In the beginning of the Old Testament we find the temptation of the first man, Adam. In the beginning of the New Testament we find the temptation of the second Adam, Jesus. Adam and Jesus are the only two men in human history to be without sin. They are the only examples of what it means to be truly human, as God intended. We often say, “Everyone makes mistakes, after all, we’re only human.” But this is not quite true. We are not truly human as God created us; we are fallen and corrupted distortions of humanity. To be truly human is to be without sin. Man was made in the perfect, sinless image of God, and Adam and Jesus are the only examples of this. They are the only true men.
To each of these men came the tempter, that crafty and ancient serpent. He came to sow the seeds of doubt and distrust in God and his Word. He came, as he always does, to kill, steal, and destroy. He came asking questions: “Did God really say?” There are some striking parallels between the two temptations that we should consider: Both are about food, which seems out of place as a subject when the fate of humanity hangs in the balance. Food? But Satan knows that we are spiritual and physical beings. We have physical needs – to eat, drink, and sleep – and he hopes to use these things to cause us to doubt our heavenly Father. “Did God really say he will give your daily bread? Can you trust him to keep his word? You need to take matters into your own hands. Adam, take and eat from the forbidden tree. Jesus, turn these rocks into bread.” Consider also the circumstances: Adam was in Paradise. Jesus was in the desert. Adam was surrounded by luscious fruit hanging from every tree. He lacked nothing. Jesus had not eaten for forty days and nights. He was, as Matthew tells us, hungry. Adam had every physical advantage to aid him in his struggle against the devil. Jesus had none.
Satan came to Adam asking the same question he asks you today, “Did God really say?” In the previous chapter of Genesis, the Lord God said to Adam, “The day you eat from that tree you will surely die” (Gen 2:17). “Did God really say that? What kind of God would punish sinners with death? That doesn’t sound very loving to me. Adam, what does your heart tell you? Let’s take a vote to decide if the Word of God is true.” And they did. It was 3 to 1 – Adam, Eve, and the snake against God’s Word.
Satan came to Jesus asking the same question he asks you today, “Did God really say?” In the previous chapter of Matthew, the Lord God said to Jesus at his baptism, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Mt 3:17). “Did God really say that? What kind of Father would allow his Son to go forty days in the desert without food? That doesn’t sound very loving to me. Jesus, prove to me that you are the Son of God. Give me some better evidence than his Word. Turn these rocks into bread!”
How does Jesus answer the devil’s questions? “It is written!” Jesus doesn’t try to use human logic and reason to argue with the devil. He doesn’t say, “My heart tells me that I am the Son of God.” If you play cards with the devil, you’ll always lose. He’s too cunning. The old evil foe means deadly woe; Deep guile and great might are his dread arms in fight. On earth is not his equal. The only answer for the devil and his lying questions is the Word of God. “It is written!” God’s Word is our great heritage and shall be ours forever. One of our elders said to me last week, “If we lose the Word of God, then we have nothing.” He is absolutely right. “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Mt 4:4).
Do you believe that? Every word that comes from the mouth of God? Or is it “some of the words”? The words that I like. The words that don’t call me to repentance. The words that my sinful heart agrees with. In catechism class last week, I asked my students to list the top three evil things in the universe. They suggested, Al Capone, Emperor Palpatine from Star Wars, and Hitler. Very, very wicked – everyone would agree. And then I told them, “Take your list, and move all of those wicked people down a notch to make room for the most wicked thing in the universe – the human heart.” The Bible tells us that the heart is deceitfully wicked above all things (Jer 17:9). With that in mind, consider how often this wicked world tells you to trust your heart. It’s in our curriculums, in our self-help books, even in our movies. “Follow your heart. Trust your feelings, Luke. Listen to the voice within you.”
Look at all the death and destruction that surrounds us. Every news cycle seems to be worse than the one before. Why is the world so messed up? Why is it filled with broken promises, broken marriages, broken people? Because our father Adam trusted his heart instead of the Word of God. Because he listened to the devil’s evil questioning. Because he reasoned, “Why would God tell us not to eat from this tree? It doesn’t make sense. Obviously, it’s good for food. It’s very beautiful to look at. And it will make me wise. Three great reasons to ignore God’s Word.” And we can easily apply that same thinking to any sin that we happen to enjoy. “Take. Eat,” Satan said. And Adam did, and we with him, plunging the world into darkness.
And what did God do? He could have washed his hands of the whole sinful mess. He could have, with a single world, extinguished all of creation and started over. But he didn’t. Instead, he promised on that very day to rescue us from our fallen state. He promised to become a man and live, suffer, and die among us. He promised to undo the curse of sin and crush the serpent’s head beneath his feet. He promised to meet Satan, not in the original paradise that he had created, but in the barren wilderness that we had made of it, and to answer the devil’s temptations with the words we had failed to say, “It is written.” Three times Jesus said these words, answering Satan’s lies with the Word of truth, until that old serpent was forced to slither away in defeat. In this way Jesus is our example. He shows us how to answer the devil. But more importantly, he is our substitute. He resisted every temptation for us, and as the representative of all humanity, his victory over the serpent is our victory.
You were there in the Garden, yet unborn in Adam’s body, participating in his act of original sin. And in the same way, through baptism, you are joined to Christ’s body, and his act of original righteousness. Just as surely as Adam represented you in death, so Jesus is your representative in life. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one man shall many be made righteous (Rom 5:19). “Take. Eat,” Satan said, “You will become as God.” But our God says to us, “Take. Eat. I have become man. This is my Body broken for you.” Jesus knows what it is like to suffer. He knows what it is like to be tempted, for he was tempted in every way, just as we are, yet was without sin (Heb 4:15). And so, today, in place of the forbidden bread which Adam took for himself, Jesus gives his own body, the Bread of Life. The curse that sprang from the forbidden tree was broken when Jesus became a curse upon the tree of his cross. And the temptations of Satan that no other man could answer, Jesus answered with the words, “It is written.” May the Holy Spirit keep these words at the center of our hearts and minds, for they are our only lasting treasure. Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God. Amen