Sermon for Lent 1A, preached by the Rev. Daniel M. Ulrich on Sunday, March 1, 2020.
Look at Adam and Eve’s temptation. Look at Christ’s temptations. Look at your temptations. They’re not the seedy and blatant evil that we often think of, are they? Most of the time, temptations look pleasant and harmless. That’s why we struggle to resist. They look good, or at least they look like no big deal. But they are a big deal, and they’re not harmless. Far from giving the good things temptation promises, sin only brings death.
Everything was good in the Garden of Eden. All of creation was in perfect order and harmony. Adam and Eve walked with God and they were joyfully living the life God gave them. They tended to the plants and cared for the animals. They loved each other completely; husband and wife, one flesh, united perfectly. Everything was how it was supposed to be. And then Satan, the serpent, came and asked Eve what seemed to be a harmless question: “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’? (Gen 3:1).
Eve could’ve answered by simply restating God’s command and leaving at that, but she didn’t. She added to it. She correctly answered they could eat from any of the trees, except for the one in the middle, but then she added, “neither shall you touch it” (Gen 3:3). She played with God’s Word, and the door was now open. Satan crept in and with twisted words he made it look like a good thing to go against God’s.
He promised that eating that fruit would open Adam and Eve’s eyes; they’d know good and evil and they’d be like God. How can that be a bad thing? Obviously it’s good to know good and evil. Obviously it’s good to be like God. So it must obviously be good to eat the fruit. Satan dressed up evil and made it look good. And he did the same thing when he tempted our Lord.
Again, the temptations of Christ don’t seem to be a big deal. They aren’t blatantly evil. Turning stones into bread, where’s the harm in that? Obviously it's a good to take care of our bodies, bodies God has given to us. If Jesus turned those stones into bread He’d be benefiting it, not harming it. And Satan’s second temptation, encouraging Jesus to jump from the temple, this too can’t be all bad, because by jumping Jesus would be showing His faith, right? God’s Word does say He will command his angels to watch over us and guard us (Ps 91:11). And lastly, bowing down to Satan, what’s so terrible about that? Jesus only had to bend a knee. Seems like a small thing. Just a little prostration. It wasn’t like Satan asked Jesus to sacrifice children to him.
It’s easy for us to look at temptation and see good. Like Satan, we’re very skillful at twisting God’s Word. We can reason and self-justify just about anything in order to get what we want. We see Satan and sin’s temptation and they look good. Sin promises us happiness, and doesn’t God want me to be happy? So, in pursuit of happiness, we fulfill our lustful desires; even at the expense of our spouse and family, even when it goes against the design of God’s creation. In pursuit of happiness, we let loose anger filled words because it’s not good to keep our feelings bottled up. In pursuit of happiness, we convince ourselves that murder of children is okay because this world is a painful place to live and it wouldn’t be fair to bring a child into it. In the pursuit of happiness we shirk the responsibilities of our vocations: fathers and mothers who complain their children ask too much of them, children who think only of their wants instead of honoring mom and dad, church members who decide it’s better to sleep in on Sunday morning instead of being in God’s house to encourage their brothers and sisters in Christ through worship.
Temptation looks pleasing to our eyes, but looks are deceiving. Sin promises happiness and joy and fulfillment, but it can’t deliver. Our eyes are easily deceived looking at those false promises. Even when we’re told the full story, even when God’s Word lays it all at and plainly tells us that sin brings nothing good, we still choose to give in. We still want to believe what our eyes think they see, trusting in the pleasing fruit of sin.
When Adam and Eve ate that fruit, their eyes were opened, but they didn’t see the good that Satan promised. They saw their nakedness and felt great shame. Their shame didn’t come from being naked though. They’d always been naked and it never mattered before. No, this shame came from their guilt. It came from looking at each other and instead of seeing the wonderful gift of husband and wife, they saw a person they could use for their own selfish desires. So they tried to cover up thinking it would get rid of that shame and guilt, but it didn’t. God would have to be the one to do that, and it would require blood.
God told Adam that if they ate from that forbidden tree, they would die. Sin brings death. This is the fact that Satan and temptation tries to hide, but it can’t. Adam and Eve saw firsthand what sin caused as God made clothes for them.
We remember the fig leaves that Adam and Eve sewed together, but we forget that God made them clothes, garments of skin from an animal. Imagine what Adam and Eve must have thought seeing that animal slaughtered, witnessing its blood being spilt so that their shame could be covered. There’s no way they could see that and say it was a good. But it was, because it pointed forward to the redemption God promised to accomplish through His very own Son.
We say Jesus on the cross is a bad, it’s an ugly sight. It’s not something we enjoy seeing. I’ve only seen Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ once because I can’t watch the crucifixion again. Looking at Christ on the cross, we see what our sin truly brings. Sin’s temptation promises pleasant things, but it only brings death. “Sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Rom 5:12). We all bare the shame and guilt of sin. Not one of us is innocent. With Adam and Eve, we stand naked with our guilt and shame before God. We stand condemned, deserving death. But just as sin entered the world through one man, righteousness and salvation are given through One Man.
The shedding of that animal’s blood in the Garden pointed to Christ’s blood shed on the cross that covers all sin. Jesus’ innocent death saves us from our deserved death. Jesus didn’t give into Satan’s temptations. He resisted the devil’s false promises and spoke the complete and untwisted Word of God. He was righteous and without sin. But with grace and mercy, He took your guilt and shame and carried it to the cross. He died your death in your place, and because of that, God freely gives you Christ’s righteousness. He clothes you with the white robe of Christ’s righteousness, received at your Baptism.
Christ recognized the deception of Satan’s words. He resisted, continued in righteousness so that He could save you from your unrighteousness. Christ is the Lamb who shed its blood to cover your shame and guilt. The killing of that first animal appeared bad, and yet it was God’s way of covering shame. Christ on the cross looks bad, and yet it’s what brings you life! Don’t be deceived by the good looking fruit of sin. With eyes of faith, see it for what it truly is. With eyes of faith look to your Savior, look to His blood. It may look bad, but don’t be fooled. Christ, His cross, His blood, His redemption, these are the true good things. In Jesus’ name...Amen.