God and let Jesus work out that commitment in and through you. And rejoice in hope: In Christ we have done things over, and in Christ we do all things well.

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