The Journey of Lent, and Life
First Sunday in Lent
Commemoration of Martin Luther, Doctor and Confessor
February 18, 2018
For the next six weeks we will be on a journey with our Lord. This journey is known as Lent. Some people don’t like the solemn or even somber nature of Lent. Others just don’t understand why we need to observe Lent. Lent is a journey. From the journey you reach the destination. Without the journey you don’t reach the destination. With the First Sunday in Lent we see our need for the journey and so see all the more clearly the destination.
The Baptismal creed, the Apostles’ Creed, teaches us an important fact of the life of Jesus when we confess that He was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate. This is stunning when you consider it. The Second Article of the Creed confesses Christ, who He is, what He has done for us for our salvation. And in confessing that He is shown to be the recipient of the actions of others. Conceived by the Holy Spirit. Born of the Virgin Mary. Suffered under Pontius Pilate.
When we confess in the Creed, I believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, we confess that He submitted to being conceived by God’s Holy Spirit. That He submitted Himself to being in the womb of His Mother and born of her. That He submitted to being punished and scorned and even crucified by a pagan ruler.
Jesus accomplished salvation for us, there’s no doubt about that. But look at how He did it! By submitting Himself to the Father’s will. By being conceived and starting out in this life as we do, as a zygote. By going through the trauma of coming out of the womb. By going through the pain and agony of suffering and death. Jesus willingly placed His life in the hands of His Father, which meant being the recipient of the actions of others.
When He began His public ministry He did not do so without being Baptized. The Bible teaches us that we need Baptism. We are forgiven and given new life in Baptism. Jesus needs neither, He is Lord. But He told John the Baptist that by being Baptized it was to fulfill all righteousness. He is in solidarity with us by sharing with us in Baptism. When He came out of the water He saw the heavens open and the Spirit of God coming upon Him as a dove, being anointed, and hearing the voice, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.”
What happened then is recounted in our Gospel reading for the First Sunday in Lent. Jesus was led into the desert by the Spirit to be tempted by the devil. He was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, Baptized by John, anointed by the Holy Spirit, led into the desert by the Holy Spirit, and tempted by the devil. The Lord, the king, the leader, the main person is usually the one calling the shots and in control. But Jesus is subjected to all sorts of actions by the power of others.
This is what Lent is about then. It is about our Lord and what He has done, and not to be dismissed, how He has done it. It was by the Spirit’s action that Jesus was led out into the desert to be tempted by the devil. If you think about what we confess in the Creed you are thinking about the very events of salvation, how it is that God saved you. He did it in His Son. In sending the Holy Spirit upon the Virgin Mary to conceive in her the Son of God. He sent His Holy Spirit upon His Son thirty years later when He was Baptized, to be anointed, declaring His Son to be His beloved Son in whom He is well-pleased, only for His Holy Spirit to send Jesus out into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.
The devil seizes upon this when he tempts Jesus. If you are the Son of God, do something about it. After fasting forty days, don’t continue in hunger. Turn these stones into bread. Take Your Father at His word and throw Yourself down from the pinnacle of the temple so that Your Father can do what He has promised to do in His Word and send His angels to keep you from harm. Fall down and worship me so that you can dispense with this life of suffering Your Father and the Holy Spirit have laid upon You and rule all the kingdoms of the world.
Notice in all these temptations who is calling the shots. It’s the devil. Jesus is submitting to this treatment. He doesn’t flee. He doesn’t pray His Father to remove Him from this subjection to Satan tempting Him. He lets Satan take Him to the holy city. He lets Satan take Him to a very high mountain where they can look out on all the kingdoms of the world. Jesus was conceived by the Holy Sprit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, and tempted by the devil. Jesus did all of this for you. He said to Pilate that He could send down an army of angels so that He would no longer have to endure this suffering.
But He didn’t. He endured the suffering. He went through the wilderness of the temptations of Satan. He went through the trial and the mockery and the scourging and even the crucifixion and dying. But He did all of this not because He was not in control. He very much was. He endured all of this willingly. He did it so that He could offer Himself as a pure sacrifice. As one who was tempted and yet without sin. As one who endured temptation that you and I could never endure and yet defeating Satan. Not by fleeing, by trusting His Father. Not by giving in, by holding fast to the Word of His Father.
Each time Jesus responds to the Deceiver, He does so not with His own words but the words written down in the Bible. Each time He quotes the Bible He does so from the book of Deuteronomy, from the part of the Bible where the Israelites, God’s Old Testament people, were wandering through the wilderness, enduring the desert as they made their way to the Promised Land. Time after time they failed. Often they succumbed to temptation and sinned and rejected the very God who saved them, who brought them out of slavery in Egypt, who was giving them new life in the Promised Land.
They did not submit to the will of their Heavenly Father. Even though He saved them, even Baptized them, as we are taught in 1Corinthians 10. They were Baptized in the waters of the Red Sea as they left their bondage behind. Would you think that people who had been saved in such a spectacular way by the power and grace of God would submit themselves to Him, taking everything He gives them as pure grace and gift? You would think so, but instead they continued to listen to the voice that is behind every temptation, the Devil.
As they had been Baptized and then led out into the wilderness, so Jesus is Baptized and led out into the wilderness. As they were tempted in the wilderness, so Jesus was tempted in the wilderness. But the similarity ends there. They did not rely on the Word of God. Jesus spoke nothing but God’s Word when responding to Satan. They sought the cravings of their own belly, Jesus sought the Food that endures to Eternal Life. They tested the Lord their God, Jesus entrusted Himself to His Heavenly Father. They sought the glory of this world, Jesus sought the Kingdom that is not of this world.
The journey of God’s people in the Old Testament was a journey of failure, but also of repentance and forgiveness. The journey of our Lord was through the very same temptations but He overcame them. We have been Baptized as well and are led by the Spirit also into the wilderness of the temptations of this world. We are on a journey but we know the destination. We often fail and so Lent is here to show us not ourselves but the Son of God, who is the faithful Son who submits Himself entirely to His Father and endures every thing His Father places before Him and wills that He endure. Jesus overcame temptation so that when you don’t you have forgiveness and victory over that temptation and your sin. Jesus suffered and died so that you, as you carry around your sinful nature you were born with, you are nevertheless free, and forgiven, and raised up to new life.
These six weeks of Lent are not meant to be easy and happy. They are intentionally meant to be somber and reflective. They are meant to give you a time of reflecting on the times you fall in temptation. It would be a band aid if you were to see the Gospel reading simply as a prescription for overcoming temptation. That said, you ought to learn that the Word of God is your powerful refuge in time of temptation. But the simple fact is that you were born in sin and you often crumble under temptation. Jesus did not show you how to endure under temptation but to show you that He endured under temptation and has given you eternal life by Himself by suffering, dying, and rising. It is what He has done that matters. When you do fail, repent. Tell Satan, as Jesus did, Be gone. I have my Lord Jesus Christ who is my refuge and strength, a very present help in time of trouble. He is a mighty fortress. He has done for me what I could not and still fail to do.
He subjected Himself to all He did for you and therefore you are forgiven. Live in your Baptism. Feed on the Food that sustains you eternally, the very Body and Blood of your Lord Jesus Christ. And rejoice that, though your life will not always be easy and happy, Your Father in Heaven has given you His Son and His Holy Spirit and He will bring you through the wilderness and temptations of this life to the true Promised Land of heaven. Amen.