1st Sunday in Lent (B)
February 21, 2021
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The text that I have chosen for this morning’s sermon is the Gospel from St. Mark.
In the men’s Bible study this past Friday we heard how numbers are used in the Bible to tell the salvation story. Frequently used numbers include three, seven, ten and twelve, while forty is one of the most prevalent. The rains that flooded the earth came down for forty days and forty nights. Moses was on Mount Sinai getting the Ten Commandments for forty days. Kings David reigned for forty years. Jesus ascended into Heaven forty days after Easter. If someone was whipped, the maximum number of lashes was forty. And while it’s not in the Bible, the season of Lent is observed for forty days (not counting Sundays) to correspond to the Israelites’ forty years of wandering and Jesus’ forty days of temptation, both of which happened in the wilderness, and both of which have connections to our Christian lives.
Before we get too far, let’s review a little Old Testament history. Way back in 1446 B.C., a huge group of people, numbered by Moses at over two million, left behind a grieving and tattered Egypt. Pharaoh had pitted the imaginary Egyptian gods against the one, true God in a battle for Israel’s freedom and had been utterly demolished. It wasn’t even close! After 400 years in Egypt, most of which as slaves, the Israelites were finally free. Just a couple of months of walking would take them to the Jordan River, the last obstacle to entering Canaan, the land God promised to give them.
Alas it didn’t work that way. After scouting out the land for forty days, ten of the twelve spies convinced the miraculously freed people there was no way they could conquer Canaan. The people were too big and the cities too fortified. Somehow the people forgot what God had done for them and they refused to cross the river. To which God said, “Fine, if you don’t trust me, start walking” and walk they did; for forty years.
Now whether you’re familiar with this account or not, you might not realize how it relates to your life, however, it does. The original exodus and forty years began when the Israelites were set free from slavery. Your exodus began when you also were freed from slavery. It’s true! You were at one time enslaved by the devil. Locked in chains, you had no hope of escape. Escape was impossible, rescue however was not. When you were baptized, you were freed! That water combined with God’s holy, precious Word dissolved the chains that bound you and delivered you from bondage. Jesus says in John 8: “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” Indeed! You are free from Satan, Sin, and Death! Jesus. the Great Abolitionist, has given you complete freedom, and it comes to you in your baptism.
You may not think about your baptism in this way. Isn’t baptism just a ceremony done for a precious little baby? Moms, dads, and sponsors commemorating the special day with a picture, right? Well, kind of. Yes, it’s a great day when anyone is brought into the kingdom of God. What you don’t realize is that the baby’s pretty outfit now has a great big bullseye on it.
The second you were baptized, before the water had finished dripping off your head, you became an enemy of Satan. From that point on, he does everything he can to drag you back into bondage. As slaveowners went to great extremes to recover their runaways, so does Satan. Even Pharaoh tried. Once the shock of the last plague wore off, he and his army chased the Israelites intending to haul them back, and if more than a few were killed, that was okay. Pharaoh would’ve succeeded had not God intervened and drowned Pharaoh and his armies in the Red Sea.
With a hatred more intense than Pharaoh’s, Satan is chasing you down and if it weren’t for God’s protection, you’d be quickly recaptured. Christ’s divine protection comes to you in His precious Word and Sacraments. I know you hear about these a lot, but only because they’re essential for our freedom. Having your ears filled with His Word and your mouth filled with His body and blood strengthen your abilty to withstand Satan’s attacks.
The forty days of Lent remind us that we’re freed from slavery but we’re not to the Promised Land, Heaven, yet. As we wander through the wilderness of life, we’re going to face a lot of hardships; many of our own making. Satan tempted the Israelites to exchange their freedom for sin and they frequently did. Satan tempts you with sin because that way you’re re-enslaving yourself. How often do you succumb to Satan’s persistent temptations? How often does he tempt you to give up your freedom? If I had to guess I’d say it is pretty frequently. We slip up and Satan appears with his shackles ready to go.
Part of reminding us that we are freed from slavery, Lent also reminds us we’re sinners. Jesus says in Matthew 5: “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Woah, that’s not simply hard to do, that’s impossible! If God’s been watching human history at all, He knows that not only are we not perfect, we’re also not even close! Of course, God knows that and that’s why Jesus says, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” Lent is a time of repentance. A time of true sorrow over our sins. Not a half-hearted apology, a heartrending one. It doesn’t matter how long you live, repentance is a lifetime activity that’s acted out every single day. We live, we sin, we repent, we’re forgiven, and we start all over again.
When Jesus said believe in the Gospel, one of the things He wants you to believe is that He knows your struggles and that’s why He did something about it! Our text is short, but what did you hear? Did you hear something familiar? Jesus is baptized, He’s identified as God’s Son, and then what? Mark writes, “The Holy Spirit immediately drove Him out into the wilderness. And He was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan.” He’s driven out into the wilderness to be tempted. For forty days and nights, He doesn’t eat a thing. For forty days and nights He’s tempted by Satan. Forty days of one temptation after another: idolatry; doubt; drinking too much; ogling pretty girls or handsome men; bitterness; suicide; anger; gossip; fear, and one that could be a very powerful temptation, giving up. “Give it up Jesus, needless suffering and for what? A bunch of ungrateful sinners. You can’t save any of them.”
That’s what this is really all about – your salvation! This was more than an interaction between two foes, it determined whether you would be saved or not. You see if Jesus had sinned just once – you’d be condemned to slave away in hell for all eternity. If Jesus had doubted God for a second – you’d be eternally damned. If Jesus had fallen for just the tiniest of Satan’s temptations – He couldn’t be your Savior. You needed someone who could go through life the same way you do but come through it sinlessly and perfectly. For forty days, the equivalent of your entire life, Jesus is tempted, and He didn’t fall for a one. As the author of Hebrews writes, “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.”
Jesus did what the Israelites never could and what you never will. He perfectly kept God’s Word. He is perfect as His Father in Heaven is perfect. He tangled with Satan and He won. As God took down the false gods of the Egyptians, Jesus took down Satan who wanted to be God. In His victory Jesus does something unexpected. He takes your Sin and in exchange gives you His perfect obedience. You’re called to be perfect as your Father in Heaven is perfect, and because of Jesus you are! This is the Gospel!
Make no mistake, you’re tempted every single day, but Christ doesn’t leave you to fight on your own. As Paul says, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation He will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” When you’re tempted your faith in Christ, bestowed on you in your baptism, strengthened by His mighty Word, and nourished by His precious body and blood, the forgiveness of your sins means that Christ is your way, your only way, of escape.
In Luke’s Gospel, we’re told Satan left Jesus until a more opportune time. I think that was at the cross. Did Satan tempt Jesus to disobey His Father? Or to run away? Or to smite His enemies with fire and brimstone and turn Jerusalem into Sodom and Gomorrah? It doesn’t matter what he tried; Jesus wouldn’t sin. By facing temptations at the beginning of His life and at the end of it, He delivered us from miserable and eternal existence as Satan’s slave. And now, we’re free to follow Him, free of our sinful guilt, free of the punishment we deserve. You are freed by His perfect life and His perfect death, both of which He did for you. We don’t know how long we will wander in this life. It doesn’t really matter though because when Jesus says your free, you’re free indeed.
Now the peace which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen