Sermon for Lent 1

Temptation of Jesus - Ancient relief sculptureIf only we could be Jesus, then we could resist temptation, too. Which is, of course, the temptation of the garden of Eden. Saying no to Temptation: Not as easy as it sounds. The sermon, after the jump.

It all seems so easy. Stones to bread – no thanks. Jump off a building. Rather not. Bow down to me. No way. If only our temptations were that easy. A few bible verses, and Satan flees. Angels arrive. Why doesn’t Satan leave us? Even when we tell him to leave us alone, to stop tempting us to sin, he stays, he tempts, he entices, until the temptation once again – as it always does – overcomes.

The most disheartening thing about this is how far short of Jesus we do fall. We hear Adam and Eve in the garden, and it seems such an easy temptation. We hear of Jesus, and it seems like temptations that anyone could stand up to. If only you could do as Jesus does. Yes. That would be nice. If only Satan came as a talking snake, we could have resisted in the garden. If he came with crazy ideas about rocks and plummeting we could have looked like Jesus. But he doesn’t. He comes with far more subtle temptations for us. And he comes. And he comes. And he comes. Until finally we give in.

But you see, it wasn’t so easy for Christ in the desert as we might first think. And it likely wasn’t so easy for our first parents in the garden. Was that the first, the only time the serpent tempted Eve? We don’t know. But in Matthew we do know. Jesus was led into the wilderness specifically to be tempted. God tempts no one we are told. But God led his son to the desert so that Satan could temp him. Forty days with no food. Forty days of desert, of alien landscape. Forty days of disorientation and loneliness. And now, Satan comes. He doesn’t come on day one to mention the bread. He comes when Jesus would have been almost crazed with hunger.

He comes and he hits Jesus with the thing he most wants in this world. After a hard days work, nothing tastes quite so good as… food. Hunger is the best gravy. If you are really and truly hungry, all of a sudden food you can’t stand tastes wonderful.

For Jesus, he was beyond just a little but hungry. He was ravenous, starving – literally. And then Satan tempts him. These stones would make a very nice bread.

Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.

If only we could do that. With a simple sentence send Satan away. Why don’t we see angels ministering to us? But of course it isn’t over. Two temptations to go. And this isn’t really the end. Satan leaves – for a time. Later He returns  to Jesus to tempt him again.

If this resisting temptation thing was so easy, if showing Satan up was this simple, then why did Jesus have to endure the cross? You see that’s where Satan returns with a vengeance. Jesus admits to the disciples that he could have his father send angels to deliver him. But Jesus knows that to redeem you, he must go through the cross. And that’s when Satan hits him for the last time. If you are the son of God, come down from the cross. Why suffer like this? Aren’t you divine? Can’t you call on the angels? What kind of father do you have?

If Satan were as easy to defeat as a random bible verse, then we wouldn’t need Jesus dying for us.  It’s not so easy as you might think from a casual reading of the Gospel for today. Satan knows what you want. Satan is not deterred by your reluctance to sin because he can see how very much you would like to sin. You are a sinner. That’s what you do. The problem is that if you hear the Gospel reading and just think, “What a great example Jesus is” then you only see what you need to do to be like him. And then you set off to do what he does. To conquer Satan. To vanquish the sin. To save yourself.

But Jesus is more than example. Of course he is the perfect example. But that’s like a pro-athlete coming to town and saying, “Look, you just hit the ball like this, you just dunk like this, you just pass like this, you just run the play like this.” Easy for him – he has skills you don’t have. How are you supposed to do what he does? He showed you how it’s done, aren’t you ready for your professional contract? Looking at Jesus – the sinless Son of God, in the Gospel reading, and then saying, “So just do that. Memorize a lot of bible verses so you can respond to Satan. Just tell him to leave you alone….” Isn’t going to work, because you are sinner. Not the savior. Not even for yourself. Jesus does that for you. When Jesus was baptized as if he was a sinner, he was taking the place of sinners. Now when you are baptized, you are given righteousness. When Jesus went into the desert to be tempted, he was being tempted for you. When he went to the cross, he died for you.

And now you have Jesus, who defeated Satan, not just in the desert, but on the cross. The desert was a momentary defeat for Satan. The cross was a mortal blow. Satan is done for. His power is broken. But he still rages against God. He still tempts the people of God, trying to draw them into sin, and despair. He knows his time is short. He knows that when our Lord returns, he will be banished forever. But before that happens, he wants you to reject the gift of God – the forgiveness, life and salvation that Jesus offers you. He wants you to believe that you can not be saved from your sins. That the forgiveness Jesus gives isn’t good enough to cover what you have done.

That’s the point. It’s not just about leading you to sin. Satan wants you to sin so he can lead you to reject the forgiveness which Jesus offers. He want you to disbelieve the promise. To walk away from your Baptism. That’s what Satan’s up to.

But Jesus on the cross is good enough. It’s enough to strengthen you when you are tempted. To forgive you when you give in to the temptation. To draw you back to the Father when you sin again. To work your salvation and bring you into the riches of his kingdom. That’s why Jesus is tempted here. That’s why he goes to the cross for you. To bring forgiveness for all your sins. So that you would not be abandoned in the wilderness, facing Satan on your own. So that you would no longer belong to Satan. So that you would be saved from death hell and the Devil. So that you would be brought into the kingdom of grace. So that you would be a child of God, through the work and sacrifice and mercy your Lord Jesus Christ.

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