Today is a tale of two temptations – of Adam and of Christ, the first Adam and the second. The first fell, and with his fall came sin and death to all. The second stood, and with His stand comes righteousness and justification for all.
Adam was tempted in Eve, his wife. They are “one flesh,” united in every way, inseparable. The devil is shrewd. He knows if he can tempt the woman, the man will follow. He comes as a creature of God, a false “incarnation,” a crafty serpent. He begins with a tempting religious question, one that tempts every person – Did God really say? The devil begins with God’s Word. He is a religious devil. Did God really say you may not eat of any tree in the garden? The question is twisted and ambiguous. Diabolical. Intended to trap. God had said all the trees are yours save this one – the one of knowing good and evil. That one was off limits; all the others were fair game. Good and evil is not the way God wanted us to experience His creation which He declared good. The devil preys on innocence and hates it. Look how quickly he corrupts the thinking of a child and tries to get between the child and the Word of God. Look how quickly skepticism and scorn settle in.
“We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden,” the woman says, “but God did say, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.” She gives the faithful answer and a little more. Neither shall you touch it. God said nothing about touching. This is the beginning of pietism and all manmade religion. Add a little something more to God’s Word to give it a little boost. Say something more that what God has said. It sounds so pious, doesn’t it? Don’t eat, and don’t even touch. Every fall begins with a little slip, and here it is – adding to the Word of God. The devil has her right where he wants her, using religion to defend God.
“You will not surely die.” The Lie, transparent as anything, and yet covered by a false promise. “Your eyes will be opened.” Weren’t they already open? “You will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Weren’t they already the image of God? Here is the temptation that stalks every man, woman, and child. Each of us. You can be gods. Who needs God when you can be your own god?
The woman rationalizes. Reason is all that is left when faith in the Word departs. Now she is left on her own. The fruit was good, tasty, sweet and seductive. It was beautiful to see, and soft to the touch, and oh how wonderful it smelled. What could possibly be so bad? Besides, it could make you wise, and wouldn’t God want you to be wise? How can this be wrong when it feels so right? Ever catch yourself rationalizing sin that way? The less than honest business deal – I’m providing for my family. The illicit affair – we love each other. Every sin has wrapped around it this coating, a layer of self-justification and rationalization.
She bites into the sweet, seductive Lie, and she leads her husband to do the same. They are in this together as one flesh. This is no isolated sin; sin is never in isolation. Through this one trespass came condemnation, not only to Adam and Eve, but to all men, including you. “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’s our inheritance as sons and daughters of Adam and Eve. Every child is born with it, there is no escaping it.
The same devil came to the second Adam, fresh from His Baptism in Jordan River. The Spirit had led Jesus there, into the wilderness, an Israel reduced to one man, all of humanity in one man, facing the devil alone, face to face. This time there was no serpent’s disguise. We are not told what the devil looked like; that’s none of our business.
Jesus was hungry, having fasted forty days and nights. He is vulnerable, empty, weak, isolated in a way that Adam and Eve weren’t. 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.” He is the Son of God, the Word through whom all things, including the stones, were made and in whom they have their existence. What’s 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 will do most anything for bread, if we are hungry enough. Human history teaches that quite well. We will sacrifice our freedom to one who promises bread for our tables. We will sacrifice even our unborn children for the sake of bread. But to live this way is not to live by every Word that comes from the mouth of God. The Word gives seed to the sower and bread to the eater. To have bread without the Word is to have a bread-god, an idol. Jesus, the Bread of Life, resists the temptation of the flesh in our flesh.
When Jesus needs bread in the wilderness He multiplies it; He does not “transubstantiate” stones. That would be most un-Creatorlike, to destroy one thing to make another. He 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.
Again, the devil comes to Him and takes Him to the holy city and the top of the temple. How this happened, we do not know, and it is none of our business. “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. 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? The psalm promises the protection of the angels to the one who trusts God. Surely Jesus had the angels on His side, didn’t He, if He was the Son of God? Angels would come and minister to Him, but not now and not here. He 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 Scripture. 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. That’s about him. He knows what Jesus is there for, 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.
Again the devil takes Jesus up to a very high mountain and shows Him all the kingdoms of the world in their glory. How this happened, we are not told, for it is none of our business. That it happened is what matters to us. 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.” He tempted Jesus in His flesh and in His faith. Now the temptation is to His fidelity. Will He remain faithful and true to His Father?
This is a temptation unique to Jesus, and yet it is the temptation of every Christian and of the Church as well. 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. We exchange our worship for considerably less. 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. “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 hearkened to the Lie, Christ remained faithful to the truth. Where Adam betrayed himself and God, Christ remained true. In Adam all became sinners and all die; in Christ all are justified and all are raised to life.
Jesus conquered every human temptation with nothing but the Word and promise of God. And because He was tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin, we are able to pray, “Lead us not into temptation.” We will be tempted in the weakness of the flesh, in our faith, in our fidelity to the Word and the worship of God in Spirit and Truth. But know this, as baptized believers in Christ: Christ has conquered every temptation in the flesh, and in Him you conquer and He conquers the same in you. There will be times when we will be driven into the wilderness, left with nothing but the Word and promise of God. We will have come to the end of our prayers, our pieties, our religion. We will hear nothing but silence from God. No miracles, no displays of power, no religious ecstasies. Only the devil whispering, “Are you a child of God? You are, aren’t you?” He failed with Jesus, but he’ll try it with you, like a roaring lion, looking from someone to swallow.
Resist him; stand firm in the faith. Shake your fist at him. Throw ink bottles at him, if you’re so inclined, as Luther once did. Say, “Damn you, devil. I am baptized. I am a child of God, an heir of life, embraced by the death of Jesus my Lord and covered by the blood of Him who has you firmly under His foot. Christ defeated you in the wilderness and on the cross. You have nothing to say to me. As Christ my Lord said to you, so I say, Be gone, Satan! I belong to Christ and you cannot harm me.”
“For as by the one man’s disobediences, the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.”
In the name of Jesus,