Jesus baptized and tempted
First in a series, “Jesus On The Way To Cross” 2/18
Genesis 22:1-18 // James 1:12-18 // Mark 1:9-15
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Dear Friends in Christ,
In the season of Lent and beyond, we are turning toward our Gospel readings and understanding the way that we are on the Road with Jesus, on the way to the cross, seeing Jesus in all of his hiddenness and in all of his glory, even as we travel the road to his death and resurrection.
We are seeing Jesus on the way. I don’t do as much traveling nowadays as I did before, but I remember the days when I hit the road pretty often. There are a few waypoints that I’ll always remember: mile marker 72 on Highway 41 near Allenton always marked the last miles home from Green Bay. The Horicon Marsh with its Great Blue Herons always marked halfway to Grandma and Grandpa Utech’s house, and Ames, Iowa marked halfway from my vicarage in Nebraska to Laura up in the Cities.
But what I remember the most today is the way that my little town of West Bend Wisconsin looked every time I left it. Every time I went to college, or to camp, or to Seminary school, every time I left my childhood home, I can see in my mind’s eye the route out of town, past the Public High school that I took swim lessons at, past the Egbert and Guido’s Citgo gas station, take a right at what’s now a roundabout, a left on county road P, and then you’ll be past the County fair Grounds before getting on the highway and off you go.
There was nostalgia even in the moment of leaving, of going off on a journey, and it makes every familiar thing have a newer meaning – perhaps not newer, but a deeper meaning.
This is the first Sunday in Lent, after Ash Wednesday. We push ashes on our head to remember our sin and our fate and the hope we have in Jesus alone. And this is the first Sunday IN Lent. Note that it is a Sunday IN Lent, not of Lent. It is meant to be a little Easter within a season of repentance. Today, we begin a journey, one that many of you have gone through many times, some of you none at all, a particularly and peculiarly Christian journey, six weeks of tracing the moments of Jesus on the way to the cross.
Today, we start at the beginning, with this really interesting beginning of the Gospel of Mark. After his introduction, we see Jesus splash onto the scene in two fascinating events. He is baptized, to fulfill all righteousness, revealing that he is the eternal son of the Father, the second person of the Trinity, revealing the glory of our God who is three in one and one in three, just try to wrap your mind around that, and then as he is led and directed by the spirit, he’s flung out into the wilderness immediately – cast out (that’s the same word used when he casts out demons) there by the will of the Holy Spirit – to be tempted by Satan. How could that happen? Why did that happen?
We see here side by side the height of his Godhood and the fullness of his manhood. We see here that he is absolutely divine and that he is completely human.
Jesus, the one in whom the Father is well-pleased, is tempted by Satan, by the accuser, whose desires are disordered and who seeks to disorder Jesus’s desires. Disordered. That’s a word I lift from a 4th Century kind of a guy, St. Augustine of Hippo. Sin isn’t just doing stuff wrong, even though that’s one way of saying it. Sin is desiring things – even good things – out of order, desiring a thing without caring about the consequences.
First, we turn to the Gospel reading and our Epistle reading. James tells us, Desiring gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown leads to death. This is a strong warning against desire, against sin, against the dis-ordering of what God has ordered and called good in its time.
What do we desire the most? I would imagine most of us desire good things. To be free from decline. To have the freedom to make our own choices. To have pleasure without consequence. To have a happy family. To live a life of consequence. Those are good desires.
But what does it mean to desire God above all things? In other words, for the Christian, what does it mean to have rightly ordered desires?
That's a good question. And, I’ll tell you, there’s no answer in our text. Or, at least Jesus doesn’t turn to us and look us in the eye and tell us straightaway. No, the answer is just like the answer to almost every big question in life; it is far more subtle; it is more simple, and because of that, it is more difficult to explain than it is to show.
Let me give you a silly, small example. My son Benjamin wakes up with disordered desires. He wants to eat breakfast without changing his clothes. He wants to play without changing his diaper. He wants to have his shoes on but doesn’t want to put on socks. And it is my task as a parent to order him rightly. To help him with his PJ’s so that we can change his diaper. To change his diaper so that we can put on clothes and socks. To put on clothes so that we can get on shoes. To get all ready so that we can go downstairs.
To have your desires rightly ordered means to have the purpose in mind. To know in the difficult days of raising your children that your every action isn’t supposed to keep them happy; it’s supposed to raise them up as men and women of God and that’s going to be difficult and frustrating at times. To find in the days when you feel like you’re spinning your wheels, days when you don’t know the significance of your actions, that God’s calling is both far-reaching and immediate; he has a plan to form you into something that you are not now even as his calling is for you to serve whomever is immediately around you. To know that in days of declining health that your roost is ruled by the one who promises forgiveness of sins, resurrection from the dead, and life everlasting.
Second, we turn to the Gospel and the Old Testament reading. Jesus was tempted. Abraham was tested. Did you catch that difference in wording from the Old Testament to the Gospel? One was tempted but the other was tested. Is there a difference there? Why, yes, there is!
The first difference is that Jesus is being tempted by Satan and Abraham is being tested by God. But the real temptation we have – see what I did there? – the real temptation we have is to think that they are totally separable things. No, the second difference – and the one that matters – between tempting and testing is in the – and here’s that word again – it’s in the purpose.
Consider this. You see a man surrounded by boys. He’s yelling at them, telling them to get on the ground, telling them to run, telling them to do this over and over again. Is he a bully or is he a coach? The difference is in the purpose. The bully’s purpose is to humiliate you. The coach’s purpose is different. The coach isn’t there to humiliate you but to put you through the trials that shape you into a different person.
And, when we apply this at the cosmic scale, we find that these happen all at once. God is testing, and the devil is tempting. One is scheming for our failure, and the other is refining us by fire.
In all things, the devil would tempt you with the purpose that you fail, that you fall, that you are humiliated, that you are pushed down. In all things God would test you with the purpose that you would look at him, that you would order your desires correctly, that you would find comfort in his other worldly grace, that you would hold the good things and the bad things of life with open hands.
So, whom would you believe? How will you order your desires?
As we stand at the precipice, looking on at this familiar journey in Lent, we see Jesus on the way. We see him beginning the beginning of the end. We see that he is True God because his life is a sufficient ransom for all mankind. In him, our God is well-pleased to overcome death. He is True Man, tempted in every way that we are tempted, suffering and dying our death for us.
His way gets harder, not easier, from this point on. And even though his life ends in the death that the devil planned for him, it continues on into the empty tomb and the eternal purpose of his Father in heaven.
The kingdom of God is like a young man, often frustrated, often petty, often distracted. It’s easy for him to look down, it’s easy for him to wander. But the Spirit in his baptism has taken ahold of him and has made it a habit to lead him through testing, to remind him often of the eternal purpose that his God has for him, and to lift his eyes to the cross of his Savior.
Amen and Amen.
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