First Sunday in Lent (Invocabit) (Genesis 3:1-21; Matthew 4:1-11)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church & Bethel Lutheran Church, Lebanon & Sweet Home, OR
First Sunday in Lent (Invocabit) + February 18, 2018
Text: Genesis 3:1-21; Matthew 4:1-11

The Apostle Peter warns us, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.” (1 Peter 5:8-9)
In this text from Genesis 3, we can learn a great deal about the devil both in his works and his ways.  And why we as Christians should be concerned with the devil is also taught by God here.
On the first Sabbath Day, before the day is even over, the devil comes to corrupt the only other creatures with free will—man.  The way he chooses to entice them is notable too—he possesses a serpent.  Why a serpent?  Precisely because it is crafty, stealthy, and shrewd: The serpent slips in where others are blocked, it stalks its food and lays in wait to strike, and it knows how to slip out of the scene before it is detected.  All of these qualities fit the devil’s ways, as we see in how he interacts with the woman.  God uses a turn of these traits when it comes to punishing the devil, however.  “On your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the day of your life.”  Just as Satan used the craftiness of the snake, now God uses the fact that the snake is a “creeping thing” to show that God will keep him in submission until the Lord’s ultimate victory: “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.” (Genesis 3:14-15)
Later in history the devil would be manifest in other creatures, such as Leviathan the great sea beast, as lions, as a dragon (Psalm 74:12-14, Daniel 6:16-24, Isaiah 27:1).  In the New Testament, the legion of demons in Mark 5 ends up possessing a herd of unclean swine and being destroyed in a mock baptism.  Each of these possessions teach us about the devil and his host.  But, the point here isn’t the mechanics of how the devil possessed the serpent, or how an ordinarily dumb animal spoke, but that we learn that the devil is a wily foe both of God and us.
Then what this crafty devil does first of all—irrespective of God’s order that the husband is the spiritual head of the household, without a shred of caring what misery will be wrought for all humanity by this temptation, and with a boldness that flies in the face of his Creator and Master—attacks their faith in God’s Word.
“He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’ ” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will 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.” (Genesis 3:1b-5)
The devil questions God’s truthfulness and he questions God’s good intentions for His creatures.  Our first parents, formed in innocence by the hand of God Himself, were tempted and sinned.  They sinned, not merely by breaking God’s rule (for God is not a capricious dictator), but by breaking faith with Him through disbelieving His Word.  Even from this primordial world, “man has lived by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:4)  The very definition of a right relationship between Creator and creature is on the basis of taking God at His Word.
But sin changed all of that.  When the first doubt was planted in the heart of Adam and Eve, they now had another authority—themselves.  The question of what was good had a new answer: “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.”
That is what humanity has been wrestling with ever since.  Do we take God at His Word, or look for another authority that tells us what our corrupt hearts want to hear?
The devil consistently attacks the truthfulness of God’s will and His goodness toward us.  This is the root of why immorality persists and increases.  This is why there are so many religions in the world and even divisions within the Christian Church on earth.  This is why so few of the world’s population cares about God and what He says (this generation is really just revealing what having a “Christian society” covered up in the past).  The devil’s work is to cause people to doubt and disbelieve God’s powerful, all-creating, life-giving Word.
Do we take God at His Word or not?  Alas, it’s not really a choice so simple.  Every natural born offspring of Adam and Eve is born with this deafness and aversion to God’s Word.  So, the story of temptation with man is a story of failings.  The serpent was craftier than Adam and Eve, and deceived them so easily.  Now he exercises authority over us, their children.
When we think of temptation as Christians…as human beings, it isn’t about trying to overcome the devil and make personal triumphs.  If our sinless parents fell, how much worse is it for us?  “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.”  “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other.”  “The [highest powers of man[1] which are of the] flesh is hostile to God.” (1 Cor. 2:14, Gal. 5:17, Rom. 8:7)
Who is able to save us from this wretched condition?  Our only way out from under the devil’s thumb completely depends on this Man, facing the devil.  The sole overcomer is Jesus Christ.
(Read Matthew 4:1-11)
Here the devil is called “the tempter” because his purpose is to lead men consistently to put God to the test (same word as “tempt”) without faith.  The devil does his worst to this man, Jesus, but He consistently replies with God’s Word rightly believed.
These are the works and ways of the devil: to subtly slip in and break our faith.  But turn to page 268 of the hymnal.  This is the rite of Holy Baptism.  Now turn ahead to 270  Look at the first two questions asked of the candidate for Baptism: Do you renounce the devil? Do you renounce all his works? Do you renounce all his ways?  If it were up to you and your strength, you would not be able to accomplish what these questions ask.  It is only by your Baptism into Christ, the Victor over the devil and His works and ways, that you gain the victory.
That brings us back to the passage I read at the beginning: “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.”  The only power we have to resist and overcome the devil comes through baptismal grace.  Baptized into Christ, who is the Son of God, we have forgiveness and spiritual victory which lasts to eternal life. Amen.
[1] Usually translated “mind” but includes “thought, purpose, will, resolution, aspiration” (Liddell Scott Jones Lexicon of Classical Greek, φρόνημα)