March 13, 2011 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA
“Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.”
Life in Paradise was good. In fact, it was “very good” according to its Creator. All had been established to bring forth life in abundance. Light and darkness divided the days; the heavenly bodies provided sunshine by day and moonlight by night. Dry ground and the seas had been separated, with the earth covered in lush grass and majestic trees, each reproducing according to its own kind. The skies and the deep were full of living, swooping animals; the land had its own menagerie, as well. At the pinnacle of Creation, was Man: Adam by name, since he had been taken from the ground. And the Lord made him a partner, a companion, suitable to him—woman. All was “very good.”
In that Paradise, there were few commands. Man was given authority over the area, an authority with responsibilities to work and keep Paradise. But what Adam oversaw also provided all that he needed. He could eat freely from all the trees of the garden, save for one. The Lord, Adam’s Creator, had given the instruction not to eat from the tree in the middle of the garden, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. That instruction Adam passed on to Woman, so that she knew what was prohibited. And all was “very good.”
That knowledge would be tested. All was “very good” in Paradise, but not everywhere. For evil did exist. It was found in Satan who had rebelled against the Lord’s good order in heaven. And now he desired to take the rebellion to earth, to “very good” Eden: “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”?’” But Woman knew the answer: “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, 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.’” All was still “very good.”
But the Serpent is relentless. He tests whether Woman thinks this order was “very good”: “But the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’” The temptation leads Woman to reject the Lord’s order, to say it is not “very good” that she could not be like God. She wants to have what is not meant for her. She covets God: “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.” With that act, all is not good on earth. The Lord’s order is overturned. Even Adam who had the Lord’s instruction spoken directly to him sins. He had been given the authority to be God’s representative on earth, but he abdicates it to take what was not to be his.
The effect of Adam’s sin is total chaos and disorder. He brings sin and death into the world, marring the Creation that had been “very good”. The Lord speaks curse against Adam’s rebellion: “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; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. 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.” Creation is cursed because of its manager’s sin. Creation is found in rebellion against the Lord and will die because of it: “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.”
But in the curses spoken, a promise is given. The Lord promises war, a battle between the individuals involved in the actions that led to Man’s rebellion: “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.” In that statement, the Lord declares that the Serpent and mankind will ever be opponents. A descendant of Woman will arise who will bring vengeance and justice against the Serpent. He will be a Champion to act on behalf of mankind. What was lost will be regained.
The descendant of Woman spoken of is the Christ. It is Jesus, who was born of Woman, but not of Man. He will have the heavy foot to trample down the head of Satan, including the mouth that speaks lies and deceit which lure people to death. The beginning of the promised conflict is seen in the Temptation Narrative that was read in today’s Gospel Reading: “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” The promised Champion is led into the arena of the wilderness. Here the ground suffers its greatest curse. In the wilderness, man works the hardest to eat of it. Usually the descendants of Adam go there and die, returning to the ground from which they came.
In that wilderness, the Tempter acts as he always does. He tries to get this Man to doubt what the Lord has said. He puts in Jesus’ mind the doubt and covetousness that lead to rebellion: “It isn’t right that you lack anything. Take what the Lord hasn’t given to you. Be assertive. Determine your own destiny. I will help you.” So Satan puts the matter to Jesus: “If you are the Son of God. . . .” He wants Jesus to doubt His identity. Does Jesus believe the statement that the Father had spoken at His Baptism: “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”? The temptations put the wisdom of God on trial: Is the Son of God really meant to be wandering in the wilderness without food? “Command these stones to become loaves of bread.” Satan’s lures poke at Jesus’ destiny: Is the Son of God really meant to die? “Throw Yourself down. . . .” See if the angels will help You. The devil questions the humiliation of Jesus: Is the Son of God really meant to be without honor on earth? “All these I will give You, if You will fall down and worship me.”
But where the Serpent succeeded in Paradise, he fails in the wilderness. The thoughts of doubt, covetousness, and rebellion confront the heart and mind of Jesus. But the Man does not act upon them. He does not follow the Tempter’s deceptive advice. In each of the cases, Jesus responds with statements of what He knows to be the Lord’s will. “It is written. . . . It is written. . . . It is written. . . .” So Jesus speaks each time. He knows what the Lord, His Father, desires for Him. And He trusts that what the Lord has ordered is “very good”—both for Him and for the Creation which He will restore through His actions.
“Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” That is especially true concerning the word of forgiveness spoken by the Lord. “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.” The Lord establishes the way of life: it is what Jesus achieves through His work, including His sacrificial death and glorious resurrection. Mankind should not test the Lord by seeking to find that way of life in anything other than what He has instituted. “You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve.” Man’s rebellion started by wanting to be like God, to be out from under any authority. But self-aggrandizement leads to death, as does idolatry. The proper role of mankind is to serve the Lord alone, the Lord who provides for your temporal and eternal life.
Jesus’ response to Satan begins His conquest over mankind’s Great Enemy. Each time Jesus does not fall, it is a bruising of the Serpent’s head. “It is written. . . . It is written. . . . It is written. . . .” The cadence is Jesus’ foot stamping down the Tempter’s deceiving tongue, causing him to have nothing to say in reply. “Be gone, Satan!” Jesus commands. “Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to Him.” But the trampling has just begun. For Jesus will leave that wilderness and begin His work of forgiving sins, restoring health, casting out demons, and raising the dead. It is a mission that leads Jesus to the cross, to the grave, and out again. And in that action, the Serpent’s head is crushed for good, bruised on your behalf.
This is the joyous word that the Lord speaks to you. The promise made in Fallen Paradise has been fulfilled. Your Champion has come. Though you have fallen victim to Satan, you have salvation in Christ. “Sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.” That statement is true. But so is the other statement: “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.” That is what the obedience of Jesus in the Temple, in the wilderness, in Galilee, in Judea, in the Garden of Gethsemane, on Mount Calvary, and everywhere He went has achieved for you.
So you who know the weakness of mankind, your own weakness, your own futility, can have joy. It is found in what Jesus has accomplished, as you believe that what He has done is the Lord’s good and gracious will for you. Taking your proper place as subservient recipients of the Lord’s actions, all is made well for you. Trusting the promises made in Eden, the promises repeated by Jesus, the apostles’ proclamation of the promises fulfilled, you have forgiveness, life, and salvation. The Serpent’s head has been crushed for you; the curse of eternal death has been overcome. You will go into the ground, back to the dust, but you will rise out of it again. So you can rejoice as the Psalmist exhorts: “Many are the sorrows of the wicked, but steadfast love surrounds the one who trusts in the Lord. Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!” Rejoice and be glad, because what the one Man Jesus Christ did for you means that the Lord really says that you are “very good.”
T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.