Lent 1 – February 10th, 2008. Matthew 4:1-11
In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil. Those are the words of Satan the tempter to Eve in the Garden. There it is, the first temptation, the first time Satan flicked out his forked tongue. Oftentimes we’ll focus on the “apple” – or whatever fruit that they ate – they ate the forbidden fruit. And we skip over what the real temptation was. “You will be like God.” That is what the Serpent says. Do you hear what he is really saying? “Why, O Eve, are you content to be a lowly human being? Why should you be something as lowly as that, a creation placed in a garden to tend it? You can be more – you can be like God Himself – you can be the master of your own destiny. You can be a God yourself – and you will know what is good and what is evil – you will say what is right and what is wrong – not listen to what God says. No more being simple humans, no more being just a woman and just a man, but you could be gods! What about it Eve, what about it Adam, how would you two like to be in charge?” That was the temptation – why should mankind settle for just being men – why shouldn’t we be in charge? Why should we be content to serve God, serve in this garden, when we could make things the way we want them to be?
And so Adam and Eve fall. The temptation they give into should be a familiar one. We love force, we love imposing our wills upon others, we love being the masters of our own destiny and I’ll do what I want and who is to gain say me. What war isn’t a result of someone trying to rule over someone else, to bring terror and force them to one’s will? That’s the temptation of the garden. Indeed, we see the wicked fruit of this sin all over culture. Satan promised that we would set for ourselves right and wrong, that we wouldn’t need God’s Word to say “Thou Shall Not” anymore. We live in a culture today where the focus is upon our desires, how we would like things to be. It doesn’t matter what the Word says, but what do I think is right. It is the same as what the Scripture says, “And each did what was right in his own eyes” – not what was right according to God, but in his own eyes. And death is the result. Death, and war, and chaos, brother versus brother, child against parent and parent against child, all in this never-ending desire to be the ruler, to be in control, to have things done my way. . . or in other words – to be like God! All starts at the garden.
But we missed the point. We like to think of God in terms of power, in terms of might, look at all God can do, He can make everything the way He wants it to be, how awesome is that. We miss what God actually is like. Let us go and look at our Gospel and see and understand Who God is, what He really is like. Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the Wilderness to be tempted by the devil. The very first thing to note – and it should be obvious, as we’ve been celebrating it since Christmas – is that God becomes Man. Jesus Christ is both God and Man. Adam and Eve weren’t content to be human beings – they looked down on it. We want to be gods! Yet God becomes Man. Jesus doesn’t think it is anything beneath Him to take on human flesh – and He does, He becomes Man. What we spurn, our simple lives of service that we think aren’t much, our lives that we so often are unsatisfied with – Christ willingly takes up. It is no small thing to be a human being, and we often forget that.
And after fasting for 40 days and 40 nights, He was hungry. Christ even has His own lent. This is why Lent lasts 40 days, this is why we too fast, give something up, reign in our desires – in preparation for the celebration of passion week– when Christ will once again tangle with Satan. And to Christ, in this weakened, tired, hungry state, comes Satan. And the Tempter came and said to Him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” Now, Satan isn’t questioning whether or not Jesus is God here – that’s not the point. Satan simply points out the confusion. Jesus – You are the Son of God – You can do anything. Why do You sit here hungry – turn these stones to bread and eat something, satisfy Your wants. But [Jesus] answered, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every Word that comes from the mouth of God.’ “ Where we missed the point, Jesus shows it. We live by our stomachs, we live by our desires, our first thought is often what do we want. That’s how sinful folk work. Jesus’ first concern isn’t His desire – rather, what is it? The Word of God. As humans we live by the Word of God. Literally. Why are we here – because God created us by His Word. Why did Adam and Eve still exist after the Garden – because God chose not to speak a Word of destruction and blot them, and all of us out. And even more than just physical life – how do we live? By God’s Word of forgiveness – because God says, “I forgive you, you shall live.” That is the Word we live by. The Word of God is no harsh tyrant, but it is the very source of life – and Christ not only resists temptation, but draws our eyes to the very goodness of God.
Satan tries again. The then 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.” Well, what’s so tempting about that? After all, Scripture is quoted – must be all right. Christ’s response shows us what is wrong. Jesus said to him, “Again, it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” Don’t put God to the test. Think about the approach Satan is taking. “You better help me God, even though I’m going to do something incredibly stupid – You promised.” Satan is trying to make God jump through hoops – have the angels do tricks. Satan is trying to use God’s own Word against Him, Satan is wanting Jesus to try and boss the Father around. Even we can fall into this – how often do we not ask God, but make demands of Him? How often can our prayers be orders to God, rather than requests. I love the Lord’s Prayer – Thy Will Be Done. This is what I would like, but do what is best for me, for You know better than I do, O God. This is what Christ teaches us, points us to here. God does know what is best – He does love and protects us – and so we are to trust in Him, not test Him. Would that we simply trusted in God – would that we believed that God would give us our daily bread – and a lot of angst and worry would go away. Learn of Christ to trust God.
One final shot by 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 to You, if You will fall down and worship me.” This one strikes us as odd. How can Satan give away the kingdoms of the world? Because of Adam and Eve. In the Garden, Adam and Eve jumped ship – they rejected God and allied themselves with Satan in rebellion – became Satan’s. Tied their lot to him. That’s where we are by nature – that’s what it means when Scripture says that we are born sinful – we are born not on God’s side – but on Satan’s side. And so Satan tries to bargain with Jesus. I know Jesus, that you want these people back – but I tell you what. Instead of obeying the Father’s will and winning them however He wants You to, let’s do my plan. Side up with me – obey me instead of the Father, and I’ll let you take them all. They will be Yours – just be my number 2. Worship me. There’s the temptation – Christ, You can have it all without the Cross. Why hang upon the Cross, why suffer, why be mocked and spit upon, why die? Satan offers a Christianity without the Cross – but Jesus doesn’t bite.
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.” Jesus avoids the very mistake, the very temptation that felled Adam and Eve. Adam and Eve wanted things done their way – but Christ obeys the Father’s will, and will not take short cuts in your salvation. He will bear the scorn of the Cross for your sake. That is why Paul is determined to know nothing but Christ and Him. . . Crucified. Because it is on Good Friday, it is upon the Cross that we see and understand what God is truly like. We do not have a God who enjoys tossing around power and might like we do. We have a God who, when He sees us fall, sees us suffer and die – takes up Human Flesh of His own, and joins us in our suffering surpasses our own suffering. He even joins us in death – He will be the servant who in love tastes of our death – and why? So that He can give us life – so that He can redeem us, buy us back from Satan on God’s terms. We deserved death – but Christ doesn’t. When Satan gives Christ death, Satan oversteps his bounds – and the blessed exchange takes place. Since death took Christ, God says, “Nope death, you don’t get to keep My people, to take them, for they have been redeemed, bought back from death.” This is what God is like. God would, indeed, God has suffered in your place, in your stead. What is God like? He willingly and gladly, out of His love for you, takes your punishment – so that you might be restored to Him, that you might be with Him forever.
We see this, we get a taste of this all the time when we hear God’s Word of forgiveness spoken to us – we know, we receive God’s love. In the Supper, we get a taste of what Heaven will be like – gathered together in the presence of God for the eternal feast of joy and life. God grants us forgiveness – and while we still struggle against our sin – let’s face it, each one of us is going to go out those doors, and this week we will struggle, we will struggle against sinful desires – but we face those struggles no longer on our own – but as the forgiven. We face them knowing that Christ Jesus is at our side – and you heard the text – Christ conquered those same temptations we will face. So we know that we have victory in Christ. Oh yes, we will see setbacks, indeed, it will always be fitting for us to confess our sins here in God’s House, to receive His forgiveness again, to be have our weak, sinful flesh strengthened by His Holy, Precious Body and Blood in the Supper – but we know what God has accomplished – we know that at the end we will be raised to perfect, incorruptible bodies like His, and we will rejoice in the joys of heaven. Struggle against your sins, cling to Christ’s forgiveness, and await patiently the joys of heaven. Amen.