Monday, March 2, 2009

Lent 1 Sermon -- Mark 1:9-15 (LSB Lent 1B)

March 1, 2009 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran ChurchMechanicsburg, PA

“The Spirit immediately drove [Jesus] out into the wilderness. 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.”

The Gospel writer is very terse about Jesus’ temptation. He doesn’t tell his audience what any of the specific temptations were. Mark writes in a matter-of-fact way, giving just enough information to know what happened within the greater story of Jesus. What the Evangelist tells you is connected to the acclamation that was given Jesus by the Father at His baptism: “You are My Beloved Son; with You I am well pleased.”

Because Jesus is the Father’s Beloved Son, He will be assaulted by Satan’s temptations; He will be with the wild animals; He will have angels minister to Him. But Jesus will endure such things, not simply to endure them, but so He can proclaim the gospel of God and say: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” The temptation is part of Jesus’ curriculum vitae as the Christ.

Jesus is tempted because Satan wants to thwart such work. Satan does not want Jesus to accomplish anything good, let alone perfection. He tempts Jesus, trying to invalidate what God the Father says about Jesus, to make the Father unpleased with His Son. And it had worked before in the world’s history. There had been a previous time when Satan had heard similar words, statements much like what was spoken at the Jordan River about Jesus. And it was not very difficult for Satan to help make the Lord God’s statements false.

Think again about what the Father says concerning Jesus: “You are My Beloved Son; with You I am well pleased.” It is reminiscent of what the Lord God had said at the very beginning of creation. The Lord God did not create a son, but He did form a man from the dust of the ground and breathe the spirit of life into him. And the Lord God reacted positively to what He had done. After seeing everything that He had made, He declared it to be very good. The Lord God was well pleased with Adam and all creation, fully endorsing the Paradise on earth.

But you know how the divine pleasure was soon turned to wrath and anger. It was easy for Satan to help bring about the ruin of creation: “Here, eat this. It really won’t harm you. No, it will make you better, greater, stronger. You will become wise, just as knowledgeable as God Himself.” And as Adam ate, the entire creation lost its status. The Lord God called it cursed, cursed because of what Adam had done. With him and with the creation, the Lord God was not well pleased. Adam and the cosmos were still His beloved creation, but without their perfection.

So when Satan heard very similar words millennia later, his ears perked up. At the Genesis, the Lord God’s words were not mumbled, but spoken clearly; all the cosmos could hear what He said. And at the Jordan, the Lord God’s speech was not muted: “You are My Beloved Son; with You I am well pleased.” And with that, Satan’s target was flushed out for him. In fact, the Evangelist tells us that there was a divine flushing out: “The Spirit immediately drove [Jesus] out into the wilderness.” There in isolation, Jesus moves as Satan’s prey.

But this temptation does not bring about the Lord God’s wrath on Jesus. What happens in the wilderness does not falsify the Father’s statement about His Son. Jesus does not act upon Satan’s temptations. He does not violate the Divine Law or act against His Father’s will. Though He suffers the brunt of the Tempter’s assaults, Jesus does not fall victim to them. And because that is so, the Father will repeat His statement about Jesus: “This is My Beloved Son.” Because that is so, Jesus will speak and accomplish the gospel of God that saves—the very gospel that even delivers Satan’s first victim, Adam.

That Jesus did not sin while being tempted is alluded to by what Mark writes: “And He was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to Him.” Adam’s sin had turned the animals against mankind. Once he had dominion over them all, even giving names to each kind. But Adam’s sin had made them wild and even cost the lives of two of them, so that he and Eve could have garments to wear. Once angels were Adam’s servants, created to be the Lord God’s assistants to minister to His creation. But after Adam’s sin, they were the beings who guarded Paradise’s gates and barred all mankind from entry.

But after Jesus’ temptation, all this changes. The wild animals are with Jesus, but they do not harm Him. And this is just as Isaiah prophesied about the Christ: “The wild beasts will honor Me, the jackals and ostriches, for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to My chosen people, the people whom I formed for Myself that they might declare My praise.” A restoration begins to take place in the wilderness, being done by Jesus Christ for the redemption of the world. Man is restored to his rightful place as the ruler of all creatures. No longer will angels keep mankind from Paradise, but will usher them to Abraham’s bosom, just as Jesus will preach in His parables and sermons. And so the Church confesses in her blessing of the dying: “May God receive you into the company of saints and angels to await the resurrection and live in the light of His glory forevermore.”

All of this is the result of Jesus’ being the Perfect Man: the One who was tempted, but did not sin; the One who became sin for us, though He Himself knew and committed no sin. He is the Beloved Son of God, with whom the Father is always well pleased. But that pleasure the Father has for His only Son Jesus is not only in His lack of sin. The Father will love Him because He will be given as a sacrifice for the Father’s beloved, but fallen creation. The Father will be well pleased, as His Son’s life is offered to redeem what was once very good, but had become very evil.

You heard about Abraham and the near offering of his son Isaac in sacrifice. The angel of the Lord said to Abraham: “By Myself I have sworn, declares the Lord, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you.” Abraham had obeyed the Lord God’s voice and was commended for it. But Abraham did not lose his only son that day. A sacrifice was provided in Isaac’s place, so that all might say: “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.”

That Old Testament event shows the greatness of the Lord God’s love for His creation. It shows the magnificence of the gospel. Abraham did not withhold his son. And neither does the Father withhold His Son, His Only Son, His Beloved Son, from you. Isaac had a substitute, and that substitute was a ram. But Isaac also had a truer substitute, a greater substitute given in death for him and for all humanity. And that is none other than Jesus, the Beloved Son, the One with whom the Father is well pleased. His life is given into death, so that Adam, Isaac, and you might live eternally. Jesus is driven out into the wilderness to be tempted but not sin, so that He may atone for your guilt and open Paradise for you. It happens because of the Father’s grace and mercy. For the same Lord God abounds in steadfast love not only for His Son, but for you.

And so after His temptation, “Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying: ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the gospel.’” There was no failure in that wilderness. Satan’s assaults were endured, but there was no fatality, no loss of life or of righteousness. Jesus brings the kingdom of God to the world and makes new citizens of it. For whomever the Son sets free is free indeed. There will be people who receive His righteousness and are rescued from eternal damnation. That is what the Lord God had promised, and that is what He delivers through the life and work of Himself in the flesh.

With Jesus’ appearance, the time had been fulfilled. The Old Testament promises come true. Adam’s ruination is reversed, and not just for himself, but for all his descendants. Jesus, the Perfect Man, makes it so. And those who believe His gospel, who obey His voice, shall receive His blessing. So there is the promise of the crown of life for all who withstand the test of this world, as you heard written by James, the brother of Jesus.

The voice of Jesus is clear: “Repent and believe in the gospel.” He calls you to believe that He is your substitute, to believe what He has done for you, accomplishing what you could not. So believe in Him and His gospel of salvation. Believe what Jesus did for you in the wilderness and everywhere He went, and you will be taken from the wilderness of this world to the glory of the world to come. For the Beloved Son Jesus Christ has restored Paradise to you, the children of Adam and the children of God.

T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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