Sermon for the First Sunday in Lent, 2017 (Year A)
Text: Matthew 4:1–11, Genesis 3:1–21
Grace, mercy, and peace be unto you from God the Father and Jesus Christ our Lord.
The first Sunday in Lent teaches us much about the place of God’s Word in our lives and it does so through the context of temptations. The lectionary places before us today the contrasting accounts of two temptations. Adam is tempted in Paradise, and Christ is tempted in the wilderness. It is remarkable how these two archetypal temptation narratives both circle around God’s Word. As we go through this season of Lent, considering the place of prayer and devotions in the Christian’s life, we really are looking at piety, or what many today would call spirituality. The temptation accounts alert us to the importance of the proper place of God’s Word in our lives, or in other words to the proper piety.
The distinction between Adam and Jesus or the Old Man and the New Man is not as simple as one broke the commandment and one kept it. Adam’s fall is a lapse of proper piety. Adam approaches God’s Word with a lack of trust, which leads to terror and disdain for God’s Word. Jesus, on the other hand, faces temptation with complete trust in God’s Word and therefore He has no fear.
This is important for us because the devil comes to us just as certainly as he came to Adam and Jesus and his method is the same. He quite frequently tempts us with God’s Word. Thererfore it is important for us to learn how to handle the Word of Truth, so that we are not misled by Satan’s lies.
We see Adam’s lack of trust in God’s Word when the devil causes him to doubt it.
“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 3:4b–5; ESV).
Rather than hold on to God’s Word by which God communicates Himself, Adam tries to reach into heaven and steal divinity from Him. Adam looks at God’s Word as something that keeps him from reaching his full potential. He wanted to determine what was right and wrong, good and evil. Don’t try to deny that you have done the same. It’s not really stealing if nobody is going to miss it. God’s says not to commit adultery, but if we really love each other what’s it going to hurt? God wants to give me His gifts in Church, but I think I’ll get more relaxation out of fishing next Sunday. It’s not really hatred if they earned my anger. And if you really think you don’t give in to these sorts of temptations, we should really have a talk.
Now we recognize that Adam failed in how He handled God’s Word that day when Satan tempted him. And I think most of us can look back and honestly find places in our lives where we have done the same thing, but it is the second response that I think has the most to teach us and actually contrasts more starkly with Jesus’ actions. That is the response to God’s Word when He comes walking in the garden.
Now I want to take a moment to address how we think about this scene in scripture, because it will be repeated. This is the scene of judgment day. God approaches and what does Adam do? The man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. Why? Adam says, “I heard the sound of you walking in the garden and I was afraid;” (Genesis 3:8, 10; ESV).
Compare Adam’s actions with this passage from Revelation 6:
When he opened the sixth seal, I looked, and behold, there was a great earthquake, and the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood, and the stars of the sky fell to the earth as the fig tree sheds its winter fruit when shaken by a gale. The sky vanished like a scroll that is being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and powerful, and everyone. slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us form the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?” (Revelation 6:12–17).
When God comes to Adam, Adam is fearful; he knows the Word that he disobeyed will now condemn him. He knows the wages of his sin is death, so he hides. Like those at the final judgment who have lived against God’s Word, Adam seeks to hide from the wrath of God. First he hides among the trees. Then when he is called out by God and is compelled to show himself, he continues his attempt at hiding.
“Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?”
“The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.” (Genesis 3:11,12; ESV).
Even sinful man desires to be just. Everyone wants to be righteous. We seek a righteousness in ourselves. Even when our sin weighs down heavy upon us, perhaps most so then, we look for ways to shift the blame. We pull others down into the mud with us in the hope that we can walk out of the swamp on their backs. Adam does this to Eve and he does it to God. The wife for whom he should have laid down his life in atonement he blames for his sin, and he even accuses God for giving her to him.
Adam’s prayer on this Day of Judgment is, “It’s not my fault!”
This is not proper piety. It is not a spirituality that loves God and trusts in His Word. First, Adam says God’s Word does not apply to me, then he becomes fearful because his conscience knows that it does. The same Word of God that he rejected now stands in condemnation over him. But finally, in his attempt to justify himself, Adam belittle the Word, claiming that it is not just because his sin is the result of the actions of others.
Contrast this to how Christ handles the Word of God in the face of temptation. Three times Satan tempts Jesus and three times Jesus is able to see through the deception because he holds God’s Word close in his heart. Where Adam grasped for divinity, Jesus, being in nature God did not consider equality with God something to be grasped. Not only that but He did not consider bread something to be grasped. He trusted God to provide, knowing that Man does not live by bread alone, but by every Word that comes from the mouth of God.
Then because he trusts in God’s Word, Jesus did not ask for proof from God. He did not need the angels to appear and catch His fall because He trusted God to send them when He needed. And Indeed God sent the angels to minister to Christ when Satan departs..
Perfect trust leads to perfect confidence and a life that revolves around God’s Word. So when I urge you to set aside time for meditating on Scripture and praye,r whether it is Sunday morning at Church or daily in your home (both are important for Christians), I am simply urging you to live as the creature of God’s Word that you are. This was Christ’s piety and it is the model for every Christian. But it is not the final lesson from our readings.
It’s not a matter of being less like Adam and more like Jesus. You are part of the body that follows the head. Where Adam falls there you lie crushed and fearful of God. Just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, even so death spread to all men because all sinned (Romans 5:12). You are Adam’s offspring; that is why Wednesday night you heard the same words as he did, “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
The error that Satan will tempt you towards today is believing that God’s Word is given for a different purpose than it is. God’s Word was given to Adam not to make him righteous, but to keep him righteous. He was made in God’s image, but the devil deceived him into thinking that being like God was something that He could grasp. How many people read of the temptation of Christ and see how He is victorious over Satan’s temptations only to be deceived by Satan into thinking that this Word of God is given to us to teach us how to grasp equality with God. Just be more like Jesus and you won’t give into sin. Just read the Bible harder and you will trust it more and not be tempted to take short cuts. Learn Scripture and you will be able to know when to ask God to send His angels to protect you and when that would be a test. You would never give into idolatry if you read the scriptures more. Those statements, believe it or not, are what the devil would have you learn from Christ’s temptation. Because as soon as the devil teaches you to read Jesus’ triumph as a lesson for how to earn your own triumph, the devil will have blinded you to the fact that Jesus’ triumph is your triumph. For by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous (Romans 5:19). To separate the perfect life of Christ from the atoning death of Christ for you is to have two Christ’s. One who coaches you on your way to salvation and one who makes atonement for your sin. The devil will direct you to the Jesus that only gives you an example. No, Christ’s victorious defeat of the devil who tempts Him is part of His victorious defeat of Satan who accuses you of not being pious enough.
So you do not need to make yourself more like Jesus, because Jesus makes you righteous by giving you His righteousness. Christ is your new head. Where He has gone, you will go. For now you live in the tension of being both the offspring of Adam and a New Creation in Christ. There will be times when you misuse God’s Word. When you recognize those experiences, you should turn away. For you are no longer counted as the Old Man, why should you return to his ways? And there will be times you find yourself delighting in God’s Word and treasuring it and using it in defense of the devil’s attacks. You should know that this is Christ working in you. Read the Scripture, pray to God, intercede for your neighbor, love your spouse, meditate day and night on God’s Word. But do so as one who is living in the gift of having a sure place in God’s Kingdom for Christ’s sake and not as one trying to take for yourself what only God can give.
Proper piety, true spirituality, is a gift to be received and treasured. If you do not think you have it, ask and it shall be given to you.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Soli Deo Gloria