First Sunday in Lent
Lent is a season of preparation and anticipation. A season in which we see Christ preparing to fulfill why He has come, leading to Holy Week in His death and resurrection. Preparation for us as we receive the gifts there won and we anticipate His death for us and resurrection. Thus we repent of our sin, our hearts and minds are prepared for ultimate joy as for six weeks our “alleluia’s” are on pause.
The preparation brings us back to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. Here we see the beginning of a great warfare. We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against spiritual forces in heavenly places (Eph 6:12). Yet Jesus Himself partook of flesh and blood to destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil (Heb. 2:14). Satan knew that a male seed of Adam and Eve would come to crush Him. He knew that all the nations of the world would be blessed through a male seed of Abraham. Satan and the demons also knew that Jesus of Nazareth was the one.
The baptism of our Lord is like the ringing of a bell to signal the start of a slug fest between heaven and hell. Still wet with the Jordan’s water, Jesus is driven by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness. “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased” the Father had said. Immediately Satan sprang forth to attack that Word of God.
We see Jesus tempted. Now we see Jesus doing something we can relate, for we are daily tempted. And yet, we hear from James as well as in the Catechism, “God tempts no one.” And we see that God tested Abraham, and we begin to wonder just what is going on? In the Scriptures we see both, tempting and testing.
There is a tendency to take both of these accounts, Abraham with Isaac and Jesus in the wilderness, and make them about how must overcome evil and temptation. We wonder and speculate what was God trying to prove? After all, our Lord knows Abraham’s heart.
What St. Mark and the other gospels record in the temptation of our Lord is not a pep talk for you to figure out how to win against the devil. The ancient adversary is one who knows Scripture better than you ever will. He masquerades as an angel of light to misuse it (II Cor. 11:14). He is a murderer from the beginning, a liar and the father of lies (John 8:44). When God sows His Word, the wicked one sows weeds (Mt. 13:38, 39). He seeks to take away the Word from the hearts of those who hear it that they may not believe and be saved (Luke 8:19). He is seeking to take the Word from your heart even as you hear it right now. From Adam through Abraham down to Jesus’ day, no human being had ever stood firm against him. When it came to tempting man to sin, Satan’s record was perfect. For, there is no one righteous, not even one. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:10, 12, 23). If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us (I John).
When it comes to temptation and testing, Satan’s track record up to this point is flawless. This isn’t just some game where there will be some winners and some losers. Through the Apostle James our Lord lets us know that your temptation comes when you are lured by your own desires. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.
God does not tempt you. He doesn’t test you to see what you have and prove yourself to Him. When God is testing He is creating. He creates faith in Abraham, tells him to go and trust Him. He creates faith in Isaac, sparing his life and providing a sacrifice for him. You are not left alone to prove yourself to God but in the midst of struggles and temptation our Lord brings you to Him.
So the stage is set. This is one fight worth hearing about again and again and again – even the abbreviated account in Mark. Never try to imagine peace between these two combatants. Sometimes in this sinful world warfare is necessary. This fight is absolutely crucial to the eternal peace of mankind.
That it could happen, that Christ could be tempted at all is an amazing occurrence. For Christ was there when Satan rebelled! Christ was there when Adam and Eve were deceived! Christ covered their naked shame and gave them the first Gospel promise as He told Satan that a male seed would come to crush His accusing head. The pre-incarnate Christ was also there at Moriah (the angel of the Lord) calling out “Abraham, Abraham – do not lay a hand on the boy.”
It was Christ who promised Himself as Abraham’s seed through whom all the nations of the world would be blessed. Through the centuries He was there in the Old Testament tabernacle and temple forgiving sins in the sacrifices He commanded. He was there strengthening God’s people in their fight against Satan’s temptations through Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms. Moriah was the place where Solomon’s temple was later built (II Chron. 3:1). A short distance to the west was the place where the cross of Christ would stand. The one who had stayed Abraham’s hand from killing his son, was Himself the One who would be bound for sacrifice. In the nearly identical location , God provided the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
Where is the Lamb? Isaac had asked. It is a piercing question. How could Abraham move forward and actually raise the knife over his own son? Human speculation is futile in measuring this moment. But Scripture reveals what Abraham was thinking. “By faith Abraham when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice… reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death” (Heb. 11:17-19). This is an incredible type, the clearest type in the Old Testament of what God would do on Mount Calvary. It took place not because God is sadistic. Rather, it took place with Abraham understanding the doctrine of the resurrection from the dead. God Himself will provide the Lamb.
This was just but one round in the battle. Satan will keep sending his blows. Satan will send a beating to Christ and send a deathly blow. Our Lord humbled Himself and took your damning blow of death and took on God’s wrath. He is the provided Lamb. His death is your victory! The tempter you cannot defeat was there defeated. You face temptations when you are lured from your own desire. “Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above.”
Oh there is no question that Satan’s temptations continue and that you need deliverance from them. It is no accident that Jesus teaches you to pray everyday, “Lead us not into temptation”. What does this mean? God indeed tempts no one. But we pray in this petition that God would guard and keep us, so that the devil, the world and our flesh may not deceive us into misbelief, despair, and other great shame and vice; and though we be assailed by them, that still we may finally over come and obtain the victory.
The risen Christ still proclaims to you day in and day out, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” He is the one whom James wrote about – Blessed is the man (male) who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. The male under trial is singular. The promise of eternal life is plural. We receive the crown of life because of the steadfastness of Jesus. For you there is a ram in thicket, for you steadfastness under trial has been accomplished. The time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the Gospel. Our Lord declares to you as He washes you and cleanses you in baptism, “you are my beloved child.”
He delivers you from all evil and gives you Himself as the gift from above. For you, he strives and wrestles 40 days. As our alleluias remain on pause this season He rides on and treads on to die, for you, for me, for the sin of the world and in glorious resurrection brings you through with Him to life everlasting. Amen.