In the beginning our uncreated God created all things, including us, out of nothing. He created us to be images of him in the world he made and so to remain in relationship with him so that we could learn how to be like him and so a sign to others about who he is, as the particular people we are. God says to the two who represent humanity’s beginning, Adam and Eve, ‘I have given you everything you need to survive and to live well in relationship to me, fulfilling your vocation to be a created reflection or image of and because of this, living the most fulfilling life you could possibly have, since it is ordered to me, your creator.
But sure enough, Adam and Eve, like every human being, including Jesus Christ, are tempted to take their own path; to have autonomy and control over their own affairs, as if it were up to them to make of their life what they will. The serpent – who represents temptation either literally or figuratively, says to Eve, “Did God say, you shall not eat from any tree in the garden?” And She answers honestly, “yes.” The serpent, perhaps sensing her vulnerability or knowing of the capacity of desire we all have, says, “you will not die if you eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God is trying to trick you into being a slave to him. He knows that when you eat of that tree, that you’re eyes will be opened and you’ll be like him, yourselves knowing good and evil. He’s trying to control you. Don’t let him. Take back the control and autonomy that’s rightfully yours.” And of course Adam and Eve both eat of the tree God has forbidden them to eat of.
In our Gospel this morning we hear of how Jesus is tempted by this Serpent we call Satan: “Jesus I know you’re starving from fasting in the desert 40 days and nights, so make bread out of stone for yourself. You have the capacity to choose do it, just as Adam and Eve had the capacity to choose to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. But unlike Adam and Eve, who, though they have the provision of all the food for survival and flourishing they need, still eat from the tree, Jesus rightly recognizes the temptation to satiate his own desire for asserting his autonomy and control, not simply as a human being, but as God himself, and he says to the temper: “it is said, one does not live by bread alone, but by the words that come from the mouth of God you hear in worship in your scriptures.”
He’s tempted by this fallen angel twice more: first he’s taken up to the pinnacle and told he should throw himself down to challenge God’s promise that he will bear his people in their sin and raise them up, that they will not suffer the inevitable injury and death that results from falling to a certain death, here both a literal reality of falling from height, and a figurative reality of falling from grace. Jesus implies something essential here, as the Son of God, God himself: “I could very well do this, but it is said, ‘do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” Here he reverses Adam and Eve’s own presumption to fall to the temptation to put God to the test by asserting their own autonomy in their lives. And this of course foreshadows what it to come: take this cup from me Lord I do not wish to die on the cross, to suffer the death due to all humanity on account of sin; but your will be done. I willingly offer myself into your hands. Into your hands O Father, do I commend my spirit.
Finally, the tempter, Satan, takes Jesus to the top of a high mountain and shows him all the kingdoms of the world and says, “fall down and worship me and I will give all these into your command.” Jesus says, “Away with you Satan, for it is said, worship the Lord your God and serve only him.” This of course is Satan’s/the serpent’s/temptation not just to Adam and Eve, but to all of us, “follow your idols, follow your gods, and you will have control and autonomy not only over your own life, but over the whole world you live in because you can construct your life in the world however you wish, since you know what is good and what is evil. This is a stunning response to Satan because of course the Son of God who is God himself knows what is good and evil, of course he has control over everything he created, and yet God does not exercise what is in his power to do. Why?
This is the key question here. Why does he not do this? Because were he to fall to temptation here, he could not fulfill what he was sent into the world to do: to reconcile human beings to relationship with God; to change the very nature of a fallen world by fulfilling not only the commandments to love God and neighbor and enemy required of all human beings, but by fulfilling his promise to reconcile all human beings to himself. As God and man, Jesus Christ could do this only by doing the will of God: taking the final rejection of human beings, the final horrific act of self-autonomy and control in executing the Son of God and, as with Adam and Eve, overcoming the sin that separates every human being from God. That very act, of continuing his life to the Cross, of every human sin being nailed to the cross with Jesus, is the sole means by which the acts of each person past, present and future, do not lead to death.
Indeed we hear in Romans, “just as Adam and Eve’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so Jesus Christ’s righteousness, the act of a human being fulfilling the commandments of God, and the act of God in taking on all of humanity’s sin in his Son, leads to righteousness for all who receive this undeserved grace in faith.”
And here we come to look at our own lives. Each year in Lent, we look forward to the resurrection hope of Easter Sunday, where we celebrate our having been received into Christ through the Holy Spirit; into God’s own body, the Church, through our baptisms. In the Church we have been handed the faith, which we are to come to learn, to make our own as a community and as individuals.
But of course we stand with Adam and Eve, and so too with Jesus, as human beings tempted away from the faith, away from God. We are tempted so often by fear, by uncertainty that becomes manifest as the desire for autonomy and control over the affairs of our life. These temptations threaten to pull us away from God and in so doing, from finding peace in the provisions for life he has given to us. Lent is a time set aside in the Church to examine our motivations, our fears, our anxieties, our responses and behaviors and to offer these up to God; to ask that he might use, change or eliminate them so that he can shape and mold us into his image we find perfected in Jesus Christ. I don’t know what these things are for you; most of us know what these are, even if we struggle to admit and grapple with them. Take them to God this Lent in prayer. This offering, laying ourselves bear and recognizing our sole dependence on God is simultaneously what it means to love God, to offer ourselves to his service and to rely upon his provision alone, and to repent of those things we know and don’t know, that separate us from him, so that we might be cleansed, be made new, conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. It is for this alone that we were made: that we might be the created reflection of God in the world. AMEN.