From our bulletin covers: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.” (Hebrews 4:15) Yes, Jesus was tempted by sin. More severely tempted than you and I will ever be tempted. C. S. Lewis has pointed out how it is good people, not bad people, who truly know what temptation means. Temptation whispers in the ears of bad people, and within five minutes they say, “Yes! Sure! Why not?” and it’s no big deal. And they have no idea how cruel and relentless the temptation would be if they were to resist an hour, two hours, forty weary days of saying, “No,” and, “No!” and “No,” again. Jesus endured, persisted through forty days of terrible testing in which his mind played all sorts of tricks with him, and still he distinguished between the quiet voice of God and the attractive whispered lies of the evil one. Jesus knows—better than any of us—how terrible temptation can be.
Temptation is as old as human history. Right there, way back in Genesis, at the very beginning of the story, that shadowy creature, the devil, shows up. The devil? Yes, the devil. The great dragon, the roaring lion, the slithering snake, the angel of darkness, the angel of light, Lucifer, the father of lies, the Satan, the deceiver, the devil. Is the devil really outdated, outmoded, obsolete? Well, maybe when there are no more holocausts, no more Iraq catastrophes, no more Lord’s Resistance Armies, when this world’s superpower stops throwing away obscene amounts of the earth’s resources on weapons of mass destruction. It might make sense to contend that there is no devil, that evil isn’t really that up front and personal when men stop cheating on their wives, when parents stop abandoning their children, when children stop breaking the hearts of their parents.
I look forward to the Day when the devil will indeed finally be outdated, outmoded, obsolete. Unfortunately, the devil makes far too much sense in our world these days.2 So the devil shows up, and tempts the very first human couple, Adam and Eve, son and daughter of God. God had just breathed into these original humans his own lifegiving Spirit. They had been filled with the Holy Spirit, filled with the life of God. Fully alive; their home the most spectacular Garden of God. And the devil whispers to them: Do you really think God has your best interests in view? Can God really be trusted? Does God really care about you? Why, then, is God forbidding you the really good fruit, the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil? Don’t you want to be like God? Break free from your creaturely limitations? Be all that you can be? Did God really refuse you what should be rightfully yours? Come on! If God won’t give it to you, just reach out and take it! It’s within your grasp: power, glory, and wisdom and honour. You can fix this world’s problems, crush this world’s injustices, impose your solutions upon our global conflicts, end world hunger, etc., etc. In today’s text, another solitary human, connected to each one of us, solidly rooted in our own history, according to the genealogy list just in front of our text. A descendant of Adam and Eve, son and daughter of God, we are told in the verse just before our text (3:38).
Like Adam and Eve, Jesus too has just been breathed full of God’s lifegiving Spirit at his baptism. But he is in the wilderness, the Garden of God gone bad; a harsh wasteland without fruit or food of any kind. Just lots of dead rocks. And again, the enemy of God, the devil, shows up. The devil obviously isn’t terribly imaginative. Still swinging around his same old bag of tricks. Same old questions: “If you are the son of God . . .”? Wait a minute? Back up a chapter. Who is the son of God? We just read that Jesus was the son of Joseph, the son of Heli, the son of Levi, the son of Melki, and on and on for many generations until, “the son of Adam, the son of God” (verse 38). Adam, are you really the son of God? Then why isn’t God taking care of you? Why is God forbidding you the fruit? Look at all the stuff you are missing out on in life. All the pleasures, all the excitement, all the good times. Turn these rocks to bread, Jesus! I doubt God can be trusted to look after your needs, your desires, your deep inner longings and hungers. Take things into your own hands.
Do something! “You can be like God!” Feed yourself! Feed the world! Did God really say, “People do not live by bread alone?” Come on, Jesus, think of yourself for a change. How can you be3 any good for anyone else, how can you save the world if you don’t take care of yourself? Fruit, bread— eat something. But if Jesus will not save the world the devil’s way, what is his way? What is Jesus’ vocation? What does Jesus think he is doing? Jesus has just come through the waters of baptism, as Israel came through the Red Sea. Just like Israel, out into the wilderness. Jesus is re-living Israel’s story, because he believes God has chosen him to be Israel’s representative, Israel’s rightful king. Now, will Jesus do as Adam in the Garden did, as Israel in the wilderness did? Will Jesus put God to the test? Will Jesus refuse to trust in God? Will Jesus try to take things into his own hands? Or will Jesus live the story properly? God had given Adam the vocation to be steward of all creation.
God had given Israel the vocation to be a light to all the nations. Both failed their vocations, miserably. How about this second Adam, this new Israel—will he be faithful to his vocation, his vocation as Adam’s representative, Israel’s representative, as Israel’s Messiah, Israel’s king? And the devil whispers: “Let me show you all the kingdoms, Jesus, in all of their splendour. And, now, let me show you a vocational shortcut, Jesus. Forget all that nonsense about humble service and sacrifice. Just take it. Be a hero, Jesus. Be Jesus Christ, superstar! You want to save the world? I give you . . . the world! Are you really the Messiah, the Son of God? I can make you king of kings, and lord of lords? Worship me and my coercive ways. Be forceful, be proud, be violent. Go ahead.
Take what is rightfully yours by force. Why suffer and be rejected, trampled upon by your subjects? Why go the way of the cross? Now, most of us, when tempted, argue back. “Look, if I do that, I’ll get into trouble. My marriage will be in trouble, or I’ll get in trouble with the law, or I’ll be a bad example to my kids. But, well, maybe we could compromise a bit, instead; maybe I could just take a small step in that direction.” Arguing with temptation, of course, is often simply our way of playing around with the idea until it’s simply too attractive to resist. But Jesus does not argue with the devil. “Has God really said?” asks the evil one. “Really?!” “Yes,” declares Jesus. “Yes, God has spoken. It is written.” Jesus will not argue with the devil about whether God4 is to be trusted. “It is written! ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.” Jesus will not go the way of coercive, arrogant, self-asserting power. Jesus will worship the Lord God, trust God’s vocation for him, and humbly walk in the way of the cross.
Still the devil does not leave him alone. Into his mind he whispers again. “Okay, Jesus, so you are so confident in what God says. Well, then, how about this: Has not God also said, ‘I will command my angels concerning you to guard you carefully; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone!’? Is it not also written, thus? So do something spectacular. Jump into the fame and power and the authority that you deserve. Claim your rightful status. Do what kings do. Why bear the cross, when you can just stand at the top of the Temple and be acclaimed as Messiah, king of the Jews? If you are the Son of God, then why should you suffer? How can God expect you to be despised and rejected, a man of sufferings and familiar with grief? How can God let you go hungry like this, leave you out here alone with no place even to lay your head? Can God really be trusted to take care of you, keep his angels on guard for you? Are you sure you know what you are doing, Jesus? Look ahead at the long road in front of you, a road that leads to a bloody and brutal execution. Is this really the vocation that you want to choose? “Can you be like God?” the devil asked Adam and Eve, and the first humans thought they could.
They went for it. Now the devil challenges this second Adam, “Can you be truly human?” Can you really embrace the way of weakness? Can you be a servant for the world, and live your story the way our story was meant to be told? Can you live our vocation the way God meant it to be lived? Ever since that first human couple was seduced into swallowing the devil’s lies, the whole human race has become quite accustomed to living in habitual rebellion against our Creator God. The Old Testament, more often then not, portrays a sad state of affairs—the flesh and the devil seem almost to take for granted that they can twist us human beings—us who are created in God’s own image—twist us, like those long, skinny balloons, into whatever shape they want.
And then along comes another human being, a second Adam. And Jesus will not be twisted. Jesus accepts his vocation, your vocation, my vocation. Jesus chooses to lay aside his own interests, his own authority, his own position of equality with God, and become a servant for the world. Jesus chooses to sacrificially humble himself and become obedient to suffering, even to the point of death, death on a cross.5 The devil and the flesh still whisper the same sorts of twisting temptations into our ears that they whispered into Adam’s and Jesus’s: “Can God be trusted? If you don’t look out for yourself, who will? Will God really take care of you? Do you really want to follow Jesus, take up the cross, deny yourself, walk the path of humble servanthood?” What are those temptations that especially buffet and assail you? Take comfort in this: Jesus understands. Jesus has lived your life, faced your temptations, walked your path, your vocation, ahead of you. Jesus knows full well that whisper of the devil: “It’s no big deal, really. Go ahead, it won’t hurt you.” But it is a big deal; so, in the power of the Spirit, Jesus says “No,” and “No!” and “No!” again. Why? Because, you see, these temptations of the devil are not just enticing you to this sin or that sin. Evil is trying to twist and distort your God-shaped self, trying to seduce you from your God-given vocation, trying to drag you from the very purpose for which you were created.
You have been called to be God’s servant for the world, God’s light in places of darkness. You do not need to let evil drag you back into darkness. Sin and the devil would attack the very core of your humanity. You do not need to let evil corrode and disfigure the image of God in you. The devil is wrong. God can be trusted with your life. God does care for you. Yes, the vocation to which God calls you is not easy-street. It means suffering, humility and self-denial. But the uphill path of Jesus is still by far the best path. This Lent, I invite you, I urge you—let us follow Jesus in the power of God’s Spirit into forty days of quietness, of prayer and fasting, of living and trusting in God’s Word. Let us join Jesus in his story, his vocation. Let us walk with Jesus to the cross. And, be assured, Jesus will welcome us into his resurrection. AMEN.