God Tempts No One

Text: Mark 1:9-15
Date: Lent I + 1/20/15

Oh, my! Here we are again, still stuck in Mark chapter one. We have observed how urgently this Evangelist wishes to move us to the heart of the gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God. Mark apparently assumes that you have heard of Jesus’ virgin conception in fulfillment of Isaiah 7:14 and His birth in Bethlehem in fulfillment of Micah 5:2, possibly even having read Matthew’s recent publication, so he doesn’t feel it necessary to mention that. It is, of course, a very important part of the gospel but for some reason not to Mark as much as his goal, the testimony of our Lord’s death and resurrection.

So, you will recall, and as we have been reminded today, Mark begins at Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River. Now today we hear the important detail left out of our Epiphany ears: the temptation. Then we are reminded again of the heart of the gospel of God, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

It sure seemed as if God were tempting Abraham when He commanded him to sacrifice his son, his only son Isaac, as a burnt offering (Gen 22:1-18). In fact the same word [πειράζω] can be translated either tempt or test. God tested Abraham. Yet St. James in today’s Epistle bluntly says, “God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one” (Ja 1:13). God indeed sends trials intended to test the genuineness of our faith (as He did with Abraham), but He does not “tempt” with its evil connotation as to make us fall. So we pray in the Lord’s Prayer for God “so to lead us by his providence as to keep us out of temptation that is too strong for us and to strengthen us in the temptation we do have to face.”[1]

So today we read that, immediately after His baptism, the Spirit drove Jesus out into the wilderness (to be) tempted by Satan. When it says the Spirit “drove” Jesus out, that of course does not mean as if it were against Jesus’ will or cooperation. It does underscore the urgency however. As Mark seems to skip over details he doesn’t at present consider as important in his “shortest gospel,” nevertheless the temptation of our Lord is worth mentioning and is of major importance. For this is to identify where this problem and tragedy of sin and death originated, namely, with Satan.

“Satan” means the enemy or adversary. He is the created angel of God who rebelled against His Creator. It is interesting that Martin Luther’s famous and signature hymn, “A Mighty Fortress,” mainly identified with the Reformation, is even more to be related to the category of the Christian’s struggle against “the old satanic foe” who has “sworn to work us woe. With craft and dreadful might He arms himself to fight. On earth he has no equal.” No equal, that is, until now, in Jesus, and more than “equal,” the first time in the history of the world a man has been tempted by the devil and won the battle.

It took place “in the wilderness.” Jesus was baptized “in the wilderness” of the Jordan River. But this was even deeper wilderness with the emphasis on the word “wild”! “He was with the wild animals,” not taming them or making friends with them (at least not yet, Is 11:6 and 65:25!) but continually threatened as a zoo keeper locked in the lion’s cage. Sin ruined not only human beings but even all the creation including even the animals. (I recently saw a humorous cartoon of a flock of sheep gathered around their sleepy shepherd and the head sheep announcing to the rest, “Okay, on the count of three we all become carnivores!”)

Jesus was tempted by Satan. I’ve always found it important to question of Jesus’ temptation, “was it possible for Jesus to have fallen into sin?” Our logical minds would think it absolutely possible or else the temptation was really no temptation. But is it necessary to be able to sin in order for a temptation to be tempting? The difference is not in the temptation itself but in the Person Himself. So the devil, a decent theologian aware of our Lord’s two natures in one Person, wondered if the “man” part of Jesus could be caused to fall. But did Jesus even for a second consider those temptations we learn from Matthew and Luke’s Gospels of turning stones into bread? Mark says Jesus was so constantly being tempted for forty days that it is probable that He wasn’t necessarily even aware of His growing hunger. No. The two natures of Christ, God and Man, while they each have their own distinct attributes nevertheless are so joined that their attributes share with each other in the one Person. In other words, no, Jesus could not have fallen or sinned since He, body, soul and spirit, is the Holy One of God; which, of course, makes the temptation into almost a silly attempt. So mad and ignorant, though powerful, is the old evil foe!

The point is, says St. Mark, Jesus was born for you. Jesus was baptized for you. Jesus was tempted for you. Now, having bound the strong man (Mark 3:27), the accuser, the tempter, the murderer from the beginning must obey every word and command of Jesus until He reaches His goal, sacrificing Himself, Himself! on the cross as the Redeemer of sinful souls. So we add, Jesus taught and preached and healed for you. Jesus suffered for you. Jesus died for you. His body and blood were given up on the cross for you. And now, of course, Jesus rose from the dead and ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God … FOR YOU!

In typical Marcan style, jump forward a year and a half. (Matthew does this too, but not Luke or John). Jesus didn’t begin His main journey to the cross until it happened that John the Baptist was arrested. This signaled for Him the beginning of the end. He did His main teaching, preaching and healing in Galilee, the Jewish province farthest removed from Jerusalem.

Finally, let us take note of the repeat of Jesus’ preaching, saying, “the kingdom of God is at hand.” It is at hand today for you! When one comes to true repentance and faith one allows God graciously to enter in and rule in your heart. But now, because of Jesus, there is one huge difference. Adam and Eve and all mankind are subject to God’s rule, willingly or unwillingly. Either way human beings were created to be subjects in God’s kingdom. But now, did you hear in the Epistle James say, “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive,” not just a place in line, not just some new duds, but “he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.” Salvation and eternal life is way more than just a return to Eden. Because of the incarnation, birth, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus God has exalted in Him our humanity to participate in the rule of the kingdom. Earthly kingdoms have only one king and everyone else subjects. In the kingdom of God we already bear the title “kings unto God.” This kingdom consists of nothing but kings in glorious array, each with his crown, and Christ being “the King of kings,” a kingdom of kings, with no subjects at all. It is to this glorious destiny we are being called and urged along by God’s salvation. “A mighty fortress is our God,” “The Kingdom’s ours forever!”

[1] Lenski, James, Augsburg ©1966, 541.