THROWN INTO THE WILDERNESS
1st Sunday in Lent – B LSB #’s 902, 427, 440:1-2, 5-6
Text – Mark 1:12-13
And immediately the Spirit threw Him into the wilderness & He was in the wilderness 40 days being tempted by Satan, & He was among the wild animals & angels were attending to Him.
THROWN INTO THE WILDERNESS
So far today I’ve done all right. I haven’t gossiped. I haven’t lost my temper. I haven’t been greedy, grumpy, nasty or self-centered. I’m really glad about that. But in a few minutes, God, I’m going to need a lot more help, because in a few minutes I’m going to get out of bed!
Have you had those mornings where you just did not want to get up? It’s not uncommon for me, so I assume that everyone else has experienced it as well. One of the reasons I struggle to wake up is that I’m a night person. I am simply better able to focus on things at night.
There’ve been times, though, when I knew what the day would bring & did not want to face it. For example, anytime my submarine was going on a mission, I dreaded waking up & saying goodbye to the world for the next several months. Once out to sea, the time there seemed like one constant wake up call to go on watch. I quickly tired of that routine of waking up.
Our lives are full of temptation, & hoping to sleep in, is only one of the milder variations we face on a daily basis. As the humorous prayer said; gossip, losing one’s temper, greed, grumpiness, nastiness & being self-centered are all waiting for us as we arise each new day. And, though the prayer is funny, the temptations & the sins they lead to are not.
Whether or not we admit to it, all of us struggle, every day, with right & wrong. Should I drive faster than the speed limit? After all, the meeting I’m going to is for a good cause. Should I study for the exam or blow it off in order to hang out with the gang? Being a Christian means we should spend time with friends. If I stretch the lunch break at work, my boss will never know. Besides, they don’t pay me what I’m worth. There comes that two-bit liar. I’ll never give him the time of day. I can’t believe what he said to the committee in order to push the blame off on someone else. Temptations like those come our way every day because of our sinful nature & because of the sinful world we live in.
Another common temptation arrives when we end up suffering due to illness or some other turn of circumstances not in our favor. We pity ourselves & complain about our lot in life. We blame God for not being good to us & forget all about the fact that man brought sin into the world & not God.
Jesus came into this world, & became part of this world, in order that He might cleanse the world of its sin. He came to purify His creation through paying the penalty for the sin that mankind contaminated the universe with. We broke it. Jesus came to fix it. That fix cost Him His life, yet through it, He has begun the re-creation of the heavens & earth.
Part of paying that penalty involved the gospel reading for today. Immediately after His baptism, the Holy Spirit threw Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan over a 40-day span. Those forty days are like a synopsis of our lives. You & I are living in the wilderness of a sinful, broken world.
We’re being tempted by Satan, & there are many dangers, but we are also being attended by angels. In reading the account of Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness, we tend to focus on the temptations that the devil tries out. We act as if we live in a basically neutral world as long as we watch out for the attacks of Satan.
But that’s not true for one minute, because our world is not neutral. That’s why this gospel reading mentions the wild animals. Satan is not the only vehicle for sin. Everything in this world is out of balance & dangerous to our health. Eating food can kill us. Not eating food can kill us. Exercising can be dangerous to your health. Not exercising can be dangerous to your health. Do you see the paradox? Simply being alive is dangerous. Watching television is not harmless, & neither is the Internet. You can be harmed through either one. The key is how we respond. How do we use the blessings that God gives?
From the other accounts of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, we hear that He used the Word of God to defeat Satan. We know that after the testing, angels came & strengthened Jesus. They were watching over Him along the way, as He endured the struggle. Our Savior was faithful & obedient. When the time was right, the angels attended Him, to restore Him.
In the OT lesson we heard about Abraham being tested. God asks him to sacrifice his only son, & Abraham goes about the task. He’s faithful & obedient. When the time was right, the angel of the Lord stopped him, & provided a ram to take the place of Isaac.
That scene is a synopsis of our lives. We have to endure many temptations & trials here on earth. They’re the result of our living in a sin filled world. Yet our God is bigger than that broken world. He’s almighty & so in control that He can even use the brokenness to bless us & strengthen us.
In the big picture of life – the eternal picture – our Savior has already won the war. The battles continue, but those of us in God’s church already have salvation. As regards our own salvation, our only task here on earth is to not reject it.
In the daily struggles of a Christian, against our sinful nature, Satan would have us lay down that gift of salvation. In the confusion, he hopes to convince us, or deceive us, to walk away. He has no power to drive us away, & we have no power to earn our way in.
Our damnation has to be a mutually agreed upon deal. That’s why writers through the ages have written about people selling their soul to the devil. Once you’re a child of God, the only way to lose your salvation is by voluntarily giving it up; by making a deal with Satan. Abraham made no such deal. But we can certainly hear the devil giving his pitch. “What! Sacrifice your only son? What kind of crazy plan is that? Your God must be out of His mind. Are you daft Abraham? You’re not really going to do it? Here, I’ve got a better deal.”
“Did God really say, ‘sacrifice your only son whom you love?’ You could just sleep in that morning. You could pretend that you’re doing it, but don’t. Take along a lamb or two & sacrifice them instead. You don’t have to rebel outright against your God; just tweak the plan a little. After all, His idea makes no sense. Use you head, Abraham. Don’t be a fool!”
And so our lives go. It’s no wonder there are mornings or evenings when we’d rather not face reality. When we know that the right thing is to forgive, it can still be difficult. Realizing that the correct thing is to ignore the insult, does not make it easy to do. When we understand that the cancer treatment is going to be painful, it’s no wonder that we falter & become weak.
We do not live in a neutral world. This life of suffering & bearing our cross is what Martin Luther called the “Theology of the Cross.” Understanding this theology helps us recognize how God is at work in our lives. It can help us understand, like Abraham, that although what is happening makes no earthly sense at all, we can still trust in our God.
Believing in the power of God’s word gives us the certain hope that our heavenly Father is at work in the midst of suffering & death. In the midst of suffering & death, God is at work bringing about good & eternal life. Lent is a time to renew that hope as we see God at work through the cross of His Son even while we look forward to the resurrection.
Lent is a time to be renewed in our resolve to continue the battle for life in a world of death. For, while it’s true that in the midst of life, we are in death; the cross reminds us that because of Jesus Christ, even in the midst of death, there is also life.
John the Baptist was sent to prepare the way for Christ. From the wilderness, he called for us to “Prepare the way of the Lord, make His paths straight.” (Mark 1:3 ESV) John was preaching a baptism of repentance. At our baptism, God Himself worked that repentance for us. Messiah came to prepare the way & make straight the paths for us to follow Him.
From the wilderness of our lives, from the struggles, from the heartaches, from the anguish & the despair, Jesus is calling to you today. He’s been there Himself, tempted & tested on the path of life in every way that we are.
Years ago there was a Lenten devotion series titled, “Ponder the Path.” One of them concerned the story of Rosh HaShannah. When God commanded Abraham to sacrifice his son, & Abraham obeyed, then God had mercy. At the last moment Yahweh provided a Ram to take the place of Isaac.
In the feast of Rosh HaShannah, a ram’s horn is used as the trumpet, & the sounding of that trumpet is both a reminder & a call to God’s people. It’s a reminder first of God’s mercy, & then, in light of that mercy; it is a call to repentance. Our Heavenly Father has provided His only begotten Son to take the place of you & me.
“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:31, 37-39 ESV)
When the woes of life o’er take me, hopes deceive, & fears annoy, never shall the cross forsake me; Lo, it glows with peace & joy. Bane & blessing, pain & pleasure by the cross are sanctified; peace is there that knows no measure, joys that through all time abide. Amen. LSB 427:2 & 4.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet