Temptation in the Wilderness

A Homily for the First Sunday in Lent

Texts: I Peter 3:18-22; St. Mark 1:9-15


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the Obedient One. Amen.

Driven into the wilderness after his baptism in the Jordan River, our Lord Christ was tempted by Satan. We read this story every year, and it has undoubtedly become familiar, but take a moment to let the weight of it fully sink in. Compare it to the images of Christ we normally see in art – standing upright, placid, above it all, suspiciously clean for someone living in an without running water in the home. The world around him may be in chaos – people with unclean spirits, suffering from various ailments, hungry, thirsty, or on a boat tossed about by the sea – and yet the Son of God remains calm and composed.

But today, we go from the manifestation of his glory at the Jordan to, just a couple of verses later, alone and isolated, confronting Satan and facing down temptation. It stands as a stark reminder that yes, he is the Son of God, the Beloved, but he is also human – all too human. The source of our strength knew frailty. The one who unites us in community knew isolation. The one who came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets knew the tempting pull of sin.

Mark, the terse evangelist that he is, does not give us a full picture of the scene, but Saints Matthew and Luke show us a bit more – how Jesus was not only alone but also fasting, and the Devil tempts him with bread, with grand displays of divine favor, and with power over the world.

“Turn these stones to bread.” Take, eat, nourish your body. You’re hungry, but come one, we all know you can do it. You don’t have to feel that pain in your belly, unlike those other miserable wretches.

“Throw yourself off this pinnacle; let the angels take care of you.” Your Father in Heaven wouldn’t let any harm befall you, right? Or are you scared, because you know what’s coming, and maybe you doubt who your Father is, who you are?

“Bow down, worship me, and I’ll give you control of the world.” You can be the King and you won’t even have to go through that nasty business with Pilate and the cross. Wouldn’t that be so much easier, so much less painful?

The temptations may have been grander than those we face, but the core is the same: trust something other than God.

We’ve all heard that voice, felt that pull, that urging deep down inside, to mistreat our neighbors, turning us in toward ourselves and away from God, in the minor things and the major.

We all feel that pull to give in: to let lust take the place of love and affection, to give in to wrath rather than practice forgiveness, to embrace arrogance rather than humility.

We hear the cries of those in need, those in pain, and instead we listen to the voice telling us to ignore them, to close our eyes to the suffering around us.

And we have all given in, closed ourselves off from those in need, trusting in our money and our possessions more than the Lord.

We’ve put our leaders and our nation ahead of our God, chasing after worldly power.

We have placed ourselves above others, we have given in to division and let our own sense of identity – be it racial, national, gender, or class – divide us through fear, blinding us to the needs of our neighbors.

But Christ did not give in; through all the temptations, even face-to-face with Satan, Jesus remained faithful and obedient to his Father in heaven. Here is our comfort: in the one who endured temptation and yet remained righteous.

And this is not merely a lesson in self-discipline perseverance, a moral example to which we should aspire. We will not be saved if we merely try harder to be like Jesus. (Though certainly, by all means, do try harder to be like Jesus.) No, this is something different, a great exchange:

Jesus is the Righteous One who took on all of our humanity, even facing temptation, to bring us to God. Even though he did not fall in to sin, Christ did suffer the consequence, dying like any other human. The Righteous One suffered for and with the unrighteous. Not only did he overcome temptation, though, he also overcame death! And through his perfect obedient in life and death, and through his conquering the grave, we have hope – in Christ’s becoming like us, facing even our temptations and our common fate but overcoming the power of sin and death, he has made it so that we may become like him, joining in the glory of his Resurrection.

When we were baptized, bathed in the waters, we were brought into his death and also into his resurrection, putting on that which is imperishable, being clothed in Christ. In the Font, we find that which we cannot accomplish on our own: becoming like Christ. In the Font, we find repentance and forgiveness of sins. In the Font, we find the promise of everlasting life. In the Font, we find nothing short of salvation.

During this Lenten pilgrimage through the wilderness, and indeed through the wilderness of this world, as we are beset on all sides by temptations and devils, place your trust in the One Who Endures, who faced down temptation and death, who conquered sin and the grave. Turn again toward the Font and the waters of everlasting life. Remember your Baptism, and commit daily to the death in these waters, the death to self, and also the assurance of new life in Christ. Turn away from sin and toward our Lord Jesus.

Amen.

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