Trials and Temptation
First Sunday in Lent (03/01/2009)
By Rev. S.D. Spencer
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens opening and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him.
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”'
Grace, peace and mercy from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, Amen!
In our Gospel lesson today Mark gives the temptation of Jesus with only a few short sentences. Here's St. Mark’s words: “The Spirit immediately drove Him out into the wilderness. And He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and He was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered to him.” That’s it!
It goes by so quickly in Mark, we almost miss it. Still dripping wet from His baptism in the Jordan, Jesus is driven into the wilderness by the Spirit. It’s just like when Israel emerged from the parted Red Sea to immediately begin a 40 year journey in the wilderness on the way to the Promised Land. So in Jesus –Israel is reduced to 1 and Begins a journey to the cross. 40, the number of days the rain fell in the Flood. 40, the number of years the Israelites wandered in the wilderness. 40, the number of days Elijah trekked through the wilderness to return to Mt. Horeb. 40, the number of days Jesus - God’s Israel, God’s own Son, our Lord and our Redeemer would be in the wilderness.
The Gospel's of Matthew and Luke fill in some details. Jesus was hungry. He was having His Lententide; He didn’t eat for forty days. We dare not try this at home! This is uniquely His to do. He was tempted by the devil, Satan. Tempted to do a miracle - "Turn these stones into bread". Tempted to test the Word - "Throw yourself off the temple". Tempted by religion and power - It’s all yours, Satan said, Jesus; just bow down and worship me. Tempted in every way that we are tempted, except for one thing. Jesus didn’t sin!
Satan tempted Jesus not to be what His baptism said He was: the Christ, the Son of God. “If you are the Son of God.... You are, aren’t you, Jesus?” - So sly, so subtle a snake in the garden, a snake in the wilderness. “Did God really say it? How can you be the Christ if you are rejected and crucified? Is that any way to start a successful religion? Is that any way to reform the masses? Is that any way to solve the problems of this world? Be crucified? Jesus that’s not what the world is looking for. They want miracle, they want invincible power, and they want a celebrity. They don’t call it “American Idol” for nothing! Give them what they want, Jesus. And then maybe, you can give them what they need.”
Ever wonder why did Jesus had to be tempted this way? Why go through 40 days of hunger, 40 days of isolation, why go through the temptation? Why even bother with the devil, that old liar? It goes back to the garden and the curse that was a promise: “I will make enmity between you (the devil) and the woman, between her seed and yours.” There’s going to be war a one on one, in the wilderness, a rematch between man and serpent. What the devil did to humanity would be undone by God enfleshed in humanity. Where the devil lie is successful in getting Eve and then Adam to disobey, he would fail in the second Adam, the new head of humanity.
This is an important part of Jesus’ mission to seek and to save. It flows right out of His baptism. Immediately He is driven by the Spirit into the wilderness. This is part of the package, to confront the great liar in our human flesh armed with nothing more than what you and I have - the Word of God. Where we were willing co-conspirators, He’s not. He faces the same great temptations that bends our lives and turn us against each other and against God Himself. But He trusts His Father and the Word. That’s all Jesus has at His disposal in this barren wilderness with the wild beasts and the devil hot on His heels. Nothing but the Word!
Abraham trusted the Word of God, the Promise that he would be the “father of nations.” He trusted the Word even when God told him to offer up his only son. Can you imagine the anguish of that man? Talk about confusion! God’s promise against God command! God gives him a son of the promise and then says; offer him up to me on Mt. Moriah. It just doesn’t make sense.
Abraham trusted the promise and obeyed God’s command. He took his son, left the servants behind, trudged up the mountain with the wood and the fire and the knife. Oh, and how the question must have burned him like fire, cutting through him like a knife. Especially when Isaac asked: “Father, where’s the lamb for the burnt offering? The fire and the wood are here, but where’s the lamb?” Only by the grace of God could Abraham manage to say it? “God will provide the lamb, my son.”
Abraham builds an altar, arranges the wood, ties up Isaac, and lays him on the altar. He reaches back for the knife and is ready to slay his son, when Christ calls out from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham! Stop. Don’t touch the boy. Don’t do anything to your son.” Off in the thicket is a ram caught by its horns. The substitute. The lamb for sacrifice. Yahweh will provide.
God’s Lamb walks alone in the wilderness - your Substitute - hungry with your hunger, thirsty with your thirst, tempted in weakness to go another way than the cross. To seek a joy other than your salvation, to refuse the shame and the pain in favor of power and glamour and cross-less, painless, feel good, be happy religion. But then He would not have been the Lamb of sacrifice would He? He would not have been tempted as we are. He would not have laid down His life to save you. And you would be like Isaac without a ram, with the law of God dangling over you like a knife ready to plunge.
Trials and temptations will come your way. Of that you can be certain. You can expect them. After all, you are baptized. Look at all the trouble Jesus’ baptism caused Him. To be baptized is to live as marked person. You bear Jesus’ mark, and the devil hates that. So does the unbelieving world. A servant is not greater than his Master. The cross is always there for the baptized. The very next thing that Mark writes about is John being put into prison where he would die. And with that, Jesus goes up to Galilee and announces good news: The kingdom of God is near. Repent, believe - trust the good news of Jesus.
“Lead us not into temptation,” Jesus teaches us to pray. God doesn’t tempt anyone. That’s the devil’s doing. But God does test, as He did Abraham. And He’s promised never to test you beyond what you are able to bear, and in Christ you are able to bear much more than you may even think. That’s the “secret” the apostle Paul learned when he wrote, “I can do all things through Him who gives me strength.” In our temptations, we are never alone. Christ is with us, by our side.
The baptized life is not an easy life. Christians are granted no special immunities from disease, no exemptions from suffering, and no special passes that allow us to go around the wilderness. You can only go through it, you can’t go around it. The season of Lent symbolizes that for us. Forty days of sober, somber preparation - a fast before the feast of Easter. It is “symbolic” in the sense that we choose the time and the place and even the “suffering,” if you want to call it that.
The reality is that our wilderness is this life that we’re in; and the sufferings and temptations are real, not some self-chosen discipline. Were it not for Jesus, we wouldn’t make it. We wouldn’t even take a first step. But there is a promise stretched out like an umbrella over you that reads: “There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” You do not walk in this wilderness alone. God does not leave you alone to wrestle with the devil, the world, and your own sinful self. And if God is for you, who can be against you? If God gave His Son for you, if that’s what you are worth to God, do you think He would possibly abandon you in your time of need? If Christ died for your sins, who can bring any charge against you? If God has justified you in Jesus, who can condemn you? NO ONE!
Do you realize what that means? You walk in this world justified by God, forgiven, restored, redeemed by the blood of Jesus who is at the right hand of God interceding for you. The Son of God, the crucified and risen Lord, is interceding for you. “Father, forgive them,” showing His wounded hands and side. There is literally nothing in this world that can drive a wedge between you and God. Nothing! Not trouble, hardship, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, sword, global warming or climate shift, Islamic terrorists, tsunamis, hurricanes, cancers, stray bullets, clogged arteries, killer viruses, or holes in the ozone layer. Not the angels, demons, things present, things to come, nor powers, nor heights or depths. Not even the worst of your sins can separate you from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Not when your sins have been washed away in Baptism. Not when your sins have been forgiven by the word of Jesus. Not when you have received the broken Body and the shed Blood of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Not when you have Jesus on your side, the One who resisted the devil for you with a word.
We really do face death all day long, as St. Paul says. We’d rather not admit it. We’d rather live in denial of it. Yet St. Paul says in all these things – these things that signal death, things that the world fears and maybe you do too - in all these things we “hyper-conquer,” we conquer above and beyond all conquering, through Jesus Christ who loved us to death and who conquered sin, death, and devil for us. Only in and through Jesus can you say that, because only Jesus conquered death itself by dying. Dying on the cross and rising! And the proof of that: His risen body and His empty tomb.
The Lord will provide, as faithful Abraham once said. And He has, in the sacrificial lamb, named Jesus . And He will more than provide, through Word and Water and through Body and Blood as you make your wilderness journey through this Lenten life and on to the endless Easter. In Jesus name, Amen
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen!