Monday, February 23, 2015

First Sunday in Lent

 9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; [4] with you I am well pleased.”
12 The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13 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.
14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God.”(Mark 1:9-15 (ESV)

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.
Every time I read the first chapter of Mark on the temptation of Christ I envision a version of Alfred Hitcock’s movie “The Birds” with the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove dive bombing Jesus and pecking at him as he gets driven out into the wilderness. The impetuous character of Peter, who gives Mark his story line, comes out vividly in this section of Mark’s Gospel.
Mark doesn’t dwell much on the temptation. It happens after baptism and it happens before Jesus begins preaching the gospel. He spends 40 days there and is tempted by the devil. He lives among the wild animals, and is in the end ministered to by angels, that is, helped by angels. What that help amounts to? Who knows? Perhaps keeping the wild animals at bay.
Forty days being tempted by the devil. These forty days are commemorated by us during the forty days of Lent. Jesus is not overcome by the temptations, as we so often are, giving in to the basest desires of our flesh, which we try to teach ourselves to subdue during Lent by giving up small indifferent things we enjoy that perhaps we can teach ourselves to endure and thus prepare for those times when endurance will be required, and then absentmindedly we find ourselves eating that chocolate. No, Jesus conquers the temptations. He conquers the temptations by choosing the cross, by picking up his cross and going to Jerusalem, by determining to die for the sins of the world, to count his earthly life as naught, that he might secure for us eternal life. This is really at the center of Christ’s temptations. And it often makes our temptations look trivial in comparison.
By refusing to give into Satan’s temptations Christ picks up his cross. It is what he came to do. And he did it alone because no one else could help him do it. He was victorious over Satan and rescued us from sin death and the devil while we were still enemies of God, while we were yet dead in our trespasses, while we were still children of the wrath of God, still yet servants of the devil.
Yes, this is who we are apart from Christ and his victory over temptation in the wilderness, his victory over the devil’s temptations on the cross, who spoke by the crowds saying he saved others let him save himself. No, in order to save others, in order to save you he had to forsake himself, he had to pick up the cross, he had to be forsaken by his father.
The temptations, they really weren’t the things of this world. Jesus who knew the splendors of heaven could hardly be tempted by even the most glorious nations of this world marred as it is by the devil’s handprints. Temptation, it’s a word that we don’t often give enough credit too. We think the devil tempts us with the allure of hedonistic living, we think of temptation as that chocolate while you are trying to diet, gluttonous feasts, money, prestige, power. All of these Jesus forsook. All of these things for which we vie in this world at work and at home, that we lust after as we escape into an evening of entertainment on the television, or at the movies. And in that sense these can be real temptations for us, but the devil’s temptations go much deeper. It comes about as we suffer in this world, as Jesus suffered in the desert, and indeed his whole life spent with hunger and thirst, strained family relations, and poverty, the son of man poorer than these beasts of the wilderness, the foxes with their holes, the birds with their nests, and where has the son of man to lay his head? Perhaps a stone for a pillow like Jacob on the run, the same stone Satan would ask to have made into bread.  And all this for what? So that he could end up lifeless in the noon day sun, stricken beaten and afflicted? Buried in a borrowed tomb? Yes, so that there he could finally fulfill the Sabbath rest for us laying upon that same stone his head when he was cold, stiff, and dead.

Yes, that was exactly why, so that he could do that for you, that there he could be forsaken by God for you, to free the captives of sin death and the devil, the children of the wrath of God, the enemies of God who we were, to reconcile us to our Father in heaven, so that believing in him, trusting in him, being baptized and buried into his death we could pick up our own crosses and follow him through borrowed tombs, knowing they no longer have any power over us. They can’t hold us anymore then the grave of Christ could. That we too will rise again. We too because we have died to death. Now we live in the newness of life. And whatever comes our way we know, Christ bore this for us, Christ is here with us even now holding us in his hand. Now we live because to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 

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