1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made.
He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” 2 And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, 3 but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’ ” 4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. 5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6 So 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. 7 Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.
8 And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the LORD God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” 10 And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” 11 He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” 12 The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” 13 Then the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”
14 The LORD God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. 5 I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” 16 To the woman he said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” 17 And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; 18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. 19 By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
20 The man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living. 21 And the LORD God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them. (ESV)
1 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4 But he answered, “It is written, “ ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ ”
5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple 6 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.’ ”
7 Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ” 8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. 9 And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10 Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “ ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’”
11 Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him. (ESV)
In the lush Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve did battle with Satan and they lost. They caved into the temptation to doubt, deny, and disobey God’s Word. They believed Satan’s lie: You will not surely die;…your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God. But were not their eyes already open to the goodness of God as seen in His perfect creation? Were they not already created in the image of God? Here is the temptation that stalks every person. Each of us. “You can be gods. Who needs God when you can be your own god?”
Eve bites into the sweet, seductive Lie, and she leads her husband to do the same. And through this one trespass came condemnation, not only to Adam and Eve, but to the entire human race. “In Adam we have all become one huge rebellious man.” We are there in Adam. He is bone of our bones and flesh of our flesh. Sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin. That is our inheritance as sons and daughters of Adam and Eve. Every child is born with it, there is no escaping it. Adam and Eve lost the battle to Satan and we are the casualties; we are sinners who have been infected by the virus of Adam and Eve’s sin. The Fall destroyed our ability to fear, love, and trust in God as our loving Creator. The Fall polluted our minds and bodies, our very souls, so that everything we think, say, do, and desire is tainted by impurities of one kind or another. We all were born into a conquered race, imprisoned under Satan’s dominion.
All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way (Isaiah 53:4). We are indeed a rebellious race. And yet, God loved Adam and Eve in spite of their grievous fall into sin. And God loves you and me and all sinners. We see this love expressed in the words God spoke to Satan soon after Adam and Eve’s defeat: I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel. Here, we have the very first promise of the Messiah. Imagine what a comfort this must have been to Adam and Eve. They had just plunged the whole world into sin, and God now gives a great promise to send a Saviour who will crush the head of Satan.
In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve did battle with Satan and they lost. But now, we have the promised Saviour coming to defeat the enemy who defeated the human race. Jesus comes to crush the head of Satan. In the temptations in the wilderness, we see Jesus and Satan locked in battle. Now, this is not the complete crushing of Satan; that will happen on Good Friday. But our Lord’s battle in the wilderness is the beginning—round one—of Satan’s crushing defeat.
Jesus was hungry, having fasted forty days and nights. He is vulnerable, empty, weak, isolated in a way that Adam and Eve were not. This temptation is uniquely His. The devil waits for the opportune moment. Not at the beginning of Jesus’ fast, but at the end, at His weakest, His stomach screaming for a crumb of bread. If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread. Jesus is the Son of God, the Word through whom all things, including the stones, were made and in whom they have their existence. So what is the big deal? Who would miss a few stones in the desert? Who would even know or care?
This is the temptation of the flesh and the appetites. We sinners seek first the desires of the flesh and we rationalize and justify our satisfying of our sinful appetites. Our minds want to embrace opinions that are contrary to the Christian faith. Our bodies want to indulge in worldly passions. Our hearts want to lord it over others and to keep score against those who have hurt us. Time and again, we surrender to our sinful flesh and bear the fruit of unbelief, greed, lust, pride, and anger. To live this way is not to live by every Word that comes from the mouth of God. But where we fail, Jesus succeeds. Jesus, God-in-the-flesh, resists the temptation of the flesh.
When Jesus needs bread to feed 5,000 in the wilderness, He multiplies it; He does not change stones into bread. That would be most un-Creatorlike, to destroy one thing to make another. Jesus does not use His divine power to serve Himself and His needs, for He came not to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for the many.
The devil then takes Jesus to the holy city and the top of the temple. If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. And here the pious devil quotes a bit of Scripture, a snippet of a psalm: For He will command His angels concerning you and on their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone. This is the temptation of faith. Jesus is the Word in the flesh. Does the Word in the flesh trust the Word of His Father? Or will He put it to the test?
Did God really say? Is God’s Word really true? Can it be that this Baptism is the water of rebirth and renewal? Can it be that this word is the Word of forgiveness? Can it be that this bread is the Body of Christ and this wine His blood? Can it be that in spite of my many weaknesses and sins, that I am truly a child of God? And will God really provide for my needs? Will God give me the strength to endure my afflictions? Will God deliver me from all evil? Will He bring me safely to heaven? Faith always says “yes” even when the world and our own experience want us to say “no”. Faith takes us beyond our sight, emotions, and experiences to trust the Word of God.
The psalm promises the protection of the angels to the one who trusts God. Surely, if He were the Son of God, Jesus had the angels on His side, didn’t He? Well, angels would come and minister to Him, not now and not here, but after the devil left Him and also on the night He was betrayed, in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus did not come to be lifted up on the temple, but on the cross, and there would be no angels to catch Him. He goes to death with nothing but trust in His Father, and He does it for us all.
How sneaky the devil is, to quote a psalm to Jesus. The devil is the chief distorter of the Scriptures. The psalm goes on to say, You will tread upon the lion and the cobra; you will trample the great lion and the serpent. The devil left that part out. You see, that part is about him. The devil knows why Jesus has come, to crush his head with a cross-bruised heel. Jesus matches Scripture for Scripture faithfully: You shall not put the Lord your God to the test. To test the Word is to tempt God, and Jesus refuses to tempt God. Rather, Jesus goes forth uncomplaining, trusting completely in His Father’s love.
Again the devil takes Jesus up to a very high mountain and shows Him all the kingdoms of the world in their glory. The prince of this world versus the King of kings. All these I will give to you, if you will fall down and worship me. Satan had tempted Jesus in His flesh and in His faith. Now the temptation is to His fidelity. Will Jesus remain faithful and true to His Father?
This is a temptation unique to Jesus, the Son of God, and yet it is the temptation of every Christian and of the Church as well. You and I are often tempted to think we can follow Jesus without denying ourselves and taking up our crosses. So too, here Jesus is tempted to have a kingdom without a cross. The devil proposes a shortcut—a simple act of homage, bow down and worship, in exchange for all the glory of the kingdoms of this world. For Jesus, it was a way around Calvary, a way around the torment of crucifixion, an easy way to an end. But the end does not justify the means. And so Jesus, rebukes the devil: Be gone, Satan!… You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only shall you serve.
The temptation of Christ was greater than the temptation of Adam. Where Adam fell, Christ stood. Where Adam yielded, Christ conquered. Where Adam listened to the Lie, Christ remained faithful to the truth. Where Adam betrayed himself and God, Christ remained true. In Adam, all became sinners and die; in Christ, all are justified and are raised to life.
Which brings us to the third battle we need to consider today. The first battle took place in the Garden of Eden; the second battle took place in the wilderness; the third battle takes place in our hearts. This is the battle you and I fight every single day, the battle to resist temptation and to remain faithful to God. How are you doing? How successfully are you at resisting that roaring lion, the devil? How faithful are you at loving God with your whole being? And how good are you at loving your neighbour as yourself, doing unto them as you would have them do unto you? I imagine that you are about as successful as I am; in other words, not very. Every day we sin seventy times seven times. The spirit is sometimes willing, but the flesh is always weak. The inner man is at times strong and firm, but the outer man is faint and weak. We do not do the good we want to do, but we do the evil we do not want to do. Depraved and impious thoughts appear in our minds. Vain, useless, and harmful words come out of our mouths. Perverse, depraved, and unbefitting deeds pollute us. All our righteous deeds are as filthy rags. If the Lord held our sins against us, none of us would survive; we all would remain Satan’s captives for all of eternity.
But the Good News is that God so loved the world that He sent His only-begotten Son to set us free from Satan’s captivity. The devil seeks to hold us captive to our sins, but our Lord Jesus has won the victory over Satan, and His holy, precious blood, poured out on the altar of the cross, cleanses us from all our transgressions. The Good News for us is that Jesus, the eternal Son of God, became incarnate—God-in-the-flesh—to do what we have failed to do, what we never could do. He came as the obedient Son who would perfectly fear, love, and trust the Father above all things. He came to be our Substitute, obeying the Law perfectly in our place and suffering our death for us. He came be our Saviour, rescuing us from eternal death and defeating the devil.
Jesus is driven into the wilderness with the words of His Father ringing in His ears. At His Baptism, the Father said to Him, This is my beloved Son, whom I love, with whom I am well pleased.
Satan says otherwise. If you are the Son of God, turn stones into bread. If you are the Son of God, take a jump off a high tower and the angels will catch you.
Satan can quote Scripture. He knows it better than you do. He knows why Jesus came. He was there in the garden when Adam fell. And so he gives the last temptation, “Jesus, you can have everything; all you need do is bow down and worship me. You can have it all without the Cross.”
But no Cross means no salvation for you. No Cross means that Adam’s sin is not covered by Christ’s blood and righteousness. No Cross means your sins need to be answered for by you. No Cross means that you, me, and the whole world are lost.
But the Good News is that Jesus resists the devil for you. The Good News is that Jesus did not fail in saving you; Jesus did not fall like Adam did. Rather, Jesus defeats and rebukes the devil and heads on to the Cross with the words, “Get behind me, Satan.” And now, Christ’s resurrection and His gift of baptism proclaims that you are a child of God.
Satan, though, tempts you to think otherwise: “If you really are a child of God, then why are you struggling against so many weaknesses and why do you fail so utterly to love God and your neighbour as you should?” But do not answer the devil; rather, let Jesus answer for you. You are who Jesus says you are. You are baptized. You are a child of God as surely as Jesus died and rose again. In Holy Baptism, you have been given the holiness and righteousness of Christ.
And the devil? He is beaten. He has been done in by Jesus’ faithfulness, by His Cross. And by God’s grace, you stand in your Saviour’s victory. In your feasting on the Lord’s Holy Word and Supper, you receive strength to resist the devil and to stand firm in the faith. You are a child of God, an heir of life, embraced by the death of Jesus your Lord and covered by His blood and righteousness. To win your salvation, Christ defeated Satan in the wilderness and on the cross. Yes, Christ is your Champion. What you could never do on your own, you now receive as a gift from Jesus. He has given you His victory over sin, death, and the devil. And so, even though you sin daily in thought, word, and deed, by the evil you do and the good you fail to do, nonetheless, the devil cannot claim you as his own, for you are baptized—you are joined to Christ Jesus and you live in His victory. Praise be to God! Amen.