Pastor Gary Wong, December 6, 2020
14 Therefore, since the children share flesh and blood, he also shared the same flesh and blood, so that through death he could destroy the one who had the power of death (that is, the Devil) 15 and free those who were held in slavery all their lives by the fear of death. 16 For surely he was not concerned with helping angels but with helping Abraham’s offspring. 17 For this reason, he had to become like his brothers in every way, in order that he would be a merciful and faithful high priest in the things pertaining to God, so that he could pay for the sins of the people. 18 Indeed, because he suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.
It was definitely not a mission for the faint of heart. The daring plan called for an elite force of Army Rangers to penetrate deep behind enemy lines to rescue a band of fellow American soldiers. The situation for those Japanese held Prisoners of War was indeed desperate. It was already a miracle that any of them had survived what would be known as the Bataan Death March—a tortuous trek through the jungle that claimed the lives of all but a handful of soldiers who had surrendered to overwhelming Japanese forces. The few who did manage to reach the camp alive continued to suffer from the horrendous camp conditions—a lack of food and water and a host of tropical diseases, not to mention the physical and psychological torture they endured at the hands of their cold-blooded captors. Time was running out on those prisoners.
The Rangers knew that their comrades in arms could be brutally murdered at any moment by an enemy that had absolutely no regard for human life. By taking on this mission, they knew that they were risking their own lives. Yet, down to the last man, every Ranger was totally committed to the mission. Because of the courage and commitment of the Rangers, the mission was a huge success. The prisoners were freed and brought safely home. Today’s lesson focuses on a different rescue mission. On this second Sunday of Advent, we meditate upon our Savior, Jesus Christ, whom God sent to rescue us from our greatest enemies: sin, death, and the devil. We praise and thank Jesus for coming on his first mission to save us and we look forward to his second coming when he will bring all believers home to heaven.
While there are many similarities between these missions, there are also huge differences. Let’s first look at the scope of the two missions. In the case of the raid on the POW camp, the Rangers were trying to rescue some 500 fellow Americans. Jesus, on the other hand, came to save all mankind. There was also a difference as to why these individuals needed to be rescued in the first place. Now, it wasn’t the soldiers’ fault that they had ended up in the hands of the enemy. They had been fighting a war not of their own making. They weren’t even given the choice as to whether they wanted to continue to fight or surrender. Their commanding officer had decided that fighting a numerically superior enemy without any supplies would have been suicide. He thought that their best chance to survive would be to surrender to the enemy and trust that they would be treated humanely as prisoners of war. As it turned out, he was wrong.
What about the people whom Jesus had come to rescue? Unlike the soldiers who became POWs only after fighting with all of their might, we became prisoners from the moment we were born. Because of the sinful natures that we had inherited from our parents, we had become prisoners of the devil without even putting up a fight. In a very real way, we had been in a much more desperate situation than those POWs. Satan had complete control over us. We were like puppets that have no choice other than to obey the master pulling the strings. What are some of the strings which Satan pulls? Some of those strings are the temptations that the devil dangles before our eyes—the temptation to covet what our neighbor has, to cheat our boss out of an honest day’s work, to watch ungodly things on the TV or the internet, the temptation to listen to and then spread malicious gossip—just to name a few. Another string that Satan pulls is guilt, reminding us of past sins we try to keep hidden in our hearts. The ultimate string that the devil wants to pull is death. If Satan can get us to reject Jesus as our Savior, then he would hold the power of death over us.
Because we are sinners, we had been under the power of the devil and facing a death sentence. What’s worse, we were powerless to save ourselves. Truly, it was a hopeless situation. The only one who could rescue us was God. In his mercy and grace, he did. God launched the greatest rescue mission in the history of the world! God announced his plan immediately after the fall into sin. The Lord told the devil, “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” (Gen. 3:15). In this first promise of a Savior we see one of the big differences between the rescue mission of the POWs and God’s rescue mission. The raid on the POW camp involved hundreds of Rangers; God’s plan of salvation centered on a single rescuer. Another difference is that the plan to free the prisoners was made in secret and was carried out in secrecy. God, on the other hand, not only told the devil that he was going to destroy the devil’s power, he told Satan how he was going to do it! Beginning with the first promise in the Garden of Eden, God revealed a detailed description of his plan through his prophets. God pretty much told the devil who was going to carry out God’s plan, how he was going to do it, and where all of it would take place. The only thing that God held back was the exact time it would happen. It was as though God was saying to Satan, “This is what I’m going to do. Try and stop me!”
So, what were some of the details of this remarkable plan? The plan began with God sending his one and only Son, Jesus Christ, into the world. In order for mankind to be saved, our Savior had to be a human being. Our text tells us that Jesus “shared in our humanity” and was “made to be like his brothers in every way.” The Bible tells us that when the time had fully come, God chose a virgin by the name of Mary to be the mother of the Savior. Then, to fulfill what the prophet Micah had foretold, Mary and her husband, Joseph, traveled from Nazareth in Galilee to the little town of Bethlehem where Jesus was born in a stable. Mary wrapped the Savior of the world in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, a feeding trough for barn animals! Now, you wouldn’t think that a tiny, innocent little baby would strike fear in Satan’s heart; but that’s exactly how the devil reacted to Jesus’ birth. Satan tried everything in his power to stop God’s plan. The devil used King Herod to try to kill the baby Jesus. However, the angel of the Lord warned Joseph of that danger, who then took his family to Egypt, out of harm’s way. The angel also told Joseph when it was safe to return to Israel. Jesus then grew up like every other Jewish boy in Nazareth, with one huge exception. Jesus never sinned. He was completely obedient to his earthly parents and to his Father in heaven. Jesus living a perfect life in our place was a key component of God’s plan of salvation.
The first major showdown between the devil and Jesus took place in the Judean wilderness. After forty days and forty nights without food and water, the devil saw his opportunity to attack a weakened Jesus. Satan threw three huge temptations at our Savior; but each time, Jesus successfully fought off those temptations using only God’s Word. Stymied for the moment, the devil left Jesus until a more opportune time presented itself.
The devil tried at various other times and used a variety of tactics to try to derail God’s plan. Satan enlisted all kinds of people in his attacks—not just Jesus’ enemies, like King Herod, but Jesus’ family, friends, and the very people Jesus came to save. At times, Jesus’ own mother and brothers didn’t seem to understand Jesus’ mission. Even Jesus’ disciples, with whom Jesus had shared what would have to take place, didn’t always get it. When Peter learned that Jesus would have to suffer and die, he objected saying, “Never Lord! This shall never happen to you” (Mt. 16:22). Recognizing that the devil was using Peter, Jesus rebuked his disciple saying, “Get behind me, Satan!” (Mt. 16:23). Jesus let nothing and no one get in his way of carrying out God’s plan.
The final, climactic confrontation between the devil and Jesus would take place on a battlefield called Calvary. In desperation, Satan pulled out all the stops. He tried to stop Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. The devil used the soldiers, the crowd and even the thief on the cross to stop Jesus from following through with his divine mission. They shouted, “He’s saved others; let him save himself if he is the Christ of God. Let him come down now from the cross…He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him” (Lk. 23:35). The fact of the matter is, Jesus could have saved himself at any time. Jesus knew, however, that if he were to deviate even one little bit from God’s plan, the devil would have won. So out of his love for all people, Jesus allowed himself to be unjustly tried, convicted, whipped, nailed to a cross, and crucified. Jesus didn’t just risk his life to save mankind; he willingly gave up his life to save the world from the consequences of sin. Jesus’ cry, “It is finished” (Jn. 19:31), was a signal to the world that he had successfully completed his mission.
What, then, is our response to Jesus’ victory over sin and Satan? We thank and praise the Lord that he loved us so much that he sent his one and only Son on a divine rescue mission. Because of Jesus, we have peace with God. We are comforted and encouraged knowing that God has not and will never forget or abandon us. Because of Jesus, we can say “No” to the devil and “Yes” to the Lord. We are free to serve him with our lives, knowing that Jesus is by our side every step of the way. Because Jesus was tempted and was able to successfully resist all of those temptations, we know that Jesus can and does help us with all our problems, no matter how many or big they might appear. Therefore, let’s celebrate and proclaim the Good News that the Babe born in Bethlehem has accomplished his mission of salvation and look forward to the day when Jesus, our Lord and King, will return to take all believers to our heavenly home. Amen.
“God Loved the World So that He Gave” (CW 391)
Text: Heiliges Lippen … Gesangbuch, Stettin, c. 1778; tr. August Crull, 1845-1923, alt.
God loved the world so that he gave
His only Son the lost to save
That all who would in him believe
Should everlasting life receive.
Christ is the solid rock of faith,
Who was made flesh and suffered death.
All who confide in him alone
Are built on this chief cornerstone.
God would not have the sinner die—
His Son with saving grace is nigh.
His Spirit in the Word does teach
How we the blessed goal may reach.
Be of good cheer, for God’s own Son
Forgives the sins that you have done.
You’re justified by Jesus’ blood;
Baptized, you are a child of God.
When you are sick, when death draws near,
This truth your troubled heart can cheer:
Christ Jesus saves my soul from death—
This is the anchor of my faith!
Glory to God, the Father, Son,
And Holy Spirit, Three in One!
To you, O Blessed Trinity,
Be praise now and eternally!