The Rev. Paul J Cain, Jr.
Repent and Believe
First Sunday in Lent, 26 February 2012
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming
In the Name of Jesus Amen.
The Gospel according to St. Mark has often been called the “Gospel in a Hurry.” What’s the hurry? John Mark wants to get to Holy Week and the message of Jesus’ suffering, death, and Resurrection as soon as possible. One can read Palm Sunday in Chapter 11. Matthew has 28 chapters, Luke has 24, and John has 21. Mark only has 16. We return to Mark 1 today.
The traditional Gospel account for the First Sunday in Lent is that of Jesus being tempted in the wilderness by Satan. Today is no different. What is unique is the brief two-verse account of it we hear in the Gospel according to Mark: 12 The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13 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.
Mark helps us see how this one event fits—in context—into Jesus’ ministry. Jesus was baptized, He was tempted, and then He began His ministry.
Jesus was baptized: 9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
John the Baptist returns to our Sunday readings. He is a major figure in both Advent and Lent. Jesus receives a “prepare the way baptism” from the person who was given to “prepare the way for the Lord.” Jesus here begins His service as your substitute. Father, Son and Holy Spirit are seen in this baptismal scene. The Father speaks, the Son is in the water, and the Spirit descends like a dove. This text compares well to our reading from the Transfiguration last Sunday, for the Lord said on that occasion, “This is my beloved Son; listen to Him.” And we listen again today.
Jesus was tempted: 12 The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13 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.
Mark uses a special word here to explain the role of the Holy Spirit in getting Jesus to the wilderness. The Spirit drove him out into the wilderness. This has nothing to do with an automobile! Think more like driving cattle. Yet, where cattle (or cats) may not always be willing to follow directions, Jesus willingly submitted to His Father’s will.
“Forty days” is a significant detail. The number “forty” shows up over 100 times in Holy Scripture. One remembers the wilderness wanderings of the people of Israel for 40 years. The exact phrase “forty days” is used nearly 70 times in Scripture, from the number of days that rain fell for the Flood in Noah’s day, the length of time Moses was on Mount Sinai with the Lord, how long the spies explored the Promised Land, the number of days Ezekiel lay on each side, and how long Jesus was with His disciples after His Resurrection.
Jesus was tempted by Satan himself. We are not given here as much detail as given in Matthew and Luke. That doesn’t mean the three texts are contradictory. No. They just vary in the amount of detail provided. Remember Mark wants to get to Holy Week as soon as possible. More on Jesus being faced with temptation later.
He was with the wild animals. I immediately assumed that Mark meant the fear and danger that so often accompany wild animals. Yet, the tiny little word “with” may indicate something different: harmony. Perhaps Jesus had nothing to fear of the animals, but merely the fallen angel, Satan, who acts like a wild animal. Perhaps this text portrays Jesus at peace with His own creation, like the pre-Fall harmony between man and animals in the Garden of Eden, or like Isaiah’s prediction (chapters 11 & 65) of the lion laying down with the lamb. After all, a lion is “the” wild animal and Jesus is the Lamb of God.
Jesus faced real temptations. He needed to remain faithful in the plan of salvation, to successfully resist Satan’s deceptions, but Jesus could have fallen. He did not. If the outcome was assured, then it wouldn’t have been a real test, a real time of temptation. Yet, it was. And He identifies with you during your times to testing, during which we pray, “Lead us not into temptation.” Some Christians pray this petition in a different translation, foreign to us, but equally true: “Save us from the time of trial.”
Luther begins his explanation of this petition with the words, “God tempts no one.” This is most certainly true, as James 1:12-18 (ESV) says: 12 Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. 13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. 14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. 16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. 17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. 18 Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.
Jesus remained steadfast under trial. He won the crown of life for you.
In this life we are often tempted by Satan. God allows this, but for God’s good purposes. God can use temporary evil for eternal good. On the flip side, God tested Abraham to increase His faith. All should learnthe difference between the two.
The Temptation of Jesus in the wilderness was part of God’s retelling of the Abraham story. This time, Our Father who art in Heaven fills in for Abraham. The substitute for Isaac, one who was to be sacrificed is another “Only Son” loved by His Father, Jesus. For you, the Lord has provided a sacrifice for your sins, Jesus. This is important to us as Christians because we are the fulfillment of God’s promises to Abraham: I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, 18 and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.
You are part of the “all nations” included in the promise. Believers in the one true God, Christians, number in the Billions (with a B).
12 The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13 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.
Jesus was tempted for a purpose. We have comfort that Satan can be resisted. Jesus is greater than the old evil foe. We therefore resist with God’s Word. In the Name of Jesus, Satan will flee.
Jesus began His ministry: 14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
John the Baptist is mentioned once again as a sidebar. He’s in prison. He will be beheaded. The main point is that the torch has been passed. John did his prophetic work of preparing the way for the Lord. The Lord, Jesus Christ, is at hand. And so is the reign of heaven, the kingdom of God.
That the kingdom is “at hand” means it is as close as the hand on the end of your arm. Jesus dwelt among the people to whom He preached.
He first preached the Law: Repent. The Holy Spirit brings about sorrow and contrition for sin. We want to do better. We want to amend our lives. Without outside hope we would only find hypocrisy or. despair
Jesus also preaches the Gospel, truly good news of hope and life: Believe in the Gospel. Jesus is the Gospel in human flesh. He is God incarnate for you.
It is quite likely that Mark wrote this Gospel account with non-Jewish readers in mind, Gentiles like most of us. He keeps things pithy. And who Jesus is and what He has done for us is abundantly clear to all. Our comfort this day comes from Jesus’ words and deeds. God is well-pleased that Jesus was baptized as your substitute, taking your sins upon Himself. Jesus faithfully resisted the temptations of Satan. And he preaches repentance and faith. The kingdom of God, the reign of God is at hand in Jesus. Repent and believe the Gospel. Amen.
In the Name of Jesus Amen.