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The Tempation of Jesus

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 “But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many” [Romans 5:15]. /

Each time we pray the Lord’s Prayer, whether that be in the divine service, in our homes or work places, we pray, “And lead us not in temptation.” With great poignancy Luther reminds us that such a petition “brings to our attention the miserable life that we lead on earth. It is nothing more than one great trial” [AE 26:71]. Though such a quote will never finds its way on a greeting card, we can all attest to the truthfulness of such a sentiment. For the life we live is a life that is lived in constant temptation and assailment. In a faint way, this is evident by the phrases that we often use in momentary communication with fellow soldiers of life. To the greeting, “How are you doing,” routinely comes things like, “I am hanging in there,” “I’ve been better,” “Oh, I’m busy.” We are pressed in at all sides, things to do, kids to raise, jobs to wake up for, people to see, places to go. Perhaps more than ever, life is a circular race that is run every 24 hours with little time or desire to “be still, and know that He is God” [Psalm 46:10].      

Commenting on the Sixth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer, Luther is again right on target. “Although we have received forgiveness and a good conscience and are entirely acquitted, yet our life is of such a nature that we stand today, and tomorrow we fall. Therefore, even though we are godly now and stand before God with a good conscience, we must pray again that He would not allow us to fall again and yield to trials and temptations.”[1] Painful as it may to be to acknowledge, suffering, trials, and afflictions are part and parcel of the life of a Christian. Jesus reminds us, His disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” [Matthew 16:24-25]. After all those who are not “in Christ” [Romans 8:1] are not tempted so to speak; they are already living within the enemy’s stronghold. Temptation is the opportunity of the world, our flesh, and the devil himself to cause us children of God to “exchange the truth about God for a lie and worship and serve the creature [that is ourselves] rather than the Creator” [Romans 1:25]. Not only then do we encounter this day the Rabbi, the One who teaches us the grammar of prayer, but the High Priest who is able to “sympathize with our weaknesses, one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin,” [Hebrews 4:15] and does so for our sake and the sake of the world.   

Let’s be clear here. Temptation is no laughing, “The devil made me do it” matter. Temptation runs much deeper and is much more sinister than making a wrong choice, like swiping a few office materials from your place of work, or the road rage that often occurs during morning/evening rush-hour traffic. To be led into temptation is to be presented with an opportunity to deny who you are as created being, to deny who you are in relation to God your Maker. This is evident in the two most well known temptation narratives of the biblical record, which impart to the hearer both the fall and redemption of man.  

The devil’s tempting is of well-known origin: a man, a woman, God’s Word, a serpent, and a piece of fruit as the object lesson. We are told in the beginning that Adam and Eve were made in the image of God. “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” [Genesis 1:27]. Adam and Eve were created in the image of God. This was their relationship to God, that is, they were creatures of God. They were not gods, but human beings; they were the workmanship of the Triune God who willed from the very beginning to give life to that which had no life and to love that life unconditionally. God had given them everything that they needed to support their body and life. Yet one thing remained off limits as a sign of their obedience to God; the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. In this gifted-paradise Adam and Eve were the recipients of good and that was the blessed extent of their knowledge.   

Yet as the young earth and its stewards teemed with life and blessing, the tempter came and disrupted that which God had created to be very good. Amidst the Garden of Eden a beguiling serpent had germinated in man dissatisfaction with God’s perfect creation. Satan begins his assault by placing doubt in Eve’s mind as to the clearness of God’s Word. “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” [Genesis 3:1]. With his question, “Did God really say” Satan does what he does best, invites the creature to question the Creator’s intention and reliability. He doesn’t stop there either. He goes so far as to contradict God’s Word with the audacious assertion, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God knowing good and evil” [Genesis 3:4-5]. With such a statement Satan invites Eve to not just settle for merely being on the receiving end of God’s goodness and love, but to do all that is necessary to be like God, to know both good and evil. To be created in the image of God is to be God’s child; it is to live the vita passiva [the passive life]. To desire to be like God is to attempt to usurp God’s authority, and to take for oneself an authority which has not been given.     

Eve gives in to that terrible temptation. She relies on her sight, her experience, her feeling, her desire rather than the objective Word of God. She reasons that it is indeed a desirable thing to be wise, to be like God. And so she eats and she gives to Adam and he eats. And so, Adam and Eve’s coveting of equality with God led them to fall. This fall was from the lofty plateau of goodness, holiness, and life to the depths of evil, disobedience, and death. It was a drastic descent, a descent from the delights of paradise to the torments of sin’s prison. Paradise was lost, and death became the frightening “prize.” Destined unto death, the world and the flesh are now the devil’s chief advocates in his mission to forever separate you from the love and presence of your beloved Creator.

For you see, the Christian in this life, according to his heart, his flesh, and his mind, is a restless creature forever drawn back and forth by toil, troubles, cares, cravings, desires, and passions. Make no mistake about it, “the human conscience is the devil’s lethal playground. Tie your religiosity to matters of the heart, conscience, and what can be experienced from within, and you are flirting with spiritual disaster.”[2] Rest assured, in the day of affliction the devil will not fail to suggest to you that God has forsaken you and has in His mind to destroy you; after all, if God were for him, he would not be left in such agony. The devil’s plan is simply to stir up your discontented and frustrated human conscience so as to finally estrange you from your Creator. Even more so with you who delights in, and is enraptured with the Word of promise and salvation does the devil come with all his strength to lull you into a false security as he whispers in your ear: see how good and gracious God is toward you. You are in high favor with Him, you have no need to fear, to repent; take your ease, eat, drink, and be merry. To which God will reply, “Fool, this night your soul is required of you” [Luke 12:20]. Such is the way of temptation.     

What Adam failed to do Jesus does. Jesus is our new Adam. Still dripping wet from His baptism, and confirmed to be the Son in whom the Father is well pleased, Jesus is led into wilderness by the Spirit to be tempted by the devil. Jesus knows who He is. He knows that He has been sent by the Father to “fulfill all righteousness,” [Matthew 3:15] to be faithful where Adam was unfaithful, to be right where Adam was wrong, to be Life to all where Adam was death to all.   

As this cosmic battle ensues, the devil says to Jesus, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread” [Matthew 4:3]. This first temptation is the temptation of the flesh. Jesus had fasted now for forty days. He was hungry. He was starving. It’s hard to imagine. For we scrounge around kitchen even if we have had our three square meals. And so, in stark similarity to Adam, the devil tempted Jesus to take that which the Father had not given. The devil tempted Him to call into question the goodness of the Father who satisfies the desires of every living thing. And this was not the end of His satanic attacks. If the flesh is not weak perhaps the heart is. Jesus, “if you are the Son of God throw yourself down, for it is written ‘He will command his angels concerning you’” [Matthew 4:6]. In other words, put on a show for us Jesus. Show us, by way of power and special affects that you are truly the Son of God, after all you command heavenly hosts. Yet the Son did not come into the world to display to man His sheer power and supremacy over His creation, but to take the form of a servant, bearing in His body the shame and sin that man has heaped upon himself since the beginning of time, and by such suffering and death make right what had gone so very wrong.

Ok, Jesus, if the flesh and heart are not weak, perhaps you would like to exchange suffering of the cross with the glory of the kingdoms of this earth. “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Notice, the glory which the devil promises is given with strings attached. Not only that but devil is trying to give that which is not his to give, for the glory of heaven and earth belong to God alone. Such are the promises of the devil, false, conditional, and hollow. Jesus replies, “Be gone Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve’” [Matthew 4:10].

In the opening hymn we sang of our fall into sin by way of Adam’s fall. As a result of this drastic descent into sin’s prison now “one common sin infects us all. From one to all the curse descends, And over all God’s wrath impends.” We strove with Satan, and we lost. Thus, “many died through one man’s trespass.” Yet where we stumbled into sin, falling to the temptations of the evil one, “Christ, the second Adam, came To bear our sin and woe and shame, To be our life, our light our way, Our only hope, our only stay.” And so, in times of temptation we look not to that first Adam, to ourselves, but to the Second Adam who strove with Satan and won, who overcame sin, death and the grave, and rescued everyone. Indeed, “much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ.” Amen. Yes, Yes, It shall be so.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son+ and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.



[1] Martin Luther, quoted in Concordia The Lutheran Confessions: A Reader’s Edition of the Book of Concord, (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2005), 446

[2] Steven A. Hein, “Tentatio,” Logia 10 (Eastertide, 2001): 39.

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