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 22, 2015

First Sunday in Lent

First Sunday in Lent (B)

February 22, 2015
Text: Mark 1:9-15

            St. Mark paints a picture of stark contrasts in our Holy Gospel this morning.  First the beautiful Trinitarian picture of our Lord’s Baptism in the Jordan, the heavens torn open and the Spirit descending on Him as a dove (Mark 1:10), and the voice of the Father from heaven: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (v. 11; ESV).  But then a violent transition.  That beautiful dove, the symbol of peace, the Holy Spirit now filling our Lord Jesus to the brim, “immediately drove him out into the wilderness” (v. 12).  Drove Him out, cast Him out, the same Greek word used when Jesus casts out the evil spirits.  Threw Him out, you could say.  Immediately upon His Baptism, the Holy Spirit threw Jesus out into the wilderness, the place of nothingness, where the demons are said to dwell, the home of Satan.  Utterly alone except for the company of wild beasts, our Lord languishes for 40 days in the place of hunger and thirst, loneliness and desolation, death.  Why?  To be tempted.  To do battle with His archenemy, Satan.  To be tested.  To be faithful.  To be victorious where you, and Adam, your father, have not.  To love the Lord His God, His heavenly Father, with all His heart and soul and mind and strength (Mark 12:30; cf. Deut. 6:5).  To love His neighbor, love you, even more than Himself.  And to do it all in your place, for you, so that it counts for you, so that His victory is your victory.  “For 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 battle!  And the holy angels minister to Him (Mark 1:13).
            You are baptized into Christ.  You are clothed with Christ.  You are in Christ.  And so what happens to Christ, happens to you.  You are baptized, and the Spirit comes upon you, and God says that you are His beloved child, with whom He is well pleased.  But then immediately, violently, the Spirit throws you out into the wilderness of this fallen world.  He throws you out into the place of nothingness, of doubt and unbelief, of sin and sorrow and death.  This is where the evil spirits are said to dwell.  And they do.  You know it by experience.  You only have to turn on the evening news to see the evidence of their handiwork.  And it is not for nothing that Jesus calls Satan “the ruler of this world” (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11).  It is a dangerous place, this wilderness, a place where you hunger and thirst for righteousness, a place that is often lonely and desolate (that’s why we need each other in the Church), a place where, on your own, you would die.  Spiritually.  And eternally.  You would die.  Why does this Spirit put you here?  This life, in this world, is the Spirit’s school of cross and trial.  You are here to be tempted.  You are here to do battle.  You are here to be tested.  You are here to be faithful.
            But there is a great difference between you and Jesus in this wilderness sojourn.  Jesus’ faithfulness is the faithfulness that counts for you.  And thank God for that, because you aren’t always faithful.  You fall.  You sin.  You are hit by Satan’s arrows.  Sometimes you even like it.  You’re perfectly happy to trade the bread of God’s holy Word for the bread of stones.  Repent.  But thank God, this isn’t that kind of test for you, to see if you’ll be faithful enough to be saved.  Jesus did all that already.  This time of trial and tribulation is different.  It is a time to crucify your flesh.  To drive you to despair of yourself, your righteousness, your abilities, your talent, your loveable-ness.  To make you realize that, in and of yourself, you are as empty and dead as the wilderness.  That apart from the Holy Spirit who is in you, you would be the dwelling place of evil spirits, under the rule of Satan.  You would be dead.  You would be, not a son of God, but a son of hell.
            The wilderness is not a pleasant place to be, but it has its good purpose.  The Holy Spirit has done this kind of thing before.  Remember Moses was exiled to the wilderness for 40 years after killing the Egyptian.  40 years spent in the middle of nowhere, tending the flocks of Jethro, marrying Jethro’s daughter, living the life of a Bedouin.  Moses was 80 when YHWH called him from the burning bush, and he had four decades of wilderness wandering still ahead of him.  For those 40 years Moses spent with his father-in-law Jethro, were just a trial run, a practice, a preparation, for the 40 years Moses would spend shepherding God’s flock, God’s holy Bride, the children of Israel, in the wilderness between Egypt and the Promised Land.  St. Paul tells us the people of God were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, when they went through the Red Sea as on dry ground (1 Cor. 10:2).  And then they immediately found themselves in the wilderness, the place of nothingness, the place of hunger and thirst, and, apart from God, the place of death.  They had to live by faith that God would bring them into the Promised Land, that God would be faithful to His Word, that His Word would keep them alive and bring them joy and blessing, that He would feed them with His manna.  It was all a picture of our life in the wilderness, as the Church, the people of God, the New Israel. 
            For just as Israel of old failed to be faithful in their wilderness wandering, so are we.  Just as they grumbled and looked back longingly to the flesh pots of Egypt, so we moan and complain about our lot in life and pine after the good old days of our slavery to sin.  Just as they fashioned idols and sat down to eat and drink before them, and rose up to play, so we run after other gods and follow after the pleasures of the flesh.  Just as they trembled and feared before their enemies and forgot that it is the LORD their God who fights for them and wins the victory, so we tremble and fear before the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh.  And we think we will never receive our inheritance in the Promised Land, because our enemies are too strong for us.  Of course, we’re half right.  They are too strong for us.  But our Lord is stronger.  He fights them.  He defeats them.  Our Holy Gospel is all about that.  Where Israel, where we, have failed in our wilderness journey, the Lord Jesus Christ has not.  He did not grumble or complain, but went willingly into the wilderness for us.  He did not eat and drink and rise up to play, but fasted and denied Himself, for us, living not by bread at all, but by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of His Father.  He did not fear before His enemy, but triumphed over him for us, by the sword of His holy Word.  And now, baptized into Christ, His victory is our victory.  His faithfulness is our faithfulness.  And He does not leave us in the wilderness alone.  He is with us, as our Mighty Fortress, protecting us, providing for us, picking us up when we fall, speaking to us His Word of life, feeding us with His Manna, His true Body and Blood.  And the angels are ministering to us, surrounding us to keep us safe in body and soul. 
            Lent has this way of making this all so vivid for us.  Lent is about our baptismal life in this wilderness, our journey from the font to our Father in heaven, our battle in the meantime with Satan, a battle which has already been fought and won for us by the Lord’s faithfulness, by His cross and death, by His resurrection life.  Many of us give something up for Lent, but we don’t do it to impress God or impress others or make ourselves more righteous.  We do it to remind us how weak we are, how impossible it is even to give up chocolate, much less give up sin.  Some of us add a discipline for Lent, which is always good.  We certainly add the discipline of more services and more devotions.  But again, we don’t do it to impress God or anybody else.  And we don’t do it because it makes us that much more worthy of heaven.  No.  We do it because we know that man does not live by bread alone, but by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God (Matt. 4:4).  Even as we fast, we feast on the gifts of our Lord Christ.  Lent gives us to see our cross in the shadow of His.  Your suffering, your sorrow, your sin, your death… it is all taken up into His.  Lent imposes the cross of Christ on our foreheads and on our hearts.  It is the banner of our Lord’s victory over the devil, that the serpent who once overcame by the tree of the garden, has now likewise by the tree of the cross been overcome (Proper Preface for Good Friday).  And after the cross, there is Easter and the empty tomb.  After the Lenten fast comes the Feast.  After the wilderness, there is the Promised Land.  Christ is risen.  Christ will raise you from the dead.  Blessed Lent.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.     


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