Through the Wilderness

Text: Mark 1:9-15
Date: Lent I + 2/18/18

Today’s Gospel from Mark chapter one begins by summarizing the entire season of Epiphany in order to deliver us into the season of Lent. In Marks’ Gospel the Epiphany, manifestation or shining forth of Jesus as the promised Messiah began with His baptism. These words of the voice from heaven also closed the season at the Transfiguration of Our Lord, “This is my beloved son; with you I am well pleased.” We even heard the final part of today’s Gospel describing the beginning of Jesus active ministry of preaching, teaching and healing. What was skipped over in Epiphany, however, were these short words of verses 12 and 13 recalling our Lord’s first work, His temptation by the devil.

Recall that we have said Mark assumes that you have heard or read the many details he leaves out recorded by the other evangelists Matthew and Luke. Not that those details are unimportant. But St. Mark and St. Peter looking over his shoulder draw a deeper significance. He emphasizes the wilderness, the forty days, the temptation by Satan and then adds the seemingly strange detail of being with the wild animals. This makes us ask how was Jesus “with the wild animals”? Was He in danger from them also?

In the account of the temptation of our Lord we today are to consider the reality of our own temptations by the devil and the hope and even victory we have because of Jesus.

Mark begins, “The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.” It was the will of God that Jesus’ first battle be directly against the devil, “the old evil foe” as Martin Luther calls him in his famous hymn. For having first won authority over the devil, from then on, though he will stalk Jesus all the way to the cross, he will not be allowed to thwart our Lord’s purpose, plan and goal.

In Matthew and Luke Jesus’ temptation demonstrates the power of God’s Word. Each temptation is countered by reference to the holy scriptures, saying, “It is written….” Mark’s gospel, on the other hand pictures this as Jesus being the new Israel. The wilderness of Jesus’ temptation recalls the wilderness wandering of Israel on their way to the promised land. The forty days of Jesus’ temptation recall the forty years of Israel’s trials and their temptations.

Time and again the people of Israel were tempted to give up and not only that but also to gripe, whine and complain against God and Moses. Recall just a few of their words from Exodus chapters 15 through 17. Three days into the wilderness called Shur and finding no water, “the people grumbled against Moses, saying, ‘What shall we drink?’” (Ex 15:24). They blamed Moses for their thirst.

Again in the wilderness called Sin, “the whole congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness, and the people of Israel said to them, ‘Would that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger’” (Ex 16:1-2). They blamed Moses and Aaron for their hunger.

And again, when they moved on from the wilderness of Sin by stages, they camped at Rephidim, “but there was no water for the people to drink.” So, once again “the people quarreled with Moses and said, ‘Give us water to drink.’” Now they really began to get on Moses’ nerves and drew even him into their temptation of grumbling and complaining. “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?” “But the people thirsted there for water, and the people grumbled against Moses and said, ‘Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?’ So Moses cried to the Lord, ‘What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me’” (Ex 17:1-4).

“Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God’” writes James in today’s Epistle. Yet how often do you hear the question, “What have I done to deserve this?” implying some retaliation or punishment from God. “God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.” God cannot be tempted with evil? Yet the Bible clearly says Jesus was tempted by Satan. And Jesus is God.

But what of the temptations of our Lord? Could Jesus have sinned? We heard James suggest three stages which we confess as sin by thought, word and deed. First is the tempting thought or desire. Then when put into action it gives birth to actual sin. And sin finally brings forth death. Jesus was tempted. However, being the beloved Son of the Father, being God Himself, Jesus could not sin. Nevertheless, He would die the death of our sins for us. So if Jesus could not have sinned the temptation only shows the ignorance and madness of the devil.

Now, as for the wild animals and the angels, St. Mark could have had in mind how the Old Testament refers to even the animals and nature reflecting both the fall into sin and the hope of redemption.

Isaiah speaks of the wild beasts and the hope of salvation, saying, “No lion shall be there, nor shall any ravenous beast come up on [the highway]; they shall not be found there, but the redeemed shall walk there” (Is 35:9). Again, the promise “will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. The wild beasts will honor me, the jackals and the ostriches” (Is 43:19-20). It was after the temptation, says Mark, that “he was with the wild animals,” “with them” much as Jesus has come to be Emmanuel, God with us for our deliverance and salvation.

Matthew and Luke tell us that the devil even tried to use God’s Word from Psalm 91 as part of his temptation, craftily leaving out certain words, “For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways” (Ps 91:11). Even in that Psalm wild animals are mentioned, “You will tread on the lion and the adder; the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot.”

Finally, Psalm 91 even points to the ultimate triumph of those who take refuge in God and trust in Him, saying, “Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him; I will protect him, because he knows my name. When he calls to me, I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him. With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation” (Ps 91:14-16).

On this day, therefore, we thank God for our Lord’s victory and deliverance of the world demonstrated in His triumph over temptation. Now He comes to us enabling us to resist temptation and live with the hope of our final deliverance through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Called to Heal and to Preach…But More!

Text: Mark 1:29-39
Date: Epiphany V + 2/4/18

In our short Epiphany season this year we don’t even get any further in Mark’s short Gospel than the first chapter. The message has been short and quick which is St. Mark’s style. Jesus is baptized, He calls His first disciples, then we hear and see Him preaching repentance and the kingdom of God and healing, first a man with an unclean spirit, and today St. Peter’s mother-in-law and then the sick or demon oppressed of the whole city of Capernaum.

When Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law we’re told “He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up.” Jesus touched with His hands many of those He healed while demons were expelled simply at His mighty command. Imagine the scene of the whole city gathered at the door and Jesus healing many with various diseases and casting out many demons. I don’t think He made a great show of it like you see so many faith healers on television today. At the end of this chapter (which we will not hear this season), Jesus even touches a man with leprosy!

The next day Jesus arose very early in the morning, while it was still dark, and went out to a desolate place to pray. Simon and his friends searched for Jesus to tell Him, “Everyone is looking for you.” Whereupon we are told Jesus’ surprising response, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.” So that is the question of this text, why did Jesus come? Was it just to preach and heal? No, there was way more to it than that.

Both in what He preached and said and what He did Jesus is the Epiphany of God, the revealing of the one true God come not to judge and condemn us but to forgive, love and save us. As the Proper Preface for the season in the communion liturgy says, “In [Your Son], being found in the substance of our mortal nature, You have manifested the fullness of Your glory.”

Jesus is the God the prophet Isaiah wrote about, saying as in today’s reading, this is the God through whom all things were created and made, who sits above all even over earthly rulers such as princes and kings and prime ministers and presidents. And He has been ruling over all of them from the beginning, even though, as Isaiah says, “when He blows on them, and they wither, and the tempest carries them off like stubble” (Is 40:24). The prophet says the Lord is beyond compare as the creator by the greatness of his might, and because he is strong in power. Yet this mighty and all-powerful God has created all and created you out of love. That night in Capernaum Jesus did not grow weary but in fact gave power to the faint, for He is the Lord of the promise: “but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint” (Is 40:31).

This need for renewing of strength, this weariness, this fainting describes what is missing in all people because of sin: separation from God, from His life, from His love. As St. Augustine famously said, speaking for all, “Our souls are restless until they find their rest in thee, O Lord.” That rest happens not by taking some time off, sitting back in your favorite recliner, or taking a nap. True rest happens only in the forgiveness of your sins, and this is why Jesus came.

For all of this will reach that conclusion, the forgiveness of sins. Though at first many were impressed at His preaching and healing and casting out demons, His coming actually meant the beginning of a war, the great warfare against the devil, death and our own sinful flesh. We will see the increasing opposition He will encounter even as Simeon said at His infant presentation in the temple, “this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed” (Lk 2:34). That opposition will happen not only from His enemies but even from among His friends, His own chosen disciples. That opposition happens even from us in the struggle of our divided loyalties between the things of this world and the things of God, between taking our life for granted, treating it as my own ignorant of how death is stalking us all the way and that our life is not our own but is ever in God’s hands, God’s life-giving hands.

Those same hands that touched Simon’s mother-in-law, that healed many of various diseases including even those suffering from leprosy, those same hands would ultimately be nailed to a cross of crucifixion thereby bringing healing to the whole world. There He would die as a criminal, as a sinner, He would die not His own death but ours. That’s where sin and death met their match and forgiveness, holiness and eternal life were given and made available.

And now it is His sacred, life-giving hands that wash us in Holy Baptism, place His own self, His body and blood into our mouths, even as He Himself speaks the Gospel of the kingdom into our ears. Today we receive His healing touch, His forgiveness of all your sins, His gift of strength and eternal life that cannot be destroyed even by death. For we have already died, being buried with Him and raised again in His death and resurrection in Baptism. This is why we proclaim His death until He comes even as we celebrate the life He gives in His body and blood. Yes, this is why He came, to heal and to preach…but more! That through His own sacrifice we may be saved and given the gift of eternal life.

Called to Cleanse

Text: Mark 1:21-28
Date: Epiphany IV + 1/28/18

At the beginning of the Epiphany season it is a time of “epiphany,” that is, revealing the Savior who has come, born at Christmas and grown up in Nazareth. After His baptism by John in the Jordan St. Mark gets right down to business telling us of Jesus’ calling His first disciples to follow Him and become fishers of men, and then the beginning of His ministry of preaching, teaching and healing. He told us, “Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel’” (Mk1:14-15). Continue reading Called to Cleanse

The King’s Kingdom

Text: Mark 1:14-20
Date: Epiphany III + 1/21/18

A main theme of this liturgical year is a new creation, that in Christ you are a new creation. Because Jesus was baptized He began to fulfill God’s Law and defeat sin, death and the devil for you. Because Jesus is truly God and truly man He is the door to salvation for you. Because Jesus called disciples the Church’s mission is His mission. This new creation is called the kingdom of God. Continue reading The King’s Kingdom

The Lord Calls

Text: John 1:43-51
Date: Epiphany II + 1/14/18

In this year of St. Mark’s Gospel, we rejoice that his is the shortest of the four. We rejoice primarily because it gives us a chance to hear also from St. John’s Gospel. The two go together for many reasons. We notice for instance that neither Mark nor John have an historical account of Christmas, the birth of Christ. John begins with an extended prologue quickly moving to John the Baptist and, as we hear today, the calling of the first disciples. So does Mark. Our Gospel from the first chapter of John this morning takes us, as does his entire work, deeper into not only the history but the spiritual meaning of what it means to have faith in the Son of God. Continue reading The Lord Calls

Baptized In His Name

Text: Propers for the Day Series B
Date: The Baptism of Our Lord + January 7, 2018

I have two questions for you today. First, have you been baptized? Of course, I could look at the church records and find the baptismal date of all of our members. Do you remember the date of your baptism? The second question may sound a little strange at first, and that is this, are you baptized? To ask these questions in these two ways helps us discover why we celebrate The Baptism of Our Lord today. For the first question asks only for an historical reference of a past act, that is, the date on which the Sacrament of Holy Baptism was administered to you. We only baptize once because it is God’s own permanent work. He doesn’t go back on His word. The second question, however, asks if your baptism (so long ago) still makes any difference in your life today, now! Yes, Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan River. His baptism has a number of important meanings for Him. And we will briefly review those. But it is of greater meaning and importance if today we emphasize the fact that Jesus was baptized for you. “For you” meaning not instead of you or in your place, but for your benefit. That is, we are saying that when you were baptized into Christ you were changed, born anew from above, a new you, for you have been and are Baptized in His Name. Continue reading Baptized In His Name

My Eyes Have Seen Your Salvation

 

Text: Luke 2:22-40 (34-35)
Date: Christmas I + 12/31/17

Simeon beheld the fulfillment of the Lord’s promise to him as he took up the child Jesus in his arms and blessed God saying, “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation.” Yes, the salvation from God was and is this Child. But how can our eyes see God’s salvation? For that first Christmas was a long, long time ago. We even sing in one of the Christmas songs the wish, “Oh, that we were there! Oh, that we were there!” We weren’t there. And so how can we say with Simeon, “my eyes have seen Your salvation”? A hint is that we sing with Simeon these words after every communion! Continue reading My Eyes Have Seen Your Salvation

This Most Holy Night

Text: Matthew 1:18-25
Date: The Nativity of Our Lord, Christmas Eve + 12/24/17

The angel said to Joseph, “do not fear.” But what’s there to be afraid of? Well, plenty. First is the appearance of an angel, a messenger from God. These created beings of God have personality, that is, they are persons with intelligence and will. We know from scripture that they also have great numbers and great might. What they do not have are physical bodies like ours. But then, because of that, though like us they can only be in one place at a time, nevertheless they can change places instantly. Distance does not limit. So, when you stop to consider this report in detail, that encounter alone would cause a certain level of fear. “Joseph, do not be afraid.” Continue reading This Most Holy Night