Matthew 4:1-11; Genesis 3
Lent 1, Invocavit
✠ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠
Jesus is tempted three times just as Adam and Eve were. The old evil Foe has no new tricks. He uses the same three temptations in the wilderness as he did in the garden: food, doubting God’s Word, and self-exaltation. Three temptations, but it’s always the same lie: Jesus’ Word isn’t enough.
Worship your desire. Worship yourself. Fear, love, and trust in anything or anyone besides Jesus. That’s the devil’s game. It worked on Adam and Eve. They lost. It works on us too. In Adam we all lost.
But the devil’s temptation tactics don’t fool Jesus. And it’s not that since Jesus is God temptation is no big deal for Him. He is God, but He does not use His divine power here. That’s the whole point. He faces temptation for us as true man, a perfect, obedient human being who loves and trusts in His heavenly Father. As a real human being Jesus faces the same temptations as the first Adam, not in a garden but in a cursed wilderness, to show you that He is the new and greater Adam. It’s precisely Jesus’ obedience as one of us that saves us and gives us the victory.
As it was with Adam and Eve, so it is with Jesus. The devil starts his temptation with appetizers. “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” The devil isn’t concerned about a fair fight; he attacks when Jesus is weak and hungry, like a predator going after a wounded animal. Beware. He’ll attack you the same way, when you’re isolated and alone, when you’re beaten down by the troubles and the pressures of this life. He will prey on your hungers and fleshly desires and try to make it seem as if you just want to do something that is natural and good. The devil knows what the ancient Romans knew and politicians and marketing experts know today: if you give the people bread and circuses, as long as their desires and appetites are satisfied and they’re entertained, you can get them to go along with almost whatever you want. The devil is an expert party planner, catering lies for our every desire, promising satisfaction but only giving emptiness. How easily we turn God’s good gifts into idols: work, sports, sex, food, technology, even worship–making it all about ourselves.
Not so for Jesus. He denies himself. He fasts 40 days. That’s one of the reasons people fast from certain foods or give up things for Lent. But be careful how you do that. It’s not to score points with God or to engage in self-improvement. Lenten practices are intended to get the focus off of ourselves and onto God and our neighbor. So whatever you do, do it to discipline your body in repentance and faith. If you’re giving up certain foods, use the money you’ve saved for charitable giving. If you’re giving up screen time, use that time for more meditation on God’s Word and to serve your neighbor. Jesus came to serve. That is why He who is the Bread of Life refuses to make bread for Himself against the Father’s will.
“It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” Jesus overturns the dust of Adam’s death by clinging to the living words of God. Jesus does what Adam and we failed to do. Jesus fights the devil. He resists the temptation. He stands firmly on the Word of God. All of this…for you. Jesus said in John 4, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work.” That’s His bread and yours–God’s Word. “It is written.” He knows and trusts that the Father will provide all He needs.
Where the first Adam ate and brought death, the second Adam does not eat and brings life, so that you who hunger and thirst for righteousness might be filled with His words of truth and life. The devil’s lies are no match for the Word of Christ. In the end the devil will have to flee.
But the tempter doesn’t give up right away. Next, the devil takes Jesus to the top of the temple. “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you to guard you’ and ‘on their hands they will bear you up lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”
See how cleverly the devil twists Scripture? He even uses God’s own word to try to plant doubt. It worked on the first Adam. “Did God really say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?’” Notice how the devil twists and changes God’s Word to make it sound like it’s forbidding more than it is. Did God really say, “On the day you eat of that tree, you will die?”And by mixing a little truth with his lie, he makes his lie all the more convincing.
This temptation is particularly insidious. Luther observed that this temptation to forsake the Lord’s clear Word is the worst and most dangerous. It’s a temptation to put God’s Word and promise to the test as if it’s not entirely trustworthy. With this temptation the devil scratches itching ears, muddling God’s Words with our emotions and opinions. With this temptation the devil has blown his foul breath of false teaching into countless churches and led many astray.
Did God really say “male and female” for marriage? Surely He’s not against “love.” And by the way, how can you trust the Bible anyway? Did God really say that all Scripture is His inspired words? How can you trust things written down by men? Did God really say, “Baptism now saves you?” or, “This is my body and my blood?” How can earthly things possibly convey heavenly blessings? . . . Understand the devil’s tactics here. See how the devil just wants to implant doubt, to get you to trust your own thinking over God’s thinking and His clear words.
Notice how Jesus doesn’t get into a theological debate with the devil in response. And neither should you. After all, the devil is a whole lot smarter than you. Just hold to God’s Word. Even Jesus simply says, “It is written, You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.” Period. Take refuge in God’s Word; don’t call God into question as if you are above Him or in any position to judge Him.
Finally, the devil took Jesus up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to him, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory...if you will fall down and worship me.” It’s a regurgitated temptation, the same one that got Adam and Eve to bite. The devil comes at us this way too. Power. Praise from the world. You can be like God. Just bow down to whatever or whoever you have to in order to get what you want out of life. The devil loves the way most people do religion–just choosing the parts they like. My kingdom come. My will be done. Do it yourself spirituality. Do it yourself morality. You can have it all, if you just make this compromise and reject that divine Word, if you just bow down and worship me.
But Jesus doesn’t take the bait. He stands firm, refuses the self-exalting power grab. The devil would’ve promised him anything to bend the knee and avoid the cross. But Jesus will bend the knee to no one except His Father. “It is written, you shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.” The only way Jesus is enthroned as King of kings is by his coronation on the cross. No cross, no Kingdom. And so He becomes the Man of Sorrows, the broken, bleeding man, the beggar King who rules by dying and rising.
That’s why Divine Service isn’t conditional like the devil’s worship is. Jesus doesn’t say, “If you worship me, then I’ll give you” such and such. It’s exactly the opposite. Christ gives you everything in His preaching and Supper, and the response of faith is that we worship Him. It’s not a transaction, it’s a gift.
In all these temptations–food, doubting God’s Word, self-exaltation–the first Adam failed. But not Christ; He is the new Adam who overcomes the old foe. The lord of lies is no match for Lord of life. That’s what Luther means in that line of the hymn, “One little Word can fell him.” That one little word is liar. Tell the devil who he is and then tell him exactly where he can go.
Where the first Adam said “yes” to the devil’s lie, Jesus says no, three times. Jesus resists and stands firm. And what makes that such good news is that Jesus does not stand alone in the wilderness. He stands with you, as your substitute. You are there in Him. His temptation is your temptation; His victory is your victory. Everything Jesus does is for you. He was Born for you, grew in wisdom and knowledge for you, was an obedient teenage boy for you, baptized for you, sent out into the wilderness for you, tempted for you. His righteous obedience is yours. That’s why it is written, “You shall tread on the lion and the cobra…the young lion and the serpent you shall trample underfoot.” You share in Jesus’ head-crushing victory at Calvary.
The first Adam could not defeat the devil. But the second Adam, Jesus, can and did defeat him by the holy cross, so that the devil, who overcame mankind by the tree of the garden, might likewise by the tree of the cross be overcome.
In the first Adam we were cursed to return to the dust. In the second Adam we are raised from the dust by His bodily resurrection. In the first Adam we were cast out of Paradise into the wilderness in sin and death. In the second Adam we’re brought through the wilderness to a new creation: “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” In the first Adam we were cursed with the food of sweaty labor. In the second Adam, we’re blessed by His sacrificial labor in the Sacrament of Holy Communion. Whoever eats of this Bread will live forever. In the first Adam we were tempted and fell. In Christ’s temptation, in His life, death and resurrection, we stand victorious over sin, death and the devil.
You are the Baptized. And that means the devil will come after you too, just as he did with Jesus right after His baptism. You will be tempted by your appetites, by your craving for power and control, by your desire to test and doubt God’s Word. But you need not fear the devil or his lies. The serpent’s head is crushed. The devil is thrown down. You are in the Mighty Fortress. You are Christ’s and Christ is yours. Christ stands firm for you in the wilderness, on the cross, and today by His words and body and blood. And He holds the field forever.
✠ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠
(With thanks to the Rev. Sam Schuldheisz)