The season of Lent brings an intensity of looking at the life of Jesus; who He is and what He came to accomplish. We confess in the words of the explanation of the second article of the Apostles’ Creed, “I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord . . .” We confess what we have been seeing during the season of Epiphany, that Jesus is the Lord, truly God and truly human.
Our text for this morning brings us to the temptation of Jesus. This event occurs immediately after Jesus’ baptism. Jesus is truly God meaning that He is perfect, holy, and sinless. He had no need nor reason to be baptized, yet in order to fulfill all the laws and the prophets and to identify with us, to be our substitute, to show Himself to be truly human, He was baptized, by John, in the Jordan.
Now, immediately after His baptism, immediately after showing Himself to be truly human, He goes, freely, into the wilderness to be tempted. Now let us not underestimate His temptation. He was not simply tempted to lust after another person. He was not simply tempted to shoplift a piece of gum. He was not simply tempted to lie or steal. He was not simply tempted to listen to and pass on a bit of gossip. Jesus was tempted with the same temptations with which we are tempted and even more and even greater temptations. I would say that our greatest temptation and sin is the temptation to sin the sin of omission. As good Lutherans we are determined that we are saved by grace alone as we quote Ephesians 2:8, 9. Yet, we often omit verse ten. We omit that we are to do the good works which God prepared in advance for us to do, that is we are to get off our grace and do what God would have us to do, not to earn forgiveness, but as a response of forgiveness and faith. Jesus was tempted with all temptations, even greater temptations than we might ever think or imagine. He was tempted to take the easier course of trying to save the world, and He was even tempted to omit saving the world.
Last week we spoke of the matter of Jesus as the embodiment of Israel. Jesus came to do what the whole nation of Israel could not do. Jesus came to do what we are unable to do. As an indication of Jesus’ embodiment of the nation of Israel, His ministry begins with His forty days of temptation in the wilderness. These forty days reflects Israel’s forty years of testing and wondering in the wilderness because of their failure to believe and trust in God’s promises in entering the promised land. Jesus was tempted with the same temptations as the children of Israel, however, He did not fail as the children of Israel did.
In his Gospel Matthew expounds on the temptations of Jesus and especially shows us three particular temptations. First, Jesus was tested on the question of how the true child of God should live. Does the true child of God live according to the Word of God, or according to the word of man? The gift of manna in the wilderness was given to feed the children of Israel and to remind them to trust God to provide for their needs. This they failed to understand. Jesus obeyed God perfectly, trusting completely in Him and resisted the temptation. The temptation in the church today is to be a “social church,” providing only for the social needs of the people, instead of providing for the real needs of the people, forgiveness of sins and the Savior.
Second, Jesus was tempted to test God to see if He would be faithful to His promises. Here we are reminded that God may test us, but we are not to test Him. The children of Israel were constantly testing God, showing their lack of trust and faith. Satan suggests to Jesus that He demand such evidence, but Jesus, true Israel, knowing the commandment, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test,” (Matt. 4:7; Deut. 6:16) does not fall for this trick of the devil. The temptation of the church today is to bring in the people by a dramatic show, speaking in tongues, making worship entertaining, telling people what they want to hear rather than preach the law in its sternness and the Gospel in its sweetness, performing healings and the like. Certainly many people would follow someone who is entertaining and does dramatic “tricks.”
The third temptation of Jesus was that He was tempted to achieve control of the world by worshiping God’s rival. The Israelites were tempted to worship the plain god “baal” and thus seek prosperity through their deity. As God’s obedient Son, Jesus knows God’s promises and conditions and that by serving and worshiping God alone He would inherit the world and its kingdoms and thus He resisted such temptation. The temptation in the church today is to compromise the Law and the Gospel. The temptation is to be tolerant of others, including other gods, other lifestyles, other sinful cultures and the like. The temptation is to go with the flow, to be like the world and just get along. The temptation is to not bother with the cross, after all, the cross is a point of contention. And we know that the cross was always on Jesus’ mind, and even more so now that He was getting close to that appointed time. The temptations that Jesus faced were temptations to give up dying on the cross in order to save us and instead, simply saving Himself.
Fortunately for us, and we praise the Lord, that Jesus did not succumb to any, not even to one, temptation. Where Israel failed, Jesus succeeded. He defeated the devil for us and in the process also gave us a good example of how He will help us to defeat the devil, namely through the use of the Word of God. Jesus defeated the devil who left for another time to return and tempt Him even more. And Mark tells us that Jesus was comforted by the angels.
With His first round of temptation completed and having defeated the devil, Jesus now begins His earthly mission. The Gospel writers tell us that John the Baptist came calling in the wilderness to prepare the way for Jesus. The way he came calling to prepare the way was through repentance. But now Mark tells us that John was put into prison. His time, his work, of preparing the people is over. Now it is Jesus time to do the work He came to do.
Mark tells us that Jesus came calling. His calling was very similar to John’s calling. Jesus, too, says, that now the time has come. The kingdom of God is near. Now is the time to repent and believe. Notice that Jesus did not succumb to the temptations of the culture and His example is one we would do well to attempt to emulate today, that is that we not water down our preaching and teaching, rather that we continue even today to call people to repentance. The world may not like it, but we would be doing no favor to the world to do otherwise because the greatest need of the world in Jesus’ day and in our own day is indeed forgiveness of sins which is given through confession of sins and absolution.
As we begin this season of Lent we are reminded of what this season and what this time of the church year means for us. Lent is a time for us, each one of us, individually, to remember and to repent. It is the time for us to take time to reflect on our own lives. What part do we have in the crucifixion of Jesus? Now is the time to remember that, in God’s eyes, all sins are equal. All sins are deserving of the same thing, eternal spiritual death, hell in other words. One little sin condemns us. One little lie, one little half-truth, one little thought of hatred, one sin of omission, not helping someone in need, not doing what God would have us to do, sitting on our grace, one little sin condemns us to eternal spiritual death in hell. And there are no excuses for our sin. You know how it is, we like to justify our sins. There are some things we “have to do” in the name of helping others. Sometimes we “have” to tell a white lie or a half-truth, after all, we do have to live in this world. And there are things we cannot do for the same reasons. May I remind you again that in God’s eyes there is no justification for sin and all sins are deserving of eternal spiritual death. Lent, then is a time for personal reflection.
Lent then becomes a time to confess. As we reflect on our sins we realize that it was me personally who committed the sin which put Jesus on the cross. At the same time we are reminded that even if we were the only person on this earth that Jesus would still have come to give His life for ours. Lent is a time to confess.
Lent is a time to review. We have already said it is a time to review our own sins, but it is also a time to review what Jesus did for us. What Jesus did for us is that He gave up all the glory that was His in heaven. He took on human flesh and blood. He spent nine months in Mary’s womb. He was born in a barn and placed in a feeding trough for animals, a manger. He took care of His family. He was raised the poor son of a carpenter. He lived perfectly for us in our place. He took all our sins upon Himself. He suffered the penalty, the price for sin, eternal spiritual death in hell, for us in our place. He gave His life for ours, for yours and for mine. Lent is a time to review all that Jesus did for us.
Lent is a time to be reminded of Jesus’ victory. Jesus did not stay dead. We do not worship a dead God. We worship a living God. Jesus rose from the dead, showing Himself to be the victor over sin, death and the power of the devil. Jesus defeated the devil and He declares us forgiven and free. At this time He continues to watch over us, pray for us and look forward to the time when He will come to take us from this vale of tears to Himself in heaven. Lent is a time to be reminded of Jesus victory.
Lent is a time to get ready for Good Friday. Good Friday is just that, Good Friday. Good Friday is the day that Jesus died. It is the day that He suffered for our sins. It is Good for us because, since He suffered for us in our place, we will not have to suffer. Lent is a time to celebrate the good of Good Friday.
In a very real way, Lent is a time to praise the Lord. What else can we do? What other option is there for us? Yes, we can deny all the Lord has done for us. We can refuse all His good gifts and blessings, we can sit on our grace. But, better than all that is this, that we can simply be given His good gifts and blessings and rejoice in response with words of praise to our Lord and King. And we are reminded that our words of praise are just that, a response of praise to Him who loves us and gave Himself for us. Yes, Lent, and especially the Sundays of Lent are a time to praise the Lord.
Some people have the habit of giving up something for Lent. That can be a healthy thing to do. Whatever you do, I would urge you to take the time during Lent and to use this time for the purpose for which it was intended, to reflect, to review, to confess, to remember Jesus great love for you which is what moved Him to give His life for yours and to remember Jesus’ victory, to get ready for Good Friday and to praise the Lord. So that ultimately we might all together stand before the Lord’s throne and say, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.