First Sunday in Lent

The text: Mark 1-9-15

 

Today’s sermon is about baptism and Lent. It’s about our journey of life and Jesus’ journey to the cross.

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In Mark we hear of Jesus’ baptism. One thing that we should notice about Mark’s account of Jesus baptism is that everything happens very fast, ‘immediately’, the spirit descends and the Father speaks, ‘immediately’ the Spirit sends Jesus into the wilderness.

Then comes Jesus’ temptation by Satan. Jesus is tempted to deny God and rely on himself, and worship Satan. Jesus does not succumb to temptation, and he resists temptation for us.

Our journey of faith also begins in baptism, by water and the spirit, but in contrast to Jesus journey our journey begins with death. The death of the sinner, in the water and by the word, the union of each Christian to our Saviour’s death and resurrection for us. This death continues for the whole of our life until we breathe our final breath, as Luther puts it in the hymn ‘Lord Keep us steadfast in thy word’, we are taken out of death to life.

As Christ was tempted after his baptism, so too are we. For in our sinful state, before our baptism, before we are claimed by Christ and have the gospel proclaimed to us, temptation is not a factor. For sin reigns before we are claimed by Christ. We have no regard for doing God’s will, we have no desire to resist evil, so we are free to sin without the need for temptation.

After baptism, after Christ has placed his mark on us, after we have heard the Gospel, temptation begins. Because Satan knows that he has lost another soul and wants to win it back.

We should be reminded here of the petition from Lord’s Prayer: “And lead us not into temptation.”

In his explanation in the Small Catechism, Luther taught this to mean: “God tempts no one to sin, but we pray in this petition that God may so guard and preserve us that the devil, the world, and our flesh may not deceive us or mislead us into unbelief, despair, and other great and shameful sins, but that, although we may be so tempted, we may finally prevail and gain the victory.”

For Luther, and for St Mark, it is not God who does the tempting. God leads us on his path of truth. But it is the devil, the world and our flesh that tempt us to sin. They tempt us by saying:

  • Jesus’ words are not trustworthy;
  • You don’t really believe that do you?
  • How could one man’s life 2000 years ago be relevant to you today?
  • You don’t deserve his gifts!
  • He doesn’t really love you;
  • It’s not a big deal, the world has changed and that sin doesn’t matter now;
  • You must work harder for your salvation, it’s up to you!

Many of us even become complacent in our faith. Satan can take a holiday. We look to the world and find in it such compelling evidence that we walk away from our Saviour who suffered, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring us to God. So after being brought to God by our Saviour we walk away and follow the ways of the world.

Others of us are so turned in on ourselves that Satan need not do any work at all. We continue in our sin, happily breaking each and every commandment, succumbing to our own fleshy temptation and refusing ever to repent.

Or we do repent with the best intentions, yet when we walk out the door we slip back into our sins again?

Brothers and sisters, we must return to our Saviour, to our walk of faith. When we are tempted, by Satan, the world or our sinful self, we must flee to our Saviour. For he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.

We must return to the Cross, for that is the task of Lent. To turn away from our own sins, temptations, agendas, and turn back to our Saviour on the cross. Lent is about repenting of our turning away from God, and turning back with a good conscience granted by our Saviour Jesus Christ in our baptism. The task of Lent is to repent of our unbelief and lack trust, believe that he has done all this for us; that he has taken on our flesh, been baptized, walked through the wilderness, experienced and resisted all manner of temptations and even in the face of death did not turn back, but turned his face to Jerusalem and followed the path all the way to the cross, all for us.

Our journey of Lent follows Jesus’ journey. We follow him through our baptism, into our temptations, right to his Cross. Yet our journey doesn’t end in death—our journey ends in resurrection, as Jesus shares his own resurrection with us. We don’t receive what we deserve, that is eternal death, we receive what he deserves, eternal life with God.

As we take this journey of Lent again, and we lift our eyes to Jesus our Saviour on the Cross, we must always be aware that Lent is really a condensed form of the Christian life.

  • Our baptism is not just relevant in Lent;
  • Our temptations are not limited to Lent;
  • Our sin is not limited to Lent;
  • Our spiritual disciplines are not limited to Lent.

Lent is a chance to hone our spiritual disciplines, to be reminded of them so that we might make them a habit throughout our years of dying to ourselves and rising again to new life each day, in righteousness and purity forever.

As you join Jesus on his journey to the Cross, you might consider how the disciplines of prayer, fasting and giving to the needy help you focus on Jesus during Lent. Fasting, for instance, helps you focus on Jesus because you have free time when you would usually eat, time that is free so that you can read and meditate on his word. By reading the word, (you might focus your reading on Jesus’ suffering and death) you are immediately looking to him and away from yourself. You could also be free in that time to serve your neighbor with acts of service. You also free up some money by not purchasing food and this too could help you focus on the needs of others rather than your own needs.

The spiritual disciplines were never meant to focus you on yourself; we are good enough at doing that already. Spiritual disciplines are supposed to make you look outside of yourself, to look to Jesus and to your neighbor, to see in Jesus Christ the pain and suffering he endured for us, the temptations he resisted, so that he could bring us to God with a pure and clean conscience. What an incredible gift!

Amen.

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