Lent 1 – February 13/14 – Matthew 4:1-11
In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
Mankind had started out in a garden, where things were lush and verdant and vibrant. Indeed, there was no hint of death anywhere. Four rivers watered this garden, an over-abundance of water, and growth, and life. And it was good. But then the Serpent came in, and he told the man, told the woman, that if they just listened to him, that things would be even better. And so, Adam and Eve ate, and they fell. That’s how we normally think of Genesis 3 – when we hear “The Fall” we think of it first and foremost in terms of Adam and Eve falling. We think of it in terms of morality, in terms of spirituality. We also need to think of it in physical terms – and not just for Adam and Eve. Yes, they died… but the world died with them. The garden died with them. Their eating of the fruit became the gateway for death – “cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field.” The earth no longer gladly yields her bounty of life – the earth itself has been stuck by sin, and now instead of simply roaming a lush garden, Adam is going to farm, and it’s going to be hard work. And even then, there will be some places in the earth so touched, so blighted by the impact of sin that nothing will grow there. There will be deserts, there will be wilderness.
“Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” Immediately after His baptism in the Jordan, Jesus leaves behind that watered area and He goes out into the wilderness. This is most fitting. Adam had sinned, and the garden was lost, the world was lost – and so Jesus goes to where that impact of sin upon the world was most obvious – the desert wilderness. And there stands Jesus, True God and True Man, on a barren landscape. There stands The Word Himself, who had declared, “Let the earth sprout forth vegetation, plants yielding seed and fruit trees bearing fruit” and yet all He sees there in that place are thorns and thistles at best. Our Lord thus begins His direct confrontation against sin and death and the devil. He enters into that place where the impact of sin is most severe, and there He prepares to make things right. “And after fasting 40 days and 40 nights, He was hungry.” Again, there’s more Old Testament imagery here. When the flood came, when wickedness was so severe on the earth that it would be wiped out, it lasted 40 days and 40 nights. Or perhaps even more to the point – for 40 years the people of Israel wander the desert due to their grumblings, due to their complaining about food. So there you have Jesus, and see where He is at. He places Himself in the under the full weight, the full pressures that sin and its impacts can bring to bear – tired, sore, hungry, and off in a lifeless place alone. As rough as it can get for one who is still alive, that is where Christ is.
“And the tempter came and said to Him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’” Understand the temptation. Satan isn’t questioning whether or not Jesus is God. Satan knows. Rather this – if you are the Son of God, why are You of all people suffering hunger this way? Why, at Your Word these stones could become bread and You could satisfy Yourself. And Satan is right – Jesus could. He could simply and with ease satisfy Himself. But that is not why Christ Jesus is in the wilderness, that’s not why He came down from heaven. He did not come down to serve Himself, but He came down to rescue mankind from sin and death – and that is not done by serving the belly. “But He answered, ‘It is written: Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every Word that comes from the mouth of God.’” Mere bread is not life, Satan. A full belly doesn’t undo the curse Adam and Eve got themselves into. Adam worked hard in those fields and he ate his share of bread, and he still died, and the deserts remained, and the thorns continued to grow. No, Satan, man doesn’t live simply by bread, and man will never live if he listens to you. Man lives by the Word of God, lives by My Word which created him, and man will live again when I beat down every trial and temptation in His place, when I face you down and die and rise again for Him. I am not here to serve Myself, but to fulfill that Word that I spoke long ago, when I said I would crush your head.
Satan tries again. “Then the Devil took Him to the Holy City and set Him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to Him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written: He will command His angels concerning you, and: On their hands they will bear You up, lest You strike Your foot against a stone.’” I know who you are Jesus, and I know the Word that You have spoken. Alright – show that Word to be true. Jump. It will be alright. You Yourself has said that it will be okay, that the angels will come. Aren’t you truthful? Why don't you do it? “Jesus said to him, ‘Again it is written: You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” Oh Satan, I am not here to prove how wondrous I am, I am not here to show off signs and wonders to make the people marvel. I’m here to fix things – for years and years these people have put Me to the test, have tried Me, have demanded signs and wonders – and they will again. But that is not why I am here – I am here to put an end to testing, indeed, I am here to put an end to your testing, Satan. I will not do things your way, Satan. My Father and I know what must be done, and while my foot will not strike a stone, it will be bruised, bruised when it lands on your head in full – and you will not distract Me from that.
One more try for Satan. “Again, the Devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to Him, ‘All these I will give You, if you will fall down and worship me.’” It seemed like a fair offer. Satan’s domain was sin and the power of death, and all the kingdoms of the world were under that, all were tainted and enshadowed by Satan. And so Satan tries to cut a deal – if you want them Jesus, fine. We don’t need to fight, we don’t need to argue – and more importantly, You don’t need to suffer. You’ve taken on a body, You’ve become man, and You won’t like suffering. You don’t like it now – we can work around it, we can prevent the suffering. Simply give in to me, worship me, and I’ll let you run things the way you want. You can have them… just let me have You. Satan makes one last bid at the ancient power play, where he would be on top and God would be beneath him. Jesus will have none of it. “Then Jesus said to him, ‘Be gone, Satan! For it is written: You shall worship the LORD your God and Him only shall you serve.” I have come not to simply rule over people, but to free them from bondage to you, to free them from the fear of death. How can that be done if I too worship you, if I too fall into the same trap and doom that they are in? No – there is One God, and they will worship the True God who has won them redemption and deliverance from You. Your temptations have failed, Satan.
And there, in that wilderness, in that lifeless area, Jesus Christ, not only true God but also true Man, did what Adam and Eve failed to do, did what you and I fail to do – He perfectly resisted the temptations of the Devil. There, in that rocky, lifeless place Jesus Christ was shown to be truly alive – showed that He was living as man was meant and created to live, without the fear of Satan. The Lord, the Giver of Life has walked into Satan’s domain and declared that He would not yield an inch of creation to Satan. “Then the devil left Him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to Him.” And Satan has no choice but flee before Christ… and then the angels come. That dead, desolate place becomes holy and sacred – we can miss this. Where is the place where God dwells with the angels ministering to Him? We sing part of it on Communion Sundays – this is Isaiah 6 stuff – “In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the LORD sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of His robe filled the temple. Above Him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory!” And there, in the wilderness, far from the that temple where Isaiah had His vision, deep into the domain and rule of Satan – there is the LORD of hosts with His angels, and His glory is there.
Redemption is coming. Salvation is coming. The destruction of sin and death is coming. With the temptation, Christ Jesus begins His active ministry, He strides forth into Satan’s domain and He begins dismantling it. He has resisted the Devil, and the Devil has no choice but to flee before Him. And over these coming weeks in Lent we will see Christ invade domain after domain which Satan thought was his, and we will see our Lord crush Satan again and again… even unto Good Friday itself, where Christ will enter death itself to defeat it. It is an awesome thing to behold God fighting for you, God Himself seeking to free you from sin and death, see Christ fighting the battle you could not. Let us watch and hear with humility and thanksgiving. In the Name of Christ the Crucified + Amen.