Lent 1 – March 4th and 5th, 2017 – Matthew 4:1-11
In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
The Wilderness. We don't hear that word like people in the first Century did. We're Americans, and part of our myths and legends are romanticizing the Wilderness. Lewis and Clark are our heroes – we have Westerns – go west young man, head on out there and tame a rugged land. That's what we tend to think of when we think of wilderness – just a place that we haven't tamed with civilization yet – give us a few years and there will be paved roads with a gas station on every corner.
That's not what folks in Jesus' day thought of when they thought of the wilderness. The wilderness was that desert area beyond the Jordan, and if you went there, you went there to die. You weren't going to be building, you weren't going to be enjoying things – you went there to die. There would be thirst and hunger and danger from wild animals. The wilderness was the place of dying. And the Jewish people of Jesus' day knew that all the more – the children of Israel had spent 40 years in the wilderness because of their disobedience, 40 years where all the adults who refused to enter the promised land died, 40 years where they were sustained only by miracles – manna from heaven, water from a rock, clothing that miraculously didn't wear out. The wilderness is death, the wilderness is punishment for sin.
Jesus goes to the wilderness to face down death, to take up the punishment for sin. That is what verse one of our text is driving at. “Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” Then – immediately after His baptism, immediately after Jesus is joined to us by being baptized in the Jordan – He goes out the wrong way. Instead of heading west back towards Judea, He heads east, across the Jordan, off to the Wilderness. Of course He does. Just as your baptism joined you to Christ, where you receive all of His righteousness, His life, His love – so to Christ's baptism joined Him to you – and He took up all your sin, all your wretchedness. The wages of sin is death. The disobedient were left to linger in the wilderness. And so, led by the Spirit, taking up your sin, Jesus heads to the wilderness. He takes your place, the place of all the Israelites, the place of all of humanity. And Jesus goes to that place of shame and suffering and danger and defeat – and he goes to be tempted by the devil.
Being tempted by the devil is the story of human history. Of course we can say that biblically – an option for the old testament reading today is Genesis 3, the fall, the temptation by Satan. Indeed, throughout the scriptures, every sin plays off of temptation somehow. But more than that – on every page of every history book, in the events of our own lives, temptation is there, always there. The urge, the desire to do that which is wrong – the desire say no to God when He tells us to love God, love our neighbor. The temptation to do what we want, to listen to our flesh, to say “to hell with everyone else, I'm doing what I think is best for me” neither realizing nor caring that this attitude is in fact walking the road to hell yourself. That's temptation. And you will be tempted this week. This day. You probably have temptations of thought kicking around you right now. This is what life after the fall has become for us – constantly hounded by sin, weakened and beaten down by a harsh world, by bodies that fail us.
And this is where Christ comes. When we confess in the Creed that Jesus “was made man” this is what we are talking about – not simply that He took on a human body – but He was made man, made like we are, with a body that had our frailties, living not the life of some sort of superman, but stepping right into the middle of the same sort of mess that we are in. And so, for us men and for our salvation, He came down from heaven and stepped right into the wilderness of our sin and death and jumped smack dab into the middle of temptation. But wait, there's more. “And after fasting forty days and forty nights, He was hungry.” Jesus doesn't prepare for the temptation like an athlete getting ready for a marathon – He doesn't carefully balance carbs and proteins and check His electrolyte levels. No – He fasts. Fasting in the Scriptures is the demonstration of sorrow over sin and death. And Jesus takes up our sin, and He is sorrowful, He fasts, He prays. That's His reaction to sin, to our sin. And then, when He is weak, weaker than most of us can imagine – only then do the temptations start.
“And the tempter came and said, 'If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.'” You're the Son of God, you don't deserve this! Why, You've got power Jesus! Go on, feed Yourself. So my friends, what's the temptation here? What's so bad, so wrong about this? To understand, listen to Jesus's response. “It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every Word that comes from the mouth of God.'” On the one level this is a statement about trust in God – that we rely upon God to provide for us, we don't run around trusting in ourselves. Moreover, it reminds us that our hungers, our wants and desires don't determine what is right and wrong, but God and His Word do. But in reality, it's so much more wondrous than that. Jesus isn't in that wilderness for His own good. He was led there by the Spirit for your salvation – and the only way You will live isn't by filling your belly – you can do that all the days of your life and you'll still die. Fasting isn't the problem. No, the only way you will live, will have eternal and everlasting life is by the Word of God taking on Human flesh and defeating Satan for you and dying for you and rising for you. Jesus has not come to satisfy Himself – He has come to make satisfaction for sin and win you Salvation. The warrior doesn't fight to make himself comfortable, He fights to slay the giant. And part of Jesus's victory is going through this Wilderness without grumbling, without complaint, without focusing on what His belly wants.
Satan attacks again. “Then the devil took Him to the holy city and set Him upon 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 your up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.”'” Why be in the wilderness fighting against sin and death Jesus – You could just take the holy land, the holy city by storm. You're the Son of God – these folks should be going gaga over You – tell you what – here we are at the temple, all the religious types are here – toss Yourself off, the angels will come, there will be laud and praise and glory. That's the way a God should be treated, isn't it? Yet Jesus says, “Again, it is written, 'You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.'” Yes, simply this means don't go about tempting God. “If you really loved me you'd catch me from falling, you'd buy me a pony” - that doesn't fly with God. But more than that – don't put God to the test. The very first temptation in Eden was “you will be like God.” No Satan, you don't get to tell me what it's like to be God, how God should act, how God should be treated. I'm not overly interested in glory or praise right now – being God is this: winning for fallen man salvation – something you'd never understand. Now, get that weak-sauce glory temptation out of here.
And now Satan knows that Jesus is here, and that Jesus is here to fight. So Satan sues for peace, tries to reach a bargain. “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.'” They are mine, Jesus – they are fast bound in Satan's chains, captive to sin and death – that was the price of sin. But we don't need to fight – You can have them, do with them what you wish – You can love Your neighbor to Your heart's content – just leave some room for me. Do it my way – let me be your God – cause that's what Satan's always wanted. To be like God. Satan tempted us with what he himself wanted. And Jesus will have none of it. “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, 'You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve.'” And Jesus does it. Even weakened, He doesn't bend, He doesn't break, He doesn't give into sin. And He will go forth through the Gospel and fight and beat down Satan, He will go to win you your salvation.
Of course, if we treat the temptation of our Lord as just a past event, as just a prelude to Lent, we miss the point. Jesus was tempted immediately after He was baptized, immediately after He joined Himself to you in your baptism. This is a reality right now – this is Hebrews: For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Jesus sympathizes, when you feel something He feels it too – because He is joined to you, you are part of His own Body. He is tempted as you are, for when you are tempted in reality Satan is tempting Christ again. And while you and I might give into temptation, Christ Jesus never does. When we fail, Christ immediately takes up that failure and says, “I've crucified it – fear not, you are still My own.” And when we stand – well, in reality it is Christ our Lord who stands in us and for us and through us. This is the truth, the reality of you who are as a Baptized child of God, this is what Paul is talking about when he says in Galatians: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”
My friends, this Lent as we see Christ beat down sin and Satan, as we see Him tangle with death – this isn't just stuff in the past. This is the reality of your life, who you are – for you are with Christ and He is with you. You are baptized, washed in water and the Word – you are never merely a desert, for Christ is with you, and He has given you the living water, and wells of water spring up from within you. Satan will tempt you, he will distraction you with wants and passions and pleasures, he will try to tell you what your life really ought to be like, he will try to make you think you ought to be God. But it is all rubbish – you have more already that anything Satan could peddle. You are bound to Christ, you are an heir already of the Kingdom of heaven and eternal life. We will watch and wonder again this Lent as He wins the Victory over sin and death and the devil – but this victory is already yours. You are baptized into Christ. In the Name of Christ the Crucified +