After baptism, there is a test.
For Jesus, it was a grueling six weeks in the wilderness with Satan.
For Lutherans, it is even worse: two years in confirmation with me.
Because I sometimes wonder whether the adults in church have the chops to hang
with the kids, I'm going to give you all a one question test.
You can write the answer on your yellow attendance card [while Mark plays the final Jeopardy! theme.]
The question is about what the serpent said to Eve.
Was it truth, lie, or marketing?
The answer is, it was marketing.
Marketing, you see, deliciously mixes truth with deception in its blender of spin.
Quality marketing is so effective with us who are at the same time saints and
sinners because it attracts both facets of who we are.
It appeals to what we know is true and then redirects us, subtly and gently and smoothly,
to the lie it wants us to swallow, the empty promise it wants us to purchase.
The serpent begins by planting a seed of scarcity: Did God say you shall not eat of any
tree in the garden?
Eve does not take this bait; she is better at trusting abundance than so many of us who
have far more than she did.
The truth that her eyes will be opened, however, combined the lie that she won't die and
the attractiveness of the forbidden fruit, tripwire her obedience and close the sale.
The virus becomes a pandemic: death spread to all because all have sinned, Paul writes.
The story is the start of a long litany of death and distance from the God of life.
We are just the latest generation in a long parade of tempted saints and troubled sinners.
This Lent, if you can't give up marketing, you can give up feeling guilty.
None of us pass through this wilderness unscathed.
Marketing is too powerful; temptation is too tricky.
When you sidestep one you sink into another.
Because evil is a parody of good, we are tempted not by bad things but good ones: food,
wisdom, efficiency, confidence in God's protection, the power to influence.
Sex, drugs, and rock and roll are all gifts from God, just like fire and water and family
and other things that can kill us.
The devil quotes Scripture and has known God longer than we have, so it is far easier for
evil to twist Scripture than it is for us to let Scripture twist and reshape us.
Only Jesus passes every test and gets every question right—he's the kid in class nobody
likes but everyone relies on.
The reason we read his temptation as gospel, as good news, is that he walks into our
story and then leads us if not carries us through it.
He knows that God has better things for us than anything instant gratification can offer.
C.S. Lewis preached:
If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the
rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires,
not to strong, but too weak.
We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when
infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud
pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday
at the sea.
We are far too easily pleased.
Jesus, thankfully, refuses to settle.
Therefore just as one man's trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man's act of
righteousness leads to justificiation and life for all, Paul explains, then keeps
explaining further, because he's Paul.
So by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous.
Righteousness is right relationship with God and with one another.
Jesus preserves and provides that for us against the onslaught of the Tempter.
In his words, Jesus is fulfilling all righteousness—he is with us in the slum, remaking and perfecting our mud pies, and giving us a glimpse of the sea.
This is why Matthew is very intentional about the progression of the three wilderness
temptations, which are in a different order than they are in Luke's gospel.
Stones into bread, throw yourself down, worship and rule.
It is the same order Israel faced in the wilderness.
They were hungry and received manna; then they doubted God's providence and received
water from the stricken rock; then they worshiped a golden calf, settling for their
image of power rather than the invisible Real Thing.
They went 0 for 3 with a walk.
Jesus, however, relives, rewrites, and redeems that story.
He does not settle for bread or spectacle or political power or any other false God.
He does not settle for instant gratification or influence or human glory.
He relies instead on the weird, difficult words of the God who loves him.
God drives him into the wilderness, with no food or internet, and he goes.
God drives him to the cross, and he goes.
And notice the nuance in that story.
It begins with Jesus turning bread into grace for hearts of stone.
It continues with Jesus throwing himself down just outside the holy city as the
curtain of the temple was torn in two.
It concludes with Jesus on a mountain, where his disciples worship him before he sends
them to make disciples of all the kingdoms of the world.
The three temptations become the The Three Days.
Jesus relives, rewrites, and redeems this story, in God's time, on God's terms, and
unmasks Satan's marketing ploys as half-hearted parodies of God's plan.
He sees what we cannot, and so we lean on him to guide us.
He knows and lives our story better than we do.
So in the relentless grip of temptation and tests we improve upon but never ace, in our
whirlwind of fear and uncertainty and marketing and misdirection, in the constant
struggle that is righteousness, we work hard but we pray harder.
O Lord, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending,
through paths untrodden, through perils unknown.
Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your
hand is leading us and your love supporting us; through Jesus Christ our Lord.