Today the Church commemorates two occasions when the devil came to tempt somebody.
In the first, Satan came to tempt two people, Adam and Eve.
Adam and Eve lived in the garden of Eden. They had everything they could ever have wanted without having to work for it. They never got sick. They were destined to live forever and go to heaven without dying. Perhaps most unimaginable for us, Adam and Eve were married to each other, and yet there was nothing that would cause them to have any difficulties in getting along: no bad habits, neither of them were messy, or crabby, or lazy.
In the second instance, the devil came to tempt the Lord Jesus. The situation was completely different. The Lord was not in a garden; He was in the desert. He did not have everything He wanted to eat and drink; He had nothing to eat and drink. The Lord Jesus was not in a state of leisure and ease. Rather, He was desperately hungry, struggling physically in every way, because He had been fasting for forty days. And our Lord did not have a human companion. He was completely alone.
The devil came into both of these two very different situations in order to lure his victims into disobedience.
In the garden of Eden, God had expressed His will very clearly. He told Adam and Eve: Do not eat from this particular tree. There were countless other trees, heavy with delicious fruit. Just don’t eat from this one. The devil came to trick them into eating it from it anyway.
When Adam and Eve succumbed to temptation, it was not a matter of human weakness. Before the Fall, human nature was not weak. When they sinned, it was not because their weak flesh faltered. They just willfully disobeyed.
What happened? How did Satan pull it off? The devil suggested to Adam and Eve that God is not to be trusted. God had demanded obedience to one simple law. The Devil put the idea into our First Parents’ minds that this was an infringement on their proper rights. God was making them His slaves. Previously they thought that they had everything. The Devil then tricked them into thinking that they would not have everything until they had total independence and got out from under the law of God.
Christ also lived under a law. The Father had not openly spoken a law to His incarnate Son. But in the depths of His human mind, Christ knew the will of the Father. We know this because Christ had said early on: “The Son of man must be rejected, and suffer, and die, and on the third day rise again.”
In the desert, the Lord Jesus was hungry and He was lonely, but the devil did not temp Him to gluttony or vanity. If Jesus had eaten some bread, it would not have been gluttony. If He had gone to Jerusalem and let Himself be admired and served by everyone there, that would not have been vanity: He is the King of kings and Lord of lords Whom everyone is bound to admire and serve.
Perhaps the difference between the two episodes of temptation—the garden and the desert; our First Parents and Christ—the difference lies in understanding what obedience to God is. Adam and Eve had everything, but they let themselves be deceived into thinking that they didn’t have everything since they had to obey God. On the other hand, the Lord Jesus had nothing—nothing except what He called “the food that sustains me:” namely, doing the will of the Father. The Lord Jesus knew that if He had this food of obedience, He in fact had everything. He didn’t need anything else at all—not food, not glory, not even His bodily life.
Satan is very intelligent and very wily, but Christ turned the tables on him. Long ago the devil had reduced the human race to slavery, so he naturally thought that he had come to tempt one of his slaves. But in fact, the devil came to tempt the new, incorruptible Adam, who was filled with the infinite strength of the Holy Spirit. Satan did not find a slave in the desert. He found the omnipotent One Who is absolutely free.
This is the special grace of Lent: Christ gives us a share in His immeasurable strength and His perfect freedom. He beckons us out for forty days in the desert with Him. In the desert, He teaches us the joy of His obedience.
Scripture sings of the sequel to these days of training:
Who is coming up from the wilderness, leaning upon her beloved?
Under the apple tree I awakened you.
There your mother was in travail with you.
There she who bore you was in travail.
(Song of Solomon 8:5)
Christ’s Holy Cross takes us back to the Garden of Eden. Beneath the Tree of Life, where our human nature fell into weakness and suffering because of disobedience, we find our obedient Beloved. We can lean on Him forever.