1 Lent Proper B1
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Mark 1:9-15 Sermon
February 26, 2012
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Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal & With One Voice):
340 "Awake My Soul To Joyful Lays"
370 "My Hope Is Built On Nothing Less"
WOV 657 "The Glory Of These 40 Days"
658 "Onward Christian Soldiers"
NOT AN EASY ROAD AHEAD
TEXT: (vs. 14-15) “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 is at hand; repent and believe in the Gospel.'”
It's been awhile back that I was having a conversation with a woman. During the course of our conversation, she was telling me about her nephew. Now I don't know all of the specifics about her nephew, but the one thing that he told her was that he is not ready to be baptized yet. The reason he has, as I understand it, is that he isn't ready to quit living his life. For some reason, he feels that being baptized means that he can't enjoy life any more. He feels that he has to suddenly adapt this perfect and righteous lifestyle and become some sort of showroom saint. And he just isn't ready for that.
Well, I can fully understand that. If being a baptized Christian meant that I had to quit enjoying life, then I don't think I'd be too interested either. I'm anything but a perfect and righteous person in my own right. And I'm definitely not any type of showroom saint either. I'm a sinner just like everybody else. What makes me and any other true Christian different however, is a matter of faith. And that is the crux of the whole matter. Faith is the thing that transforms a person into a Christian person.
Unfortunately this young man doesn't see it that way. His whole idea of baptism is completely off-base. And he also has the wrong idea about being a Christian in general. Maybe somebody has beat him over the head with a Bible too many times, perhaps to the point where he's just gotten sick of it. Maybe he has seen one too many self-righteous hypocrites who call themselves Christian. Most likely he wants to be saved, but in his mind's eye, he would have to give up too much for it to happen, at least right now. Maybe when he gets older and he is too tired to enjoy life as he is now, then he might consider it, but not while he is still in his prime. That is just too much to ask.
Unfortunately, this young man's ideas are not unique. Many people have this same sort of philosophy. And what they've done is convince themselves of a whole line of thinking that just isn't true. And our Gospel lesson for today will show that to be the case.
The subject presented in our Gospel today is a common theme for the first Sunday in Lent. Every year, we talk about Jesus going out into the wilderness, out into the desert for forty days, where he fasts. And during this time, Satan is tempting Jesus about every way he can think of. And Jesus, being fully human as well as being fully God, was able to experience the strong temptations Satan was throwing at him.
Since our appointed Scripture readings run on a three-year cycle, we study this account from three different writers. Last year, we looked at what Matthew recorded. Next year, we will look at what Luke recorded. But this year, we're focusing upon what God the Holy Spirit caused Mark to record in his account.
Mark is the most unique, because his is the shortest. He is able to take the entire forty days Jesus was in the wilderness being tempted by Satan, and reduce it down to three sentences. Verses 12 and 13 read as follows: "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." And that's all Mark has to say about it. If we want more details about the incident, then we would have to look at either Matthew's or Luke's Gospel record.
Mark is one of these guys who likes to "cut to the chase," as the old saying goes. He goes where he needs to go, and he does it in such a way that it is very easy to see the logical flow of things. Even though the detailed accounts are important, Mark's inspired pen brings us to the point very quickly. And that's important too.
Before we take this apart further, one other thing is worth noting, and that is Mark's use of the word, "immediate" or "immediately." It is used twice in the few verses of our Gospel lesson alone! He uses this word some 35 times in his entire book, which is more than any of the other Gospel writers, and 9 of those times are in the first chapter alone. From this, we get the picture that Mark was not a person to just sit and wait around. When things happened, they happened immediately, at once. When God acted, it happened right away. This gives the whole Gospel record a sense of importance and urgency. And that is definitely a good thing.
One of the things we can conclude, is that the road ahead isn't going to be an easy one. Quite honestly, it doesn't matter which road you're headed down during your lifetime. Any road isn't going to be easy. If you follow a heathen religion, then you are all twisted up in a system of good works and trying to please whatever god you worship. If you are worldly-minded, then you'll have your own set of difficulties. And if you are a Christian, just remember that God hasn't promised you that life will be easy either. But the Christian has direction and purpose. And God has promised to help us along the way. For the Christian, there is a glorious eternal goal at the end.
Our Gospel lesson for today begins at Jesus' baptism. Not only is Jesus' true identity verified, but also something very important happens as far as we're concerned. Through his baptism, Jesus has linked himself and joined himself to us. In Romans chapter 6, verses 3-5: "3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his."
Without getting into a lengthy discussion about baptism, the important thing we get from this is that Jesus not only joins himself to us, but we are also joined to him as well. We're partners in this life, and this is a work of the Holy Spirit. This is something that we need to remember as we continue through our Gospel lesson for today.
Jesus now goes into the desert, into the wilderness where Satan tempts him. Even though Mark doesn't give the details, we know from the other Gospel records that he went through about the worst temptations that anybody could ever imagine. Satan hits him with everything he has.
To understand what that has to do with us, here is we need to go to the book of Hebrews, chapter 4 verses 14-16: “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”
Those three verses say so much about what we see Jesus enduring in our Gospel lesson for today. He was tempted, just like we are, and even more so actually, and he endured it. Those temptations must have been sheer torture in and of themselves for Jesus, and yet he did not sin.
So what does that mean for us? Does that mean that in order to be a Christian, we have to be without sin too? Does that mean that Jesus came to take all the fun out of life? Does that mean that Jesus came to ruin things for us?
Of course he didn't. Satan would like us to think that is the case, which is another one of his dirty little lies he uses to attract people. But the Hebrews passage I just read says it best in verse 16: "Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” Jesus did what he did so he could not only fully understand, but also actually live what we experience. He did it so we could go to God and get the help we need in this life. He stood up to Satan knowing full well that we would be powerless on our own to do so.
As we move to the final portion of our Gospel lesson for today, verse 15 reads, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the Gospel.” It's this verse, and several others that are similar, where I think people begin to get the wrong idea about the walk of the Christian. People tend to get all twisted up with the word "repent" and "repentance."
We have to understand that the word "repent" means to do an "about-face," so-to-speak, something like marching soldiers do. It is a complete 180-degree change in direction.
This is where people get the idea that they have to be perfect in order to be a Christian. They look at the Christian faith in terms of a prison sentence, that God has taken everything fun out of life, and that they have to be some sort of Bible-thumping, self-righteous, nose-in-the-air showroom saint. People think that God wants them to remove themselves from the world, give up their friends, and live in a monastery someplace. And again, that is one of those lies that Satan uses to convince people that God's way just isn't the way for them.
Granted that repentance is indeed this 180-degree about face. The problem is that people get all hung up with the idea that they are turning away from something. What Jesus is talking about is turning TOWARD something, and that's a whole different ballgame.
Ezekiel chapter 18 is one of the more hard-hitting repentance chapters in the Bible, which deals with the sinful Israelites. God calls them on the carpet for the way they were acting. But in the very last verse of that chapter, verse 32, we see the point of the whole thing: "For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn, and live." God is asking us to turn toward him; and when we do so, we will find life like we've never experienced it before.
Jesus is stressing the importance of repenting and believing the Gospel. That should give us a good clue as to the positive nature of the whole idea. When we repent, we are now taking the walk of faith through life. At the end of that walk is eternal life, and not eternal death, which is the other alternative.
The walk of faith is one we take when we believe the Gospel. The Gospel isn't a whole lot of rules and edicts that burden us down. Rather, the Gospel is the full and free forgiveness of our sins through faith in Christ Jesus our Saviour. He took that walk we could not walk. He lived the life we could not live. He endured the attacks of Satan. And he bore the punishment that we by our sins deserve.
Jesus Christ took that walk because he loves us, and wants to save us. He wants to keep us out of Satan's hands and mend our broken spirits. He doesn't want to burden us, but take those burdens from us so we can be free.
At the beginning, I mentioned this woman's nephew who said he isn't ready to be baptized yet. Sadly, he has a whole lot of wrong ideas about baptism and the Christian faith, some of which people have probably fed him, and some of which he most likely concluded on his own. To him, being a Christian means having to give up everything that's fun in life, and somehow turn himself into this sinless showroom saint. And that's exactly where Satan wants him.
This young man is looking within himself for righteousness, and doesn't see it. And it frustrates him! He sees being a Christian in terms of pleasing other people, and doing what they expect. He is looking at Christianity as a religion of good works, and not a walk of faith. He's drawing all of his conclusions from everything except what God has clearly said in the Bible.
In John chapter 10, verse 10, Jesus says: "I came that they may have life and have it abundantly." He did not say that he came to take the fun out of life and ruin it completely. He came with the Gospel, the good news of forgiveness, life, and hope. And so Jesus asks us to repent, to turn toward him in faith, and believe in him as our personal Lord and Saviour.
Everything Jesus did on this earth, he did out of love for people the likes of you and me. Certainly we don't have an easy road ahead. That's the reality of life, irrespective of which road a person takes. But the Christian walks the road of faith, knowing that it is a path of blessing. The Christian knows that Jesus has endured all of the pain and suffering and misery that Satan could inflict, so that we no longer have to worry about the eternal consequences. We can rejoice that Christ Jesus has conquered and defeated Satan for us, and paved the pathway of blessing, all the way to heaven.