The easiest way to get someone to do something is to tell them they can’t do it. This has literally been the case from the beginning. Adam and Eve had a great thing going but it wasn’t enough. They just had to go eat from the one tree that God told them to stay away from. And now we have to wear clothes, toil, experience pain in giving birth, and eventually die. All because there’s something inside of us that makes us yearn to do the one thing we’re not supposed to.
One thing I’ve never been able to figure out is why God put that tree in the Garden in the first place. I mean, he created Adam and Eve. God had to know they were going to do the one thing they weren’t supposed to do. So why even have it there? This is a question without a definitive answer, of course. The writer of Genesis never says why God put the tree there, just that it was there and that Adam and Eve ate. While it’s a question worth considering, whether it be in the college Philosophy class or around the table in a coffee shop, the fact remains that Sin is in the world and it’s a big, big problem.
Matthew brings the Sin issue full circle. In this particular gospel Jesus is the new Adam, the new Moses, and the new Israel all at once, and he fares much better than Adam and Eve did when facing temptation. Jesus stands out in the desert having a theological battle-royal with Satan, but he never gives in. They keep trading Bible verses back and forth until the devil gives up and goes home, leaving Jesus to take a badly needed shower.
At this point I think the preacher is supposed to say, “This is why you’d better memorize a whole bunch of Bible verses, so you, too, can triumph over the Devil!”, but I don’t think that’s really the point. Yes, Jesus won the proof-texting battle, but not because he was a better Torah student than the devil. He overcame temptation because he was free from Sin.
When we say Jesus was free from Sin, we’re talking about a whole lot more than never breaking any of God’s commandments (because, as I recall, he broke more than a few Sabbath laws). There are individual transgressions we call sins (lower case “s”), but the key to Jesus’ overcoming temptation, and the problem that Adam and Eve had to start with, was Sin (capital “S”). Another word we could use is estrangement: a broken relationship. Adam and Eve’s relationship with God was already broken when they decided they knew better than God and to eat the fruit. Jesus was fully God and fully human, so even though he was tempted, he could clearly see what was and was not God’s will. Through Jesus we can not only see what a fully restored relationship with God looks like, but we can also experience that relationship in him. Thanks be to God.