Sermon for Lent 1 – Invocabit
Matthew 4:1-11 + Genesis 3:1-21 + 2 Corinthians 6:1-10
Last week’s Gospel took us to the outskirts of Jerusalem, right on the doorstep of Palm Sunday. We were just about ready to plunge into Holy Week and watch in admiration as Christ, the Suffering Servant of the Lord, took the punishment of our sins on himself and went willingly to the cross so that by his wounds we might be healed. And then today’s Gospel came along and rewound the life of Christ about three years on us, taking us all the way back to the very beginning of his ministry, right after his baptism. And now we have to wait another five weeks before we approach the gates of Jerusalem again.
You know why? Because sinful man is not only healed by the wounds of the Son of Man, but also by the righteousness of that one Man who conquered the devil, not just with his innocent death, but also with his perfect life. For the next few weeks and especially today in the Gospel of the Temptation of Christ, the Holy Spirit puts Jesus on display as he willingly and obediently kept God’s holy law, fought against the devil’s temptations and conquered – conquered where every man before him and every man after him has failed. Since Adam, the first man, fell into temptation and plunged our race into sin, God sent his Son to be a Second Adam. The first Adam fell. But The Second Adam Stood the Test.
Jesus, like Adam, didn’t go looking for temptation. Just as God himself placed that tree in the middle of the Garden of Eden, so it was God’s Spirit who led Jesus out into the desert. Adam was placed in a beautiful, lush garden and was forced by God to fast only in that he wasn’t permitted to eat from that one tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The Second Adam was sent out into the desert and forced to fast from all food for forty days and forty nights.
Forty days is a long time to go without food – humanly impossible, but God isn’t bound by human possibility. At the end of the forty days and nights, Jesus was hungry. Famished, deprived of food by God’s own command and prohibited by God’s Spirit from satisfying his hunger – that’s when Satan strikes. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”
And there we find that most common temptation of the devil who tries to convince man that he has nothing, that God has given him nothing, that patiently waiting for God to help you in your need is a waste of time. That’s what the devil did with Adam and Eve, isn’t it? “Did God really say you couldn’t eat any fruit from any tree in this Garden? That’s terrible!” Of course, it wasn’t true, but the truth matters very little to the devil, if he can get you to question God’s goodness with his lie. If you’re a child of God, you shouldn’t have to suffer want, hunger, loneliness, or discomfort. But you do! So forget God, forget all of his gifts and blessings and benefits. You tend to your own needs first, and then, if there’s time left over, then worry about God’s Word. After all, man lives on bread. You can’t eat the Word of God!
Well, actually you could if God so willed it. Where Adam fell, the Second Adam stood the test. Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” That’s a quote from Deuteronomy 8, where Moses reminded the people of Israel that the very reason God deprived them of a ready supply of food was so that they would have to look to his own hand to feed them every day with that manna from heaven, just enough for one day. No more, no less. They couldn’t trust in the ground to produce food or in their hands to work the ground or in the stockpiles of food in the barn. They had to rely every day on the Word and promise of God to provide them with their daily bread.
Israel failed that test over and over, as did Adam and Eve who weren’t satisfied with God’s providence, either, and didn’t trust his Word. But Jesus the Second Adam refused to doubt God’s goodness, even after forty days of nothing to eat. He had the Word of God, and knew that as long as he had that, he had all he needed to live by. The Second Adam stood the test.
When the devil couldn’t convince Adam’s Replacement that he had nothing from God, he went on to tempt Jesus to believe he had everything from God – and then some. Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. 6 “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written: “ ‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”
You might not think that jumping off a building would tempt many people, but it’s amazing how often we fall for it. Not by jumping off of buildings, but by arrogantly assuming that you can go out and do just about anything you want, act any way you want, commit any sin you want, and God – his angels – will be there to catch you when you fall. You don’t need to watch and pray, you don’t need to hear God’s Word all that much, and you can do without his Sacrament. You know the Bible well enough already, don’t you? I mean, remember that passage about commanding his angels concerning you? That’s in the Bible, right? Just go with that!
The devil doesn’t need to rip God’s Word away from you completely. He’s more than satisfied if he can just get you to focus on part of God’s Word, if he can get you to be satisfied with having a general idea about what God says. What he’ll usually get people to believe is that God is so loving and kind – he’s not serious about all those threats of punishment for sinners. He won’t speak to you harshly when you despise authority and despise his Word.
So go ahead and throw yourself down, Jesus. God wouldn’t let you fall. You’re his Son, after all. You deserve his love and his help. Jump! You will not surely die.”
Oh, that’s just what the devil said to Adam and Eve, isn’t it? Eat the fruit! You will not surely die! God has promised to prosper you and bless you, right? He wouldn’t put you to death for eating a piece of fruit, would he?
But the Second Adam stood the test. Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” Jesus wouldn’t let the devil twist God’s word in Psalm 91. Yes, God promises his angels’ help “to guard you in all your ways,” not to guard you as you create new paths for yourself that God has not ordained, like throwing yourself down from the top of the temple. The devil wanted Jesus to remember the promises of God while forgetting the warnings of God and the rest of the Word of God. In the same way he wanted Adam and Eve to remember all the blessings God promised them while forgetting the warning of God and the rest of the Word of God. He tempted them to throw themselves down, step off the ledge, eat the fruit, and test the limits of God’s love. Where Adam fell, the Second Adam stood the test.
The devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 9 “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”
What do you want, Jesus? Power? Wealth? Comfort? Ease? Pleasure? Fine! Take it all! Whatever it is that you want that God is withholding from you, look to me! I will fill your need. Don’t think of me as an idol. Just think of me as an alternate source of blessings.
What is it you want, Adam and Eve? That piece of fruit? To be like God? To know good and evil? God hasn’t given it, but I’ll tell you how you can get it.
What do you want, you sons and daughters of Adam? Health? Happiness? A certain standard of living? A comfortable retirement? Peace in the church at all costs? Friends? More time in front of the TV? To be left alone so you don’t have to worry about anyone except for yourself? What do you want that God hasn’t given you? What idol can I hold before your eyes and then fool you by not calling it an idol, so that you bow down to it without even realizing that you’ve turned away from God?
Where Adam fell, the Second Adam stood the test. 10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’” To worship the Lord God only is to look to him alone for all good things, to trust not in princes, not in man, not in yourself; to honor his Word above the word of anyone else and above the imaginations of your own heart, too. To worship the Lord God and serve him only is to give thanks to God in times of hunger and in times of abundance, and to serve your neighbor, too, at all times, with no thought given to yourself. It is to fear, love and trust in God above all things and to love your neighbor as yourself.
This is God’s command for all men. But all men have failed. All have sinned. Adam sinned. You have sinned, and so have I. Only Christ, the Second Adam, has stood the test, to fear, love and trust in God above all things, at all times, and to deny himself at all times for the sake of God and for the sake of everyone else. That’s what righteousness looks like.
Satan caused Jesus to struggle and hurt under temptation, but he couldn’t get Jesus to waver. And so Jesus has become for us a suitable substitute, a Second Adam who stood the test. Because he stood the test, God now allows him to stand in for all the sinful descendants of Adam who repent of their sin and claim the righteousness, not of themselves, but of the Second Adam, Christ, our Brother.
Jesus did not just come to suffer and die for you. He came to live for you, too, and to fight your battles for you against sin and against temptation and against the devil himself. His victory over temptation has earned for you the forgiveness of all of your sins. His victory over temptation now gives you also the strength to say “no” to sin and “yes” to righteousness, to gladly suffer all things for the sake of your Father in heaven and for the sake of your brother and sisters, too, because the same Christ lives in you. His body and blood dwell in you. And his Word – the same Word that exorcised the devil in the desert – that Word is very near you, and will be just as effective a weapon against the devil for you as it was for Christ. Amen.