We go from the mountain to the wilderness. From Jesus’ Transfiguration on a mountain to His Temptation in the wilderness. These are the hard edges of Lent – the dry dusty ground, the barren wasteland, sharp rocks,scorpions, snakes. Jesus, still dripping wet from His Baptism by the hand of John in the Jordan, full of the Spirit and the testimony of the Father, goes into the arid wilderness, to be tested – tempted by the devil for forty days.
“He ate nothing in those days”. Now don’t go and try this at home. You are not Jesus. This fast is His alone to do, and He does it for you. Though He is the One who gives seed to the sower and bread to the eater, His very human belly is empty. He is hungry with our hunger, emptied for our salvation. In His moment of weakness, delirious with hunger, the serpent comes to Him, the one who tempted Adam and Eve to eat forbidden food to satisfy their appetite for knowing good and evil, now comes to the second Adam, humanity’s new head, with a similarly diabolical proposition.
“If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread. You are the Son of God, aren’t you? You have all the creative power of the universe at the tip of your tongue. By you all things were made including bread and stone. Who would miss this stone you created? Who would even care? Who would know you cheated in your time of testing? There’s no one here but you and me.”
“He was tempted in every way that we are,” Hebrews says. Tested on our turf. The temptation of appetite. We will do anything for a loaf of bread – forsake freedom, sacrifice unborn children, sell our selves into slavery and prostitution, kill. The appetites are powerful, that little pleasure center in our brain, warped by sin, can turn pleasure into addiction and idolatry. The gambling rush, the glimpse of pornography, the high of a drug, much of it done in the secret of our own virtual wilderness. Who would know? Who is there to see? How we hate to be hungry, weak, wanting, at the mercy of God! We fight wars over bread, we kill our neighbors over bread, we ransack countries for bread.
Jesus would not do it. He came to serve, not to be served nor to serve Himself. His Baptism set Him on an exodus road to the cross. If He cheats here in the wilderness, could He be trusted on the cross? Would that be a lie too? The devil tries to deflect Him from Calvary, not by a lot, just a little. One little stone turned to bread to fill His belly. It doesn’t take much when it comes to temptation. A little seed of doubt – Did God really say? If you are the Son of God….” Jesus is tempted to follow His painfully empty belly down a devil’s highway that leads to destruction. He would not do it.
The Bread of Life would not make bread for Himself. “Man does not live by bread alone.” He came to give His flesh into death as bread for the life of the world. He refuses to feed His flesh bread from His own hand. The way of faith is the way of being given to, not of grabbing or of taking what is your right to have. By His hunger, you are filled. You, who hunger and thirst for righteousness, are filled by the life of this staggering weak man in the wilderness who is your Savior. He speaks for you. “Man does not live by bread alone.” He fights for you against the devil. He does what Father Adam did not do and what you and I cannot do. He resists the old evil Foe. “On earth is not his equal,” until the Son of God put his very human foot down on wilderness soil and said, “No.”
The devil, the Liar and Father of Lies, took Jesus up and in a glorious, glamorous instant showed Him all the kingdom of the world. How that must have looked to Jesus! The splendor of Egypt, Athens, Rome. The glitz and glamour of Hollywood. The majestic power and glory of all this world’s kingdoms. Think of how hard we scrap and claw to get just a piece of it, our little chunk of the kingdom. Think of how hard people work, and how much money they spend to be the one in control.
Imagine the possibilities with Jesus running the kingdoms of this world. One world government, one world religion. The end of poverty, disease, oppression, crime, terror. Eutopia. Heaven on earth. All without so much as a drop of divine blood being shed. All for this price tag: “It’s all yours if you will bow down and worship me.”
The temptation of power and idolatry. We fail to see the seriousness here, because we do not recognize the deadly seriousness of worship. We don’t take our bows seriously enough. So what? It’s only a bow. And so we bow to whatever gives us power to control, don’t we? The old adam loves to be in control, refuses to bow down to God. He would be a god for he has bitten into the lie that said, “You can be like God.” Whether the gun, the sword, or the word, he will use it to gain control over others and be the alpha dog.
Sometimes we read this and think, “But this is silly. Couldn’t Jesus see through this ruse? He’s the Son of God! He is the Lord of heaven and earth. All authority is already His in heaven and on earth.” But we fail to recognize what Jesus is doing here. This is our temptation, the temptation of all humanity focused on this one Man, the new Adam. And although He is God in the flesh, He literally “takes it like a Man.” He takes on the frightful prospect of being the Übermensch, the Man in charge, the Superman, the world’s dictator.
“One little Word subdues him.” They asked Dr. Luther what that word was in His hymn. What is that “word” that fells the devil in His tracks. I always thought it was “Christ” or “Jesus.” The little word is “liar.” It’s all grand and glamorous lie. Not 24 carat gold, fool’s gold. A fraud. There is only one way the Son of God takes His seat on the throne as King of all kings and Lord of all lords and that is to be lifted up and enthroned as a corpse on a cross. Dying and rising. There is no other way for the kingdoms of this world to become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ than through Jesus dying and rising. The kingdoms of this earth are all destined to die, including this nation of ours. They all have their appointed time and season. They are indeed given to the “prince of this world,” but by God for their judgment and destruction. And it must be this way. The old must die, the new must rise. And there is only one King before whom the nations will ultimately bend the knee, “at the name of Jesus every knee will bow – in heaven, on earth, under the earth – and every tongue confess Lord Jesus Christ to the glory of God the Father.
“You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only shall you serve.” Did you catch the wonderful little paradox? The devil is “God’s devil.” The devil should be bowing before Jesus. The creature must always bow before his Creator.
Jesus refuses the power deal, for your sake. His worship is pure, and His purity is yours. He refuses to bend the knee to any except His Father. He refuses to be the Superman, the Übermensch, but instead becomes the Man of Sorrows, the broken, bleeding man, the beggar King who rules by dying and rising. And all of it for you.
The devil takes Jesus to Jerusalem, to the temple, and set Him atop its highest point. “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you to guard you’ and ‘on their hands they will bear you up lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”
“You are the Son of God, aren’t you? Well, you know the Scriptures, the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word. It says, “God’s angels are watching you like a hawk. If you slip, they’ll swoop down and catch you. You won’t even stub your little toe, Jesus. Do you think it’s true? Did God really say He’d break your fall? How about putting it to the test? Jump. If it’s true, you go fluttering down for a soft landing on angel’s wings, wow! Talk about 15 minutes of fame! They’ll be eating out of your messianic hand, Jesus. So jump.”
Did God really say? Did God really say, “On the day you eat of that tree, you will die”? Did God really say, “Your sins are forgiven?” Did God really say, “This is my Body, my Blood?” Did God really say?
The temptation to test the Word, to test God. Is He true to His Word? Let’s find out. Put Him to the test. Dissect His word with the butcher knives of our criticism, our clever philosophies and sophisms, our “world views.” Oh yeah, we’re good at it. Any word but God’s Word. Did God really say it? Criticizing, dissecting, slicing, dicing, anything but hearing the Word that promises life.
The devil turns out to be a Bible-quoting liar. He quotes Psalm 91 to Jesus and tempts Him to put it to the test. If you look up Psalm 91 you find a couple of interesting items. The verse the precedes the devil’s quote is this: “If you make the Most High your dwelling – even the Lord, who is my refuge – then no harm will befall you.” You are safe as you are hidden in Christ. You are safe as you cling to His Word of promise. You are safe when you make the Most High God your dwelling. Even death can’t harm you. But that’s not what the devil wants. He wants you to trust in yourself and to test every Word and promise of God.
The other side of the devil’s quote is even more interesting: “You will tread upon the lion and the cobra; you will trample the great lion and the serpent.” That’s about Christ the One whose cross bruised heal crushed the head of the Evil One. Oh the devil knows how to find just the passage he wants, and how to ignore the rest.
Again, Jesus answers on your behalf. “No. You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.” To test God and His Word is not to trust Him and take Him at His Word. Jesus trusted the Word of His Father for us. His temptation is our temptation; His victory is our victory.
You will be tempted too. As baptized believers we go from the water to the wilderness, just as Israel went from the Sea to the wilderness, as Jesus went from the Jordan to the wilderness. You will be tempted by your appetites, by the lust for power and control, by the desire to test God’s Word. The apostle Peter reminds us that the devil stalks around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. “Resist him,” Peter says, “standing firm in the faith, that is the faith that clings to Jesus and confess Him as Lord. The devil shudders at that. A simple word of truth on the lips of a baptized child of God, can bring evil one down as Christ our new and second Adam, plants His heel on Satan’s head and grinds it into the dust.
In the name of Jesus,