Christ Jesus lives by faith in His Father. That comes naturally to Him, of course, because He is the only-begotten Son of the Father from all eternity: God from God, Light from Light, very God of very God. But now He also lives that same divine Sonship — He lives by fear, love, and trust in His God and Father — in His own human flesh, in the nature He received from His Mother in the fullness of time, in which He now and ever after lives as your blood Brother. What is more, He lives by such faith, this beloved and well-pleasing Son, even under the curse and consequences of Adam’s fall into sin. He shares the sin and death of all mankind, as though it were His own, even though He commits no sins of His own, nor is there anything but grace upon His lips.
He knows the weakness, pain, and urgent tug of hunger in His gut. He knows the slow and steady passage of time, from one moment to the next, within which He waits upon the Lord and looks to Him with patient trust. The days and nights come and go for Him as they do for you, and His flesh feels their weight and their burden, while He yet waits for His Father to feed Him in due season.
Although He is a Son — He is, and was, and ever shall be the Son of God by nature — yet, for you and your salvation, He learns the obedience of sonship through His suffering and temptation in His Body of flesh and blood. He learns, not as though He were ignorant, but in order to exercise compassion. He learns by the experience of your condition. He bears your griefs and shares your sorrows, in order to become your merciful and great High Priest in all things pertaining to God.
That is what the Temptation of our Lord is all about. For everything He does and says and suffers, He does it all for your sake, in order to save you from sin and death to the Glory of His God and Father. For it is the Glory of God to save sinners by His divine grace. Hence, Christ Jesus is the Savior of fallen men and women, solely for the sake of His love. He becomes like them and shares their predicament, in order to rescue them, to raise them from the dust of the earth, and to recreate them in His Image and Likeness. He comes in the likeness of your mortal flesh, in order to enliven your flesh and blood, your body and soul, with His Holy Spirit and His divine Sonship; so that you thus become a child of the heavenly Father in this Lord Jesus Christ who loves you.
The Temptations of our Lord are both unique to Him and universal to all the children of man. For He is tempted in all the ways that you are, yet without sin. And whereas temptation arises for you, not only from outside of you, but also from within yourself — from the discontent and covetous lust of your own sinful heart — for Christ our Lord there is no sin at all within Him. His heart and mind are set upon His God and Father from the inside-out; and so it is that His Body also lives and dies in peace and love, because He always abides in perfect faith. At all times and in all places, He worships the Father in Spirit and Truth, and gives all glory, honor, thanks, and praise to Him. Jesus remains confident and content in the Word and promise of His Baptism, even in the desert, and even on the Cross. He prays to and trusts in the One who is able to raise Him up from death.
But, so that He might be tempted as you are, in order to become your great High Priest and Savior, He deliberately deprives His Body of food. He prays and keeps the fast of forty days and nights. Even this He does not do at His own whim, but the Spirit of His Father leads Him up from His Baptism into the wilderness, and in faith and love He goes. In becoming hungry, Jesus experiences in Himself the bodily need and desire for nourishment — not covetous lust, but a real hunger of His own natural human flesh. In this way He is tested by God like Old Testament Israel in the wilderness, and He is subjected to the temptations of the devil, in order to be strengthened in His obedience to the Father by way of an active exercise of faithfulness in the midst of adversity.
This is more than just an example, and far more than simply a token case of empathy for you. He suffers this voluntary weakness and want in order to provide for you — to raise you up from sin and death to faith and life — by the way and means of His own persistent faith and perseverance.
In Adam all men die, because in Adam all men sin. Although the first man and woman lacked nothing, they were tempted by a desire for what God had not given, for the one thing that God had set apart for their humble obedience to and reverent worship of Him. And by their disregard of His Word, they gave up the contentment and peace of the Garden and the friendship of the Lord, in exchange for anxiety and animosity, hardship and toil, pain and death. Such is your inheritance as a child of their fallen flesh and blood. But, so too, the promise of God to Adam and Eve is also for you and for your children, and for your children’s children, as also for all the children of man.
So it is that One of the sons of Adam, the Seed of the Woman, has restored the Image and Likeness of God in Man. He is born without sin, because He is the Son of God, begotten of the Father from eternity. But He does not keep His distance from the sons and daughters of affliction. He does not hold Himself aloof, nor does He go His own way. Although He is incarnate God, He humbles Himself and makes Himself nothing, in order to become the Firstborn of many brothers and sisters; that He might be fruitful and bring forth a multitude of children for His God and Father in heaven.
He puts Himself in your place — not in a lush Paradise of plenty, but in the harsh wilderness of blood, sweat, and tears, where you must labor long and hard to make ends meet, and still you perish in the end. It is in that place of hardship and hurt, of hunger and hard work, that He lives as the true Son. He returns to the dust of the earth from which you and father Adam are taken, in order to make you and all things brand new by His faith and faithfulness in the promises of His Father in heaven. He likewise becomes the new Israel, passing through the water into the desert in order to live by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God. He is tempted, tried, and tested, so that His Sonship, His fear, love, and trust in God, and His steadfast obedience of faith, are all established deeply and forever in His human flesh and blood — for you and for all people.
Understand that, when the Lord your God disciplines you, as a father disciplines his son in love, and when He allows you to go hungry before He opens wide His hand to feed you at the proper time, He does so to humble you, to break your prideful heart, and to bring you in repentance back to Himself. He thereby teaches you not to rely upon your own futile self-righteousness, but to rest yourself in Him, to call upon His Name, and to wait upon His providential care.
With Christ Jesus, it is the same experience, but also the opposite. For, unlike you, He is Life in Himself, and He is able to do all things. And yet, He is not prideful or presumptuous. He has no need of any repentance for Himself. Rather, He humbles Himself and bears the discipline of His Father on your behalf, and thereby extends His faith and righteousness to you. He relies upon His Father, and He awaits the Father’s rescue from death and the grave, in order to raise you up from the dirt in His Resurrection, to glorify you as a beloved and well-pleasing child of God in Him.
It is for this reason and to this end that He faces what He faces in the desert wilderness. He takes on the tempter and all of your temptations of heart, mind, body, soul, and spirit, in order to atone for all your sins and failures, and to open up a new way of life for you.
That Way of Life which He opens up and sets before you is the way of faith in the Word that God has spoken. Such faith does not contrive or compromise; it is not desperate or impatient; it does not seek detours or short cuts around the Cross that God has appointed. Faith is neither reckless nor presumptuous. It does not attempt to prove God by putting Him to the test, nor does it seek to use Him for personal gratification. Faith loves and worships the Lord, the one true God, and does nothing to contradict or disobey His commandments. It cannot and will not trade the Kingdom of God and His righteousness for the false and fading glory of this world and its politics of power and prestige. Faith abides in the Word and Spirit of Christ Jesus, come hell or high water against it, and no matter how foolish or unreasonable it may seem.
Such faith and life are yours in Christ Jesus because He has made it so, and because He has given these things to you by your Baptism in His Name. That is the new inheritance and legacy of this new and better Adam, which is for you and for your children by His grace. As He entered the wilderness to be with you here by the waters of His Baptism in the Jordan River, so does He bring you through the waters of your Baptism — through His Cross and Resurrection — out of death into life, out of the desert into the Canaan of His Church on earth, and finally into Paradise.
By your Baptism into Christ, you have a new genealogy, a new Father, a new and right Spirit, and a new Sonship. You have a new life. Or, to say it even better, you have real Life instead of death.
How, then, shall you live this life that is yours in Christ Jesus? How shall you live by faith in God, your dear Father in heaven? And how shall you survive your time in this wilderness, surrounded by temptations within and without, as you sojourn on your way to the Promised Land?
The command and promise of the Lord your God is this: Resist the devil, and he will flee from you, as surely as he departed from Christ and left Him. Because the devil actually has nothing but lies and deception. Even when he cites the Holy Scriptures, he spins and twists the truth into lies. He is crafty and clever, but the devil is not creative, because he is not God; he is a creature himself, who has nothing but what the Lord permits and tolerates. So it is that, even on your lips, the Word of the Lord defeats him, and Satan must flee as the Lord commands. Do not doubt that it is so.
In truth, the Lord your God is faithful. He will do and provide for you all that He has promised. He is the One who preserves you in the wilderness, even in spite of your mortal frailty and sinful weaknesses. Indeed, by His own resistance of the devil in flesh and blood like your own, Christ Jesus your Savior has already defeated that old dragon, and He has won the Victory for you.
As that same Lord Jesus Christ has united Himself to you, and you to Him, in Holy Baptism, and as He now feeds you with Himself — with His Word, and with His flesh and blood, a better Manna from heaven than Israel ever received — so does He strengthen and sustain your body and soul with His own faith and faithfulness, that you might live with God and be kept safe from the devil.
To be sure, the Lord does not constrain you against your will. He does not violate your heart and mind, nor does He rob you of your freedom in this body and life. He has created you for love and friendship, and so He leaves you free to love, to be a friend of God and man in peace. But so it is that you are also free and susceptible to genuine temptations in this present wilderness. You can and do fall into such temptations, into sins of thought, word, and deed, and into the snares of the devil. You are tempted by the hungers of your mortal flesh, as it desperately attempts to hang onto this life on earth. You are tempted by the scheming of your mind and fallen reason, by your great brain and your money-loving heart, to use and abuse the gifts of God in a futile effort to seize the kingdoms and the power and the glory of this perverse and perishing world. And you are tempted by the vanity of your sinful heart, which covets for yourself the glory that belongs to God alone.
Guard your heart and mind, therefore, with the Word of God in Christ. Exercise the new heart, soul, mind, and spirit He has given you, by resisting the devil and turning away from his deceits.
And where you have failed and fallen short, repent of your sins and return to the Lord your God. Hear and receive the Word and promise of the Gospel in His means of grace, and rehearse that Gospel by prayer and confession. Above all, seek out His free and full forgiveness of your sins, which is here given to you by His ministers in His Name. And so also, cease and desist from the sins that have ensnared you; not that you will save yourself, but because the Son of God has saved you from sin and every evil and has made you a child of God, anointed and filled by His Holy Spirit in body and soul. It is certain that He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.
Beloved, the Lord who loves you, your merciful and great High Priest, your Savior and your God, He is in you and with you, closer than a brother. He is with you on the battlefield. He is by your side upon the plain with His good gifts and Spirit. He has already won the Victory for you, as your Champion against Satan, sin, and death; and even now He defends and protects you, rescues and restores you, forgives your sins, and reconciles you to the Father. Here He cares for you in mercy. Here He feeds you with this living and life-giving Bread, for which you did not toil and could not pay, but which you freely receive from His hand. For by His fasting and temptation, by His hard labor and bloody sweat, and by His Tree of the Cross, He has brought forth life from out of death.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.