First Sunday in Lent
 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.  And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens opening and the Spirit descending on him like a dove.  And a voice came from heaven, "You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased."
 The Spirit immediately drove him 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.
 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." Mark 1:9-15 (ESV)
A forty day fast. Mark is funny, a little sketchy. His gospel, which Peter always called his according to Eusebius, reads almost like an outline, scattered, oh and then, oh and then, or and immediately, and immediately. And there isn’t the same amount of detail that you find in Matthew, or Luke, and John approaches the life of Jesus in a completely different manner. Some think Mark’s was the first Gospel, that Matthew came afterward and filled in the outline. Luke after that. I don’t care much for those theories, they don’t make much sense for me. And I’m not sure what insights they would contribute if they did make sense. Mark is written the way it is because he was grabbing this and that from Peter under whom he studied. It is implied with Eusebius that Mark pieced the history together from class notes if you will. Peter then claimed it and gave the gospel his blessing. Good thing too, otherwise we would not have it.
The problem is there just isn’t a lot of detail in Mark. It is like an overview of Christ’s life hitting the highlights. Matthew tells you how Satan tempted Christ. Mark just says he was tempted. Oh yeah and there were wild animals. And the angels ministered to him. Which of course Matthew explains, was at the end of the fast after He withstood the temptations of Satan. I guess Jesus needed some attention after living in the desert among the wild animals for forty days eating nothing. Luke tells us He ate nothing. Nothing for forty days.
We model our fast after the forty days that Jesus spent in the desert, which in turn was modeled after the forty years Israel wandered in the desert before coming to the promised land. I’m not sure I would go so far as to eat nothing. I don’t think any of us could do it.
And we are tempted to say well yeah, but Jesus is God, so it must have been easy for Him. But we forget that He came here as a human. And humans need sustenance to live. Maybe not as much sustenance as we consume day in and day out. Watching t.v. the other day and they were advertising a pill that allows you to eat more, and lose weight. We have a hard time controlling ourselves. I know. That is what fasting is really about. Subjecting your body to self control, to tell your body that you don’t live for your stomach.
Stomachs easily become our gods. We get a little hungry and we start murmuring. Like the Israelites in the desert. We keep feeding and feeding ourselves and we feed ourselves into diabetes. We know we shouldn’t eat as much as we do, but we can’t help ourselves we just do. The other day as I was leaving an office saw a piece of candy on a table. I was at the post office before I realized I had broken my fast. Would that I listened to God with as much obedience as I listen to my stomach. I didn’t think twice about it, my stomach said eat and I ate.
I don’t know that it was any easier for Jesus. The angels had to come rescue him when he was done with the fast. Feed him and carry him out of the desert, away from the wild animals licking his nose in the cool night air. I get a kick out of that and he was with the wild animals. You think about the horror stories that keep kids up while out camping, wolves, bears, lions, snakes, scorpions. It’s the snakes that do me in. I dread waking up next to a rattle snake coiled up in my bag for warmth. That fear keeps the tent flaps closed. Silly fear. But I always think twice before I sleep out under the stars. And I always tip my shoes upside down before I put them on to shake the scorpions out. I suppose Jesus only had sandals, not thinking the spirit gave him time to grab a tent or a bed roll. The Spirit immediately drove him out to the desert.
The picture in my head is the dove driving Jesus out to the desert like one of the birds from Alfred Hitchcock’s movie. It’s a funny picture I haven’t been able to shake all week, the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove lighting on Jesus shoulder. Then the dove starts pecking his ear, and dive bombing him as Jesus is chased out into the desert. But I’m sure it was a lot different than that, and that there was more to it than that.
Jesus spent forty days. Then He was tempted by Satan. Poor devil, tempting Jesus with all that Jesus already has. I mean with what do you tempt God? He’s got it all. Well maybe not all. There are a lot of people He would like to rescue from sin death and the power of the devil. If there is one desire that God has that has not been fulfilled it is that all would be saved. That the wicked would turn from his way and live (Ezekial 33:11). That is that the wicked would repent and believe the Gospel. But Satan wasn’t tempting Jesus with that. He was tempting Jesus away from that. For the wicked to live Jesus had to die. And Satan was trying to steer Christ away from the cross. “I’ll give you what ever you want, but don’t take them.” He had to get Jesus to sin, to succumb to his human needs and desires. And Jesus was human. We dare not forget. This was not easy for him. But he did what we could not. He didn’t listen to his tummy, like it was His god. He obeyed the Father, and resisted the temptation so that the wicked, you and I could turn from our ways and live. So that we could repent and believe the Gospel. That we could repent and believe Jesus Christ Crucified for the forgiveness of our sins, and believing have eternal life.
Repent and believe in the Gospel. Too many separate these out as if they were two different things. They aren’t. In doing the one you do the other. They are one in the same. To repent is to believe the gospel, to listen to God, to hear His voice and trust it, because at the root of all our sin is a lack of trust in God. And to believe in the Gospel is to trust in God, to fear love and trust in God, and turn your back to your sin to the devil, and to the things we make false gods over our lives, the things we trust in more than God, or fear more than God, or love more than God. The kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe the gospel. Israel wandered the desert for forty years, and after forty years they entered the promised land. Jesus left for forty days, eating nothing, complaining not, withstanding temptation, and then He returns with the kingdom of God. He brings the kingdom of God to the people. He doesn’t bring the people to the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is at hand repent and believe the gospel.
It is here it is here for you! The Kingdom of God is yours! Repent and believe this Gospel. The idea is that you repent of what you believed before: That the kingdom of God was not here for you; That there was no forgiveness of sins; That you were hopelessly lost to do it yourself.
Believe the Gospel the good news. To believe that, to believe the Gospel, is to repent. Repenting isn’t the mere giving up of a pet sin, or vice. In fact you may find that even after you repent you find yourself still committing the same sin. Giving up sin is not as easy as quitting smoking. So if true repentance meant never sinning again, it would be absolutely impossible for us. And In truth Repentance is impossible for us, as is faith. That is why we need the Holy Spirit to work it in us. It is a gift, repentance and faith, Ephesians 2:8-9. Repenting is believing, is faith. To repent is to believe the Gospel, the good news. The good news is that your sins are forgiven. That is what the Gospel means you know. Gospel = good news. This helps when you are wondering what gospel you are to believe. Is it good news or is it a rule you are being asked to believe, or submit too? Your sins are forgiven! That is good news. That is Gospel. I don’t see how, but people get this confused. They read Christ telling you to turn the other cheek, or be ye perfect as your Father is perfect, or love your enemies as yourself and think that is gospel! Is there any good news there? No! you have just been told to do something. And they aren’t bad things to do. But my mom telling me to clean my room is hardly regarded as news, good or otherwise. It is a request or a demand to do something. And most of what Jesus demands us to do is quite impossible for us to actually do. I have never learned to love God with all my heart, with all my soul, and with all my might. Nor have I ever learned to love my neighbor as myself. I think if I were at war I would find it easier to shoot my enemies than tell them about Christ, or show them love, even if they did surrender. I find it hard enough to show my enemies love now. And we do have enemies, whether we want to realize it or not. There isn’t any news in all that, much less good news. But there is good news. There is Gospel. The kingdom of God is at hand, Believe it! Your sins, they are forgiven! Christ has overcome them! You are forgiven, The kingdom is at hand, it is yours!
Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.