Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

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Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, February 26, 2012

First Sunday in Lent



First Sunday in Lent (B)

February 26, 2012
Text: Mark 1:9-15

Jesus is baptized by John in the Jordan River, and immediately the Spirit drives Him out into the wilderness for forty days to be tempted by Satan. Something is seemingly wrong with this picture. Jesus is baptized. He is anointed by the Holy Spirit who descends upon Him as a dove. The voice of the Father sounds forth from heaven: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11; ESV). And then, all at once, that Spirit with which our Lord Jesus is anointed drives Him out in the wilderness to be tempted? To struggle? To hunger and thirst? To be lonely? To battle the very devil Himself? Aren’t things supposed to be easier for One with whom God is well pleased? Isn’t Baptism supposed to make everything better? The very opposite happens with Jesus. Things get hard for the beloved Son of God after Baptism. The Spirit doesn’t just suggest that Jesus go out and do battle with Satan. He drives Him. And this, beloved, teaches us both of our Lord’s mission to save us from sin, death, and the devil, and of our own baptismal life in the spiritual wilderness of this fallen world.

“The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan” (vv. 12-13). Mark is not strong on detail in his account of our Lord’s temptation. He describes the whole event in only two short verses. This is not a deficiency. The other Gospels provide the specifics. We have to ask what Mark and the Holy Spirit desire to get across to us in this short account. Our Lord’s Baptism is the beginning of His public ministry. He is anointed with the Holy Spirit for His saving work, which is to suffer for us. He is baptized into our sin and death, so that He may be our substitute, so that we might be baptized into His righteousness and life. When the Spirit drives Jesus out into the wilderness to be tempted, our Savior suffers this affliction in our place. It is a redo of the Eden tragedy. Where our forefather, Adam, succumbed to the temptation of the serpent, our New Adam, Christ, is victorious. He successfully suffers the temptations of the old evil foe, and He wins. We know from the other Gospels that He is successful in His battle against Satan by the weapon of God’s Word. He resists. He does not give in. He does what we cannot do because our first parents did not do it, namely, He remains obedient to God in the face of the devil’s lies and twisting of God’s Word. And do not be deceived. This temptation is no picnic for Jesus. It isn’t easy for Him just because He is God. The writer to the Hebrews makes this clear: “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15). He wins the victory over Satan, and in His victory, we are victorious. Jesus resists temptation for us, in our place. And we are baptized into that reality.

But understand, a disciple is not above his teacher. If our Lord Jesus was tempted, we also will be tempted. If our Lord Jesus suffered, we also will suffer. And this is what we learn about our Christian life in the wilderness of this fallen world. While the victory over the devil and temptation has been ultimately won, the battle still rages as long as we are in this fallen flesh and this fallen world. In His infinite wisdom, our gracious God allows us to undergo trials and temptation. Why? Something is seemingly wrong with this picture. In our Baptism, too, we are anointed with the Holy Spirit. In our Baptism, too, the Father speaks to us, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” And yet, God allows us to suffer trials and temptations? Aren’t things supposed to be easier for one in whom God is well pleased on account of Christ? Isn’t Baptism supposed to make everything better? Why, then, trials? Why, then, temptations?

In some measure, we are not given to know the answer to that question in this earthly life. Job asks this very question in the midst of his trial, and the LORD only answers that as the Creator of heaven and earth, He knows best what to give His people. “You’re just going to have to trust Me, Job!” We need to be careful when we search for the meaning of our own trials and temptations. Often God does not reveal the “why” of our suffering, trials, and temptations. He simply bids that we trust Him, that He knows what is best for us, what will be most beneficial for our salvation, that He will work all things for our good because we are called according to His purpose (Rom. 8:28).

But there are some things we can say on the basis of the Holy Scriptures about our trials and temptations. First, as Luther says in the Small Catechism, “God tempts no one.” St. James says the same thing in our Epistle: “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” (James 1:13). God does not tempt us to sin. God does not tempt us to do evil. The devil tempts us. The world tempts us. Our own sinful desire tempts us. Our three main enemies are the devil, the world, and our own sinful nature. But God does allow His people to undergo temptation and other trials. Baptism sanctifies these temptations and trials and makes them holy crosses to borne by the Christian. These are crosses for you to bear, not for your salvation (Christ has taken care of that completely with His suffering and cross), but to mold and shape you into the Christian God wants you to be. These crosses are exercises for your faith. They allow you to crucify your sinful flesh, to deny your perverse desires. They drive you to prayer. They drive you to Scripture. They drive you to Christ alone for help, because you realize in the midst of trial and temptation that you can’t do it alone, that you have no resources within yourself to resist and to stand firm, that you are weak and helpless, and your Savior alone is strong and able to accomplish in you what you cannot do on your own. And when you fall to the temptation, when you give in, when you sin, you know that the blood of Jesus Christ covers all your sin. You are forgiven. And God does not see your failure. He sees the victory of your Lord Jesus Christ. That counts for you. You are baptized into that. You belong to God. No one and nothing can snatch you out of His hands. So you take up your cross once again and follow Him. You go back into the battle with the devil, knowing that Jesus will sustain you, and that He has fought for you and won the victory.

The orthodox Lutheran father Johann Gerhard wrote in his Sacred Meditations[1] that temptation offers three advantages to the Christian: “Temptation tests, purifies, and illuminates the soul.” Temptation tests the soul, he says, “because our faith assailed by storms of adversity strikes its roots more firmly down into the very bed-rock of our salvation; it spreads out its branches more widely in good works, and shoots up higher and higher in its hope of the glorious liberty of the children of God.” Secondly, temptation purifies our souls, in that “Our great Physician, Christ, employs many bitter remedies to expel the malignant spiritual diseases of love of self and love of the world… Worldly honor puffs up many with pride; and so God often sends reproach, and removes that which feeds worldly pride.” Finally, temptation illuminates the soul, in that “Affliction as a severe test of our faith serves to make our spirits humble and contrite, so that the souls of the afflicted may greatly rejoice in their afflictions. Through temptation we come to know God more truly and intimately, for the Lord Himself says, ‘I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him and honor him’ (Ps. xci. 15).” And, in fact, we prayed those very words in the Introit. Thus even through great evil God’s purposes for us prevail. God tempts no one. But He allows us to undergo temptation for our good, that He may accomplish His good and perfect will for us and in us.

Trial and temptation is nothing new for Christians. St. John the Baptist was arrested by King Herod for his faithful proclamation of God’s Word, and beheaded in prison, the prophet receiving a prophet’s reward. His death is a foreshadowing of our Lord’s death, and a witness that the Messiah has come to save His people from their sins. Our Lord Jesus is the ultimate example of One who suffers trial and temptation and in this way accomplishes the will of God. By His Baptism in the Jordan, by His temptation in the wilderness, by His perfect life under the Law, His healing and teaching under great persecution, His suffering, His death, our Lord Jesus accomplished the salvation of the whole world, your salvation, and mine. And He is risen from the dead, having destroyed sin, death, and the devil. So we suffer patiently, beloved. We are tempted, but we resist, and we live by the forgiveness of sins that the Savior offers us here in His Word and blessed Sacrament. We crucify the Old Adam in us and cling to Christ in faith. Which is simply to say, we hear and heed the Word of our Lord in our text this morning, which sums up His entire preaching: “repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). Turn from sin to the Savior. Believe that all your sins are forgiven in Him, and that in Him you have eternal life. You are not alone in the wilderness of this fallen world. God will not forsake you. When you call, He will answer you. He will be with you in trouble. He will rescue you and honor you (Ps. 91:15). Because you are baptized. God’s own child, with whom He is well pleased. And the devil is conquered. One little word can fell him. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] Johann Gerhard, Sacred Meditations (Malone, TX: Repristination Press, 2000) pp. 229-34.

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