Sermon for Invocavit – Lent 1
Genesis 3:1-24 + 2 Corinthians 6:1-10 + Matthew 4:1-11
The theme of temptation in today’s Scriptures readings is inescapable. Soon after the creation of the world, soon after the fall of the evil angels, there was the tempter, the devil, that ancient serpent, in the Garden of Eden with our first parents. And what was his temptation, really? It was a temptation to disbelieve the Word of God, and a temptation to be unhappy with the life God had given them. There they were in paradise. They were the rulers of the world. They had food all around them, and the love of God surrounding them, perfect health, perfect unity, perfect peace. And still the devil was able to get Eve to change her mind and conclude, “It’s not enough. I need more than what God has given.” And Adam, when he saw that his wife had taken the plunge into disobedience, instead of refusing the fruit she offered, changed his mind and concluded, “Life would be meaningless without my precious Eve. I must join her in disobedience. God’s love is just not enough.”
We are their children. All of us. Every human being who has ever been, born of a father and a mother—we are children of Adam and Eve. We inherit from them, not just the genes that make up our bodies, but also the spiritual genes that make up our souls. Their very being, their very nature was twisted into something ugly, something diseased, something sinful and damnable when they fell into sin, and that is what we inherit from them. Not just the corruption of our bodies that eventually leads to death, but also the corruption of our souls, of our nature, so that sin is with us all the time, so that nothing good can come from us, by nature. Only evil.
Those are the ravages of original sin, that complete corruption of our nature into something sinful. It’s why no one, by nature, loves God, or has true fear of God or trust in God. On the contrary, we are people who are naturally unhappy with God and the things He provides. Dissatisfied with Him. Discontented with our life. And naturally distrustful of His Word.
This original sin is so bad that it goes beyond our understanding. We don’t even realize how thoroughly corrupted we are. Only God’s Word can reveal it. We don’t even need the tempter to come and tempt us, as he did with Adam and Eve, because we are already fallen creatures. That’s true of every human being ever born, every human being descended from Adam.
Until Jesus came, born, not of a man and a woman, but of a woman only. The fact of His virgin-birth, combined with the fact of His conception by the working of the Holy Spirit, meant that Jesus was fully human, like us, but without the corruption to His nature. In that way, He was like Adam was when Adam was first created, before he fell into sin. That’s why we sometimes refer to Jesus as the Second Adam.
Well, when He was about 30 years old, the Second Adam was baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan River, not to wash away His sins, but to step forward and be inaugurated as our Savior and Substitute, so that, just as all who are descended from Adam inherit his sin and the resulting condemnation, so all who are descended from Christ by a spiritual rebirth, through Baptism and faith, inherit His righteousness and the resulting justification.
And so, as soon as Christ, the Second Adam was baptized, He was led out—or as St. Mark puts it, driven out! —into the desert, into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit “to be tempted.” Part of that temptation would come as a result of the forty day fast that God the Father imposed on His Son. Not that Christ was unwilling to do it, but when we consider that it was the Holy Spirit who drove Him out into the wilderness and kept Him there, where there was no food, we see that this forty day fast wasn’t just something Jesus decided on His own to do. It was His Father’s will that He stay out there in the desert for forty days with nothing to eat.
Now, today’s Gospel mentions three of the temptations that Jesus faced. All three temptations are similar to the temptation of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden—and similar to the temptations that affect us—because they all have to do with a lack of contentment with what God has given.
First, Matthew tells us of the temptation to be unhappy about the lack of food the Father had provided. If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread. Here the devil isn’t trying to make Jesus doubt who He was. Jesus knew that perfectly well and displayed it already at the age of 12 when He asked His parents, “Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” No, this was a temptation for the Son of God to be dissatisfied with His Father’s decision to withhold food from His Son when His Son was hungry. If Your Father doesn’t provide you with what You want or with what You think you need, then forget about Him and take care of Yourself!
But Jesus opened up the Scriptures and threw back in the devil’s face the Word of God that was spoken through Moses: It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’ Jesus remained content, happy with what His Father had provided, because, even though there was no food in the wilderness, Jesus had the words and promises of God to sustain Him. That was enough.
Then there was the temptation to jump from the pinnacle of the temple—another temptation to be dissatisfied with God. After all, He hasn’t demonstrated His love for you nearly often enough, has He, Jesus? You should go out of Your way to make Him prove that His Word is true. Make Him prove that He loves you. The Son of God surely deserves to have guardian angels keeping Him safe from all harm! It even says so in the Bible!
But again Jesus referred back to the Scriptures in their proper context: It is written again, ‘You shall not tempt the LORD your God.’ For Jesus, there was no need to go out of His way to try to force God to keep His Word or prove His love. He was already completely satisfied with God’s love and content with God’s promises, no matter what.
Finally, there was the temptation in which the devil took Jesus up to that high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world with their glory. All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me. But, didn’t all the kingdoms of the world already belong to Jesus? As God, yes. But as Man, no. Not yet. The kingdoms of the earth and their glory had to be earned by the Man Christ Jesus—earned by a life of humble obedience to His Father, earned by fulfilling His God-given mission, earned by suffering abuse and crucifixion and death. That’s the future Jesus’ Father had given Him, and Jesus knew it. So here was the devil, offering Jesus an alternate path to greatness, an easy path, a painless one, one without the cross. It was a lie, of course, a deception, but then, so is every temptation of the devil. He’s always lying, trying to get us to be dissatisfied with what God has given, promising something that he cannot give.
Adam and Eve bought into the lie. You have bought into the lie over and over again. But Jesus never wavered. Away with you, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only you shall serve.’ The Second Adam overcame the devil, and His victory becomes your victory when you are grafted into Him by faith. When you were baptized into Christ, you were baptized into His victory over sin and temptation and the devil.
That’s your only safety from the devil’s accusations, because he can rightly accuse you of many things before God. Every sin you commit is the result of dissatisfaction with God and what He has given. The devil tempts you to be unhappy with your life, unhappy with your spouse or with your lack of a spouse, unhappy with your children or with your lack of children, unhappy with your body, with your income, with your friends and family, unhappy with your grades, you’re your talents and abilities, unhappy with your past, your present or your future, unhappy with your church, unhappy with God’s Word. That unhappiness is sinful in itself, and it leads to all kinds of other sins as you try to correct or change the things you’re unhappy with. All the strife and discord in the world exists because human beings refuse to be content with what God has given, and so they rebel against God. We rebel against God.
See, then, how important Baptism is? It links you to Christ. It paints His perfection onto you before God. It works forgiveness of sins, delivers from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promise of God declare. And it signifies that the Old Adam in us should, by daily contrition and repentance, be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man, in turn, should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.
A new man should daily emerge and arise… Our flesh, our sinful nature is never satisfied with God. But when the Holy Spirit brings us to faith in Christ Jesus, He creates a new man in us who is satisfied with God, because God gave His only Son to do battle against the devil for us, to bruise the serpent’s head for us and to rescue us from the devil’s dominion. That new man needs to be fed and nurtured and strengthened each day to do battle against the Old Adam in us, because the devil is always at work with his lies and temptations, pointing you to those things that make you unhappy with God. The only remedy against the devil is faith in Christ, and the only remedy for our natural dissatisfaction with God is hearing God’s Word and receiving the body and blood of our Savior. Here, in Word and Sacrament, we learn to be content with what God has given, because He has given His Son for us. Hasn’t He proven that He is good? And if we think anything is still lacking, then we learn from Christ to turn to God in prayer and to look to God’s Word for guidance, not to resort to our own devices or rely on our own wisdom or strength.
God’s grace is revealed in today’s Gospel in the Second Adam who stood strong against Satan for you. When you are tempted to be unhappy with God, remember Jesus. Remember Him first as your Savior who defeated the devil for you and saved you from condemnation. And then, remember Him, too, for strength to fight against the devil and to resist his temptations. God is good and gracious, and what He gives is always enough. Don’t let the devil deceive you into believing otherwise! Amen.