Sermon for Invocabit, the First Sunday in Lent, AD 2022

Matthew 4:1-11; Genesis 3:1-21

The first lesson in the catechism is the First Commandment, and hopefully all the confirmation students here should have this learned by heart, “You shall have no other Gods.” As you know from the explanation, this means, “We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.” The story of God and humanity is wrapped up in the first commandment. We have a God who is worthy of fear, love, and trust, because there is nothing and no one greater, more loving, more trustworthy. Everything we have comes from him. The history of the human response is to fear, love, and trust everything else but God, to seek our good elsewhere. This is also known as sin. This was done first in the Garden of Eden by our parents, Adam and Eve, and through them passed down through the generations to all humanity. No one could get out of this trap, no one fully sought God alone until Jesus. It was Jesus who would face the temptation to seek other gods and, as a man, fully defeat it. The good news today is that this victory is given to you as well.

You today with Jesus are in a better situation than your first parents, Adam and Eve. Adam and Eve were created perfect, and perfectly innocent, but could be tempted to sin. The Lord had given them every thing they could need – every plant for food, good work to tend and keep the garden, and each other to serve. These were their acts of worship, to live as God gave them, serving God and neighbor as man and wife. God gave them one other act of worship, to obey his word of prohibition – that they should not eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. There was good reason for this – in the day they ate of it, they would surely die. So they worshipped God by keeping this law, fearing the punishment, loving his command, and trusting that this was best for them.

Yet as you heard in the Old Testament lesson, they would not remain this way. When the devil came in the form of a serpent, he tempted Eve to take and eat of the fruit. He twisted and questioned God’s word, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” Eve remembers God’s Word, no, it is only this tree, lest you die. And the serpent replies, “You shall 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.” Not too subtle here, the devil merely gives Eve a conflicting story. It is a story that undermines the first commandment. He says, “There is no need to fear God, for you will not surely die. God is giving an empty threat. You do not need to love God by following his Word, for God knows that this will make you like him, and therefore you can love him by disobeying. Trust me, trust yourself, trust what you see here.” And Eve forgot the Word of God and trusted what she saw, and Adam too, and they fell into sin. That day they did die, for they were no longer good and innocent, but spiritually fallen and condemned.

From then on, they could not enjoy the garden, but would have to live by trust in God’s new promise, which He made in the curse on the serpent, “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.” They held to the promise the rest of their long lives of the offspring who would crush the serpent, their enemy who had led them into sin and suffering and death. It was a word that had to be held in faith, for what they saw in their offspring did not look like a Savior. Their son Cain killed his brother, Abel, and while their son Seth followed God, over time Cain’s family would influence Seth’s so there would be few righteous left on the earth. God would save Noah and his family, and then call Abraham, who would trust in the promise of his offspring blessing the whole earth.

Abraham’s descendants did little better, still mired in the sin inherited from Adam and Eve. These people, the Israelites, would be chosen by God and saved from slavery in Egypt by God’s mighty power. Yet as they traveled to the promised land, even after seeing God’s great work with their own eyes, they would again and again break the first commandment. They grumbled against God in the wilderness, “why has God sent us into this desert to starve,” not trusting Him or His love. God was not the god they wanted. They remembered all the good things in Egypt, the melons and meat, and forgot about the slavery. They said, let’s go back to Egypt. They said, let’s make God how we want him to be, a golden calf like the Egyptians have. Then we will have what we want. And like Adam and Eve, because they turned from God, many died in the wilderness and never reached the promised land.

Such are the wages of sin. We often hear “the wages of sin is death” but don’t think about what that mean. To fear, love, and trust in another god is to make that god your boss, to get that boss’ wages. The other god may promise many things, but since he is not the true God, he can not give anything else than what the true God gives him. Being outside of love and trust in God, the only thing there is to give is death. Even with no fear of God or his punishment for sin, the punishment will still come. For every other god gives nothing ultimately but death. You cannot say, I prefer this god instead. You cannot say, I want to love God my way, not his way. It is like your mother Eve, saying, “this way looks more pleasing to me, God must be hiding some good for me, yes, he has forbidden this, but he can’t really mean it.”

God is not hiding any good from you. Everything he has to give you is in his Word. So when God says, “you shall not give false testimony against your neighbor” he is not secretly saying “unless the gossip is fun.” When God says, “you shall not commit adultery” he is not secretly saying, “if you love the person it is fine to live together before marriage.” When God says, “you shall not steal,” he does not mean, “well if you can get a really good deal, it’s really the other guy’s problem.” Your sinful flesh will follow the devil’s argument, “did God actually say,” therefore you must repent and seek the true God.

Thanks be to God, as I said earlier, you are in a better place than even Adam and Eve. You are not just given temptation without help. You do not just trust in a future promise. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, as a man has faced the same temptation and defeated it for you. Where no one else could succeed, Jesus did, and in the most dire of situations.

After his baptism, Jesus was sent into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit to be tempted. He was not in a lush garden like Adam and Eve. He was not even fed like the Israelites in the wilderness. He fasted forty days, and in his tiredness and loneliness and hunger was tempted by the devil, one-on-one. Just like Eve, he was tempted to seek his own God. Yes, being fully man, Jesus also feared, loved, and trusted in God. He could be tempted to turn from this, to deny God’s Word. Yet Jesus would not fall, but would cling to the Word.

The devil was up to his old tricks and tried to create doubt in the Word of God, which the Father had just declared at Jesus’ baptism, “This is my beloved Son.” The devil said to Jesus, “if you are the Son of God…” You see how your flesh, in wanting a God of your own making follows the devil. It says, “if you are really God, you would do this for me…you would think what I am doing is ok…you would want me to be happy in this way…” It is a practice of constructing another god, a golden calf of your own making. The devil wanted Jesus to construct a golden calf, but He would do no such thing.

 would not grumble against God for lack of bread. He knew he did not have to prove he was the Son of God to the devil by turning stones into bread. Instead, he drew on the words given to the Israelites when they grumbled that they were starving, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Brother and sisters in Christ, when you face trials of this kind, remember this verse. Write it down and carry it with you. When the devil comes with temptation to sinfully covet what others have and the sins that come with it, this is your weapon. Christ gives you this Word by the Holy Spirit to fight off that tempter and live in the victory which Christ has won. In baptism, you have Christ’s life and victory over temptation. Rebuke that tempter with these words.

So too when the devil took Jesus to the temple and told him to throw himself down for God promised that his angels would bear him up, Jesus refuted him with the clear scripture “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.” Jesus would not use scripture against God or pit one scripture against another. Unlike the Israelites who said “if you are really God, do this,” Jesus holds to the Word. Unlike Eve who thought, “well God wants us to have good things though,” Jesus would not put one word against another. So when you are tempted to think, well God wouldn’t really punish sin, I could do what I want and get away with it, God wants me to be happy, remember these words which the Holy Spirit has given you as a weapon against testing God.

It finally comes back around to the first commandment when the devil blatantly tells Jesus to fall down and worship him. He says to Jesus, “love me, and I will give you better than God gives.” Jesus does not fall, but rebukes Satan and replies, “You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.” Love of any other person or thing besides God will not ultimately give what it promises. Even if the devil could give you all the kingdoms of the world, you would still in the end be subject to death. Only the love of God brings eternal life and salvation. So fight the idolatry of other things before God by keeping these words, and the Holy Spirit will strengthen you in love for God which is life.

Jesus Christ, in defeating temptation, showed that he would be the one to crush the serpent’s head. He was the promised offspring that Adam and Eve were waiting for. After his temptation, he would not only defeat sin, but death itself on the cross. That was the bruising of the heel. For being free from sin, he died a sinless sacrifice for sinners like you. Without sin, death could not keep Him, but His Father raised him from the dead and He has ascended to the right hand of the Father to rule heaven and earth. Sin, the devil, and death are all crushed under his foot. Ruling over heaven and earth, he distributed good gifts in his kingdom.

Being baptized, you have been brought into Christ’s kingdom and given his life. You are not just a sinner but have been declared righteous by Christ and the Holy Spirit works in you. Christ strengthens you through his word and promises to be with you in temptation. He walks beside you because He has faced every temptation that you do. Therefore when you remember the Word of God and hold to it, you do not just receive comforting words, but the strength, power, and victory of Christ.

In Christ, you can trust God, saying “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.

In Christ, you can fear God, saying “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.”

In Christ, you can love God, saying, “You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.

All this because you need no other God than the one who would become man, face every temptation for you, die for your sins, rise from the dead, and give you the same life in Him. You can say, yes, I shall have no other gods, because I want a God who loves me enough to die for me so I can be with Him forever. Amen.

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