Sermon for the First Sunday in Lent
March 10, 2019
All three of the synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke have accounts of Jesus being baptized and of his temptation in the wilderness for 40 days. Luke, however, has what many modern day theological books have, an excursus. Set in between His baptism and His temptation is the genealogy of Jesus. It would have well fit in Chapter 2, before His baptism, with the birth narrative, but Luke places it after His baptism. Like an excursus, it amplifies some information. It highlights His royal heritage from David and His patriarchal lineage back to Abraham. But going back further than Matthew does in His genealogy, Luke traces back through Shem and Noah to Adam. The last line of the genealogy comes just before today’s reading. I’ll read from Shem: “The son of Shem, the son of Noah, the son of Lamech, the son of Methuselah, the son of Enoch, the son of Jared, the son of Mahaleleel, the son of Cainan, the son of Enos, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God (Lk 4:36-38). Because it is not printed for you, I want to make note that, even in the last phrase, the word son is not capitalized. The emphasis being that Adam is the son of God.
It is St. Paul that draws out the significance of such comparisons for us in Romans 5, where he explains that sin and death came from one man and, likewise, righteousness and life comes from one man, and more explicitly in 1 Cor 15, where he calls Jesus the last Adam. St. Luke emphasizes this identity because it is exactly what the devil puts in question with his temptations. It is the kind of question that is put to every son, one time or another, even in temporal things: “Do you really believe that your father has your best interests in mind?” It is the big question that was put before the first Adam in the garden: “Do you believe that God knows best and is acting in your best interest or is He keeping something from you? Are you sure He isn’t just holding you back?” In the wilderness, the devil confronts Jesus, “If you are the son of God?” He puts His lineage into question, not just His blood line, but His origin. Is He really the last Adam? Will God truly provide or is He just manipulating things to His own advantage?
Of course, we know that Adam did not remain faithful to God’s Word but, as we read today, Jesus did remain faithful. He clung to the promises of God despite His physical weakness and His normal human desire to avoid pain and suffering. Jesus endured the deprivations, never doubting that God would provide and deflecting the devil’s temptations with the very thing that makes man live – God’s Word.
It is not coincidental that Jesus is tempted with turning stones into bread. It is the same struggle that the people of God had in the Exodus wandering, “Would God provide for them to eat?” They doubted and wanted to return to Egypt at the first pangs of hunger but Jesus obediently believes that God would provide and doesn’t presume to usurp God’s authority. Certainly, He could have turned stones into bread. He could have quite easily had a morsel to eat every day of His 40 day journey. None of us may have been the wiser, but He would have broken the Commandments to do it as He would have coveted what God had not provided and would have stolen as He took what was not given and as He elevated something material over and above the immaterial and eternal God. This adherence to the Commandments and obedience to God’s will is what we describe as the active obedience of Christ. Jesus actively did what the Law expects of every human, every descendent of Adam, of a true son of God.
There is a 1961 movie called The Parent Trap with Brian Keith and Maureen O’Hara, some of you may be more familiar with the 1998 remake with Dennis Quaid and Lindsay Lohan as his daughter. The gist of the movie is that identical twins, separated at a very young age live, one with each parent. Later, in their early teens, they meet at camp and concocted a plan to swap their lives, While they physically looked identical, their behaviors cast suspicion on their identities as they live with the parent they had never known.
Jesus and Adam don’t swap places, but Jesus is thrust into a situation where His identity is questioned, a place where Adam was some 4,000 years earlier. He has every resemblance of Adam for He is in every way human, just like Adam. He grows up and grows older. He hungers and thirsts, requires rest and has desires. In every way He looks just like Adam but His behavior is a little different. It is cosmically different as He adheres to the command of God and trusts in the promises of God. Jesus does not succumb to the passions of His flesh, the desires of His body, the aches for self-satisfaction. He actively and obediently clings to what God has said and knows that despite His empty belly that, “Man does not live by bread alone.”
The ministry of Jesus is generally considered to begin with His baptism and so we should see here that this ministry starts with a 40 day fast in the wilderness. It doesn’t begin with preaching or miracles. It begins with obedience to God’s Word amidst temptation. It begins with an active obedience that follows a swap in places. Passing through the Jordan, Jesus enters the wilderness, taking the place of disobedient Israel. He doesn’t give up His identity but He does take on theirs. He stands in the place of Adam to begin a new genealogy stemming from water and the Spirit. He wanders and suffers, not for Himself, but for you, who have been baptized and thus have swapped identities with Him; your identity as sinner for His as Son of God. He is baptized to identify with sinners and takes your place in the wilderness so that you will appear before God as the righteous and obedient son.
The devil tries to steal His identity and thus ruin your chances of claiming this new identity but Jesus is having none of it. The hunger is the least of His worries, the slightest of His earthly discomforts. The second temptation comes to the point as the devil offers Jesus a chance to have His kingdom without suffering, without completely taking your place but it would be an entirely different kingdom. Jesus would still reign but you would only be his suffering subject and not His brother or sister, for it would mean that He would bypass the cross, He would undo the fullness of Holy Baptism and He would not provide for your salvation. Yes, it would be easier for Him but it would not be what the Father had sent Him to do. It would not redeem creation and atone for Adam’s sin or ours. He would have denied Himself for a something shiny.
While we are called to be faithful, believe God’s promises, and to be obedient to God’s Commands, today’s reading is not our how to manual, as in if we just follow these steps, we too, will defeat temptation. It is our testimony that Jesus has fully taken our place, that He has presented Himself before the heavenly Father as each one of us and all of us, obedient in little things and obedient in big things; obedient unto death, even death upon a cross. But, a death for purpose, a death to take from you the sting od death and to give hope beyond the hungers of this life.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.