Matthew 4:1-11 (Genesis 3:1-21)
Today is the first Sunday in the church season of Lent. It is a penitential time, in which we focus seriously on our Lord as suffering servant, paschal sacrifice, a man of sorrows. It is a time of deep and somber meditation, in which we also reflect on our sinfulness, though not forgetting his mercies in Christ.
This 40 day period of Lent traditionally begins with the Gospel reading about Jesus’ 40 day period of temptation in the wilderness. And so we have Matthew’s account of it today. And our system of readings also, very purposefully, chooses the Genesis account of man’s fall into sin as the Old Testament passage for the day. What a wonderful pairing, as we reflect today on the first Adam and the Second Adam, and on the garden and the wilderness.
So much of what Jesus does is loaded with meaning. We can never underestimate the significance of his actions for us. Immediately after his baptism, the Spirit drives Jesus into the wilderness for a time of fasting and temptation. This is no coffee break. The rugged terrain was not hospitable for human existence. But the spiritual terrain was about to get even rockier.
Jesus is tempted. Satan himself takes the challenge, and in Jesus’ moment of weakness, tempts him first with physical food. And the bells should be going off as we read this.
For Satan once tempted another human with food – famously – in the Garden of Eden. The forbidden fruit. From the tree of knowledge of good and evil. There Satan succeeded in his efforts, and woman and man fell into the misery of his company. Ever since, the tempter had been harassing the children of Adam – drawing and enticing them to all kinds of evil.
And he tempts us too. Don’t think that he doesn’t. If the evil one has the audacity to challenge the Lord Jesus himself, don’t think somehow you are off limits. True, we don’t know when it’s the devil providing the temptation, for it may also be the sinful world or our own sinful self to blame. But nonetheless, our adversary delights in seeing us sin, in trying to fill our bellies and souls with anything that is not good or good for us.
Man cannot live by bread alone, Jesus counters, but man does live by the Word of God. Though we, like Adam and Eve, fall prey to temptations right and left, Jesus was victorious over the Tempter. We can only find victory over temptation through him. And we can only find forgiveness for our failures in him, and we can only live in his word.
Yes, in his word. The forgiving word of absolution. The promising words of the Lord’s Supper. The claiming words of his own name placed on us at baptism. This word is the true food of wisdom, for he himself, is the very bread of life. We do not live on bread alone, or really at all. But we are made alive and we do live in each day in Jesus.
There, in the Garden of Eden, the first man and the first woman broke the first command at the first temptation. There, death, spiritual and physical, first came into the world. What a dark day it was. Perhaps the worst day ever. The beginning of all your bad days was there.
But then, there was also hope. For in the midst of the curse, even before he curses man and woman, God makes a promise, that one day the woman’s offspring, her descendant, her seed – would crush the head of the serpent.
Here, in the wilderness, the gloves are off, and Satan’s first confrontation with the Savior ends decisively. Three times, the tempter is foiled. Three times he is defeated by the word of God, spoken by the Living word. And no small victory this was – the first time a human had ever faced the devil and won. In the reversal of Adam’s fall, the Second Adam, Jesus Christ, comes to restore what was lost in Eden, to bring life to a land of death, hope to despair, and victory to those lost in sin. Now it was the tempter whose day was ruined.
That victory in the wilderness foretold, of course, of an even greater victory on another dark day. When the serpent’s head was truly crushed under the weight of the cross. When Jesus death on the tree erased the sin that came by the tree of knowledge. When the fruits of the forbidden fruit were put away for all.
And then, in the garden where they laid him in a borrowed tomb, Jesus would rise to life again – thus guaranteeing life to all his people. So death, that interloper which came with sin into the garden of Eden is made no more in the garden of the resurrection.
Adam and Eve were banned from paradise, evicted from the garden for their sin. They were made to go outside the domesticated fruit groves of Eden, pleasing to the eye and good to eat – cast out into the wild of thorns and thistles. And an angel with a flaming sword barred the way back.
Jesus goes willingly to the wilderness. Away from food and comfort and he goes alone. He goes there to bring us back from the wilderness of our sins. To rescue Adam and Eve and all their children, restoring us to paradise. No fire-brandishing angel bars the gate for us any longer. Instead they sing at his joyous birth, announce his blessed resurrection, and they will accompany his return in glory.
As our forty day Lenten sojourn begins, the mood is thoughtful, serious, even perhaps tense. We go with him into the wilderness. We come face to face with sin and temptation, and recognize our powerlessness before the old evil foe. But Jesus has won the victory. He defeats the devil in the Judean wilderness, and in the garden of resurrection. He restores paradise and all that was lost in sin. He brings life again. Welcome back from the wilderness. Welcome to the garden, in Jesus Christ, Amen.
This message from Pastor Tom Chryst is brought to you by Grace Lutheran Church, Web and Park Street, Mountain View, Arkansas. For prayer or more information, contact Pastor Kenneth Taglauer by email: [email protected]. A Pass it On Project