Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Who had it worse? Which temptation do you think was the harder, Adam or Jesus? The temptation of Christ was more difficult, inexpressibly more difficult than the temptation of Adam. Adam had it all: a home that was literally paradise, the best looking woman in the entire world, all his needs and wants cared for and fulfilled. Jesus, on the other hand, was not in a paradise, but a barren and arid wilderness. Jesus had no one else with him, he was completely alone. He didn’t have a garden with plenty of food close at hand, he hadn’t ate food for forty day and forty nights. Satan came to Adam when everything was good and perfect. Satan came to Christ when he was weak, lonely, and hungry.
But one thing they did have in common is the way Satan attacked. God speaks His words. Are they to be trusted or not? That is the only question that ultimately matters. Adam heard God’s words. He knew that God had placed that one tree in quarantine. Adam knew that death was the penalty for disobedience. But, Satan, always the cunning liar, planted doubt about what God had said: “Has God said?” (Gen. 3:1). Doubt moves aside for a bald-faced lie: “You shall not surely die.” And then come the empty promises: “the day you eat of it, then your eyes shall be opened and you shall be as God, knowing good and evil.” (Gen. 3:4-5). Who will be believed? Adam and Eve chose to believe the Serpent instead of the Almighty God.
Of course, their God and Creator did not lie. They, indeed, did die, and plunged us, right along with them, into the depths of rebellion, sin, and death. But along with the curses came a promise – the promise of the Seed of the Woman who would crush the head of the Serpent. The Devil has haunted humanity ever since, enticing us to doubt God’s Word and put our trust in anything and everything but the one Creator God. When we finally come to our Gospel reading, we see that the more things change the more they stay the same. Upon the scene comes the long-expected Messiah, the promised Seed, the Virgin-Born Son of God. And the same old cunning serpent shows up, with his same old bag of tricks. He tries to sow doubt. Satan thinks that he can lure any man to distrust God, so why not this man? Where Adam failed, will Jesus prove victorious?
He Didn’t Doubt His Divine Identity
The first thing we see is that Jesus did not doubt his own Divine Identity. That is what Satan attacks first. A mere forty days earlier Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan River. There, God the Father had declared, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Mt. 3:17). The Devil began the temptation in the exact same way he did with Eve: by questioning, by trying to plant doubts. He attempts to cast doubt on Jesus’ true divinity. “How do you know you’re really the God’s Beloved Son? If you’re the Son of God, then why are you so hungry? There’s no reason that the Son of God should suffer physical hunger. But, you could prove it to yourself by simply turning those stones into bread. For surely all it takes is a word, if you are in fact God’s Son.”
Jesus sees through the trap. He answers with the Bible and with God. Jesus’ quotes Deuteronomy (8:3) “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.” Food is necessary for life, but not sufficient to sustain life. Life also requires listening to God’s Word. Jesus is committed to living off God’s word; to trusting God completely. By quoting the passage, Jesus demonstrated his complete trust in his Father’s declaration given at his baptism. Jesus was saying: “I trust my Father; to His Word I will cling; His word sustains life and I will not doubt Him.”
He Didn’t Doubt God’s Protection
Secondly, Jesus did not doubt God’s protection. Satan quotes Scripture (Ps 91:11–12) to try to tempt Jesus to trust in God’s promise for safety. The Devil’s train of thought was: “You believe your Father’s Word will sustains your life. Prove it. Look at what your Father has said in Psalm 91! He will command his angels to protect you from harm and danger. So throw yourself down! There’s no reason to be afraid—you do believe your Father promised to protect you, don’t you?”
The Deceiver dares even to take up the promises of God into his mouth in order to twist them and use them to shake Jesus’ trust. But Jesus will not give in to this temptation either. He does not need to set up trick tests to put God on the spot, to make sure of the Father’s protection, to demonstrate it as though it were something He was uncertain of. He simply takes the Word of God at its face value: “You shall not put to the test the Lord your God.” (Mt. 4:7 & Deut. 6:16).
He Didn’t Doubt God’s Plan
Thirdly, Jesus did not doubt God’s plan. This temptation was the most brazen, and yet the most cunning and alluring temptation of all. The Serpent held out to Jesus the promise of gaining all the kingdoms of the world, only without having to suffer the agony and shame of being crucified to gain them. He could take a shortcut, avoid the cross, and obtain the kingdoms of the world which he had come for. He could accomplish that goal in Satan’s way, avoiding the Father’s will. All Jesus had to do was worship the devil that one time.
If all the kingdoms had been Satan’s to give, had Jesus worshipped him, he would have come under Satan’s power. Then all the kingdoms would still have been the devil’s. Instead of receiving the kingdoms as the devil had promised, Jesus would have become his slave. Satan’s temptations offer much. But in the end, they give nothing like what was promised—only sin, misery, and death. Satan is the master of vain hope and empty promises. Jesus responds, “Be gone, Satan, for it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve'” (Mt. 4:10).
Remember the story of Adam and Eve in the garden. A single command; a single temptation; a single, devastating, result. But Jesus kept his eyes on his Father, and undertook the mission to reverse the dreadful consequences of human rebellion. Where we fail again and again, Jesus succeeded. Here at last is a true Human. He has come to always do what God wanted us to do. He came to offer to God the obedience that Adam could not offer.
He accepted that this was God’s will for himself. When Jesus refused to go the way of the tempter he was embracing the way of the cross. The enticing whispers of Satan were designed to distract him from his goal, the road that his baptism set him upon, the path that would lead to suffering and death on your behalf. The Devil tried to stop him from carrying out God’s calling, to redeem you.
But Satan was crushed by the one man who would not let go of God’s word, who clung to His promises. Jesus’ trust in His Father was just as unwavering in the wilderness, as it was in the Garden where the Devil tried again, even as it proved to be unwavering on the cross where the Serpent tempted him, “If you are the Son of God, come down off the cross” (Mt. 27:40). Jesus never listened to Satan and instead he was bruised and bled and died precisely to fulfill the words and promises of His Father, to crush the serpent’s head.
The temptations we all face, day in and day out and at critical moments in our lives, are very different from those of Jesus, but they have exactly the same point. The old serpent isn’t simply trying to entice us into committing this or that sin. He is trying to get us to doubt God and his Word. Will you believe the words and promises of God or will you give heed to the lies of the Deceiver? The flesh may scream for satisfaction; the world may beckon seductively; the devil himself may offer undreamed-of power; but, as God’s baptized children, we are entitled to use the same defense as the son of God himself. Our God and his Word are our mighty fortress. Store scripture in your heart, and know how to use it. Keep your eyes on God, and trust him for everything. Remember your calling, to love God and serve your neighbour. And say a firm ‘no’ to the voices that lure you back into the darkness.
The same Savior who defeated Satan comes to you today in Word and in Supper as the sure sign that the promises of God will not fail you even as they did not fail Him; trust in Him by the power of the Holy Spirit, and your trust will not be in vain. His words do not lie or deceive. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.