In the name of the Father, and of the Son, X and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
It was not supposed to be this way from the beginning. God was supposed to be God, angels were supposed to be angels, and man was supposed to be man. It’s when angels and men want to be like God that things go bad. Satan was not content to serve. He wanted to be served. He was not content with the truth. He wanted to tell lies. And after his fall, he wanted to pervert and destroy all that God had made, especially the crown of creation.
That’s how it was in the Garden. “The serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made.” He was cunning enough to know what temptation would work. Adam and Eve were no longer content to be in the image of God. After the devil’s insinuation, they wanted to be gods.
Satan has been a student and teacher of sinful mankind ever since. He does not approach men and women when and where they are strong. He knows our fleshly weaknesses and he knows how to exploit our sinful inclinations. He does not show up on our doorsteps in red tights, horns, and a pitch fork so that you can recognize him and put up defenses. He shows up on the doorstep of our apathy, our laziness, our jealousies, our inflated expectations of others, and our ubiquitous pride. In most cases, we do recognize the hour of temptation. In some cases, thank God, we resist his temptations especially when it would mean embarrassment to ourselves and our loved ones. But when we think we can get away with it, or when we think we can justify it, or when we just don’t care about the consequences, we give into temptation and fall for his lies. We leave the sure word and promise of God to become slaves to sin.
But from the beginning God has always remained God. He has demonstrated His love and patience from before the foundation of the world. He knew what creation would cost Him and He created it anyway. He knew the depths of humility it would take to redeem fallen flesh and He went forward with it. He knew the lowly characters He would have to stoop to engage and He did it willingly. It would have to be Him who crushed the serpent’s head. but not before His heal was bruised.
From His birth in Bethlehem, He had to suffer at the hands of the devil and sinful men. He was born in a cattle shed, He was circumcised on the eighth day, He had to flee the irrational fear and destruction of Herod, He had to submit to the rearing of sinful parents. In His Baptism, He fulfilled all righteous by being baptized into our sin by a man not worthy to untie His sandals. And He was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to fast and be tempted by the devil. He was God, perfect, almighty. Satan was not His peer. Jesus had to stoop to the devil’s level, for the devil could not rise to His. The Creator denied Himself for the sake of sinful man, and subjected himself to temptation. Jesus’ humility showed forth when He hungered and endured the dirty, filthy lies of Satan in the wilderness. The bruising had started.
But it had to be this way. The new Adam had to endure what the old Adam failed to do. The temptations in the wilderness were a parallel to the temptation in the Garden. But where Adam and Eve failed, where they left the sure word of God for the lies of the devil, Jesus remained steadfast on the Word of God recorded in Holy Scripture. He knew that there was no way around being bruised. He couldn’t skip that step if He were to crush the serpent’s head. He would not be swayed by the temptations where any other man would have crumbled. The devil questions Jesus’ authority and power—“If you are the Son of God.”—you can almost hear the hiss.
But from an earthly perspective, wouldn’t one little proof shut the devil up forever? Couldn’t Jesus have just shown the devil His power and authority by making one little stone into bread, or by jumping down from the Temple unharmed, or by bowing the knee for just a second in order to win back all the nations of the earth? These are very small things to God. But no. They were all lies. The devil was trying to break Jesus free from His humanity, from His humility, from being bruised by sin and death. The devil wanted Jesus to leave the flesh to him and go off into heaven to be God. But Jesus would not. He would not stay in heaven and allow us to remain in slavery to sin. The new Adam, the greater Moses, came into our world to lead us out with a strong arm. The right arm of God would get Him the victory. But the right arm of God must be completely man. He must be like us in every way except without sin, even being susceptible to hunger and temptations of the devil.
The author of the book of Hebrews writes, “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. 16 For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. 17 Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. 18 For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” (Hebrews 2:14-18).
He is able to help you who are tempted. You who groan and languish in your sins. You who do no remain firm on the Word of God when presented with a sensual temptation from Satan. You who, according to the flesh are completely slaves to your sins, to the world, and to the devil.
Jesus has become a man. He is able to help. He, who came down out of heaven, has accomplished that for which He came. There was no easy fix. He had to be bruised. Bowing to Satan on that mountain would not have won you back. For that, He had to proceed to another mountain and bow His head in death. Your sins required it. And He paid it knowingly and willingly. He loved you enough to condescend into your death, to remove it’s sting from you. He loved you enough to deliver you from all sin, from all error, for all evil; and from everlasting death: by His baptism, fasting, and temptation, by His cross and passion, by His precious death and burial—He has helped you. In all time of your tribulation; in all time of your prosperity; in the hour of death, and in the day of judgment—He has helped you. (Litany)
The serpent’s head is crushed. He has become the Deliverer, the Redeemer, the Messiah. He was obedient to God in all things, even unto death. So when He called upon God, God answered Him; God delivered Him and honored Him. With long life God satisfied Him and showed Him salvation. (Ps. 91) And it’s that deliverance, that long life, that salvation that He grants to you, who are His. He doesn’t have to turn stones into bread. He is the true bread who condescended from heaven. His body is true food, and His blood is true drink for those of you who thirst and hunger in this wilderness. He descended from heaven in order to elevate you. And the reason you draw strength from His ascension back into heaven, is because He has blazed the trail that you too, one day, will follow. When you partake of the sacrament of the altar this morning, you are gaining strength to resist temptation in this world and preparing for the journey of into the world to come. Christ, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, have mercy.
In Jesus’ X Name. Amen.