“I don’t like you.” “I hate you.” “I wish you were dead.” Have you ever heard those phrases spoken to you before? There’s probably a good chance that you. And even if you haven’t heard them spoken by a person to you, you have had them spoken to you. Your enemy, the devil, has spoken those words to you, time and time again. He loves to speak those words to you because he doesn’t like you, because he hates you, and because he does wish you were dead. The reason why he speaks those words to you is because you are a child of God and he doesn’t like that. That’s why, for you, God sends forth His Son, Jesus Christ, into the world to combat Satan.
Turning to our Gospel reading, it begins with the Baptism of Jesus and God declaring forth, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” Here is God’s pronouncement of who Jesus is, the very Son of God. That’s what you and I want to hear. That’s exactly what Satan doesn’t want to hear! Here is Jesus Christ, the Son of God, beginning His ministry of salvation for the people of God. That’s good news for us, or at least, it should be. Here is a God who isn’t aloof, twiddling His thumbs as His creation continues in a life of sin and death. He sends forth the only one capable of putting an end to death, once and for all. That sounds great, until it isn’t.
Mark goes on to say, “The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan.” That’s not good news for us, but it’s great news for Satan! Here is his opportunity to defeat God, once and for all. He tried it once, but failed to realize that he, the creation, was inferior to God, the Creator. He revolted and took with him angels and was cast out of the presence of God. But here is Round 2, a second chance of victory over God. If he can’t defeat God directly, then the next best thing is to defeat God through Jesus. And that’s exactly what he sets out to do.
For forty days, Satan tempted Jesus with a singular desire – get Jesus to give into temptation. Surely it can’t be that hard; it worked on Adam and Eve. Satan knew what he was doing. If he could get Jesus to give into temptation, any temptation, then he wins. It doesn’t matter what the temptation, whether great or small. It doesn’t matter what the temptation is, just get Jesus to give in to temptation. And once Jesus does, God’s means of salvation for His people is done. When Jesus gives in, Satan wins and it’s game over for God.
But that’s where Satan got too cocky. He truly thought that he would be able to tempt Jesus, that sooner or later, He would break and give in to temptation. Satan could wait Him out; it was just the two of them. Eventually, Jesus would give in.
And that’s where Satan loses Round 2.
Jesus would not give in. The stakes were too high. Creation had lost once already. It would never see the Garden of Eden again. There was no more perfection, only imperfection. There was no life, only death. That’s a fact, one that Satan enjoys. When he says, “I wish you were dead,” he meant it. And, he is right. We are dead, dead in our trespasses and sins. But because of Jesus, our death is past tense. St. Paul writes to the Ephesians, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ….”
That’s not what Satan wants you to hear. He wants you to hear that you are still dead, still separated from God, still hopeless. But Jesus comes to make you alive again. Jesus comes to unite you to God once again. Jesus comes as the giver of hope.
Our Lord Jesus Christ is the Lamb of God who carries away the sin of the world. Even though He carried the sin of the entire world into the desert, He Himself never sinned. He endured and triumphed over every temptation of the devil. Hebrews says, “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” Jesus endured the temptations of the devil and triumphed. He not only endured the temptation in the wilderness, but He also endured all the other temptations that the devil threw at Him as He journeyed to the cross.
Because of Christ’s victory over the devil during His 40 days of temptation, you have won as well. Christ’s victory over sin, death, and the devil is your victory over sin, death, and the devil. God sent His Son into the world to deal with all three of these. In the luscious, fruitful Garden of Eden, the serpent tempted the first man; in the bleak, barren wilderness he tried the same with the stronger Man. Jesus, the second Adam, would dispatch the devil, defeating Satan who had caused the fall of the first Adam. As a result of the first man’s sin, Adam could only lead his wife out from Paradise and into this land of disease, decay and death. As a result of Jesus’ victory over Satan in the desert, the Lord journeyed out from the desert in order to lead His bride, the Church, from this world and into Paradise.
It is important for us to know that Jesus endured all the hardships that we endure. He is our substitute. He doesn’t just know our lives academically, but He has experienced life as we know it. He was tempted just as we are tempted. He also experienced our pain, our sorrow, and our frustrations. He experienced it all except that He never sinned.
In spite of the fact that He never sinned, He was full of sin. St. Paul writes, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Just as the High Priest placed the sin of Israel on the scapegoat, God has placed the sin of the world on Jesus. He became full of our sin – your sin, my sin, the sin of the entire world. Jesus has carried that sin to the cross. As we remember the cross, we will remember that our sin filled Him as He suffered and died to pay the penalty that God’s justice demanded – a payment that freed us from our slavery to sin.
For us during this Lententide, our focus is this: Christ has defeated Satan, once and for all, and because of that, salvation has been won for you and for me, through our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. In the name of Jesus, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.