February 26, 2012 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, 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 Voice from heaven rang out over the waters of the Jordan River: “You are My beloved Son; with You I am well pleased.” That is what happened at Jesus’ baptism. The Father confirms Jesus’ identity and character. He is named the Eternal Father’s Son. That was always His identity. And that did not change when He assumed human nature and dwelt among us in human flesh. The Father also testifies to His Son’s character. It is perfect, without any flaw. Again, that was always His character. And that did not change when He assumed human nature and dwelt among us in human flesh. Truly human, yet still truly divine, Jesus stands in the Jordan River as a perfect man, something that had not been seen for ages.
So what happens to that perfect man after receiving the divine commendation from on high? Where is that perfect man placed? Not in an earthly paradise. That’s where the first perfect man dwelt. But he was banished from Eden, along with his consort, after rebelling against God. They had fallen into sin. What James describes as happening in human hearts took place in them: “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” So it was with the man and the woman in the beginning. And for that, they were driven out of Eden.
But this time, when the Perfect Man Jesus receives the commendation from His Father, He is not placed in a lush, vibrant garden. No, He is put into the wilderness: “The Spirit immediately drove Him out into the wilderness.” Jesus is driven out into the place where the effects of Adam’s sin and the sin of all humanity are on display. He is out in the venue of death and disorder. The wilderness is where man’s dominion over creation—the order that the Creator had initially established—is not seen. No, this is where creation has power over man. The lack of provisions will kill. And the Gospel Writer includes the detail: “And [Jesus] was with the wild animals.” The beasts of the field that were meant to be governed by mankind now stand as a threat to man’s life. The disorder and chaos that man’s sin brought stands all around Jesus.
Why is Jesus there in the wilderness? He is present in the world to deal with the effects of sin. He is there to offer obedience where Adam and you have not. Jesus is out in the wilderness to begin His struggle to overcome Satan who holds mankind in subjection. That is what Jesus was destined to do. It is His purpose. It is His Father’s will for Him. And so the Spirit drives Jesus into the wilderness. “And He was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan.” The long-expected Descendant of Eve is there to bring the enmity between her seed and the Serpent’s seed to a head, to bring blessing where curse reigned. The Promised Offspring of Abraham is present to achieve victory: “And your offspring shall possess the gate of His enemies, and in your Offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.”
So Jesus begins His mission of redemption among the ruins that sin had caused. He starts by being tempted by Satan. The Tempter believes that he can overcome Jesus, this Perfect Man, just as he had brought down Adam. Satan had heard the Father speak about being pleased with a man before, even declaring him to be “very good.” But this time something is different. This time, the Man does not have a desire for anything other than what the Creator wants. That flow from desire to sin to death does not work with Jesus. Instead, His desire is in concert with the Father’s will. For Jesus, His will gives birth to righteousness, and righteousness when it is fully grown brings forth life. So after the forty days of temptation, Jesus is not driven out of Paradise, but regains it. He is not barred by a sword-wielding cherub; instead, “the angels were ministering to Him.”
Where Adam fell, Jesus stands. Where Adam rebelled, Jesus obeyed. Where Adam was victimized, Jesus is victorious. This is what the Father had always desired to take place. It is a phase in the scheme of salvation that He had established. So after the episode in the wilderness, Jesus returns to continue His mission: “Now after John was arrested, 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 in the gospel.’” Jesus comes proclaiming the news of what He is accomplishing for humanity. Now is the time that the victims of sin and slaves of Satan had longed for. The time of salvation is present. The kingdom of God has come into the world. Hear and believe the news that you are being redeemed.
This is the same message that Jesus has for you today. He knows that words of deception and deceit have led to your death. That is what your forefathers had fallen victim to, and you have as well. The lies of Satan had led to sin in Eden. The imperfections of your ancestors cause your flaws: your lack of love of God or obedience to His will, your natural inclination to sin, your finding pleasure in what is unrighteous. What James described is true about you: “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.”
But there is another word that you are meant to hear. It is the word that Jesus brings to you: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” This is the word that does not bring death, but creates life instead. It is the word that is spoken by the Father’s beloved Son. It is a word of truth that testifies about what He has done. This word of truth tells you what Jesus has accomplished for your sake. He was driven into the wilderness to restore Paradise for you. He was obedient even when tempted to bring righteousness to you. He was among the wild animals to establish order for you. He was served by angels to deliver aid to you.
This has happened as Jesus has brought you back under the rule of God. The word of truth that Jesus proclaims—“the gospel of God”—brings you new life. It is what His Father desired and what He achieved: “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. Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.” You have been born out of this word of truth. It has restored you from death to life. It has made you the Father’s beloved children. The good gift and perfect gift is His Son that came down from above, the One who remained steadfast under trial and has made you righteous. Jesus possesses the gate of His enemies, even the keys to death and Hades. He has brought blessing to you and peoples all nations by His obedience, by His death, and by His resurrection.
You have been brought forth by the word of truth that has been spoken to you. It has shown you what is righteous and good: the righteousness that Jesus has, the perfection that He possesses. It also shows you the way of life for you to follow during your time in this wilderness. The knowledge of your own sin, your own unrighteousness, your own evil desires, your own failures, and your own afflictions shows that you are not perfect in yourself. That knowledge and experience drive home the point that you are not yet in the Paradise that Jesus has regained for you.
So you ask for help on the pilgrimage to the way there. You pray for guidance from above: “Make me to know Your ways, O Lord; teach me Your paths. Lead me in Your truth and teach me, for You are the God of my salvation; for You I wait all the day long.” You pray for the forgiveness that the Beloved Son won through the fulfillment of His Father’s will: “Remember Your mercy, O Lord, and Your steadfast love, for they have been from of old. Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to Your steadfast love remember me, for the sake of Your goodness, O Lord!” You pray for the victory that only He can provide: “To You, O Lord, I lift up my soul. O my God, in You I trust; let me not be put to shame; let not my enemies exult over me.” These prayers the Father answers according to His will. It is a good gift and perfect gift that He bestows to you.
What you need has been and continues to be provided for you. It is what the Beloved Son Jesus Christ, the One with whom the Father is well pleased, has earned for you. His identity as the Eternal Son and His righteous and perfect character are revealed, so that you may see Him as your Redeemer. Jesus has restored mankind to its rightful place. He has brought divine order into the world’s chaos. It started early in His ministry on earth and continued through His death, burial, resurrection, and ascension. The time is fulfilled; Jesus has brought you into the kingdom of God. You are not eternally banished to wander in the wilderness with all its hazards, but are destined for a place in Paradise with all that is very good. Repent of your sin and believe in the gospel. For that word of truth, which speaks about what the Eternal Son has done, makes you the beloved children of the Eternal Father.
+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.