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LSB Lent 1A Sermon – Matthew 4:1-11

March 17, 2014

March 9, 2014 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil…. Then the devil left Him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to Him.” 

Charles Dickens wrote A Tale of Two Cities. Today, you heard a Tale of Two Men. But in this case, the tale is more than just a fine work of historical fiction. The subject matter dealt with this morning is not about the Jacobin Reign of Terror in 18th Century France. No, you’ve heard about much worse: the Reign of Terror that Satan, sin, and death bring upon humanity. But you have also heard about how one Man begins to restore the Reign of Grace. Put into your hearing is a description of “the best of times and the worst of times” for all humanity.

The Church has reached the first full week of the season that focuses on Jesus’ journey towards the moment of the world’s redemption. On this First Sunday in Lent, you see Him square off with the one who helped to hurl humanity into the throes of condemnation. It is the replaying of the struggle that a man totally lost at the beginning of time. But in the fullness of time, another Man reverses the results, emerging victorious where His earthly ancestor fell short.

That is what you heard described in all three readings for this day. The Old Testament Reading from Genesis retold the tale of the first man: you heard of Adam and his failure. But in the Gospel Reading is the tale of the Second Man: you heard of Jesus and His victory. And in the Epistle Reading, you heard the answer to the most Lutheran of questions: What does this mean? The answer to that forms the heart of the matter. So think about what each of the readings today tell you, for it is essential to who you are as Christians. What you heard is your tale, too.

The reading from Genesis spoke about humanity that was determined to be like God, to take what was not rightly theirs. Recall what the Serpent told the woman after convincing her that the LORD’s command was false: “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.” Spurred on by covetousness and envy, Eve acts: “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate….”

But not only does the woman do this, the man acts in the same way: “she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.” In that moment, Paradise was lost. At that moment in time, in the middle of nascent creation, humanity lost its greatest possession: the image of God and unblemished nature. Mankind forfeited its place as pinnacle of creation, as the Lord Chancellor of the world trades his status for a bite of forbidden fruit. Like all subordinate employees, the Steward of Eden is dismissed. But when the LORD dismisses Adam, it’s more than just giving someone a pink slip. A divine curse is spoken: “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

Lest you think this just a problem of the past, listen to the commentary about what this curse brought: “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.”  The sin of Adam is your problem, because it is your inheritance. Your father forfeited what was valuable. But he left a legacy: he has passed down rubbish through the generations.

But the matter is even worse than that. Hear again the commentary: “Death spread to all men because all have sinned.” Not only have you received a legacy of sin, you have added to it. By your fault, your own fault, your own most grievous fault, you have taken the path to death itself. You have willingly placed yourselves under Satan’s Reign of Terror, as you have broken the Divine Law. In the tale of mankind, this is truly the worst of times.

But the Divine Author, a most reliable narrator, provides another detail in this tale of mankind: Adam is a type of the One who was to come. The episode of Adam in Eden foreshadows another chapter in the story. It is a Tale of Two Men. These two men differ in quality and character. They vary in aptitude and action. Adam gives a pattern of what the Second Man will be like, but it is a reverse pattern. The Second Man does the opposite of what the first one did.

That is what you heard in the Gospel Reading. The Gospel Writer told you: “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil….” But despite this temptation, no laws are broken. There is no failure, no sin here. The tempter brings doubt into the situation: “Did God say? Didn’t God say?” He asks both questions of Jesus: “Do you really believe what the LORD said? Don’t you want what you don’t have now?” They are Satan’s favorite questions, the ones that tripped up both Adam and Eve, that continue to ensnare you even today.

But such ensnaring and tripping does not happen for the Second Man. Jesus knows the divine will and gladly obeys it. Not only does He keep the commands, but understanding what the laws and ordinances require, Jesus wields them as a sword to cut through the knots that the tempter weaves. So when He acts, there is no loss of the divine image, no forfeiture of status, no squandering of possessions. This Son of God takes humanity back up to the level it had lost in Paradise.

That is the significance of Jesus’ Temptation in the wilderness. The importance is not found only in Jesus’ lack of sin. The event is greater than a historical incident of Jesus’ standing tall in the face of temptation. Today goes beyond more than speaking about a long-ago struggle with ancient characters and even more ancient results. Hear again the commentary: “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.”

You have been told that what Jesus achieved in the wilderness was passed down to you. But this is no worthless inheritance. You weren’t given a deed to a ramshackle house or a dry well or an unproductive mine. That’s what Adam’s legacy and what your forefathers passed down to you was like. But you have received a great inheritance through Jesus: “The free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification.” 

The LORD’s declaration of righteousness: that is what you have received from Jesus. It is yours, because you have been given a change in parentage. Listening to the accounts of Jesus’ Baptism and Transfiguration, you heard the LORD’s statement about Jesus: “This is My beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.” Through your divine adoption that took place in Holy Baptism, you have been joined to Jesus, joined in His death and resurrection. Now what the Eternal Father says about His Eternal Son is what He says about you. But this has been made possible through what Jesus did in the event you heard about today. Temptation was faced by Jesus, but He does not succumb. He continues to live up to the divine will, His own will.

So what the Father says—“This is My beloved Son with whom I am well pleased”—accurately describes Jesus. And now that statement accurately describes you. It even accurately describes Adam and your forefathers who placed their hope and trust in what Jesus has done. “The free gift” is the end result of Jesus’ work—His life, death, and resurrection that were not free to Him. It is the effect of Jesus’ rebuffing Satan’s temptations and refusing to follow them into sin. What happened in the wilderness is a step in Jesus’ fulfilling the divine promise spoken by the LORD in shattered Eden: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.” 

Jesus takes the Scriptures that express the divine will and wallops Satan across the forehead and against the temple. The first salvo in the last battle between the Promised Offspring and the Serpent results in victory for righteousness. And so He says in that wilderness: “Be gone, Satan!” And in those words, the Second Man, the One who did not fall into sin, begins His dismissal of Satan: “Away with you! You are not My master. You do not have dominion over Me.”

But this is not just Jesus’ sending the devil away from Him; it is beginning of His dismissing the Tempter from you: “Away with you! Not only do you have no power over Me, your grip over mankind is being broken. Your deception, your attacks, your Reign of Terror will all come to an end. I have come to overthrow it and liberate the offspring of Eve from slavery. I have come to crush your head to bring that deliverance to mankind. It will be so, as I offer Myself as a perfect atonement for their sin. It will be so, as I prove victorious over the curse of death, even taking the condemned humanity who die and turn to dust and raising them in an eternal resurrection.”

What you see in these two episodes—the Tale of Two Men—is that the worst of times becomes the best of times: “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. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification.” No longer is turning to dust the final destination of your lives. No longer are you cursed to wander in the wilderness, barred from Paradise. No longer is the image of God permanently lost from you. All this is changed, because the Second Man Jesus has acted righteously, leading to your justification and life. By Adam’s disobedience, you were made imperfect. But through Jesus’ obedience, you have been made righteous.

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

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