1st Sunday in Lent                                 
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
Mark 1:9-15 Sermon                                                    
March 1, 2009

Hymns (from The Service Book and Hymnal):
150 "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God"
537 "O Master Let Me Walk With Thee"
157 "Lord Of Our Life And God Of Our Salvation"
532 "Jesus Lead Thou On"


TEXT: (vs. 12-13) "At once the Spirit sent [Jesus] out into the desert, and he was in the desert forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him."

I received a rather annoying telephone call the other day.  And if I were to hazard a guess, I'd say that many of you have received either the same call, or one similar to it.

The caller first told me that I had won some sort of gasoline discount certificate, and then she proceeded to tell me that I had won my choice of three things:  a free carpet cleaning for one room, a free cleaning and polish for one hardwood floor, or free cleaning for two pieces of upholstered furniture.

Now I'm not saying that my home couldn't use a good dose of cleaning.  That's not the issue.  Rather, as this woman proceeded to go through her spiel, she very carefully worked the name of a popular vacuum cleaner into one of the sentences, presumably doing it in such a subtle manner that maybe I wouldn't catch it.  But I did.

Now since this sermon gets wide publication on the internet, I'm not going to specify the brand name of the upright vacuum cleaner.  I will say that it is a popular brand which is sold primarily by home sales people, and it costs well over a thousand dollars to buy their "system," and even more if you get all of the gadgets, accessories, bells and whistles.

Anyway, I politely told the woman on the phone that I didn't want any sales representatives of that particular vacuum cleaner company in my home at all, and I didn't care about the free cleaning.

She pretty much ignored my protest, and began a different spiel, which ended up with her asking, "Now do you have carpets or hardwood floors, and what time would work best for us to schedule an appointment?"

Again I said my no, a bit more emphatically this time.  Then she proceeded to tell me that the representative was being paid $25 dollars to just do the shampooing, and he would do nothing more.  There would be no high-pressure, and that they just wanted me to consider this brand of vacuum cleaner if I should ever decide to buy. 

I responded, "You mean there wouldn't be any of the high-pressure tactics you are using on me right now?"  And then I asked her the famous old question, "What part of 'no' did you not understand?"  And that pretty much ended the conversation.  If it hadn't, I would have just hung up on her.

The telephone calls are bad enough; but the worst part of it happens if they get inside your house.  Then the fun REALLY begins.  They have a whole assortment of carefully orchestrated demonstrations designed to show you how good their vacuum cleaner is, and how inferior your old vacuum cleaner is.  They have a whole line of questioning designed to get you to answer "yes" to about anything they ask of you.  And once they have you agreeing with them, then it is only a matter of time before they close the sale.

Now bear in mind that you can go out and purchase a vacuum cleaner that will do every bit as good of a job as theirs will, and you can accomplish this for a price tag of under $500, and do so quite easily.  Their machine sells for around $1,500.  And their tactics are so slick that people willingly, and needlessly fork over that kind of money. 

They also have this trick where they will ask to use your phone, and get into a pretend argument with their manager to get you a "better deal."  Of course once you see them pretend to fight for you, then they count on you feeling guilty if you don't take advantage of their offer.

As a last resort, they'll tell you that all of this can be yours for just a dollar down.  They'll ask you, "You can afford a dollar tonight, can't you?"  And as a result of all this, there are a lot of people who are making monthly car-loan size payments for a stupid vacuum cleaner.  And if you figure the interest rate, people are paying almost twice the original $1,500 price tag.  One salesman even commented, "Those who wind up buying are those who can least afford it."

It's completely nuts, isn't it?  And this is mild compared to the way the salesmen are trained.  They have meetings they actually call "church."  They stand up, sing songs, listen to motivational speeches, and get all hyped up about selling these vacuum cleaners.  Then they are told lies about commissions and salaries, and they wind up working an unbelievable number of hours per week for a meager paycheck. 

And when they burn out (which is quickly), there are more to take their place.  Considering that the job market is the way it is, I would venture to say that there will be more and more of these vacuum cleaner salesmen out there on the streets trying to get you to pay exorbitant prices for nothing more than a simple vacuum cleaner.

In our Gospel lesson for today, Mark records a bit about Jesus being in the wilderness, fasting for forty days.  And as he was there, Satan was tempting him.  In fact, Satan was tempting him with the best stuff he had. 

To us it seems rather foolish that Satan would even attempt to get Jesus to sin.  Jesus Christ is indeed true God, and we all know that God is by far more powerful than Satan could ever hope to be.  Comparing God's power to Satan's power would be something like comparing a Sherman tank to a pea shooter.  Why would Satan even bother, considering how the odds were stacked up against him?

There were two things in particular that motivated him.  First of all, Satan knew that Jesus was not only true God, but also true man.  Satan wasn't attacking Jesus' divine nature so much as he was attacking Jesus' human nature.  It was Satan's hope that somehow Jesus' human nature would overtake or crowd out the divine nature to the point where the two would become diametrically opposed to each other.

And that brings up the second thing, and probably the most important thing that motivated him.  Should Satan somehow tempt Jesus to the point where he would sin against God, then Jesus' entire mission and ministry would be completely worthless.  If Jesus would have sinned, then the punishment he would endure would be for his own sins, and not for the sins of the whole world.  All of humanity would be completely condemned because of Jesus' failure.  There would be no hope at all for the people of the world, and Satan would have the whole world to himself-lock, stock, and barrel.

Satan was like that vacuum cleaner salesman.  He was throwing his very best at Jesus.  Like that vacuum cleaner salesman, he was trying to close the deal any way he could.  Satan was trying to get Jesus to look at things from a selfish perspective, and to get him to agree with what he was telling him.  And if he could only get his foot in the door, if he could only get Jesus to see things just a little bit differently, then he would have him right where he wanted him.

But what Satan didn't realize at the time, was that he was playing right into Jesus' hand.  Jesus allowed Satan to tempt him for a good reason.  Of course Jesus would never allow Satan to get the better of him.  Jesus had a far different purpose in mind, and that purpose is one of great benefit to us.

In order to see this purpose Jesus had, 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."

Certainly Jesus knows that we are tempted, and tempted a lot.  But there is a difference between knowing about something, and being personally familiar with what we experience.  If someone is experienced in something like this, then there is a heightened level of understanding that goes along with it.

If I use myself as an example, there are a lot of things I know about, but what I've actually experienced myself is substantially less.  I don't know what it's like to experience the death of my child.  I don't know what it's like to experience the pains of a divorce.  I don't know what it's like to be a paraplegic.  I don't know what it's like to be blind or deaf.  I don't know what it's like to have an unfaithful spouse.

Now just because I've never experienced these things doesn't mean that I am disqualified to minister to people who are experiencing them.  I just don't know what the situation would be like for me.

What I can do, and do quite effectively, is to direct a person to someone who does know and who has experienced sin, and sorrow, and temptation at every level.  You can do the same thing as well.

Jesus knows, and Jesus understands.  He's been there at every level that we could ever experience.  And since he's been there, he can and he will help us in whatever way we need him.

Satan's main goal is to get us to place ourselves and our own way ahead of God and his will.  He wants us to give in to his tactics.  That's why Satan is a lot like that vacuum cleaner salesman.  He will use whatever tricks and tactics he can to close the deal.  We might not set out to sin, just like we might not set out to buy a vacuum cleaner that we can't afford.  But somehow and in some way, we wind up getting caught in that trap. 

Satan wants us to sin, but our Saviour is there to give us understanding and forgiveness.  Even though he never sinned, Jesus certainly knows how powerful it can be for us.

In I Corinthians chapter 5 verse 21 the Apostle Paul reminds us:  "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." That is an important verse for us to remember.  Because Jesus was tempted and yet did not sin, he fulfilled all of the qualifications to be our Saviour.  Jesus was able to pay the price for sin with his sinless life.  Through faith in him, we then have the benefit of his sinlessness, which satisfies God's requirement of righteousness.

As Christian people who have Christ's righteousness as our own, we can take special comfort in the words recorded for us in Hebrews chapter 4 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 has indeed made it possible for us to approach God's throne of grace, and do so confidently.  We can do this because of our faith in Jesus our Saviour.  That confidence means that we can trust that what God says and what Jesus has done is absolutely true and certain.  We can be confident of our soul's salvation and our future life in the eternal mansions of heaven.

But that confidence has another benefit as well.  We can be confident that when we come to Jesus in the time of need, we will discover God's grace.  Jesus promises that he will never leave us nor forsake us, irrespective of how rough things may get, or whatever way Satan may try to win us over to his side.  God will give us grace sufficient to withstand anything Satan can throw at us.  With God, our faith and confidence is well-placed.

It may seem a bit cruel to compare Satan to a vacuum cleaner salesman.  After all, I would guess that there has to be some vacuum cleaner salesmen out there someplace with at least a few scruples.  I have read reports of some of those salesmen who have been completely honest with their prospective customers.  But those people are no longer vacuum cleaner salesmen either.

I guess the bigger question would be, "why?"  Why would a company who makes a good product either directly or indirectly support some of those shady sales techniques?

The main answer, is because it works.  Even though the methods are at best questionable, they continue to use them because they get the job done.  They're closing deals any way they can.  Vacuum cleaners are being sold, and the company is making profits. 

Satan operates the same way.  He does what he does because it works.  He is successful with people a lot of the time.  That's why he unleashed his most diabolical methods on Jesus in the wilderness.  And he continues to work the same way on people the likes of you and me.

But we have a Saviour we can turn to at any time.  He won't count how many times we've come, but he's always ready to help us.  Jesus has been there.  He knows.  He understands.  And most importantly, he forgives.