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Ash Wednesday Sermon

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Isaiah 42:13

    The LORD will set out like a hero. Like a warrior, he will work himself into a frenzy. He will shout. Yes, he will raise a war cry. He will be heroic against his enemies.

  When you think of Jesus what’s the first word that comes to mind? I bet the word that popped into your head wasn’t war. Maybe it was the word love. Maybe, since today is the beginning of Lent, the word was suffering, or cross. When we think of Jesus we usually don’t think of war. But the hymnwriter reminds us that “the Son of God goes forth to war.” Isaiah says, He is like a warrior. He raises a war cry and charges into battle against his enemies. As we go through the Lenten season this year, we will consider all the things that Jesus did to win the war, to win victory for us and become our hero.

  We shouldn’t be surprised at the picture of Jesus going to war. It’s a picture God used way back in the Garden of Eden. After he confronted Adam and Eve with their sin, he gave them a wonderful promise. He told them that instead of destroying them, instead of sending them to spend eternity with Satan in Hell, he would provide a way of salvation for them and all their descendants. It was a gracious promise. It was a one-sided promise. God promised to send the Savior period. There were no conditions. His promise did not depend on anything they, or anyone else would do. His promise did not depend on whether they, or anyone else believed it. He simply said: I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.

  Did you hear the reference to war? God said there is going to be enmity. There is going to be a life and death struggle between Satan and his followers, and the seed of a woman. But, the result of the war is assured. The head, the power of Satan, will be crushed. He will be defeated. But not without cost. Satan will strike, literally crush, the heal of the seed of the woman, the promised savior.

  The battle lines were drawn as soon as Adam and Eve sinned and God promised to send them a hero, a Savior. Throughout the centuries the battle of the descendants of Adam and Eve against Satan and his followers has been a dismal failure. Every single human has been captured and locked up in the prison of sin and Satan. No one has ever escaped the power of sin and Satan. Our only hope was to have someone defeat Satan, fling open the doors of his prison, and set us free. Jesus volunteered for the job.

  As true God, one with the Father from eternity, he was not bothered by Satan. Satan could not harm him. He was safe in the glory of heaven. But, in order to rescue us he had to become one of us. He had to defeat Satan, the prince of this world, on his own turf. So, instead of putting on invulnerable armor to do battle with Satan, he put on vulnerable flesh and blood. He was born of Mary, a seed of the woman. He was born with the ability to feel pain, to experience the struggle against temptation, to experience hunger and thirst, and everything we experience living on this earth. Every minute of every day he was fighting for us against sin and Satan. And every minute of every day he resisted temptation. As our substitute, he always feared, loved, and trusted in his heavenly father above all else. He won the battle against temptation. He lived without ever falling into sin.

  As holy week approached, and he knew that betrayal, suffering and death lay ahead of him, he set his face like flint. Like a warrior about to enter battle he worked himself into a frenzy. Today we might say that he got himself psyched. He resolutely set out for Jerusalem ready to take on Satan in an all-out, 1 on 1, winner-take-all, final conflict.

  Things had not gone well for Satan to this point. Jesus consistently defeated his every temptation. On Palm Sunday huge crowds welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem hailing him as the Son of David. But then things seemed to look up for Satan. One of Jesus’ own disciples gave in to the temptation of riches and agreed to betray Jesus for money. In the hands of the Jewish leaders Jesus was mocked, and many people were bearing false testimony against Jesus. Pilate gave in to the pressure of the crowds and signed the death warrant for someone he knew was innocent. Jesus was beaten almost beyond recognition. Who could endure such unjust treatment without once uttering a curse! But Jesus did endure. Even as the Roman soldiers nailed him to the cross, instead of cursing them, he prayed for their forgiveness. Then, just when it looked as if Satan had won, as it seemed that Jesus no longer had the strength take a breath, something amazing happened. Jesus gave a shout! He cried out in a loud voice, it is finished. He entrusted his spirit to the Father. He gave up his life, no one took it from him. The earth shook. Rocks shattered. Graves opened. The veil in the temple was ripped in two as if by an unseen hand. The warrior, the hero was dead. Was the hope of salvation dead? Would all of humanity end up  locked in the prison of Hell with Satan for all eternity? It might have seemed that way, but there was one more enemy that remained to be defeated.

  By his sinless life our hero had fulfilled the law for us. He told the people that he had not come to abolish the law. God’s will has not and will not change. But he did come to fulfill the law for us. Mission accomplished. Battle won.

  By his innocent suffering and death, he took on himself the punishment, the hell we deserve for our sins. God’s justice was satisfied. The gates of the prison of sin and Satan have been unlocked for us. He has defeated Satan and is leading us, Satan’s former captives, in his train as he leads us to heaven to celebrate his victory with him. Mission accomplished. Battle won.

  The enemy that remained to be defeated is death. Jesus, our hero, defeated that enemy too. On the third day he rose from the dead. In doing so he didn’t just win the victory over death for himself. He promises that because he lives, we too will live. Because he rose from the dead, death won’t be able to hold us either. Once again, he will shout! When he comes again in the clouds of heaven, by the power of his voice, all people who have ever lived will be raised to life, and all those who have believed in Jesus will live and reign with him in that place where Satan has no power, where there is no temptation, no sin, no sickness, no death, just eternal rejoicing with our hero in the victory he won for us.

  When we think of Jesus we don’t usually think of war. We don’t usually think of Jesus as a warrior. But what a wonderful picture it is! Jesus, our hero, goes forth to war. He leaves the safety of heaven to come to earth and fight our enemies for us. What a joy to know that he is heroic against his enemies. He is victorious over sin and the punishment we deserve for our sins, over Satan with his temptations and accusations, and even over death. In grace, the father credits his victory to us. In Jesus we are heroic against all our enemies.