First Sunday in Lent
February 21, 2010
River of Life Lutheran Church—Channahon, IL
February 22, 2015
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO
In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
In many ways, the Old Testament Reading and the Gospel for today are complete opposites of each other.
In the beginning, Adam was in a garden—watered by four rivers, surrounded by lush vegetation, food available for the taking hanging from every tree. Jesus, on the other hand, is in the middle of the wilderness—dry and desolate, a harsh wasteland, food scarce.
The former is a story of eating. Food from every tree of the garden. The Tree of Life. But also the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil—a tree with which comes death. The latter is a story of fasting. Jesus sent into the wilderness by the Spirit that descended upon Him at His baptism. Sent on a Spiritual mission with Spiritual disciplines. Denying self and relying on God.
Both men are visited by the tempter. But the first man is overcome by the serpent. Lies. Deceit. Distrust. The second man does not give in so easily. Three times he distorts God’s Word to tempt Jesus to place His faith in Himself. But three times Jesus resists.
These two stories, although quite the opposite, are intimately related. For there would have been no Jesus fasting in the wilderness if it were not for Adam yielding to temptation.
Adam’s sin brought a curse. “And to Adam [the Lord] 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; 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’” (Gen 3:17-19).
In the day of sin, the Garden becomes a wilderness. No longer does the earth bring forth its fruit unprovoked. It requires work—hard work—and even then, the earth won’t always cooperate. Thorns and thistles grow much more readily than food-bearing plants.
And so food is also hard to come by. For us, food is as far away as the local grocery, but for much of the world, each day brings the challenge of trying to find daily bread.
This is where Jesus places Himself. He does not come to earth from His lofty throne in Heaven to sit in a palace, eating the banquets of kings. He instead comes to earth to place Himself precisely in Adam’s curse.
So as Jesus stands in the wilderness, He stands in the depths of Adam’s curse. And it is at this point when the tempter comes to Him. “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread’” (vv 1-3).
The devil’s temptation isn’t merely to get Jesus to break His discipline of fasting. He wants Him to remove Himself from Adam’s curse. “You don’t have to suffer hunger. You’re the Son of God. You shouldn’t have to get food by the sweat of your brow. That’s for the humans. Just turn these rocks to bread. You can get around this curse.”
When Adam encountered the devil, he entertained his lies. He inwardly digested Satan’s deceit in his heart and took the food which God had not given him to eat. When Jesus meets the tempter He says, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God’” (v 4). Jesus’ sustenance is God’s Word, so He does not take food that has not been promised to Him by His Father in heaven. Though He hungered from forty days of fasting, He waited on God for His daily bread.
Twice again, the devil contorts God’s Word and tries to exploit Jesus’ weakness. But twice again Jesus does not take for Himself what God has not promised. Rather than put God to the test by falling from the pinnacle of the temple, or bowing to worship Satan, Jesus holds fast to the Word of God. Jesus defeats Satan and his temptation not with power or mighty acts, but with weakness by making God’s Word His sustenance.
When the devil leaves Jesus and the angels begin ministering to His needs, a new way for humanity begins in the wilderness. The way of Adam was self-reliance, but the way of Jesus is to rely on God’s Word. Jesus’ way is the way of weakness, chosen by God to put to shame the strong. Jesus’ way is the way that goes to the cross, a way that ends in resurrection.
When Jesus leaves the Jordan to be tempted, Isaiah’s prophecy begins to be fulfilled. “For waters break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water; in the haunt of jackals, where they lie down, the grass shall become reeds and rushes” (Is 35:6b-7).
Jesus’ defeat of Satan’s temptations begins to reverse Adam’s curse. The One from whose pierced body flows blood and water defeats Satan in weakness, and water springs forth in the wilderness. A garden begins to grow in the wilderness, a garden whose fruit is God’s Word.
Dearly beloved, the Garden is now planted by the Seed of the Gospel, but it is not yet fully grown. The wilderness of the world surrounds us and Adam’s curse yet lingers for a time. But waters still break forth in this wilderness whenever the Absolution is spoken to the penitent, whenever the Lord’s body and blood are received in repentance, and whenever one of God’s beloved is brought to the waters of Baptism.
And just as Jesus placed Himself into Adam’s curse—into your curse—by His baptism in the Jordan, so also through your Baptism in the font you are placed into Christ. And when you are placed in Christ, you are also placed into His defeat of Satan’s temptation, His death, and His resurrection.
By His Struggle and Victory over the Devil’s Temptation, Jesus Shows Himself to Be the New and Perfect Adam and the Head of a Restored Humanity
In + Jesus’ name. Amen.
Rev. Jacob Ehrhard