In the first three Rocky movies, Sylvester Stallone’s character Rocky Balboa faces two fights that are rematches. However, they could not be more different. In the movie Rocky, the boxer’s only goal is to go all fifteen rounds against the World Champion Apollo Creed – something that no one has ever done. In shocking fashion, Rocky not only goes the distance but even comes close to upsetting Creed at the end of the fight. He achieves his goal, even as a loses in a split decision. Then in the sequel, Rocky II, Rocky and Creed have a rematch. Rocky barely beats Creed as both fighters are knocked down and Rocky manages to rise up again while Creed falls just short in his attempt to do so.
In the third movie, Rocky III, Rocky faces the powerful opponent Clubber Lang, played by Mr. T. In their fight, Clubber Lang destroys Rocky as he knocks him out early, and takes away the World Champion title. It is an experience that shakes Rocky to his core as for the first time in fighting he experiences fear. Yet trained by his former opponent Apollo Creed, Rocky eventually recovers the hungry edge – “the eye of the tiger.” In the rematch, he dominates Clubber Lang – showing that he no longer fears him – and knocks Lang out in the early rounds.
In our Old Testament and Gospel lessons for the First Sunday in Lent we see an initial battle, and then a rematch. In the first, it is Adam vs. the devil. In the rematch it is Jesus, the second Adam vs. the devil. These two encounters are like the two fights between Rocky and Clubber Lang. In first Adam suffers an overwhelming defeat. Then in the rematch, it is Jesus Christ who never falters on his way to a crushing and final victory.
In our Old Testament lesson we hear about the Fall. God had created all of the cosmos, including our world as the place where man was to live. Here he planted the Garden of Eden as the home for man. God created Adam from the dust of the ground and breathed into him the breath of life. God put Adam in the garden to work it and keep it. He told him, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”
God gave every tree in the garden to Adam – every tree but one. He told Adam that he was not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. This tree was the means by which Adam confessed that God was God. He showed that he feared, loved and trusted in God above all things by not eating of this one tree.
Next we learn that God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” God creates Eve from Adam as the helper who corresponds to him – the one without whom life is not very good. In doing so God establishes marriage as the one flesh union of a man and a woman. He also establishes the spiritual headship of the husband. You will note that Adam received the instruction about the tree of the knowledge of good and evil before Eve was created. It was Adam who taught Eve about what God had said.
In our text, the devil approaches Eve in the form of a serpent and says, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” Now there are two things to observe about what he said. First, the question is phrased in a way that is intended to cause doubt about God’s Word: “Did God actually say….?
This is same tactic that the devil has been using since that day. Of course today, he doesn’t speak to us directly. But he uses the world to deliver the same question. Did God actually say that he created the world in six days? Did God actually say that the crucified and risen Christ is the only way to salvation? Did God actually say that sex is only to be used within marriage? Did God actually say that he loves are cares for you?
The second thing to note is that the devil lies by twisting the words into something God didn’t say. Jesus tells us that the devil is a liar and a murderer. He speaks lies to us through the world all the time. He says that there is no such thing as truth. He says that you can be “spiritual,” and you don’t need religion. He says that you are free to decide what you believe is true for you.
When Eve corrected the devil and told him that only the tree in the midst of the garden would bring death, the devil replied, “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. They could be so much more. They could be like God.
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. So she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. We learn, “Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked.” They disobeyed God’s command – they sinned – and in that moment they recognized that everything had changed.
Now at the beginning of the sermon I said that this was the initial battle between Adam and the devil. Of course, in the events that lead to the fall, Adam is barely even mentioned. That’s how easily and completely the devil defeated him.
Created first by God and given the role of headship, he was the one who had taught God’s will to Eve. Yet now he ignores his role and responsibility as he is guided by his wife in spiritual matters. We hear God’s rebuke of Adam when he says, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ and then goes on to describe the curse upon the ground. The devil doesn’t even have to deal directly with Adam in order to get him to sin.
Yet sin he did, right along with Eve. And the consequences were devastating. We learn in our text that pain, hardship, strife – all the things we know to be part of life – were caused by the Fall. What was very good, became something that can be a nightmare because of sin.
As the offspring of Adam and Eve, you are no different. The devil gets you to doubt God’s Word as he raises the question, “Did God really say?” He feeds you lies through the world, and you believe them. He tells you that God is holding out on you and trying to limit your freedom and your fun. After all, why should you take out time during your day to read God’s Word and pray? Why should you take time out of your Sunday morning to come to Bible class and bring your children to Sunday school? Why should you take time out of your week to attend mid-week Lent services or a service celebrating the ascension of Jesus Christ? And by the way husbands, many of these things are a matter of whether you are going to demonstrate the spiritual headship and leadership God has assigned to you. Or are you going to act like Adam and ignore the responsibility God has given you?
The devil completely and utterly defeated Adam. But in our text we hear the God’s promise of a rematch. He says to the devil, “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.” God says that a descendant of Eve will defeat the devil. He promises a Savior who will win a rematch.
Working through the history of Israel – through Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah and David – in the fullness of time God sent forth this Savior. He was indeed the offspring of the Eve. He was also the Son of God as Jesus Christ was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary.
Jesus Christ came to fulfill the Father’s will. He came to defeat the devil. But the way in which he would do this is not what we would expect. In order to provide the answer to sin, Jesus Christ came as the suffering Servant. He came as the One who would bear our sins and receive God’s judgment in our place. At his baptism, Jesus stepped into this role. From the moment of his baptism, Jesus’ life and ministry was directed towards one goal – his death on the cross.
In our Gospel lesson we see Jesus and the devil go against each other, one on one. The devil’s goal to is derail Jesus’ ministry. He tries to get Jesus to serve himself, instead of carrying out the Father’s will. Yet where Adam failed, Jesus Christ does not. And this is not the only attack Jesus faces. After predicting his passion for the first time, Peter said, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” But our Lord turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
Where Adam was unfaithful, Jesus was faithful all the way to the suffering and death of the cross. The death of Jesus by crucifixion certainly looked like defeat. But on the third day – on Easter – God raised Jesus from the dead. He vindicated Jesus as the Christ and in the ascension exalted him to his right hand. God demonstrated that our Lord had delivered a crushing and final defeat to the devil.
In Christ, your sin is forgiven. In Christ, death has been defeated and the resurrection of the Last Day has started. In Christ you have received your Lord through the work of the Spirit – you have been freed from the devil. You know that this is true for you because you have been baptized!
Because of Jesus Christ, the devil is a defeated enemy. But make no mistake, his is still a strong and dangerous enemy. He is like the Japanese in the Pacific during the second half of World War II. They no longer had any hope of victory. Instead, their tactic became one of trying to take as many Americans with them in death as they could. No battle illustrates this better than the fight for Iwo Jima that began this past Friday in 1945.
The devil has lost the rematch. Jesus Christ has won the final victory. As a baptized child of God, your mission is to follow Jesus Christ in faith until death or Christ’s return. The devil will continue to speak the through the world asking, “Did God really say?” He will continue to speak lies to you. He wants to reclaim you and take you down into destruction with him.
So how do we resist these attacks? Our Lord Jesus shows us the way in our Gospel lesson. He uses the Word of God. The Word of God is the tool – the weapon – by which we are defended. And when I say the Word, I mean the Word in all its forms as Christ gives it to us in the Means of Grace. Through Scripture, Holy Baptism, Holy Absolution and the Sacrament of the Altar Christ’s Spirit keeps us in the faith and enables us to resist the attacks of the devil. There we learn we find what God really does say. There we find the truth. There we receive strength through the Spirit to remain faithful to our Lord as we look forward to his return and the resurrection of the dead.