1st Sunday in Lent – 3/6/2022
Life is hard! The birthing process is difficult and exhausting. And then the real fun begins. There are aches and pains of growing, learning, and just surviving. It's not for the weak of the heart, that's for sure!
But, oh, how much harder it is to be a Christian in this anti-Christian world! It's one big sea of temptation, and we are constantly forced to swim against the tide. The ebb and flow of this world put our faith in someone or something other than the true God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We are incited to indulge our lusts in sexual and deviant behaviors. Ultimately, we are being pressured to conform the teachings of the Bible to our will rather than letting the Word transform us into God's will. We should pray every hour, "Our Father, Who Art in Heaven, lead us not into temptation!"
However, the good news is that you and I do not stand alone in our struggle against temptation. Today, we are reminded of Jesus' temptation in the wilderness. Some might think that temptation was a mere trifle for Jesus since He is the Son of God. However, we should never trivialize Jesus' suffering under the devil's assault. After all, Jesus' temptation was not a spiritual game in which He played with the devil to amuse himself. On the contrary, Jesus' temptation was part and parcel of the whole mission and purpose of the Son of God in becoming a man. He took on human flesh and became man in the womb of the virgin Mary for us. He humbled Himself by becoming a sinful man to save us. He was baptized for us. He took upon Himself our sins, diseases, and disorders for us. Jesus was put to death for us. Similarly, He withstood the evil one's assault in the temptation in our place so that He could bring us victory over temptation in our lives.
All three Synoptic Gospels place the incident of Jesus' temptation immediately after His baptism in the Jordan River. But to show us who the one being tempted here really is, Luke inserts the genealogy of Jesus immediately before His wilderness experience. Luke starts the genealogy by saying, "Jesus, when He began His ministry, was about 30 years of age, being the son (as was supposed) of Joseph, the Son of Heli" (ESV). Then Luke ends the genealogy by saying, "He was the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God."
That is incredible! You will not see any genealogy like this anywhere else. The Holy Spirit wants you and me to see that Jesus stands in a unique position. He is Adam all over again and the representative of all humanity. Just as Adam was the son of God because He had no human father or mother but was created directly by God, so was Jesus. Despite being fully human, having been born of a woman like the rest of us and a descendant of Adam, he also had no human father. His humanity was begotten directly by God. At the same time, Jesus is the Son of God in another mind-boggling way. He was conceived in the womb of Mary by the Holy Spirit. As Holy Scripture teaches us, He was begotten of the Father from all eternity (John 1:14, Col. 1:15, Phil. 2:6). He is not only the very nature of the Son of Adam, that is human; he is the very nature of the Son of God.
Accordingly, Jesus stood before this accuser of all humanity, the devil, as the representative of us all. When the devil tempted Jesus, he was tempting our whole race! Like with the first Adam, the success or failure of the second Adam, Jesus, is our success or failure. We are all sons and daughters of the first Adam by birth, and our rebirth makes us sons of God and brothers of the second Adam into the water and the Spirit. In Romans, we read, "So then, as through one transgression there resulted in condemnation for all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted in the justification of life for all men." "For as through the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the one, the many will be made righteous."
Therefore, Jesus' temptation was and is a big deal for us! That is why we see that Jesus was led by the Spirit of God and tempted by the devil. Jesus' temptation was not an avoidable option for him. All the synoptic gospels agree that the Holy Spirit sent Jesus into the lion's den of temptation. He was the Lamb being led to the slaughter. Matthew and Mark's accounts are even more potent than Luke's. Matthew notes that Jesus was led up to the wilderness by the Holy Spirit to be tested by the devil (4:1). Mark emphatically writes, "The Spirit cast him out into the wilderness."
Even though the devil would have liked nothing better than to deceive this Second Adam into rebellion, this testing time was God's purpose for His Christ. God was making history repeat itself for the sake of all humanity. Unlike the first Adam's temptation, which took place in the perfect existence of the Garden (in Greek, "paradise"), the second Adam's temptation was to take place in the wilderness, or desert, the sin-ravaged existence of fallen man. This time, there was no level playing field. Evil had already corrupted humanity. This time the deck was genuinely stacked against Adam. Jesus was all alone. As the Son of God and the Son of Man, failure to resist temptation would have been the total defeat of heaven and the earth. Not only was our salvation from sin and every evil on the line, but God's supreme rule in righteousness also hung in the balance.
In a clear allusion to Moses' 40 days and 40 nights on top of Mt. Sinai without food or water, Luke records that Jesus ate nothing for 40 days in the wilderness. But unlike Moses' experience, it wasn't as though Jesus needed to rustle up something to eat. His fast was self-imposed. Matthew notes: "Jesus fasted for 40 days" (4:2). Jesus knew that serving his belly would have been a distraction.
Prayer was Jesus' food. He needed full spiritual strength. Jesus knew the stakes for God and man were high. His battle was not against flesh and blood but against the full spiritual power of darkness. There could be no shortcuts, no making the way easy for Himself. If He did, the devil would win because Jesus would be serving Himself and not doing it for us!
And of course, at the culmination of the 40 days of being unsuccessful against Jesus, the devil chose first to attack Jesus at His most vulnerable spot—not merely his great physical hunger but also the fact that the hunger was so needless since Jesus had the divine power to create some food for Himself. "If you are the Son of God," the devil slyly said to Jesus, "then speak to this stone that it may become bread."
The Bible tells us that Jesus was tempted in every way that we are and was still without sin (Heb. 4:15). As this first temptation clearly shows, Jesus was tempted beyond what we have ever faced. Can we even fathom having the power to fill our hunger and yet resisting using that power? The severity of such a temptation is staggering. However, the devil would repeatedly use this temptation on Jesus, culminating at His most vulnerable moment, as Jesus hung in agony under God's wrath on the cross. Through the mouths of the crowd, the soldiers under His cross, and even one of those crucified with Him, Jesus would be challenged: "If you are the Son of God, then come down from there" (Luke 23:35, 37, 39).
There is true irony in this temptation. The first Adam succumbed to the lie to eat so that he could be like God, would forever be in his fallen state be forced to eat bread by the sweat of his brow (Gen. 3:19). Here, the Second Adam was being tempted to prove he was God by taking the easy way out and miraculously making bread for himself to eat. The essence of the temptation for both Adam and Jesus was to serve one's self.
Isn't this also the devil's seduction of us? Day in and day out, we are tempted to use everything at our disposal to serve ourselves rather than others. The temptation is before us constantly to use our time, money, and talents to meet our needs first, to secure glory and recognition for ourselves. Then, if we have anything left, give to the needs of the church's ministries or the needy in our community. We can rationalize all we want, but serving ourselves in the place of others is not Christ-like. It is satanic!
But our hero, the Second Adam, was not about to abuse His divine power. Jesus replied to the devil, "It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone.'" What a fitting reply. Jesus is the Bread from Heaven, and if anyone eats of Him in faith, he shall live forever (John 6). Because Jesus refused to eat for Himself, He now can feed us with Himself, the true bread that gives life: "Take, eat; this is my body given for you" (Luke 22:19).
The devil, however, was not ready to give up. He led Jesus up to a high place to show him all the kingdoms of the inhabited world simultaneously. Then with his forked tongue, he laid before Jesus the bait, "I will give you all their authority and glory because it has been handed over to me and to whom I desire to give it." And then came the deadly hook: "If you, then, will worship me, it will be yours." The absolute audacity and presumptiveness of the devil are truly remarkable! He was tempting God's Son, the Creator of the World, with all the glory of the world's kingdoms, as if he could give it.
In the first place, could the devil ever make good on such a claim? Was it within his power to give the world's kingdoms to whomever he wanted? To a certain extent, the answer is yes. He is called the prince of this world.
Yet, Holy Scripture also clarifies that the devil can only do, give, or take away as God allows him for God's eternal purposes. After all, there is only one God and ruler, and it is not the devil.
But, in the second place, remember that the devil is the deceiver. All he can do is lie. We can rest assured that he did not intend to give Jesus anything, even if he could.
Nonetheless, the devil's temptation of Jesus was genuine. After all, Jesus was still a mortal man. He is the flesh of our flesh and the bone of our bone, subject to our needs. Jesus, too, was worldly in that, as a human being, having what you lack—power, honor, and glory—sounds mighty desirable. Remember, as Jesus Himself said, He had nowhere to lay His head. He had few amenities in this life.
On top of this, Jesus knew God had promised He would put all things under His feet. However, the catch was that he would suffer and die first. But the devil was offering him a shortcut. The devil made it appear that he could give Jesus all God had promised without struggle or pain. In other words, the devil offered Jesus worldly glory without a cross.
The devil tries to sell us the same bill of goods. He also persuades us that we can have glory without a cross. He says, "Life doesn't have to be so hard." There is an easier way than serving God, attending church, and seeking a moral life. God always makes the road rough for you. There will be no cross or hardship if you serve me. I'll hand you all the power, fame, and money you can ever want. Just give in to me. Serve me!"
But here is the question: Can there be glory without a cross? It only seems that way. The devil promised the first Adam he would be like God, and all Adam ended up with was eternal condemnation under the wrath of God. As Jesus says elsewhere, "The way is broad and easy that leads to destruction." The truth is that the way of life and glory can only go through the narrow path of the cross. Without Jesus' cross, there is no atonement for sins, no forgiveness; there is no heaven. Without our crosses, we would easily fall into depending on ourselves and not God; our faith would wither, and we would never learn the valuable and saving truth that we are saved by God's grace alone.
Fortunately for us, our champion, Jesus, resisted temptation with tenacity. And once again, he resorted to the Word of God. Jesus replied, "Worship the Lord, your God, and serve Him alone." The devil is not good, nor can a liar ever be good. The Holy Trinity alone is truth; in His reality of the cross is salvation. He alone is deserving of our praise and worship. Only He is the Giver of every good and perfect gift.
On the other hand, the devil was unafraid to make Jesus fall and, thus, the rest of humanity. He thought, "Okay, Jesus, if you won't serve yourself and you won't serve me, then maybe I can get you to manipulate God into being your servant." He took Jesus to the Holy City of Jerusalem and stood him on the temple's highest point. Then he challenged Jesus to jump off and into the courtyard far below. "After all," he coaxed, "if you trust God, then you know He won't let you get hurt." He promised in His words that He would send His angels to bear you up so you wouldn't bruise your heel against a stone.
What a load of horse manure! On the surface, the devil was trying to encourage Jesus to trust His Father in Heaven. But look again! This heinous deceiver was challenging Jesus to test God's sincerity. To test God in such a way is not faith. It's another way to manipulate God to serve one's wants and wishes. It leaves faith dead!
The devil is still seducing us into enslaving God. We're told that if we genuinely believe in God, we'll "name it and claim it," which means we'll tell God what we want, expect it, and He'll give it to us. The rationale is that God has promised us whatever we ask for in faith. We can likewise succumb to this temptation by testing God: "Lord, if You love me as You say, then you will heal my disease; you will give me that new car I want." With such ideas, we are doing nothing less than manipulating God, making Him prove Himself to us first before we will believe in Him, or using His good will to advance our own will. In short, we are being the devil himself, challenging God to serve our whims.
Thanks to God, our Second Adam remained resolute. He found new strength in God's Word. He replied to the devil quite succinctly with a direct quote from Deuteronomy: "It has been said, "You shall surely not test the LORD your God." The devil's barrage of temptations failed miserably. He was forced to flee. Adam was triumphant this time. And even though the devil was forced to flee Jesus for a "more opportune time," Jesus' wilderness victory was the sign of what was to come because Jesus would win the entire war of temptation for us at His most vulnerable point, Calvary. There, Jesus would perform the most selfless act of all. There He would allow the devil to bruise His heel so that He could die in atonement for all our sins, even believing in and acting on the devil's lies sometimes. Jesus' self-sacrifice served to crush the head of the serpent, our accuser, to make him beatable for us.
We can now live in the triumph of the Second Adam, thanks to Jesus. Jesus destroyed the devil's works (I John 3:8). The devil can no longer accuse you. He can and does still tempt you, but now his bark is worse than his bite. His teeth have been knocked out. His accusations have been overcome in the blood of the Lamb so that even if you succumb to the devil's wiles and sin, you can still revert in repentance and faith to Jesus, your advocate with the Father. He will plead for your forgiveness.
Jesus' success also allows you to overcome the devil's temptation. Jesus' victory made God's Word and promises all the more secure for you. The devil can play dueling Bible passages with you all day long, but he can't resist faith in the Word of Christ. God's Word is the Sword of the Spirit, and faith in Jesus is your shield against the fiery assaults of the evil one. The devil is forced to flee where God's Word is not just given lip service but is believed, trusted, and acted upon, especially that concerning Christ's victory over him. You can resist the devil firmly in your faith, and he will flee from you! in this Adam's triumph. Amen.