It was another thrilling ending to the Super Bowl two weeks ago as the Baltimore Ravens made a defensive stand at the goal line in order to hold on to victory against the San Francisco 49ers. In recent memory the Super Bowls have been one great game after another, so much so that it hard to believe that there was a time when Super Bowl meant “super blowout.” Year after year there was the huge hype for the Super Bowl, and year after year one team just destroyed the other in a game that was completely boring by the second half.
Denver Broncos quarterback John Elway was on the wrong end of three of those blow outs in the span of four years between 1987 and 1990. In 1987 Elway and the Broncos lost 39 to 20 to the New York Giants. The next year the Broncos were back in the Super Bowl where they lost 42 to 10 to the Washington Redskins. And then, two years later in 1990 they played in the Super Bowl and lost 55 to 10 to the San Francisco 49ers. It is the nature of the position that quarterbacks get the credit when success occurs and the blame when there is failure. John Elway became a poster boy for Super Bowl futility. He was saddled with the shameful label that he wasn’t able “to win the big one.”
The Broncos fell on hard times and in 1992 their long time coach Dan Reeves was fired. A new era began a few years later as Mike Shanahan became the coach. With him arrived a new running back, Terrell Davis, and a new zone blocking scheme. In the waning years of his career Elway was no longer asked to be the gunslinger who carried the team. Instead the Bronco’s power running game set up his effective passing.
In 1998 John Elway and the Broncos were back in the Super Bowl as underdogs against the Green Bay Packers. However, this new version of the Broncos won an exciting game 31 to 24 and gave Elway his first Super Bowl ring. They returned to the Super Bowl the next year and won again. Elway then retired after winning back to back Super Bowls. He completely changed his legacy as now he is remembered as a Super Bowl champion quarterback.
In our Gospel lesson today we see Jesus Christ being tempted by the devil. Our Old Testament lesson is intentionally paired with the Gospel for there we see Adam tempted by the devil and sinning in the Fall. Here at the start of Lent we see these two figures involved in spiritual conflict – Adam and Jesus. Like John Elway and the Broncos, the first time around there is dismal failure. Yet in the second encounter there is a significant change as Jesus Christ wins the victory. This victory points forward to the final victory which Jesus has won in his death and resurrection. And like John Elway, this victory has completely changed the legacy of all who believe in Christ.
Our Gospel lesson begins by saying, “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” The word “then” is very important because it links the temptation to what has just happened. What has taken place is the baptism of Jesus – an event that we observed during Epiphany. There Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist. As he emerged from the water the heavens were opened to him; the Spirit of God descended like a dove and came to rest on him; and God the Father said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” The descent of the Spirit upon Jesus and the words of the Father identified Jesus as the Servant of the Lord – the One who would be the suffering Servant. In his baptism Jesus Christ stepped into our shoes and took his place for us.
Now immediately after this event in which Jesus was anointed with the Holy Spirit, the Spirit leads Jesus into the wilderness for a reason. He leads him there into order to be tempted by the devil. Jesus Christ has begun the mission to take humanity’s place. He goes to set right what has gone wrong. In order to do this he must face the devil’s temptation to ignore the Father’s will. And he does all this because the first time around, things didn’t turn out so well.
We hear about that first time in our Old Testament lesson. Created in God’s image as the perfect complement for one another, Adam and Eve lived in complete fellowship with God as they dwelt in the paradise he had created – the Garden of Eden. God had made them masters and stewards of this creation as they lived in perfect harmony with one another. He had given them only one word – one thing by which they showed that they were creatures and he was the Creator. He told them not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, because if they did so, they would die.
The devil came to Eve in the form of the serpent with a plan. He had come to make Eve doubt God’s word. When Eve corrected him and said they could eat of any tree, just not the tree of the knowledge of good and evil or else they would die, he said, “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.” The devil said that God was holding out on them – that Adam and Eve could become so much more. And Eve believed him. When Eve 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 Adam who was with her, and he ate.
And in that moment they realized the horrible mistake they had made. They had sinned and because of that sin everything had changed. The terrible extent of that change became clear as God told them what things would now be like. The relationship between Adam and Eve – between man and woman – would now be one of tension and strife. Life would be one of pain and hardship. And life would end – they would die.
This is the life we inhabit. We have it from the moment we are conceived. We are people who doubt God’s word. We don’t trust him in our lives because we think we have a better plan and we get angry at him when things don’t go according to that plan. Our relationships – and especially our marriages – are marred by tension and strife because we are too busy thinking about ourselves, instead of what we can do to support and encourage our spouse. Worse than that, we can’t seem to learn when to let things go – we hang on to the ways that we think we have been wronged. We ignore the fact that by doing so we are just making our own lives miserable.
This is the life that the Son of God entered into in the incarnation. He was the second time around – the chance to redeem humanity from the slavery of sin and death. He was like us in all ways, yet without sin. He wasn’t fallen like us, but he lived in this fallen world and experienced all of the suffering it had to offer. And in order to fulfill his saving mission he had to face the temptation of the devil, just as Adam and Eve had.
He experienced this world’s suffering. We see this in the first temptation of our Gospel lesson. We learn, “And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.” To which I say, “Yeah, I bet he was!” And it was then that the devil came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” Now there is no question here about whether Jesus is the Son of God or not. Whenever the demons meet Jesus they know exactly who he is – they just can’t figure out why he is there and it is not yet the Last Day.
The devil’s statement really means since you are the Son of God. You’re the Son of God. You have the power. So use it to make your life easier. Serve yourself. But the devil here is really playing the same old game – the same plan that he used on Adam and Eve. The Father has sent Jesus with the mission of being the suffering Servant for us. That’s what his baptism was all about. The devil wants the Son to doubt the Father’s Word. He wants the Son to conclude that there is something better out there than what the Father has given him to experience and do.
Yet Jesus does not waiver. He holds on to God’s Word and says, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
Next the devil and Jesus are off to the pinnacle of the temple. The challenge is, “Do something dramatic that will draw attention to you – the kind of attention you deserve as the Son of God.” But this is not what the Father has given the Son to do, and so Jesus responds with God’s Word: “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
And finally it is off to a high mountain where the devil shows Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and their glory, and says to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” The devil invites Jesus to submit to him instead of the Father. The Father offers service, suffering and death. The devil offers all the good stuff now with no suffering. But Jesus won’t be tricked. He won’t disobey. He won’t take the easy way in order to serve himself. He said to the devil, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’”
Jesus, the Son of God overcomes the devil and his temptations. But this is merely the opening round of a struggle that does not reach its culmination until Jesus has arrived at the means by which he frees us from the sin and death that Adam and Eve brought into the world. Jesus said of the mission given to him by the Father, “The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
On Good Friday Jesus hangs on a cross. And there, from the jeering crowds below we hear an echo of the devil’s words in the temptation – because they really are his words. They say, “If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” To the very end the temptation is: Use your power!; Show who you are!; Don’t stay on the course of suffering!
But where the first Adam was defeated and brought us sin and death, Jesus Christ the second Adam wins the victory by dying. He is obedient unto death – even death on a cross. By this death he wins forgiveness for us. And by his resurrection he defeats death. He is the true second Adam because he is the beginning of what we will be when he returns in glory.
The second time around has changed everything for us. It has changed our present because now we are the forgiven children of God. It has changed our future because we are able to look forward to the day when we will share in Jesus’ resurrection and life in the renewed creation – in paradise as this creation was intended to be.
But those aren’t the only thing it changes. It also changes the way we live – what we do and say. And just like Jesus, this change receives its foundation in our baptism. Jesus’ saving ministry – his mission to serve us – began at his baptism. And it is through your baptism that the Holy Spirit has joined you to our Lord’s saving work. There you were born again of water and the Spirit. There, the Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead began his work in you – a work that will reach its final conclusion when you share in the resurrection on the Last Day.
The Spirit brings the resurrection power of Jesus into the lives of believers so that as they look in faith towards God’s gift of baptism they are able more and more to live in the ways of Jesus – to live in the way of service, and love, and forgiveness. The results may be imperfect now because until the Last Day we are still people who bear the old Adam. But as we believe in the Spirit’s work through baptism and want live as one who is in Christ, he provides the ability to be “little Christs” to our spouse, our children and our neighbor.