St. Matthew 4:1-11
March 5, 2017 A+D
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The outcome of Our Lord’s battle in the desert was predetermined. The devil could not win. He could not trick Jesus into sinning. In this, the Second Adam is unlike the first. The first Adam could and did sin, but not Jesus. He could not sin because His humanity never existed apart from His Divinity and His Divinity penetrated all of His humanity.
So it was not a close fight, there was no nail biting angels on the edge of their seats. Jesus was clearly the stronger being. There was war in heaven and the devil never had a chance. He then brought that war to earth, but he never had a chance here either. The battle in the desert between man and the devil was not a fair fight. The devil could not win.
But before that battle, there was a bit of treachery in the garden. The devil brought his war to earth and sought allies in the garden. Adam had all that he needed to fend off the devil. He was not hungry. He was not tired. The sun was not in his eyes. But more than that – he had God’s Word and promise. He has fellowship with the Holy Trinity. And he had a loving wife, a helpmeet who made creation finally good.
Adam failed to protect and provide for that wife. He failed to love that Trinity. And he failed to listen to God’s Word. Instead, he decided that he would like to know what evil was, to experience it, and he signed up for the devil’s army. He joined our cause and our race to the demons. He thought this would make him like God, but of course it didn’t. It made him like the devil. And the devil can’t win. The devil has no power against God, so neither did Adam, and he found himself full of misery, apart from God, a being destined in his weakness for death, at war not only with God, but at war with all of creation. The orcs in Sauron’s army are not nice to one another. They make no sacrifices for one another. They have no honor. So also in the true dark lord’s army.
So Adam couldn’t even love or enjoy his wife any more. She wasn’t his helpmeet. She was his enemy. He couldn’t enjoy any of the food in the garden nor his own body. To be at enmity with God is to be at enmity with oneself, with all the universe. It is to be alone.
But a strange thing happened, a mystery as great as the Trinity or the Incarnation. God did not destroy Adam and Eve and start over. He did not declare Himself to be at war with Adam even though Adam had declared war on Him. Nor did He allow Adam and Eve to stay on the devil’s side of this war. He came seeking them. They had changed. He had not. He still loved them and still wanted them to have dominion over the earth. Even in their falleness and rebellion, they were the crown of creation, and He would not battle against them but instead would reconcile Himself to them.
Adam hid for fear. He thought God had come to destroy him, but He hadn’t. He had come to talk to him and in that talk to reconcile Himself to him. God would not let the devil win. He would win back that which was His by right. He would pay the double price and thus did He place enmity between humanity and the devil, not simply the infighting of Sauron’s army, but He made us and the demons the most bitter of enemies. And He made Himself Adam’s kinsman, advocate, and redeemer. As the devil had sought to get Adam to join his cause, so the Lord got not Adam to join His but instead joined Himself to Adam’s cause. Much as Adam had joined himself to Satan’s, and as Adam became like Satan, so God would become like Adam, bearing Adam’s shame and Adam’s sorrow and Adam’s death, so that in Him Adam would become like God and would know good and evil in a way that not even the holy angels do. For Adam would be the beneficiary of the greatest good, the greatest love: forgiveness and restoration. Thus did God place Himself between humanity and Hell. He, who is holy, would be declared guilty and sin. He, who is immortal, would die for this cause. And He who is life would rise again to usher in a new age, a new heaven and a new earth, and a new intimacy with humanity, making them, making us, more than they were in the garden, more than the lords of creation, making them, making us, even His own dear Bride.
That is why He suffers in the desert. It was a real temptation and actually quite a bit more difficult and painful than that which we endure because He couldn’t sin. We are still infected with Adam’s inherited sin. We still remember when we thought the devil might be our friend. We know no such thing as temptation without desire. We can’t be tempted without participating. Even when, by the power and grace of the Holy Spirit, we resist temptation and do not carry things out in an outward way, we still sin in our hearts – like Eve considering the possibility that God’s Word wasn’t trustworthy. We don’t say a piece of chocolate cake is tempting if it is moldy and has cheese whiz and ketchup and mayonnaise smeared on it. We only say that something is tempting if it is attractive.
But for Jesus it is different. He is pure as His Father is pure. He has no guile or malice. He is not selfish or concerned for His own pleasure. He is not trying to get a good deal or keep Himself from being taken advantage of or cheated. He is here to suffer and to crush the devil’s head. He doesn’t participate in the devil’s propositions. He doesn’t imagine what it would be like to have the angels sweep Him up and the look of defeat on the devil’s face as He is proved to be the Son of God. He has nothing to prove. He has only things to suffer. That actually makes it worse that what we endure in temptation. He suffers the shame of these things without any pleasure or any expectation of a reward. He is dirtied by the devil’s suggestions and company. He is hungry and tired and denies Himself His Divine rights and attributes for the purpose of being hurt, of being corrupted, or being shamed.
Worst of all, in a sense, is that this is His Father’s will. There is no getting out of it. The Holy Spirit expelled Him from the city for this very purpose. He is scapegoat with our sins on Him. He is the Passover offered up to spare us death. He is the victim, the guilt-offering and the bloody cost of peace, and we are the beneficiaries.
So the devil can’t win, but neither can he help himself. He knows, at some level, that he is going to lose, that the Lord is fulfilling His promises. The devil has no joy in his army, no satisfaction when someone is trapped. Nobody respects him or seeks his counsel. He didn’t enjoy Adam’s fall and he doesn’t enjoy our failures. He thinks that he will, but he never does. He is driven not by pursuit of pleasure, but simply by hatred. He hates God and he hates us. He is at enmity with you. He wanted to drag us down with him, perhaps because he was jealous, and now that jealousy is amplified a thousand-fold for God has joined Himself to us against him.
He can’t win, but neither can he resist. He gets a chance to hurt God and he takes it. It is useless and vain for his purpose, counterproductive for he is actually assisting the Lord in His working out the salvation of the world. By inflicting on the Lord the sorrows and suffering that should be inflicted upon us who tried to join his rebellion, he actually moves God’s plan and our glory forward. Thus the tempter is tempted, trapped by his own lust, and like a man blind with rage he bangs his head against a stone wall.
The outcome of the battle was never in doubt because God’s love for you was never in doubt. His temptation and victory over the devil count for us. We are spared because He was damned. We are counted as holy because He did not sin. We will rise again to life because He has burst the doors of death’s prison and opened heaven.
Matthew calmly reports that the devil left Jesus, but that is big news. The left Him. And if the devil left Him then the devil has left us and there is no one left to accuse us.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.