1st Sunday of Lent, February 21, 2021
The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor
Rush United Methodist Church
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
Welcome to Lent;
Our 40-day period of preparation by
Prayer, confession, repentance, charity, and self-denial.
This is what we, as Christians, do.
Prayer, confession, repentance, charity, and self-denial.
These are the disciplines we practice,
With focused intentionality,
What are we preparing for? You ask.
These traditional disciplines prepare us annually
To receive the message,
To be spiritually strengthened by the message,
That we might join with Jesus in proclaiming the message.
This is the message:
That by dying, Jesus Christ removes
Our sins and the sins of the world, and
That by rising from the dead, Jesus Christ
Saves us and saves the world into eternal life.
This is the Good News of God,
The Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Hear the message.
Proclaim the message.
Become the living message.
There is another dimension to Lent.
Our annual journey through Lent is an opportunity to be transformed.
By reliving and retelling the story
We make space in our existence for the Spirit to enter,
To warm our soul, open our mind, and reveal God’s will.
With the Spirit’s entry,
We are drawn closer with one another and closer to God.
With the Spirit’s strength, daring, and direction
We are transformed into God’s people
Called to transform the world.
That God might transform the world.
The first Sunday of Lent
Always begins with the Gospel account
Of the Temptation of Jesus in the wilderness.
Matthew and Luke give elaborate, detailed accounts
Of the confrontation between Jesus and Satan.
You’ve heard the story of Satan’s temptations before:
‘Throw yourself down from this mountain and call up angels to save you.’
‘Turn those stones into bread to satisfy your hunger.’
‘All these kingdoms can be yours, if you but fall down and worship me.’
You know the details.
I can still recall as a child in Sunday School wondering
If Jesus was alone with Satan those 40 days,
Who was writing down the details?!!!
Our Gospel of Mark is quite a study in contrast.
There are no details in Mark.
Mark is the shortest of all the Gospel books, and
Is believed to be the source document
Upon which other apostolic traditions authored their own Gospel accounts.
Over time and
By means of great effort and councils,
The Church concluded Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John
Best reflected the core message of Christian faith,
And included them into the collection of sacred texts
That today we call the Bible.
The brevity of Mark
Gives us a little bit more room for interpretation.
We can allow the Spirit to influence our imagination,
To lead us where it is too difficult to go
If mired down in tedious details.
Today, we follow Jesus
1. First, at his baptism, receiving the Spirit, and
The affirmation of God’s words, to,
2. Secondly, Jesus is immediately driven by the same Spirit
Out into the wilderness,
Where he was “tempted by Satan; and
He was with the wild beast; and
The angels waited on him.”
3. Thirdly, Jesus emerges from his harrowing ordeal,
Goes north to Galilee proclaiming the Good News of God.
A few revealing thoughts.
1. The Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness
To be tempted by the strongest source of personified evil, Satan himself.
This makes me wonder.
I mean, on whose team is the Holy Spirit playing?
What possibly could be the motive for the Spirit of God
To drive Jesus into a confrontation with Satan?
The two greatest opposed sources of power in the world
Are destined to clash in a cataclysmic confrontation
In the Judean wilderness.
Why? is a question I cannot answer.
What we can learn by observation, however, is
With the Holy Spirit present and active in your life
Sometimes means blessings,
Sometimes means confrontation,
Nearly always, it means mystery.
Living in relationship with God
Means getting comfortable with the fact
That there is much more we don’t know about God than what we do know.
Divine wisdom has no parity.
God’s memory never fades.
The Lord’s motives can never be fully known.
The Spirit immediately drove Jesus out into the wilderness.
Why do you suppose the Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan?
Have you been driven into the wilderness?
Did the Spirit drive you in?
See you through?
Bring you out?
2. The site of Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River is
In the Southern Jordan valley, near Jericho.
The wilderness land to the West leads straight uphill 18 miles to Jerusalem,
A difference of 3,320 feet in elevation.
That’s a linear slope of 3.5% … quite a steep hike.
When riding from the Jordan up to Jerusalem today,
Ears are constantly plugging and popping
Due to the change in altitude.
This is the wilderness where Jesus was tempted.
Think rocks, cliffs, brown compacted gravel, and steep mountains paths.
Think dry, sediment filled stream beds at the bottom of impassable chasms.
These dry wadis see water only once or twice a year,
When rare Mediterranean storm clouds
Make it over the central mountains.
Think hot in the day and near freezing at night.
Think danger behind every scrub bush,
Bandits and Bedouins, around every turn,
Lurking in every canyon and cave,
Ready to beat you up, rob you blind, and leave you for dead.
Simply being in the wilderness places Jesus in mortal danger.
The Divinity of Jesus is never on the table or up for discussion.
However, the humanity of Jesus is placed at risk.
3. Forty days.
Forty days, or five weeks and five days,
Is a long time to
Roast in the heat of day and freeze in the dark of night.
Sprain an ankle and you’re done for.
Forty days is a long time to go without eating
(as reported in the other Gospels, but absent in Mark).
Forty days is a long time to be in search of water,
And when water is found, to manage it properly.
Forty days is long time to be exposed to wild beasts.
Forty days is a long time to think.
Forty days is a lot of time for the mind to wander.
Forty days in the wilderness makes Jesus very vulnerable.
Mark gives no details.
According to Encyclopedia dot com
The religious form of temptation
“Primarily denotes a trial in which (one) has free choice of being faithful or unfaithful to God;
Only secondarily does it signify allurement or seduction to sin.”
For the Jewish mind
Faithfulness to the Law
Is faithfulness to God.
Satan is attempting to get Jesus
To break righteous adherence to Jewish Law.
Satan was attempting to elevate the human nature of Jesus
To the detriment of his Divinity.
Tempted by Satan.
It is impossible to know
If this was one temptation drawn out over a full forty days,
Or, if this is multiple temptations over the course of forty days.
What can be observed, however,
Is the fact that temptation was for forty days and nights.
That’s enough to break anyone down.
40 days of continuous, relentless temptation
would make even the strongest person weak.
5. Wild beasts.
Therion in the Greek,
Meaning dangerous, life-threatening carnivores.
In the wilderness for forty days surrounded by animals that want to eat you.
Think jackals, wolves, hyaenas, leopards,
And, yes, even lions and cheetahs
Patrolled the Palestinian countryside
Before they were hunted to extinction.
Insects and birds fall silent
As wild beasts approach and surround.
Listen to the sounds of animals creeping and stalking.
Eyes blink in the dark.
I can imagine the night coming to life
With the sounds of circling, hungry, wild beasts
Salivating in the shadows.
It is interesting to me that the detail
About wild beasts is left out of Matthew and Luke’s accounts.
Is this intentional? Or an oversight?
Does it make a difference? Or not?
Forty days in the wilderness is forty days living in anxiety and fear.
6. Angels waited on Jesus.
No. I don’t suppose they took his order
Or served him the daily special.
Angels waited on Jesus.
Waiting, or Diekonoun in the Greek,
Which, of course, contains the same root as deacon,
Means “to minister, to serve.”
This is what deacons do; they serve.
Much the same way as Simon Peter’s mother-in-law
Served Jesus after he healed here of her fever.
(No, I don’t believe she brought Jesus a sandwich
Or did his laundry, either.)
At the conclusion of his temptations
Angels ministered to Jesus,
Replacing his weakness with God’s strength.
Though shrouded in mystery,
Exposed to mortal danger, vulnerable, weak, anxious, and living in fear,
God takes care of God’s own.
God takes care of God’s own Son, Jesus.
And, in my experience, God can and will
Take care of you and me, too.
Those angels God places in your life?
Angels are not accidents or coincidences.
Living angels are sent as God’s gift to you
To replace your weakness with God’s strength.
Certainly, on this first Sunday of Lent
There are many unanswerable questions from the Gospel of Mark.
Pay attention to those pinch points where we can align ourselves with the life of Jesus.
Consider times and places in life that are shrouded in mystery,
(Like when the Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness).
Are we capable of trusting in God to send us His angels
Even though we don’t know Why? How? When?
Even though we don’t know God’s will or motives?
Beloved, it is a sign of faithful maturity
To be at peace with the mystery of God,
Especially when apparent contradictions cause the stomach to churn.
Consider times and circumstances in life
When anxious, frightened, vulnerable, weak, or in mortal danger.
Are you able to trust that God will carry you through
Every crisis, every temptation, every disaster?
When face-to-face with death
And personal faith is in danger of failing,
Can you place your entire dependence upon God,
And come to peace
Even in the presence of remaining uncertainty?
Know this Gospel truth
Taken from Jesus being tempted in the wilderness by Satan himself,
If we depend on God,
God can take the strain.
God will carry your burden.
The Lord takes responsibility for creation.
The Lord makes it, maintains it, and, when necessary, recreates it.
God takes responsibility for humankind,
Making each person in the Lord’s image,
Giving life by the Spirit’s breath.
The Lord strengthens the weak.
God protects the vulnerable.
God calms every fear.
God is willing, able, and eager
To strengthen the sick and bring back to health the broken of this world.
After all, our God is a God of healing and restoration.
At the end of the day,
Let us discipline ourselves.
Just as the Heavenly Father took care of Jesus,
God takes care of God’s own.
God is taking care of you, too.
At the end of this 40-day journey
Through the wilderness of Lent,
Be prepared to proclaim the Good News of God:
Though Jesus was tempted, suffered, died, and rose again,
He did it for the redemption and salvation of the world.