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First Sunday in Lent

Genesis 3:1–21; Matthew 4:1–11

James T. Batchelor

Lent 1, series A
Saint Paul Lutheran Church  
Manito, IL

view DOC file

Sun, Mar 5, 2017 

Every year, we begin the season of Lent by looking at the temptation of Jesus Christ in the wilderness.  Matthew, Mark, and Luke all give us an account of this temptation.  Since this is year A of the three-year lectionary, it is Matthew’s turn to tell us about Jesus defending Himself against the devil.  The church fathers who assembled the three-year lectionary paired Matthew’s account of Jesus’ temptation with the account of the temptation of Adam and Eve from Genesis.  This gives us an excellent opportunity to compare these two temptation narratives with each other.  We can compare the defeat of Adam and Eve with the victory of Jesus Christ.

Many people imagine that the devil uses some sort of evil and mysterious cosmic power to do his tempting, but as we compare the temptation of Christ with the temptation of Adam and Eve, we see that the only weapon the devil uses is words.  I remember a saying from my childhood: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” The more I study the Bible, the more I am convinced that saying is wrong.  The devil did not pull a gun on Adam and Eve.  He did not hold them hostage.  He did not threaten physical harm of any kind.  There was no supernatural cosmic power.  All he did was talk.  That is all the temptation was … words.  The same is true of the temptation of Christ.  The battle between the devil and Jesus was a war of words … nothing more.  Words are way more powerful and important than we think they are.

When Jesus spoke of the devil He said, “When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8:44) He is a con artist … a spin doctor … a trickster.  He uses words and ideas to create doubt and confusion and false thinking.  The devil uses the power of words to deceive us into believing that sin is not really sin.

In Adam’s case, the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Genesis 2:16–17) It is important to know that God gave these words to Adam before He created Eve.  Eve did not hear these words directly from God, but Adam told these words to Eve after God created her.  Therefore, the serpent went after the person who heard the Word of God indirectly through the mouth of her husband, Adam.  The serpent opened his conversation with Eve by creating doubt in God’s Word.  He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” (Genesis 3:1)

“Did God actually say …” Here the devil used his words to raise doubts in Eve’s mind.  If he could cause her to doubt God’s word, then he could work on causing her to doubt God Himself.

In Jesus’ case, the temptation happens right after John baptized Jesus in the Jordan.  When Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; 17and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:16–17) Here is God the Father claiming Jesus as His Son.  When the devil tempted Jesus, he went right after the words of God.  The tempter came and said to {Jesus], “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” (Matthew 4:3)

“If you are the Son of God …” Here the devil tried to raise doubts that Jesus really is God’s Son.  It is almost as if the devil was daring Jesus to prove that He really is God by changing the stones into bread.  After all, would God really allow His Son to go without food for forty days in the wilderness?

The devil’s words of doubt had the desired effect on Eve.  She began to rationalize.  Eventually, She convinced herself that eating the fruit might actually be a good thing.  She ate some of the fruit.  She fell into sin.

Now it is at this point that many want to lay the entire blame on Eve.  She’s the one who listened to the serpent.  She’s the one who ate the fruit.  She’s the one who sinned first.

The Holy Spirit inspired words of Moses will not let us think that way.  When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. (Genesis 3:6) Did you hear that?  Her husband … was with her.  She was not alone when she had the conversation with the serpent.  Adam was a witness to the whole thing, and he did nothing!  Adam heard the command about the tree straight from the mouth of God, and he did nothing!  The vocation of husband is to lay down his life to protect his wife, and he did nothing!  The Bible states that it is in Adam that all die. (1 Corinthians 15:22) And sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin. (Romans 5:12) So it is that the Bible ultimately lays the blame for sin and death at the feet of Adam.  So it is that we see that Adam failed and Jesus succeeded.

Now, as we compare the temptation of Adam and Eve with the temptation of Jesus, someone will make a very important objection.  Is it fair to make this compare?  After all, Jesus is not only man, but He is also God.  Adam and Eve were mere human beings.  Is it really fair to make this compare?

A few simple words from Matthew’s account make it clear that it is fair to compare these two events.  After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. (Matthew 4:2) If Jesus used His divine power, He would never get hungry.  He would never need to eat.  As God, Jesus had the divine power to create a full meal out of nothing.  As man, He voluntarily decided not to use that power.

People who study Jesus have a term for this.  We call it Jesus in His state of humiliation.  Even though Jesus always had the total almighty power of God at His disposal, He chose not to use it.  He chose to limit Himself to the resources available to any other human being.  He would use His divine power to help other people, but He would never use His divine power to help Himself.  Jesus remained in this state of humiliation from the moment He entered the womb of the Virgin Mary until His friends laid Him in the tomb.

Jesus was in His state of humiliation when the devil tempted Him.  He used nothing to defend Himself that was not available to any other man.  He quoted God’s Word from Deuteronomy.  Instead of doubting God’s Word, He depended on it for His defense from the devil.  He used no special power other than God’s Word … the same God’s Word that is available to all of us.

In the final temptation recorded for us in today’s Gospel, the devil made an amazing claim.  The devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. 9And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” (Matthew 4:8–9) With these words, the devil claimed that when Adam and Eve sinned, they gave the entire universe to him.  When God created Adam and Eve He said, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Genesis 1:28) The devil was arrogant enough to claim that when Adam and Eve sinned, they turned that dominion over to him.

In the third temptation that we heard about today, the devil made Jesus the offer of giving it all back to Him.  There was only one string.  Jesus had to worship the devil.  The devil claimed that if Jesus would worship him, then he would give the kingdoms of the world back to Him.  He would not have to suffer or die.  He would not need to endure the wrath of God.  Just worship the devil one time, and he would give everything back and it would all be as though Adam and Eve had never sinned.  It was a painless, easy shortcut.  Everyone would get what they wanted.  Peace would reign.

Jesus did not take the shortcut.  Instead, He once again put His faith in the Word of God.  Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “ ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’ ” (Matthew 4:10) With these words, Jesus remained faithful to His mission.  He followed the path to the cross.  He suffered and died.  While He hung on the cross, He endured the wrath of God.  He did not take the easy way.  Instead, He took the way that saved you from your sin.

Although the devil left Him after this battle, he would be back.  Listen to the words of those who mocked Jesus on the cross.  They said, “If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” (Matthew 27:40) If you are the Son of God … the same words that began the temptations in the wilderness.  This is the same temptation.  The devil is speaking through these people and saying, “Have you changed your mind now that you can feel the nails … now that the full wrath of God bears down on you.  Show these ignorant fools who you really are.  You still have the power.  With a mere thought, you could switch places with them.  They could suffer and die.  You could look on in righteous revenge.  That is, of course, if you really are the Son of God.”

Jesus resisted the temptations of the devil right up to the end.  He resisted until he was dead and buried.  In this way, He triumphed over sin, death, and the power of the devil.  He triumphed for you so that you may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity.

This is most certainly true.  Amen



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