Lent 1 (A), March 9, 2014
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
“These things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.” [John 20:31]
I chose our text this morning as a guide for examining the message that’s communicated in all three of our readings. What is that message? God wants good for His children; He wants you to have a “good” and eternal life in and with Him!
How could God who alone is good, desire any thing but good for us? In the first two chapters of Genesis we learn all about God’s goodness. Each time He completed a stage of creation we hear… and it was good! Like the comforting purr of a kitten the word good is repeated over and over. But on the sixth day, the last day of creation, God created something good that would reflect His goodness and love to the rest of creation, but it also would give the devil an opportunity to strike out at God. “God said, “Let us make man in our own image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” [Genesis 1:26]
“And God said (to Adam and Eve), “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of lie, I have given every green plant for food.” [Genesis 1:29, 30]
“The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden to work it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” [Genesis 2:15-17]
The Garden of Eden, Paradise, eternal life with God the creator, the land of milk and honey, was a perfect place for perfect people. All of God’s good creation existed within His perfection; it was the perfect picture of peace. When God created man is His image, in essence He was creating a people who also had the power to create; that is man was created as a rational being who could conceive an idea and then work towards its conception and completion. Man alone was the one creature that God gave full charge over the rest of creation. In essence, God was telling Adam and Eve that they would be His ambassadors to the rest of creation. All of creation was their’s to manage and put to use; all except one tree, “the tree of Knowledge of good and evil.” That tree was to represent God’s presence or authority over man and the creation that He had given them to be stewards over.
Now we must not misunderstand the significance of this one tree. It was not as if God created man and then said, “I’m leaving, but that tree will remind you of my love and the good times we had together.” No, God was no absentee father and man was not a latch key kid! After all, scripture clearly says that man and God walked together in the garden in the coolness of the day, and man was not afraid. Man knew God and loved Him. The tree instead represented the otherness of God. It reminded man that while they were as god to creation, they were not God!
Martin Luther called the tree of the knowledge of good and evil “Adam’s Altar”. I like that idea. There at the tree Adam and Eve could return to God the true worship He was due as an act of obedience. But this was just the opportunity that the devil would exploit. You see, Satan was craftier than all of creation, including man! The devil, disguised as a serpent began to craft innocent questions in order to create thoughts that then caused doubts in the minds of Adam and Eve, doubts in regards to the truthfulness of God’s Word. “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?’”
How Eve should have answered the devil was, “No, God never said that. Why do you question His Word?” But instead, Eve replied the truth of God’s command, but then she added a little something to it. “God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the garden.’” But now listen to what she added, ‘neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” Now, Eve has demonstrated her weak spot so to speak, the kink in her full armor of God. I believe that she was attracted by the beauty and splendor of the fruit. And the rest as they say is history, the history of the fall of all of creation. But where pray tell was her husband? He, who was her spiritual head, was right there with her and never once did he intervene by rebuking the attack of the devil.
So there you have it, the loss of paradise. A perfect home for perfect people, enjoying the love of a perfect Father, undone by a carefully crafted lie, “You will not surely die.” Now Adam and Eve knew shame. Their shame was not their nakedness but the nakedness of their sin before their perfect Father. They no longer went out to meet their Creator God joyfully, but hid as he approached. They knew that their loving Creator-Father had now become their judge! And once found out, neither of them accepted responsibility for their sin, but instead they began making excuses and shifted blame to each other and even onto God Himself!
But Satan’s trick and our sin would not win the day. God’s love would not let them go; He would not give them up. God would not abandon them in their guilt. He would send a Savior who would come and crush the power of sin and the devil forever.
“You ask who this may be? The Lord of hosts is He, Christ Jesus mighty Lord, God’s only Son adored. He holds the field victorious.” [LSB 657 vs. 2b]
In our Gospel reading, Jesus the Son of God and the Son of man performs perfectly the task that Adam could not accomplish; He defeats the devil. Armed with only the Word of God, Jesus led by the Spirit of God entered the wilderness to right the wrong of Adam and undo the sin of our first parents. His victory over the devil using only the true Word of God is also our victory, as He sends the devil running. His righteousness becomes our righteousness by faith. Just as in the garden, the battle being fought is really over obedience to God’s will, which is communicated in His Word.
As Satan addressed Jesus, he used the same tricks that Eve fell to. Through deception, He attempted to plant doubts and half-truths, and then finally blatant lies in order to attack and already weakened Jesus. But this was Jesus, the Christ, and the Son of God who enters the fray as your Champion. Notice the decisive and bold stand that Jesus takes in our place: “Be gone, Satan!” For it is written, “You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve.’”
Dear friends, the truth is that all of Satan’s attacks were meant to deter Jesus from His Divine appointment to become our Savior. The devil tried every trick in the book to prevent Jesus from doing what Adam could not. And now, the devil tries the same thing against us. Think of how most temptations still come to us today: “If you are really God’s forgiven child then why do you still struggle with guilt and sin? If you are truly a Christian, blessed by God, why are you experiencing all of this trouble, pain, and loss?”
Dear friends, Jesus knows what it is like to fight off questions about God’s truthfulness, which undermine the message about His forgiving love. He knows how the devil tempts us to take short cuts as a way of getting to our treasured goal. He knows what we all go through in those tough times of life when our baptism seems so long ago and far away. He knows what is like to doubt the trustworthiness of our Heavenly Father. And that is why Jesus wielded the sword of God’s Word against the devil. He did it to crush him and send him running in defeat, a defeat for you!
“Though hordes of devils fill the land all threatening to devour us, we tremble not, unmoved we stand; they cannot over power us. Let this world’s tyrant rage; in battle we’ll engage. His might is doomed to fail; God’s judgment must prevail! One little word subdues him.” [LSB 657 Vs. 3]
What is that little Word? Jesus! God Saves! It is the name of Jesus that is your fortress. Blessed is the name of the Lord. The name of the Lord is a strong tower. The righteous run into it, (that is they cling to their Savior Jesus by faith), and are safe. [Proverbs 18:10]
Through Jesus alone, the pattern of death begun by Adam is over. [Romans 5:12–19] Jesus is that seed of the woman who would smash the head of our enemies: sin, death, and the devil. Upon the cross, that ancient serpent shrieked when he heard the last Words of our Savior: “It is finished. Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” For Jesus, these are Words of victory, but for us, they are words that bring faith. Words that assure us the battle is over and won!
Just as Adam’s one sin led to death for all of mankind, so also Christ’s obedient death and then resurrection, brought justification and new life to all who are baptized in His name and continually flee to the fortress of His Word and His cross in repentance and receive God’s forgiving love.
What an unspeakable gift God has given us through Jesus Christ! It is literally paradise restored. As God’s new people sealed by baptism into Christ, we can once again walk with God without fear. We can look forward to the day when we die in faith and are welcomed back to Eden restored, where our Savior has gone to prepare a place just for us.
But for now we live and walk by faith. And as we live, it’s God’s will that we would drink up every one of His promises that declare, “He who began the good work in us” will complete it through the new and greater Adam, Jesus Christ. We declare boldly by faith to our enemies, that no one, not even the devils can snatch us out of the Father’s hand or the Son’s abundant gift of grace.
“God’s Word forever shall abide. No thanks to foes, who fear it; for God Himself fights by our side with weapons of the Spirit. Were they to take our house, goods, honor, child, or spouse, though life be wrenched away, they cannot win the day. The Kingdom’s ours forever!” [LSB 657 vs.4]
So follow Jesus. The fortress awaits and paradise is restored! AMEN!