Grace, mercy and peace be unto you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. AMEN! Our text for this morning’s sermon is taken from St. Mark’s gospel account the first chapter (Mark 1:9-15)
Beloved in the Lord,
In Jesus, the Lord has broken through the devil’s ramparts. With His birth in Bethlehem a new King stakes His claim not only on Israel, but on humanity. The King has come and the dominion of this world’s prince is challenged. With His baptism in the Jordan the heavens are rent asunder, they are opened for the Spirit to descend, the Father to speak to His captives and the Son to lead the baptized into eternal paradise. The adversary’s grip on the hearts of men is severely weakened. Everything Jesus does, everything Jesus says is an affront to the demonic powers that be. His Word and His Works are an attack on the authority of him who slanders men and deceives women, who binds their consciences, and torments their souls.
In Jesus, the Lord has broken through Satan’s bulwarks. Thus, baptized with the Father’s good Word, He is the perfect gift come down from the Father of lights. With Jesus there is no variation or shadow of turning. He is the same, yesterday, today, and forever. Therefore, when Jesus steps out of the waters of baptism He trespasses on the dominion of the devil. He tramples Satan’s kingdom under foot. Each step chases the serpent. The ground trembles beneath His feet. Satan slithers away. With each Word the Lord thunders against his fortifications and the dragon is pierced through. He cowers at the word “is”. As in, “this ISMy Body.” Truly, one little Word can fell him.
So our Lord today is driven to the wilderness. He is baptized. He bears the Father’s blessing. He walks in the Spirit. The Spirit leads Him out of the Promised Land and into the barren land, where thorn and thistle dwell, where wild beasts roam, where Satan has found retreat. There, in the wilderness our Jesus fasts, prays, and goes to war. He is tempted by Satan and the Angels minister to Him.
Dear Christians take note of the consequences of your baptism. Not only are you connected to Christ and brought safely through the waters into a kingdom that shall never end, but you also have been marshaled into an army in confrontation with the devil! No longer an enemy of God – having been brought near by the blood of Christ – you are now an enemy of Satan. The enemy never relents but makes every effort to wrench you away from Christ; away from your baptism, absolution, the Holy supper, and His Church.
By means of hunger, persecution, worldly fame or wealth, heresy or false teaching the serpent attempts to drive a wedge between you and the Savior. First he makes the suggestion. Then he appeals to the delights of our heart, and finally he urges us to consent. Thus, as James teaches, “each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death” (James 1:14). Death is the devil’s desire for you, and me and the world.
Death by delight is his way. The delightful way is the way that seems right to us. It feels good – so it must be good. Or, it feels bad – so it must be bad. Too often this is the gauge of our morality; this is how we measure what’s right and wrong. Sex feels good – so it must be good in any context. Suffering feels bad – so it must be bad and therefore should be avoided at all costs. The world says, “do whatever feels right.” You like to do whatever feels right. The good you know you should be doing, doesn’t feel very good. The bad you know you shouldn’t be doing, too often feels good . . . for a little while. But like any drug, like any addiction, the feeling fades . . . into despair. It never feels like the first time, does it?
Measuring what we do, what we say, how we live according to how we feel appeals to our Old Adam, our old selves, our fallen selves. Satan knows this. The world knows this. You know this too. The devil, the world and your own sinful nature all know this and use this against you to lure you away from Christ’s church, Christ’s sacraments and therefore also Christ! Apart from Christ and His Church you are easy prey. You are in the wilderness surrounded by wild beasts with thorns and thistles lining your path and the dragon chasing you towards death. How many of our fellow baptized are not here? How many of our brothers and sisters have followed the path that feels right only to find themselves in the wilderness suffering with each step or numb to the world around them?
In the midst of such a war with such far reaching consequences we Christians must not lose heart and we must not surrender to the “feel good” theology that pervades our society. We must keep our eyes fixed on Jesus the author and perfector of our faith. The Lord of Sabaoth, is our good and perfect gift come down from the Father in Heaven. He is the devil’s demise and death’s defeat. Tempted in every way that we are Jesus resisted temptation, not for Himself alone, for all people. His Words and His Works are for you, even the Words and Works in the wilderness.
St. Mark doesn’t give us much detail of those words and works in the wilderness. He merely says, “Jesus was in the wilderness 40 days being tempted by the Devil.” He gives no list of temptations. He cites no recitation of scripture. It happened. Jesus did it. And the Devil went away. Or did he? More than any other Mark’s gospel account emphasizes Jesus’ battle with Satan. Everywhere Jesus goes, the devil or some demon shows up and each time Jesus casts the unclean spirits out. “Be silent and be gone!” It happened. Jesus did it. Jesus said it. And the devil went away . . . for the time being. Thus all of Mark’s gospel is really an expansion of the temptation of our Lord in the wilderness.
And Mark’s entire gospel leads us to the final battle between Jesus and the prince of darkness. Mark’s entire gospel is leading us to the cross. He’s leading you to the cross. There on the cross, Satan is finally and fully defeated. All throughout Jesus chased him away, but here, it seems the Devil got Jesus. It looks like the Devil is winning. He’s sneering. He’s mocking. He’s stripped Jesus of any modesty. He’s accused Jesus. He’s slandered Jesus. He’s judged Jesus. He’s hung Jesus out to die a shameful death. There’s no one to help, no one to hear. Even the Father has abandoned Him. And yet, Jesus takes it all, bears it all, suffers it all. Doing so, Jesus wins it all. The cross becomes the hook. Jesus is the bait. The dragon is snared in his own destruction. Jesus goes down into death and the grave, but He is light and He is life. Therefore He is risen, come to life again on the third day. It is finished for us and for all on Friday. Jesus is planted in the earth. Then the first-fruits is gleaned on Sunday. Jesus is risen from the dead, the first of many, many more to follow.
Therefore dear Christian recall your baptism into Jesus’ death and resurrection. The Old Adam, the one who loves to do whatever feels right, he has been crucified, drowned in the waters of your baptism. The New man, the reborn Christian, the regenerate who has been raised with Christ, he delights no more in sin, but His delight is in the Law of the Lord. He takes pleasure in what is right, not whatever feels right. The baptized Christian finds solace in the Word of the Lord. He is strengthened against temptation. He is called to repentance and to faith. He is heartened in the fight against the devil, the world and his own sinful nature. Thus he lives in the Church, not apart from her. Though our lives are lived in the wilderness, where thorn and thistle line our paths, prick our feet, torment our conscience, though we tread where wild beasts surround us and the devil is always about us, we find refuge in the wilderness. We find Jesus in His Church working His Word and His wonders on the hearts of those repent and believe the gospel. We find the cross proclaimed. Baptism administered and godly nourishment hidden under bread and wine. Through these means our God and Savior delivers His victory into our hearts. He washes us. He forgives us. He plants His resurrection on our tongues and in our mouths. He makes us new and refreshes the soul.
Beloved in the Lord, there is a war going on for your very soul. The King has come and staked His claim on you. You have been marked in your baptism with the cross of Christ and the Holy Name of our God. You are His dear child, a citizen of an eternal kingdom. Recall this. Believe this! And use it against the devil’s temptations. Chase Him away! Rub his nose in your baptism. In the Name of Jesus tell him where to go! And you, “repent and believe in the Gospel.” Cling to Christ in His Word and His Sacraments which are found in His Church. For not even the gates of Hell shall prevail against the Church and her Christ. The victory’s won. The battle’s done. Christ is risen! AMEN!
The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding keep your heart and mind through faith in Christ Jesus. AMEN!
Pastor Tony Sikora
Hope Lutheran Church
De Witt, MI