[Genesis 3:1-21 / Hebrews 4:14-16 / Matthew 4:1-11]
The battle is about faith. The battle is about whom you will believe. For you will believe either the words of God or you will believe the words of the Deceiver. There is no middle ground, no room for agnostics. To say one doesn’t know is already to side with the Deceiver. God speaks His words. Are they to be trusted or not? That is the only question that ultimately matters.
Eve had heard God’s words. She knew that He had marked a tree off-limits. He had spoken words about that tree: “In the day you eat of it, you shall die.”
The Deceiver, who is a liar from the beginning, starts by implanting doubt about what God has said: “Did God really say?” And then the old Liar moves to bold contradiction: “You will not surely die.” And then he promises something more: “the day you eat of it, your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
Who will be believed? It is a battle of dueling words. Eve, and Adam with her, made their choice. They ventured out on the words of the Deceiver, and so they ate. And then in horror they discovered what happens when you turn your back on God, when you ignore what He has said, when you listen to the Deceiver and do things you think of as your own way, only to discover that they are actually the Deceiver’s way.
God had said: “In the day you eat of it, you will surely die.” He did not lie. Having turned from faith in God, who is Life, and from His Words, which give life, they plunged themselves and all their descendants with them, into death. Death that is more than simply the gradual and inevitable corruption and decay of human bodies. Death that is first and foremost unbelief, the rejection of God’s Words and so of God’s life, not being in communion with Him who alone is Life.
The evidence of their death is that they can no longer fear, love, and trust in Him above all things. Nor do they trust each other any longer. Fingers pointing blame, always away from self. Always someone else’s fault. “The woman YOU gave me, SHE gave me of the tree, and I did eat.” “The serpent deceived me.” In response words of judgment that come crashing down upon them, consigning them again to the dust from which they were taken. Yet even with the words of judgment, comes a word of promise. A word about a woman’s seed, a word about a bruised heel; a word about the crushed head of the serpent. A beacon of hope to hold onto.
Banished from their home, the long exile began for them and for all their children. God’s promise accompanying them, calling them to trust in the Seed of the Woman and what He would do; the Deceiver constantly calling them to put their trust in everything and anything but the promise of the One who had exiled them.
And then we’re at the Gospel reading, and nothing has changed, but everything is changing. There is the Seed of the Woman, the Virgin-Born, the long-promised One. There is the Deceiver, and he is up to his old bag of tricks. As he broke Adam and Eve’s trust in God, so now he seeks to break this Man’s trust in God. He does it with words. God had just declared Jesus His beloved Son in His baptism at the Jordan. Satan now invites him to doubt that word. “Some fine beloved Son you are! He sends you here in the wilderness to starve? You’d best wake up and smell the bacon, Jesus. There is no one going to look after you in this world if you do not look after yourself. Make these stones bread!” But Jesus rebuffs the attack. “It is written, man shall not live by bread alone.” And the rest of the verse? “but by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” Jesus was saying: I trust my Father; to His Word I will cling; His word sustains life and I will not doubt Him.
Satan then tries another tactic. “So, you trust your father? How splendid. I’m all for trusting your father. Here, let’s show everyone how much you trust your father. Jump! They’ll all believe in you when they see how your father’s angels rush to hold you up in their hands so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.” 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 show off His trust in the Father, 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 the Lord your God to the test.
Satan is desperate now. Here is one on whom every attack he has attempted has failed, and the failure is bitter for him. So he shows Him all the glory of this world’s kingdoms in an instant of time: “Yours!” he cries. “All yours! I’ll give them to you, just do this little thing. Kneel down here in front of me and worship!” To which the response comes: “Away with you, Satan! It is written, you shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve.”
Thus was Satan defeated by the Man who would not let go of God’s words, who clung to His promises, and whose trust in His Father was unshakable in the wilderness, even as it proved to be unshakable in the Garden where the tempter tried again, even as it proved to be unshakable on the cross where He would be bruised and bleed and die precisely to fulfill the words and promises of His Father, to crush the serpent’s head.
Today the battle is the same as ever. Will you believe the words and promises of God or will you give heed to the lies of the Deceiver? You do not have a High Priest who is unable to sympathize with your weakness; you have a High Priest who was tempted in every respect the same as you, and yet was without sin. You can then with confidence draw near to His throne of grace and find help in time of need. His throne of grace is right here: the altar. The Savior 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. He will bring you to your heavenly home where you will forever praise Him, His Father, and His all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit! Amen.