Hell Broke Loose


A 2011 WW II history says many who went through it resort to the cliche "All hell broke loose". "Because the phrase is commonplace in eyewitness descriptions of battles, air raids, massacres, and ship-sinkings, later generations are tempted to shrug at its banality" (Inferno, xv). The authors says the expression is accurate. I can believe war is hell, but can you believe where the Devil is personally there all hell has certainly broken loose?

The 1986 movie Poltergeist II gave us the haunting expression "They're baack". I see it's used for all sorts of meme's and GIFs, but in context it was spoken by an innocent little girl who didn't see the danger in them being back. In today's Gospel we see that "He's baack." He slithered through Eden in the beginning; traipsed through heaven in Job; was in the courts of David, and Zechariah saw him in the temple accusing the high priest Joshua. Then he's gone. Poof. For 400 years no divine record of his activity. But now in this savage wilderness, he's baack, and I don't say this innocently but accurately. Only Matthew records his full-court press presence. He doesn't write that Jesus was tempted "by the devil" but "under the devil." Then Matthew records the arrival of the Tempter after 40 days of fasting and a hunger so intense that we sinners can only relate to it as a lust. The Tempter fails' then Matthew says the Devil takes Jesus into the holy city and stands Him on the top of the temple. And then off to a high mountain where Jesus speaks the name last spoken 400 years ago: "Satan!"

He's baack, "And on earth is not his equal." That's what Luther wrote in "A Mighty Fortress." In the 80s I was at the San Antonio zoo. I was by the gazelles and from somewhere in the zoo the lion roared. Not just the gazelles but every animal around me cowered in fright. They didn't see the lion; they didn't smell the lion. They just heard him roar and that's all it took to cow them. Most of us have only heard a lion's roar in a nature show or movie. When Peter wrote, "Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour," (1 Peter 5:8), the people he wrote to had heard a lion roar, They knew what might, what fear, what brutality Jesus was warning them of.

"He's baack" alright, but it's not hellfire and brimstone. Yes, the Devil is a roaring lion but only to those who believe Scripture more than they do their own eyes and ears. When Paul warns the Corinthians about false apostles who disguise themselves as called by Christ, he says this shouldn't surprise them because "Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light" (2 Cor. 11:14). And Paul experienced the other side of this: the working of God disguised as the devil's work. In the same epistle he calls his thorn in the flesh a "messenger of Satan" which he asked the Lord to take away, and what does the Lord Jesus say about what Paul called "a messenger of Satan"? Jesus calls it "His grace." O if only Satan always stunk of sulfur, if only he had horns, cloven hoofs, and a pitchfork; if only he always tempted by manifestly evil things.

No, he is so much more subtle than we can imagine. He tempts us to believe that we can live by bread alone. We say, "If you have your health you have everything." Old people when asked how they're doing say, "Not that good, but it beats the alternative." Does it for the Christian? So much for the hymn that the Lord's banner here is "'Many a sorrow, many a labor,
many a tear.'" But at the end of this life it's "'Sorrow vanquished, labor ended, Jordan passed'" (TLH 513). The Deceiver tempts me to believe I don't need the Word of God only that of men and my opinions and much less so do I need the Body and Blood of the Word made flesh in my mouth. Nope, as long as He is in my heart, I'm good. As long as I have faith going on in there, it's cool. Until, that is, the Devil slanders me by saying I obviously don't believe enough. I'm not willing to put God's promises to the test. I'm not willing to believe God for miracles. Finally, Satan makes a truly audacious temptation: he can give you all that you want in this life.

Satan seldom comes at us breathing hellfire and brimstone, but still with Adam we fall. God's clear words aren't clear enough for us. We believe we can know and deserve to know all that God does. There is no hidden will of God that to peak into is to trespass. We torment ourselves with "why" questions and believe God is the one doing it. Never once does it occur to us that we could no more understand His explanation of Good or Evil than a three-year-old understands our explanation of the evil shot we took them to the doctor to get. But what Eve sees Satan tempting with is not evil but good; and it's not ugly to the eye but pleasing; and rather than trespassing into knowledge that will damn her she's gaining wisdom. Here is where you should hear a loud bang! All hell broke loose so fast that I didn't see it coming. One minute I'm standing in the garden of God's delight, and the next I'm outside the garden spiritually blind, dead, and an enemy of God.

Yup, Satan's back alright, not with hellfire and brimstone, but good, beautiful, desirable yet God-forbidden things. He brings peaceful, easy feelings as we lay down our arms against the devil, the world, and our flesh. He brings us companionship in a warm body or a cold bottle. He brings all that kingdoms of the world can offer and what need of anything beside bread, you know money, do we need to live? All hell has broken loose. Hell's maw is opened, and we're the ant in the conical sand of the antlion. We're slipping in and the more we struggle the faster we slip. But Jesus is on the scene and like the firemen, He rushes in while we're trying to get out.

The text began with Jesus led into the desert to by tempted under the devil. I left out that Jesus was led into the desert under the Holy Spirit. "Led" is a correct translation of this Greek word, but so is "offered up as a sacrifice." John says that after His Baptism all the sins of the world were on Jesus. This is comparable to the OT scapegoat. The high priest laid his hands on a goat confessing all the sins of the OT church on its head, and that goat was led out into the wilderness bearing those sins away from them. And here is Jesus in the desert carrying all the sins of the world on Him, away from us, and bearing all that weight, He's tempted under the Devil.

As a hungry Man in a desert, He did what fully fed Adam in Paradise didn't. He lived by God's Word of command and promise. He didn't listen to the Tempter; He didn't doubt if God had really said something or not. He didn't doubt God's promise that He was well-pleased with Him. The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil would have eventually been perfect Adam and Eve's food too. But the path to that was obedience to His command not to eat of it now and to worship Him by being content without it. Because Adam and Eve wouldn't, couldn't, and didn't stay on the path of obedience and worship, their path to the heavenly Eden was blocked by God's wrath against sinners and His promise that each and every sin had to be paid for in full before any sinner could enter heaven.

You know everyone "naturally" knows this. It's written in our hearts. That's the origin of such sayings "there's no free lunch"; "you have to deserve respect". Or , "You're not sorry enough." Either you don't watch the things I do, or you're missing that satisfying God's wrath or someone else's is at the heart of most dramas. As Pat Green sang, "We're all looking for redemption/ Just afraid to say the name." At the heart of every single personal, family, marriage, job, political, physical, emotional, devotional problem we have is the staircase to heaven being blocked by our sin and sinfulness. We see our sins or the sins of someone else laying there stinking to high heaven. We consider them unforgiven and unforgiveable maybe by us, maybe by them, certainly by God, and maybe by all three.

Jesus was offered "all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor." If you're a kid, that's all the video gaming or pizza in the world; if you're a teen that's no more teacher, no more school. If you're an adult it's a love like that, it's happiness; it's "I got no deeds to do, no promises to keep/ I'm dappled and drowsy and ready to sleep/ Let the morning time drop all its petals on me/ Life, I love you, all is groovy." But Jesus didn't take it. He took instead the cup of God's wrath against all the world's sin, including the one's barring your staircase to heaven, and He drank it. He offered His back to pay strip by strip, lash by lash for that sin of yours, that deed of yours, that thought of yours. Isaiah says God was pleased to crush Him (Is. 53:10). Read the gory account from the Salem witch trials of the man who had life crushed out of him. Read Scripture how Jesus offered His back to have deep furrows plowed on it to pay for your sins; how He offered His beard to be pulled out hair by hair for secret sins no one but God and you know; how He didn't hide His holy face from the spit of foul-breathed men to pay for your disguising sins; how His visage was marred beyond any man's (Is. 50:6; 52:14). Jesus was so beaten He no longer looked human.

"Behold angels came" is how the text ends, and we think, "Thank God, the cavalry has come!" Sorry hell ain't done breaking loose yet. The angelic cavalry has arrived to nurse the Man Jesus back to health, but you do know why don't you? The cavalry is here because Calvary is still ahead. The place where Jesus is going to give His life as wrath removing sacrifice for the sins of the world is still ahead. Hell breaks loose publicly there as Jesus, God's beloved Son, is forsaken as only the damned are in hell. So the angels are here doing the equivalent of getting a sick man healthy enough to execute him. God so loved the world that rather than have hell break loose on it, He had all of it break loose on Jesus. Amen.

Rev. Paul R. Harris

Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas

First Sunday in Lent (20200301); Matthew 4: 1-11