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Sermon based on Mark 1:9-15
The church season of Lent is a period of preparation, self-examination and deepening our relationship with God. As a child growing up, the only concept I had of what “Lent” was all about was that it had something to do with not eating chocolate or drinking caffeine or something like that for about a month. It’s easy to overindulge in those things we like. It is easy for us to give in to the temptations around us. Temptation is a battle fought within each of us. The subject of temptation is mentioned in our Scripture lesson from Mark. In the beginning of the gospel of Mark, we have been introduced to John the Baptist, and we are introduced to Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God. Jesus placed himself before John the Baptist, who applied the waters of baptism, and in an event filled with symbolism, heaven is torn open, the Spirit descended upon Jesus, and a voice from heaven, God’s voice, identified Jesus as being God’s son. Rather than enjoying the moment, almost immediately the Spirit leads Jesus out into the wilderness, the same Spirit that has just descended upon him like a dove. The Spirit leads Jesus to where he was subjected to temptation for 40 days. As Jesus is out in the wilderness, we should be aware that the wilderness is not a good place to be. The wilderness was the place where the primary force of chaos and evil, Satan met Jesus.
Jesus was tempted, although in Mark’s gospel we aren’t told what these temptations are. As Mark uses the word for tempt in the gospel, in Greek the word used for tempt is in the context of being ‘tested’, so this period in the wilderness was also a period of testing for Jesus. Following these forty days, Mark says that the creatures of the wild joined Jesus and angels came to minister and care for Jesus. Jesus had been tempted and tested, and he had overcome those temptations. Jesus is thrust back into the world. Jesus leaves the safety, security and the serenity of his time with the angels and he returns into the world to begin his ministry. In this world Jesus discovered that John the Baptist has been arrested and tossed into prison to die a violent death at the hands of King Herod. Jesus began his ministry to a world that would eventually capture him by force and crucify Him upon the cross. Jesus perhaps already aware of how his life will end begins this journey proclaiming the good news of God. “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is near” he preached following his temptation. Jesus encouraged people around Galilee to, “Repent and believe in the Good News.”
We must remember that even though Jesus survived his temptation in the desert, upon returning he was faced with more temptation. Jesus was probably tempted to call upon King Herod and demand the release of John the Baptist from prison. Jesus was probably tempted at times to whip the crowd into frenzy and trade violence for violence and provide his followers the earthly kingdom they so desperately desired.
Instead, Jesus resisted these temptations and issued a call, a call for everyone to repent, to turn away from worldly desires, and all its empty promises and temptations, and rather turn to God for strength and comfort. In thinking of those things that tempt our society, why is it that opportunity knocks only once, yet temptation knocks upon the door constantly? Temptation is something we will all face in our lives and battle constantly. While it would be wonderful to have the strength of our Savior and resist temptations, most of us will not be able to do this. However each of us has been given an opportunity through Holy Communion to seek forgiveness for those times we have fallen short of the expectations God has for us. As we enter this season of Lent, we are to remove those things that might cause us to slip and fall. These weeks leading up to Easter Sunday are a time for us to repent a time for us to turn to Jesus Christ and draw closer to him. May the Lord bless our Lenten journey together.
The Rev. Dr. David A. Marcus, Jr.
February 18, 2018