A STARK LENTEN CONTRAST
Based on Genesis 3:1-15
Name two people that make a stark contrast with one another. President Trump vs. President Obama. A Packers fan vs. a Vikings fan. A quinoa-consuming California vegan vs. a guy who uses his well-worn Arch Card to buy two Big Macs a day. The New York banker who flies in and out of LaGuardia at least once a week vs. the rural northern Wisconsin farmer who has never traveled more than fifty miles from his house.
Those are interesting comparisons to think about, but they have little to no bearing on your life. Perhaps the economic policies of a president affect your portfolio. Perhaps the outcome of another Packers-Vikings game affects your mood for 12 to 24 hours. But beyond that, these contrasts are just interesting observations.
Today’s service places before us a stark contrast of two people who couldn’t be more different, and both of them have a very direct effect on your life. We were reintroduced to one of those men in today’s First Reading and to the other in today’s Gospel. Between those two readings, we saw Adam, the first man, and Jesus, the God-man confront Satan’s temptations. The results of those incidents couldn’t be any different—and the ramifications of these two incidents on you and me couldn’t be any different either! This morning we will especially concentrate on the First Reading as we look at the difference between Adam and Jesus and make a stark Lenten contrast—in their response to Satan’s temptations, and in the results of their actions.
As we consider the contrast between Adam and Jesus, we also note something in common with their temptations. You sang about that something—really, that someone—just a moment ago: “The old evil foe” who “now means deadly woe.” Satan has been God’s enemy since the moment he and other once-perfect angels decided that they wanted to rebel against God. And ever since that rebellion, Satan has been looking for ways to cause others to rebel against God. And he does this in two similar ways. One is outright lies. “All [the kingdoms of the world and their splendor] I will give you if you will bow down and worship me” (Matthew 4:9). “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” (Genesis 3:1). Both were bold-faced lies. Jesus knew it, and even inexperienced, innocent Eve knew that the serpent’s claims were false. But the other way Satan tries to trick people into rebellion against God is by half-truths, a subtler form of lies. “Throw yourself down. For it is written: ‘He will command his angels concerning you…so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’” (Matthew 4:6). “God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:5).
That’s where the commonalities end between Adam and Christ. Satan tempts them and tries to lure them into rebellion with his lies and half-truths, but the response to these satanic attacks is quite different. Matthew shows us Jesus’ perfect and biblical response. Moses shows us Adam’s imperfect and sin-producing response.
You may be wondering why I’m comparing Adam to Jesus when Satan really tempts Eve. You may be wondering why St. Paul makes the same Adam-to-Jesus comparison in our Second Reading, also with no mention of Eve. But remember that God had ultimately placed Adam in charge of his creation and of his own family, with Eve as his perfect complement and companion. Adam had received the command to not eat from this tree. And the Holy Spirit makes sure we understand that Adam wasn’t out for a walk when this happened. “When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.”
Jesus responded to Satan with God’s Word. Adam responded with silence that amounted to tacit agreement. Maybe there was something to gain: in their created innocence, they had no knowledge of evil. Maybe the talking snake was right; maybe God was holding out on them! But the contrast was stark—not just between the way Adam and Jesus handled temptation, but between the life Adam and Eve lived before and after the fall. They gained firsthand knowledge of evil. They lost peace with God and perfection in life. In the worst deal ever transacted, they exchanged the holiness of God for a fruit salad topped with satanic dressing.
By a certain age, little kids figure out how to lie. Sometimes we think their lies are cute (like when a certain little boy I know claimed he didn’t eat the “missing cookie” that I knew he had eaten on Monday afternoon!). And so maybe there’s a little part of us that thinks that God finds it cute, or at least not a big deal, when we buy into the lies and half-truths Satan seductively offers us. Adam and Eve bought into what seemed to be a perfectly reasonable argument: God was holding out on them. Can’t we come up with the same kinds of arguments? I can excuse my gossip because, after all, someone has to know what a difficult person he is. I can excuse my greed because, after all, this is the twenty-first century and we have to keep up with the Joneses. I can excuse my lust because, after all, it doesn’t matter where I built my appetite as long as I have dinner at home. I can excuse the negative spin I put on other people’s actions because, after all, if I feel threatened by someone else, then it must be them, and not my ego, in the wrong.
You and I know how often we’ve bought into the modern versions of Satan’s lies and half-truths. And you and I don’t need to increase the weight of our guilt for those sins by turning Jesus into our self-help guide for defeating temptation. When we look at Adam, we see a mirror reflection of our own sin. But when we look at Jesus, we see the true image of a perfect God. And this perfect God did not merely show us how to defeat temptation. Rather, he became man so that his perfect record against temptation as the God-man could be applied to every man, woman, and child who turns to him in repentance and faith. This perfect God faced temptation for you with perfect results. This perfect God defeated the devil in the desert for you. His record in the Gospel for today was 3-0, but St. Paul tells us that his record is countlessly perfect, and perfectly carried out for your benefit: “Through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous” (Romans 5:19).
Sin has consequences. Ask Adam and Eve. Immediately they are filled with shame, no longer able to keep their thoughts pure and in perfect harmony with God’s holy standards. And immediately they resort to blame—blame of the highest sort! Adam had no shortage of chutzpah when he shifted the blame for his sin: “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” One chapter earlier Adam is performing metaphorical cartwheels as God presents Adam with his beautiful and perfect companion who completed him in every way. Now she’s the problem, and so is God for dropping her into the garden.
I am amazed that God didn’t “fry” Adam right there on the spot. But let us all be more amazed at God’s first and immediate response to the situation. God’s response, uttered in the very first gospel promise we can find in Scripture, previews the results of Jesus’ obedience and sacrifice in response to Adam’s disobedient sacrifice of his God-given perfection. After God confronts Adam, he confronts Eve; and when Eve points to the devil’s deadly deceit, God turns to the satanic serpent and says: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”
God would put Satan, the rebellious angel who took the form of a serpent to bring sin into the world, back in his place. Satan’s temptation had driven a wedge of hostility or enmity between God and mankind, but God was going to put the hostility back where it belonged, between mankind and Satan. Jesus, the One great future descendant of Eve, would be born many generations down Eve’s family line. And when that special Offspring of Eve came, he would come to undo the mess Satan had made. Jesus would ultimately destroy the head and power of Satan, even though Satan would administer a painful blow to Jesus in the process. A wounded veteran may suffer great pain for his nation, but when his nation wins the war, he is still victorious. Jesus would suffer the pains of hell for all nations, but when his believing people are saved from sin and enjoying eternal salvation, there will be no question who the victor is!
Sin has consequences. Adam and Eve were kicked out of the garden. The Israelites who doubted God and complained that it was going to be too hard to claim the land God promised them never got to live in the land God promised them even though their descendants did. King David didn’t get the baby back who was born in adultery. Fast forward to today. The drunk driver hurts himself in an accident, loses his license and spends time in jail. Unflattering words and unfaithful actions can break once solid relationships. Sin has consequences. Paul describes sin’s ultimate consequence: “Sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12).
Sin has consequences, but so does Jesus’ sinless righteousness. Saint Paul also wrote, “For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!” The first thing God said in response to sin was to curse Satan and to promise Jesus! The first thing God did in response to sin was to reveal the solution that he had already planned from eternity!
The first thing God wants to tell you when you grieve over the deadly nature of your sin is that his Son fulfilled his promise to crush Satan’s power for you. The first thing God wants to tell you when you grieve and repent over your gossip is that you have a perfect Jesus in whose mouth there was no deceit (Isaiah 53:9). The first thing God wants to tell you when you grieve and repent over your greed is that Jesus was also tempted in every way as we are, yet was without sin (Hebrews 4:15). The first thing God wants to tell you when you grieve and repent over your lust is that your perfect Substitute was holy and blameless and pure on your behalf (Hebrews 7:26). The first thing God wants to tell you when you grieve and repent over your sinful spin and assumptions about others is that his Son, who even forgave his enemies as they nailed him to the cross (Luke 23:34), has fully and freely forgiven you. Saint Paul said it well: “Just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous” (Romans 5:19).
Our Ash Wednesday sermon took us back to Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector (Luke 18:9-14). Think back on that parable, because in so many ways, those two men from Jesus’ story reflect us as we swing back and forth between the self-righteous Pharisee and the sorrowful but repentant Tax Collector. At those moments when our fig-leaf excuses for sin can no longer cover up the reality of sin, and in those moments when you start to wonder if there is still mercy in God’s heart for you, then remember: Jesus has crushed the serpent’s head! He withstood every temptation of Satan with the lie-defeating, truth-proclaiming words of Scripture. And he did it all for you. “Through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.” Take heart! For us fights the Valiant One! The kingdom’s our forever! Amen.