The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Love of God, and the Fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
Mark 1:9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 Immediately coming up out of the water, He saw the heavens opening, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon Him; 11 and a voice came out of the heavens: ‘You are My beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased.’ 12 Immediately the Spirit impelled Him to go out into the wilderness. 13 And He was in the wilderness forty days being tempted by Satan; and He was with the wild beasts, and the angels were ministering to Him. 14 Now after John had been taken into custody, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, 15 and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’” (NASB)
Today as you know this is the First Sunday in our Lent journey. Sundays in Lent are named Sunday in Lent, not of Lent. What’s the difference? Just think of Jesus’s High Priestly Prayer in John 17 where He prayers that Christians are in the world, but not of the world. Sundays during Lent don’t count toward the total number of days of the Lenten Season. In other words. There are forty days in Lent, excluding the Sundays.
But today is not only the first Sunday in Lent, it is also the 472nd anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther’s death. On February 18th 1546 at 3 a.m. and at the age of 62 Dr. Martin Luther departed the sin ridden wilderness of this present age to enter into paradise to be with His Lord and Savior.
Having discovered the Gospel by God’s grace, Luther lived a life of repentance and believed in the gospel that Jesus Christ Himself preached. Thus Luther’s heart and mind no longer feared death as they once did. He understood the kingdom of God was at hand and became a preacher and teacher of the pure Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Luther came to understand that for the Christian death was the ultimate and final liberation from temptation, sin, and death. Death became the doorway from this wilderness to the life of the world to come. And it was precisely because the Son of God was baptized, faced temptation, and lived a life of perfect obedience in a world infected and controlled by sin, death, and the power of the devil. He was rejected, suffered, endured the judgment of God the Father, and died a sinner’s death in our stead. That’s why Luther called death the last means of grace. As he wrote in the Large Catechism, every day Christians repentantly return to the death of Christ to which they have been mystically joined to in Baptism. Through repentance, faith, and sanctification the old Adam or Eve fall away. Thus, in death the Christian is liberated from the old sinful nature and enters fully into his existence as a new person in Christ.
The Gospel of St. Matthew dedicates eleven verses to the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. St. Luke has thirteen verses. The Gospel of St. Mark has two verses to cover the entire forty days in the wilderness and just a half a verse stating that Jesus was “tempted by Satan” (v. 13).
Usually we read Matthew’s and Luke’s account of Jesus’ baptism on the First Sunday after the Epiphany. Then comes Lent and when we use series A and C we read Matthew’s and Luke’s account of Jesus’s His temptation as a stand alone account.
Mark’s account is so concise we have both the baptism of Jesus and His going out into the wilderness so close together one gets the impression that Jesus was still wet from His Baptism when the Spirit “drove” or “impelled” Him out into the wilderness.
The Greek word “ekballw” translated in the NASB as “impelled” has two parts to it. The main part means “thrown” and the other part, “ek” means “out.” The Holy Spirit threw Jesus out into the wilderness to be tempted.
The “Who” has been established. Jesus is God’s only begotten Son in Whom God the Father is well pleased and upon Whom the Holy Spirit descended in the form of a dove. John the Baptist, some witnesses, and the devil now knows Who the Messiah is. Jesus the Nazarine. St. Mark makes sure that the “Who” question and the “what” question are tied so closely together they cannot be separated.
Epiphany was about Who. Lent turns our attention to “what” the Son of God came to do. He came to live a life of perfect faithfulness, to resist all temptation, and then die as the atoning sacrifice for sin.
“You are My beloved Son; with You I am well pleased,” is followed immediately by the Holy Spirit driving, throwing Jesus out into the wilderness to be tempted. He goes into the wilderness to do what Adam could not do in the midst of the perfect Garden of Eden. He was tempted for us, in our place, to do what we cannot do.
Christ’s perfect substitutionary work for us didn’t just take place on the cross. He began replacing our sinful works and existence with His perfect works and existence. This exchange had already begun in the waters of baptism. It was already taking place in the wilderness temptations. Jesus went out to do what we cannot and do not do in our daily lives.
Fight as we may against sin, we simply cannot not sin. While we may avoid one kind of sin in one moment, we fall prey to another in another moment. We don’t trust in God above all things. We worry over daily bread and temporal matters. We too often set our minds on the things below not on the things above.
We often put God to the test. We serve our own ideas and own emotions. We don’t live by every word that comes out of the mouth of God. We don’t hold steadfastly to His doctrine. We often prefer popularity above faithfulness.
Like St. Paul the good we want to do we don’t do and the evil we don’t want to do, we end up doing. Thus, James 1:14-15 “Each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.”
This is why Jesus went to the wilderness to be tempted. He went to replace our falls into temptation with His victory over temptation. Christ went to be tempted and to emerge sinless, perfect, and trusting in His Heavenly Father.
Matthew and Luke tell us that Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit out into the wilderness to be tempted. But Mark uses the same Greek word that the Scripture uses to describe the casting out of demons. Whenever Christ or the apostles encounter demon-possessed person, they ekballw the demons. They cast them out.
Think on that. Jesus is driven into the wilderness to be tempted, yet remain without sin. But here it seems that God treats Him as if He were a sinner, as if He was being treated in our place. “You are My beloved Son; with You I am well pleased,” yet drives Him out into the cruel and dangerous world, just as He did with Adam and Eve. God drove Adam and Eve out of the garden into the wilderness, into a world their sin has refashioned.
God the Father speaks to God the Son. You are my Beloved. I am well pleased with you. It is as if God the Father is saying, “Remember what I have said because over the next forty days, you might not feel as though You are My beloved Son with Whom I al well pleased. In order to save these sin ridden corpses of Adam, I have to treat you, My beloved Son, like a damned sinner. The wilderness wandering and temptation act as a small foretaste of what is to come at the end of Lent on the Cross of Good Friday. Here, as St. Paul says is God, for our sake, making Him who knew no sin to be sin, so that in Him we become the righteousness of God.
This is Lent. This is why the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness is the traditional Gospel lesson on the First Sunday in Lent. From the moment of His baptism, Jesus was being prepared by His heavenly Father for the forsaking He would endure on the cross. Jesus would remain perfectly obedient even in that ultimate moment of being completely cast off and forgotten by His own heavenly Father. “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?”
Your sinless life, your righteousness began in the waters of Jesus’s baptism and in His sinless time in the wilderness. He was driven out into the wilderness so that you would be drawn into paradise. He came into the wilderness to bring you back to a new and higher Garden of Eden.
That’s why Luther went to his death 472 years ago holding confidently to the doctrine of the of holy Gospel. In the early morning of February 18, 1546 after thanking God once again for the Revelations of Christ, for the Gospel itself, and asking God to take his soul, Luther repeated Psalm 31:6 over and over again. “I hate those who regard vain idols, But I trust in the Lord.” Then Luther fell silent for a time.
When Luther awoke at 2:45 a.m. Dr. Jonas and Coelius asked him if he was dying in the name of Christ and still accepted all of Christ’s teachings. Luther answered with one simple word “Ja” and fell back asleep and breath his last at 2:45 a.m.
Death had terrified Luther in his youth. Death has terrified Luther as a monk. But once enlightened and claimed by the Gospel of Jesus Christ, death no longer appalled him. He had been washed in the water and the Word. His sins had been forgiven. Christ’s perfect obedience in the wilderness had become His very own. . . and yours.
May the Peace that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.