A Battle Lost But the War Won
1 Lent, A
In the readings for today we hear of not one but two of the most important battles that humanity have ever been engaged in. They are two spiritual conflicts which define the human condition and determine human destiny. In both cases the enemy that man is fighting is satan. In the first battle man suffers a terrible defeat. The enemy's crafty and deceptive tactics win the day. But in the second, man wins the greatest of victories. The devil's attack is handily fought off and he is routed. In Adam mankind lost the battle, in Jesus the war is won.
The first battle took place in the garden of Eden. Satan attacks man by tempting him to seek his independence from God. It works. The devil wants mankind to see itself as autonomous, unconstrained by God's Word or Will. Free from any divine authority. He wants man to think of himself as a sovereign, self-ruling individual. You see, it is not about the fruit. It is all about turning Adam and Eve into something other than what they were created by God to be. “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.”
God is keeping something from you. Strike out on your own … just a bit. Just in this one little thing that is not fair or loving. You can have all the power and insight of God Himself. Do what I say and you will be much wiser and so much more aware. Be your own Lord! The sin of Adam and Eve is one of rebellion. They buy into the lie and try to become something more than human. The creatures try to put themselves on a level with the creator. In forsaking what God made them to be, in turning away from the perfect joy of life He had given them to live, they actually end up becoming so much less than human.
And satan still uses the same tactics on you, dear child of Adam and Eve. In place of God's Words and Sacramental Gifts, he offers something supposedly better. He cunningly lures you into thinking you can be independent from God. That you can be self-sufficient … even if it is just in small things like your money or your time. The devil still says “Be your own master! Do your own thing!” The devil tries to get you to bow down to the idol of self, to worship your own thinking and desires. You belong to you and nobody else. You make up your own rules. You determine what's good and right and true for you. You are in charge of your own life. You earned it, you decide what to do with it. It's all about self-help, self-importance, and self-fulfillment.
The devil's promises, however, are empty. He is the father of lies. He doesn't give – only takes. He is only ever in the business of plundering and leaving behind nothing but desolation. In striving to be like God, mankind lost its humanity. In attempting to become divine, man became mortal. We have lost the life God created us to have. As we recalled again this past Wednesday “We are dust and to dust we will return.”
And while that one lost battle continues to have such dire consequences on our lives to this very day, the war has been won in Christ. Jesus is that second Adam, the one who came to undo the first Adam's sin. The one who came to overcome death and the power of the devil for ever more. Jesus is the new Adam, the last Adam, who came to stand in for us and fight off all the onslaughts of the devil in our place. The one who conquered them decisively and completely.
It is what we see happening in the Gospel reading for today. The war winning second battle between man and the devil. The first Adam wanted to be like God. The second Adam, this Jesus of Nazareth, who is true God – makes himself true man. He submits fully and freely to His heavenly Father's will. He doesn't exalt Himself to a higher position; He lovers Himself in order to serve and save mankind. The first Adam was in a rich garden. But Christ our victorious Adam, places himself into a barren wasteland in order to restore man to paradise. He's there in the wilderness as our substitute and representative, facing down the old enemy on our behalf. Though Jesus is without sin, He subjects himself to all of the effects of sin – hunger, thirst, weakness, and distress – in order that He might truly be one of us in His battle against satan. Our destiny in entirely in Christ's hands.
On the surface He appears to be no match for the devil and his old bag of tricks, for He stands there alone in weak human flesh with no weapons save the Word of Gd. But Jesus fights not with human power but with the power of the living God. Against each careful attack Jesus is ready with God's Word. The one thing Adam ignored is the very thing that delivers the victory from satan's vile clutches. And again, just like in the garden, the one defeated doesn't even realize it until it is too late.
For Jesus will use the devil's own devices to bring about his eternal defeat. The one who wields the bludgeon of death over fallen humanity will himself be done in by death. For it is precisely in Christ's death that Jesus brings about satan's final downfall. For upon that cross the second Adam takes away the sin that once gave satan his deathly power over us. Then rising to life again Jesus forever breaks sin's curse. It is no longer Dust to dust but dust to Life for those who trust in Christ to deliver them. Jesus came forth from the grave eternally triumphant over death and the devil for you. And so satan has fallen into his own death trap. Jesus, by His death and resurrection has fulfilled the Promise of the Father while still in the Garden of Eden. He has crushed satan's head. No longer can the devil cause you or anyone who trust in Christ any eternal harm. You have been baptized into Christ the conqueror. The war is over. Oh sure, that old serpent may still hiss and squirm and convulse. But ultimately he can't touch you. You have the victory in Christ.
And in that victory you have the power to send the hordes of hell into retreat in all the battles yet to be fought before the field is cleared. You have the means, in Jesus, to master and vanquish the foe. For when you are tempted and tested you have at your disposal the very same Word of God with which to run the devil through. For that Word is living and active. It is powerful and sharper than any double-edged sword. When you call upon Christ in prayer and faith you are calling on one who can sympathize with your weaknesses, one who was in all points tempted just as you are … yet without sin. Come boldly, therefore to the throne of grace, that you may obtain mercy and fine help in your time of need. For Christ truly is your refuge, your mighty fortress. He has carried your human flesh into the very heart of temptation and he has triumphed!