Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Today’s Gospel lesson comes to us from the 4th chapter of Matthew. In our lesson, Jesus is led out into the wilderness to endure the Devil’s temptations for a period of 40 days. The Devil proceeds to try to break Jesus by presenting three attractive offers.
First, the tempter came to him with an offer of bread. An offer to meet all of his material needs, yet Jesus rejects this first offer. As he proclaimed “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”
Second, the Devil seeks to challenge Jesus’ faith in his purpose. He commanded that Jesus throw himself down from the highest point of the Temple. Satan was appealing to the need of many people to see what they think are miracles, or see great transformations in their own life to satisfy their own doubts to be able to confront any struggles that they shall face.
The third offer and final offer that Satan makes is he seeks to tempt Jesus with an offer of fame, glory, and power. Satan offered Jesus all the kingdoms of the world. Satan offered Jesus the chance to be praised by everyman, yet Jesus rejects this most tempting of offers for the sake of his ministry.
So our Gospel lesson highlights Satan’s effectiveness in tempting Jesus. Satan attacks Jesus in three effective ways; by appealing to one’s poverty, by appealing to one’s sense of doubt, and by appealing to one’s powerlessness. Jesus never gives in to Satan’s temptations, yet our Gospel lesson highlights Satan’s power in the world.
Now many people would rather not spend any time during the course of their week considering Satan. When people come to church they like to hear about Jesus, love, forgiveness, and maybe drink some coffee and eat some treats. Whether there is an actual devil out there is a question that many people would rather not consider?
I must admit though that as much as I believe there is a God, I believe there is a devil, whom along with his minions, are continually actively threatening and seeking to bring harm to Christian people.
The best proof of the Devil’s existence comes in the history of the 20th century. As my mentor Dr. Roy Harrisville points out you look at the impact of men like Mao, Stalin, and Hitler. You look at the way they were convinced they were serving the greater good and it’s hard to deny that Satan has power. Perhaps the greatest evidence of Satan’s power lies not in these men as individuals, but rather the fact that these men were able to get whole nations behind them. One person can always be a nut or an oddball, when a whole country goes along with it then something more sinister must be at work.
Satan strikes at us with all the venom of a serpent, and Satan strikes so subtlety we often fail to notice that we’ve been bit until it’s too late.
A while back, I knew a guy named Dick. Dick was one of the kindest, sweetest old gentlemen in town. Dick one day got the most heartbreaking of phone-calls. Dick heard that his grandson had committed suicide. I’m visiting with Dick one day being asked to make sense of this all.
Trying to answer the question of “Why his Grandson did it?” and I said because Satan is powerful. Satan is able to convince people that there is possibly no other way out from the depths of people’s suffering.
For Satan’s power lies in being able to make the ugly become beautiful and the beautiful become ugly. This is something that I want to talk about today. I want to talk about one of the most controversial, contentious, and uncomfortable issues within the Christian church in the issue of suicide and Satan’s role within it.
Suicide raises the question of “How can a believer decide that suicide is the answer?”
For many years, those who committed suicide were unable to have funerals within the church or be buried within a church’s cemetery. Suicide was considered to be an “unforgivable sin”. This issue hits close to home from me.
Suicide is something that my family’s gone through first-hand. In 1974, my grandpa Kermit had been married nearly 30 years, was successful in the insurance and real estate business, had a house on the lake, served on the Call Committee at church, was considered the life of the party wherever he went, and was serving as the Mayor of Lindstrom. Yet one night, my Grandpa Kermit went out in the boat, pulled out a gun and took his own life.
Such an event is devastating for one’s family. My Grandma as a coping mechanism turned to the bottle.
Her alcoholism wasn’t just having a few too many drinks on a Friday or Saturday night, it was rather a very dangerous type of alcoholism. She had 4 DUIs, numerous violent outbursts, trips to rehab and hospital stays to sober up. She was one time hospitalized with a blood alcohol content of .39 which in many cases will kill a person. The alcoholism got so extreme at times that she was incapable of hangovers.
I remember being about 12 years old and encountering my Grandma in one of her drunken states as she brought up my Grandpa’s suicide I can hear her words more clearly than nearly any other words from my life as she described her husband’s suicide as “the ultimate form of rejection”.
Family dynamics though went way beyond my Grandmother’s drinking. My Dad who was 25 at the time along with each of his brothers and sisters went through some pretty severe depression brought on by Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
My Aunt who was the youngest child and 14 at the time has had perhaps the most difficult lot in life growing up at times without any parents creating a deep cynicism regarding all human relationships.
You never get over the suicide of a loved one. The consequences of suicide are devastating for families for years and years after they take place.
I truly believe suicide cannot be separated from Satan’s influence in the world. Satan’s ability to make one question themselves, doubt themselves, and despise themselves to the point of taking their own life. Satan’s ability to convince someone that suicide is the only solution to their problems, Satan’s ability to convince someone that there is no hope of grace in their situation, Satan’s ability to convince that this is the best way forward.
When I was on vacation in California a few years back, my Grandma and my Aunt were talking about my Grandpa’s suicide. When my Grandma stated she believed that Kermit before he pulled the trigger asked God for forgiveness. This caused my Aunt (a Psychologist) to get mad saying there’s nothing to be forgiven for since suicide is brought on by mental illness no different from a malfunction of any other bodily organ such as the heart.
So is suicide a sin or a decision brought on by mental illness? The Bible gives either 6 or 7 examples of suicide. None of the Bible characters who commit suicide are ever portrayed in a positive light. This is why the church for years and years didn’t bury suicide victims.
The most well-known example of a suicide in the Bible would be Judas Iscariot who was driven to suicide over his guilt at betraying Jesus. In every Bible story dealing with suicide, suicide is portrayed as a lack of faith, a hopelessness and despair over one’s life situation.
Yet suicide goes beyond a lack of faith. When I was in seminary, I had a classmate who was kind, sweet, generous, and sincere in her faith that ended up hanging herself one night. Reminding us that human depression is such a powerful force that it often can’t be stopped even unto the point of death.
When we wonder what could ever possess a seminary student to act this way? The answer is simpler then we want to admit because they were in misery, because they were broken. We often can’t accept this answer because we wish there was a quick and easy fix to the problem. What suicide reminds us is that if we’re not dealing with the incredible ugliness of the human condition, we cannot begin to understand God, Grace, and the Cross. Suicide leads us to the realization that the only hope we have in this life rests outside of ourselves.
It would be irresponsible to just dismiss Dick’s Grandson, my Grandpa Kermit’s, or Sarah from Seminary’s psychological struggles as a lack of faith. Especially when they’re under attack from spiritual forces they often cannot name.
When people ask, “Is suicide a sin?” a two part answer has to be given.
Suicide is a sin in that it’s not what God intends for his creation. If there was no sin in the world, there would be no suicide. Suicide is a sin because it’s ultimately the most selfish of acts a person can commit
At the same time, we believe the issues with suicide often go deeper. Suicide is often brought on by emotional crises or psychological issues. We cannot ultimately judge anyone’s faith. Yet it’s important to note that it’s not any actions or poor choices that thankfully condemn us, but rather only unbelief. We don’t take hope because we’ve lived perfect lives, but rather because Our Lord and Savior died then rose again.
The Luther movie (2003) had a great scene about the impact of suicide and grace. In this scene, a young abused child is driven to such a state of despair that he takes his own life. The Boy is then refused a Christian burial by one of Luther’s fellow Monks.
Luther upon hearing this, sent for the boy’s parents and the boy’s body with the following command:
“Tell him: Some people say that according to God’s justice, this boy is damned because he took his life. I say it was overcome by the devil. Is this child any more to blame for the despair that overtook him than an innocent man who is murdered by a robber in the woods? God must be mercy. God IS mercy.”
Luther then personally buries the child in front of the child’s parents, and prays”
“He is yours. Save him”.
For the key point in talking about suicide from a religious point of view is where as suicide is nothing we would ever celebrate or portray as a positive course of action for the pain it causes, we would never say that suicide isn’t a sin that can’t be forgiven.
For earlier, I was talking about mentions of suicide within the Bible always being negative, yet if one is to truly appreciate a biblical perspective though on this issue. It should be noted that both Elijah and Job who were both considered to be heroes of the Christian faith pleaded with God to take their life during their darkest hours. Their stories remind us that we cannot begin to comprehend in a fallen world the depths that Christians might sink.
For the struggles people go through in life are often much more complicated than can be fixed by just hurling a few Bible verses their way. For being a Christian is never a promise to avoid all anxiety and always be giddy. Being a Christian doesn’t mean that Satan will never make the “hideously ugly” look beautiful in one’s life.
Being a Christian means you have a God who embraces you in your emotional struggles. A God who in today’s Gospel Lesson went through temptation, yet a God who never abandons you. Being a Christian means having a source of hope through the Cross, when all the world and your own life throws at you is hopelessness.
For Today’s Gospel lesson and the nightly news illustrate that Satan has power in this world. Yet, Today’s Gospel also illustrates that there is nothing that Satan can throw at us that stands in the way of the love of Our Lord and Savior. Amen
 Matthew 4:4b
 Matthew 4:5-6
 Matthew 4:8
 Beautiful analysis of this issue is given by Stampdawg. “Killed by a Robber”. Mockingbird. Christ Episcopal Church. Charlottesville, VA. 29. Apr. 2010. Web. Feb.25.2014.
 Clauss, Dennis A. (Producer) & Till, Eric (Director). Luther.2003. Motion Picture. United States. RS Entertainment. This scene is based on a similar quotation from Luther’s Works [Vol 54:29] based on one of his Table Talks.
 1 Kings 19
 Job 7