Lent 1 – Matthew 4:1-11 – February 21st, 2010
In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
Let’s start at the beginning. There it is, a garden, rich and luscious, full of every good plant, every good fruit imaginable. And there, into this wondrous garden, God places Adam and Eve, the pinnacle of His creation. Adam and Eve, made in the image and likeness of God – here is the garden, enjoy it, work in it, delight in it. But be content with who you are, be content with being God’s servant. And then, into that garden, slithers the serpent, bringing with him discontent and doubt. He hisses into Eve’s ears words of doubt – did God really say? He hisses words of envy and strife and discontent – eat this fruit, then you won’t be the servant anymore. When you eat of it, your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil. Eat this, and you won’t have to be merely the servant, merely the caretaker, merely one who cares for others. You’ll get to be the one in charge, you’ll be like God – because even today when we think of God our gut instinct is to think of power and control, to think of God as the big bully in the sky who gets to set the rules. And so Eve takes and eats, and then she gives Adam, and he takes and eats that most unholy meal, and it all falls apart.
We know what happens. Adam and Eve – ruined. They will live lives now filled with strife and chaos and pain, son murdering son, so on and so forth, until they die. Life turns to death. But not just for Adam and Eve. . . but for the world. That perfect garden dissolves, the trees and plants fail, things dry up, good plants are replaced – the ground itself is cursed. 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. The world falls. . . the perfection of the garden is dashed. That is how it all starts – then this sinful globe kept on spinning and spinning and getting worse and worse. The man and his wife whom God placed in the garden failed. They ignored the Word of God, traded His good gifts for the serpent’s poison, and they are consigned to death, and the world is consigned to ruin.
Now, we move to our Gospel lesson. When we look on the setting, it is no perfect garden. That’s dried up, gone, swept away. Instead, it is a wilderness, wild, untamed, unkept lands. The full effect of the fall has its sway. Thorns and thistles are it. It is dry, it is dreary, it is unlivable – it is a place of death, just like what in reality this entire fallen planet had become. And then we hear this – Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil. Consider what this is. Jesus Christ, true God and yet also true Man, strides forth into this wilderness, this wild fallen place, this anti-garden of Eden, the precise opposite of what Eden had been. Steps into this fallen domain of Satan. And why? Led by the Spirit, put there by God. God had put Adam in the garden, and so now Christ Jesus, the New Adam, the New Man is put into its fallen wreck. And why? To succeed and be victorious where Adam failed, to begin the work of fixing and restoring the fall. And so, God Himself takes up our weakness, becomes man, stands with us – hungers and is frail, fasts 40 days and 40 nights. God is not some bully overlord, but He in love comes down and takes His place by our side. But whereas we sin, our Lord will not falter. And then – the tempter came and said to Him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” Do you see the temptation? Christ is there in the wilderness to fight Satan, to challenge the serpent and put him in his place. And Satan saunters up and says – you know what Jesus, you’re God. You should be taking care of yourself. You should be focusing on what you want. . . what you need. It should be all about you. Come, Jesus, it’s quite reasonable to be selfish here, and after all it’s not hurting anyone.
But then our Lord rocks the powers of hell with His reply. “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every Word that comes from the mouth of God.’” Do you see what our Lord does? Satan had said, “look to yourself, tend to your own needs.” Christ smacks the devil down. “No, Satan, I will not look to My own wants. My belly, my stomach is not God. Rather this – Man lives by the Word of God. That is how man lived in the garden before you came along and tempted Him – the Word of God called forth that garden, and man listened to God, and he lived quite happily. And I too, as Man, will live simply by the Word of God – away with your temptations!” These are powerful words from Christ – of course they are powerful, they are the Word of God.
Satan regroups. Figures he should try a slightly different approach. And 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.’” Alright – so You want to play nice with the Word of God, do you Jesus? Alright, well, here it is Jesus, bona fide Word of God. And note what Jesus says to him. “Again, it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” Do you see what Satan was trying to get Jesus to do? Use the Word against God! Use the Word to make God jump through hoops for you! If you do that, if you use God’s Word like Satan suggests – it is putting yourself in charge of God. Jesus will have none of it. No, Satan, we do not put God to the test like that – we live by the Word, not above it. Man is to be God’s servant, not God’s master.
And so Satan tries one more trick, one more temptation. Again, the devil took Him to a very high mountain 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.” One more temptation for you Jesus – yes, I know you think God should be the master, but aren’t I a better master than Your Father? Your Father has sent You here from heaven to win these people – to suffer and die for them. I mean, look at You Jesus, fasting in the desert for 40 days – You’re a mess! The Father’s way is so hard. Listen – I will give you what You want – You can have these people, you can have this world. . . just do things my way. And my way is much easier. There it is – the temptation – avoid the cross and still get what you want. And our faithful Lord says, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the LORD your God and Him only shall you worship.” And Satan flees, and the angels come and minister to Christ.
Satan came and he brought the three temptations that are so often our downfall. So often, we live by our passions and desires, by our wants. The eye sees something it wants, and we lust after it, we crave it, we do whatever we can to satisfy our desires. Christ does not give into that temptation. So often, we try to manipulate God, to abuse His Word, His Church, try to make God do what we want, say what we want. Christ does not give into that temptation. So often, we crave power and glory, and we will do whatever it takes to have our way. Christ does not give into that temptation. And something wondrous happens there in that wilderness, as Christ our Lord defies Satan. There you have Christ Jesus, true Man, turn His back upon Satan, and rather listen simply to the Word of God. And at that moment, the gates of hell begin to shake and tremble. Satan’s power lies in tempting man away from God – and so what is God’s response? Christ Jesus comes as the truly obedient Man, Man who does what Adam and Eve should have done – tells Satan to take a hike – and the power of the Serpent begins to crumble.
You see, dear friends – the wages of sin is death. When God’s Law lies broken, there can be no life that endures. And so our Lord Christ Jesus comes down to become Man, and in our place He takes the Law of God, and He fulfills it, He does it. Man lives righteously because Jesus lives righteously. And the battle is on – God Himself invades Satan’s kingdom of death as a living Man. He starts to undo, reverse the fall, paving the way for eternal life. This is what we see at our Lord’s Temptation – and this is what we continue to see. Every time our Lord shows love or compassion, every time our Lord does what is right – a bit more and bit more of Satan’s kingdom is defied and destroyed, whittled away.
And our Lord Christ Jesus does this for you. The reason He defied Satan there, the reason why He was worn and weak was so that He might stand at your side and say, “I am righteous and holy enough for you – and you will have life in Me.” Christ is righteous, and by the power of His righteousness, you are forgiven. And Christ undoes the fall in you. Consider again Genesis – Adam and Eve ate, disobeying God, bringing death and violence and sin into the world. Do you wish to see how God makes things right? He says to you – “Come to My Table – and I will give you a meal much better than what Satan offers.” Satan gave Adam and Eve a meal of death, Christ gives you His own Body and Blood for eternal life and salvation. Christ takes bread that we must struggle for, the bread of death, the bread which by itself doesn’t satisfy, doesn’t give life – He takes this bread and adds the Word of God to it – says, “Take and Eat, this is My Body, given for you.” And in this meal of forgiveness we are given the bread of life, we are given strength, His own strength to beat down Satan, to turn away from the temptations Satan throws at us. In this Supper, Christ undoes the Fall in you, in your life. His mercy takes hold of you and grows in you – the fight He fought against Satan takes place in you.
And indeed, our Lord continues to struggle against Satan, continues to beat him down, even unto His own death upon the Cross, by which our life and resurrection are ensured. This is His great love for you, this is the struggle He wins for you. All praise and thanks be to Him. In the Name of Christ the Crucified +