Sermon for the First Sunday in Lent
February 18, 2018
The Temptation of Jesus
The First Sunday in Lent always begins with the temptation of Jesus. It is so for the one year lectionary and it is so in all three years of the three year lectionary. However, this year, in series B (or the second year) in the three year lectionary, as we follow Mark’s account of the life and ministry of Jesus primarily, we should notice that the temptation of Jesus comprises about two verses only. In our Gospel reading we read some before it and some after it, but these, for the most part, are repeats from the Epiphany season. We read of Jesus’ baptism on the First Sunday after the Epiphany and we read of Jesus starting out His preaching on the Third Sunday after the Epiphany.
While it may seem that the three paragraphs give us three distinct events and that they could stand alone, they do serve to put things in context. We see that it is after Jesus is baptized and we have the voice of the Father from heaven declaring Him to be His beloved Son with whom He is well pleased that Jesus is tempted. It also serves for us to understand that Jesus withstood the devil’s temptations before He began to preach. He was affirmed as the holy Son and He proved His worth before He ventured from town to town casting out demons, healing the sick, and proclaiming the kingdom of God.
We have the replaying of history happening before us but with a much different outcome. In His baptism, Jesus is receives the Father’s approval. It is in stark contrast to the son of God that stood before God at the beginning in shame because of his guilt. That first man was driven out of the Garden into the wilderness to be tested all his life that He may know that his entire being depends upon God. This man, while receiving God’s approval, is still driven out into the wilderness to be placed under the same temptation and to depend upon the same Godly care and protection amidst every trial and temptation that the devil could muster. Yet, as the first man would find obedience to God’s Word impossible, this Man, the Second Adam, in whom would be produced a people holy to God, would depend completely upon the Father and the angels that He sends to minister to Him.
Just as Israel was affirmed as God’s Son in the land of Goshen and was driven out of Egypt into the wilderness where they were tested and had to rely upon God for every bodily need and for mercy at their every failing of faith to trust, so too was the Son of Man declared God’s Son in the lushness of the Jordan and then driven out into the wilderness with nothing to depend upon but the Father’s attentive care and the burden of temptation to believe that He was being neglected and rejected by a God who is uncaring.
Just as Saul could depend on none of his soldiers to stand before the giant Goliath and sent forth the unlikely opponent in the boy David, so too does God put forward His Champion, however unlikely He seems, to do battle with the giant sized enemy called Satan. It seems an unbalanced match. On the one side is that fallen angel that has outwitted man for millennia and has tricked all of us into believing that God could not or would not care for us in the way that is best for us. On the other side is the seemingly ordinary fellow from Nazareth that has no formal training as an exorcist, or rabbi, or priest. But God does know what He is doing. He does know how to pick His Champion and into the wilderness Jesus goes to do battle by refusing every temptation to sin and by fearing, loving and trusting in God above all things.
As He stood in the river to be identified with us, so He was driven into the wilderness that He might undergo every temptation that is known to us. He is our Champion. He is the One that stands between us and defeat. He is the One that stands toe to toe with the devil doing battle in thoughts and words. For every thrust of Satan there is a parry by Jesus. It is where the ancient serpent is defanged, where every attempt at accusation is found unsubstantiated. As Jesus remains faithful to Father and doesn’t listen to the devil’s lies; as Jesus is obedient to the Father against every temptation; as Jesus depends upon God’s care in the midst of the wilderness; He dies it for us. For you and for me, Jesus is cast out of that land of promise into the barren land. For you and for me, He takes all that the devil can dish out. For you and for me, Jesus remains the beloved Son with who the Father is well pleased. This is what His baptism and our baptisms attest to – that His obedience is ours.
In a way it is good that Mark doesn’t list any specific temptations for us. He leaves it to our imagination, or rather to our experience. He allows us to think on that latest temptation where we failed to trust God above Satan. He prompts us to think of that sin that has haunted us for years, even decades, because we find it so reprehensible that it would seem that even God could not forgive it. Mark lets us think on these that we might see how Jesus is tempted in those same ways yet does not fail. He stands firm in His status as Son and remains trustful of the Father’s promise of faithfulness to His Son. Jesus does not flounder. He does not cave under the pressure. He does not succumb to those temptations that proved too much for you. But His purpose is not just to prove that it can be done. He doesn’t stand firm just so that He can be your example and demonstrate how to withstand temptation. He does it in your place. He does it for you. He does it as you. Or more precisely, as you are baptized, you have now done it in Him. As you have been united to Jesus, His obedient life now has become yours. It is not just a replaying of history but it is also a pre-playing of the future that is ours and for all who are baptized into His name.
Many may think that Lent is about us focusing more greatly upon our sin but rightly, it should be considered as a greater emphasis upon the mercy of God. It is a greater emphasis upon our need to trust in Him amid temptation. For it is in this season that we focus upon the 40 days that lead up to our Lord’s death at the hands of sinful men; a death that is also suffered for us.
This is the gospel of God that Jesus proclaimed. The devil is already defeated. He was defeated in the wilderness when He could not get our Champion to flinch or yield. He was defeated when every attack that he could must fell on deaf ears or was refuted by the proper use of Scripture. This gospel proclaimed by Jesus is that the kingdom of God is open to you not because of what you do, but according to whom you believe. Believe in Jesus as the true Son of God, who would not be tricked by the devil to mistrust the Father in heaven, nor to think He deserved more than what was given. Believe in Jesus as your Champion that took the field armed with the faithful promises of God to disarm the devil of his lies.
This obedience and faithfulness of Jesus was done for Adam and for you; for every Israelite that left Egypt and for me; for all who are near and all who are far off as it was applied to us in Holy Baptism.
It is only chapter 1 in Mark’s account, so the cross is far from the sight of most but it looms large in the sight of Jesus as well as the Father and the Holy Spirit. It is there before us as well as it every should be for it is part of the gospel that we know as we look back. His death as well His resurrection and ascension are part and parcel of what we believe and trust that Jesus did also for us that makes the gospel of God sufficient for our everlasting salvation. We are blessed to see a fuller picture than those that stood by the river watching Jesus march into the wilderness. We are given a greater understanding of what Jesus has done for us but the command remains the same: “Repent and believe the gospel.”
Do not depend upon your own righteousness. Turn from such thoughts and believe that Jesus has done all for you and that in Him you stand righteous before God; that in Jesus you are holy and known as God’s son, an heir of the kingdom.
In the name of Jesus. Amen