Sermon for Lent 1 – Invocavit
Genesis 3:1-24 + 2 Corinthians 6:1-10 + Matthew 4:1-11
Two trees grew in the Garden of Eden. One, a source of death for those who ate of it, and for their descendants. The other, a source of life for those who would eat of it. You know how the story went; you heard it again today. This is the day we remember who is responsible for all the evil in the world—the devil, Adam and Eve, and we, their children. The devil came and tempted Eve and Eve tempted Adam (whose name means “man”), and they fell. They fell so hard that they brought God’s judgment of death and every hardship and every pain into this world—just as God had warned that they would—and the sentence of eternal death to their descendants, because all who are born of Adam (in the natural way) inherit his corrupted and fallen nature. We are sons and daughters of Adam. We know what it is, not just to be tempted, but to fall into temptation. We have eaten (figuratively) from Adam’s tree.
But God sent another Adam, the Son of Adam, the Son of Man, the Son of God, Jesus Christ, not born in the natural way, but born of a virgin, born without Adam’s sin. John says in his first Epistle, “For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil.” He began to do that in earnest during the forty days He spent fasting in the wilderness and being tempted by the devil. And by defeating the devil’s temptations and by paying for the sins of mankind on the cross, Jesus has become for us a second “tree,” a tree of Life. Just as Adam was the source of death for us, so that the moment we are conceived we are conceived in sin and are dying and destined for the grave, so Christ has become a source of life for all who trust in Him. No longer do we live under Adam’s curse when we eat from this Tree of Life by faith. Because He bore the curse for us. He defeated temptation for us and earned for us the very righteousness that enables us to stand before God holy in His sight.
Our Gospel from Matthew 4 shows us just a glimpse of what Jesus suffered at the hands of Satan during those 40-days. Luke tells us that it wasn’t just three times that the devil came and tortured Jesus this way; he says that Jesus was “being tempted by the devil for forty days.” But these three are the three that both Matthew and Luke recorded for us, so God wants to teach us something here, both for our instruction and for our comfort.
The first temptation recorded by Matthew comes at the end of the forty days. It’s the temptation that comes with real poverty and need. God had miraculously kept Jesus from starving to death after not eating for over a month, and now Jesus is very hungry, and His Father still hasn’t provided a bite of anything. And so the devil comes to tempt this second Adam. If he can get Him to fall, then there will be no “second tree,” no tree of life, no source of righteousness from which people should eat and be saved out of the devil’s kingdom.
He presses Jesus’ need, His hunger. And he tries to get Jesus to feel angry and bitter and abandoned by His Father in heaven. “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.” In other words, your “Father” is a terrible Father who has left you with nothing. Where will you get your next bite of bread from? It’s time to panic, time for unbelief.
He tried that same temptation on Eve in the Garden. Did God really say you can’t eat from any tree? Adam and Eve weren’t poor. There was food everywhere around them and God had provided abundantly for them. Still, the devil tried to make them not see it, not receive it with thanksgiving.
Those who have food in their pantries are like Adam and Eve in the Garden. Those who have none are like Jesus in the wilderness. And, if it’s not food that we lack, then it’s clothing, or companionship, or safety or health. In every time of need the temptation arises to grow angry and bitter toward God, to despise His Fatherly goodness.
But Jesus threw God’s Word back at the devil. Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. Bread is good. But we make a mistake if we believe that God needs bread to sustain us. He sustained Jesus—and Moses and Elijah—for forty days with no food at all, just by the power of His Word. And He has promised to provide what we need. His Word can never fail. So if, for a time, there is no bread, then God must make His Word alone sustain us until He provides bread again. To believe God’s Word and to rely on Him—bread or no bread—that’s righteousness. Where the first Adam fell, the second Adam prevailed.
The second temptation recorded in Matthew’s Gospel is the temptation that comes with abundance. The devil took Jesus up onto the pinnacle of the temple in Jerusalem. The devil does have power to do supernatural things like that, and he must have appeared in bodily form to Jesus, even as the Apostle tells us that Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down.
Now, as Luther points out, there must have been some good steps leading down from there that Jesus could have used to get down from the top of the temple. There was no need to jump, no need to risk His life that way. He had everything He needed to get down, but the devil tempted Him to despise God’s gifts and test God’s Word. For it is written: ‘He shall give His angels charge over you,’ and, In their hands they shall bear you up, Lest you dash your foot against a stone.
But what did the devil leave out of that quote? He shall give His angels charge over you, to guard you in all your ways. “Your ways” are not jumping down from a temple when you have no God-given reason to do so. “Your ways” doesn’t mean anything and everything you might choose to do, like rock climbing or Russian roulette or jumping out of a plane for fun. “Your ways” are the paths that God has called you to, the things God has given you to do, the things His Word prescribes for you. Step outside of those ways and put your life at risk, and you have no Word of God that His angels will protect you.
This is a horrible temptation, to grow bored with the good things God has given you, to despise what God has given and to go looking for fun, for adventure, for trouble, and then to misinterpret God’s Word on top of it. False belief is one of the worst possible evils to fall into, because if man shall live by every word that comes from the mouth of God, then to corrupt that word is to corrupt the very source of our life.
Eve was faced with this temptation in her abundance. She had everything, except that one piece of fruit from that one tree, the one thing God had not given to her and to Adam. And, of course, that’s the one thing the devil made her think she needed most. The devil twisted God’s Word, “You will not surely die.” So she tempted God, “Surely God would not punish us so severely for this. We are His creatures! And it’s just a piece of fruit.” So she ate, and gave some to her husband, and he ate, and we die.
But the second Adam was not so easily enticed. He knew the Word of God and that Satan was corrupting it. He used Scripture to interpret Scripture. It is written again, ‘You shall not tempt the LORD your God.’ And where the first Adam fell and became a tree of death, the second Adam prevailed and became a tree of life.
The third temptation recorded by Matthew is the temptation that comes with honor and glory, fame and riches, pleasure and the easy way. The devil took Him up on an exceedingly high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to Him, “All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me.” Trusting in God means the path of the cross, not the path of glory (at least, not on this earth). It would be so much easier, so much more pleasant just to compromise on God’s Word, just this once, for the sake of honor, for the sake of unity, for the sake of peace. Serving God might mean you lose your wealth, you lose your job, you lose your reputation, you lose your life.
“And take they our life, goods, fame, child and wife—let these all be gone. They yet have nothing won. The kingdom ours remaineth.” Who can sing those words and mean them? Only the one who seeks first the kingdom of God and His righteousness in the person of Jesus. Our first parents fell into this temptation to get to be like God—all you have to do is deviate from His Word, just this once. Our flesh, too, craves honor, fame, riches and pleasure and clings to them for dear life.
But only the one who renounces these things for the sake of gaining Christ will see the life that is truly life. Christ, our champion against the devil, refused to serve the devil for His own personal gain. Instead, He gave up every moment of His life to serve His Father, which meant serving us sinners, denying Himself, taking up His cross and dying on it.
And so, victorious over the devil’s temptations, Christ the second Adam offered up one righteous life to His Father, and so became for us this second tree, so that all who have been born of Adam’s tree might be born again from the tree that is Christ, to inherit His righteousness, to be credited with His victory, and to share in His life.
We were all born from Adam’s tree. Recognize your sin, and recognize temptation when it comes along. Repent and trust in our great hero, Jesus Christ. Because by the grace of God you have been reborn through Holy Baptism of the tree of Christ, reborn out of condemnation and into salvation, no longer charged with sin, but instead, covered with the perfect record of Jesus. Adam’s defeat is your defeat, because, like him, you know what it is to doubt God and give into temptation. But for you who believe in Jesus Christ, the Tempter has lost his power to accuse. He has lost his right and his power to claim you, because Christ Jesus has claimed you for Himself, and made you a partaker in His victory over sin, Satan and death, not because you always do such a good job at fighting off temptation, but because Jesus, your Tree of Life, did. Come and eat His body and drink His blood, and live forever! Amen.