Repent and Believe
"Repent and Believe" is a split theme. You're not suppose to have split themes for sermons. Sermons are to have one theme. Blame St. Mark. You note that our text is two short paragraphs. Translators make them that way. Mark didn't write them that way. In the rest of Mark's Gospel, where he has a major break he always begins a section with "and." He doesn't do so here. The main thing Mark wants you take away from the temptation of Jesus is that Jesus goes out to preach repent and believe.
Repent of thinking that God casts you out after Baptism. We all have had this feeling before. If you were baptized as an adult, you probably did have a feeling of closeness to God. Even if you were baptized as a baby, when you were young you probably remember feeling that God was on your side. You really did have a Father in heaven. Then life happened. Then some of the things Paul writes about in the Epistle happened. Not just life happened but death, not just angels but demons. Not just things present bothered you but future things. You found out, as it is written, that for the Lord's sake you face death all day long; you are considered sheep to be slaughtered.
The problem with thinking or feeling that God has cast you out after Baptism is that you feel so pious, so righteous, so justified in doing so. And there are precious few people who will call you to repent of it. Who could blame you for feeling like God has abandoned you when this, this, and that has gone wrong? Who could say that a sick, suffering, dying person doesn't look cast out by God? We have no problem judging that a neglected, dirty, hungry child is being abused by a parent, so why shouldn't we conclude that about children of God?
There is a non-biblical proverb that says who the gods would destroy they first make crazy. In the case of the true God it's different. Who the true God destroys, He first makes arrogant. How dare you ever believe that once God has clothed you with His own dear Son in Baptism, He could or would ever take those clothes off of you again? How dare we believe that the God who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all will fail to give us all things? Rather than being so arrogant as to think God's grace in Baptism could fail, run out, or be absent far better to conclude you are wrong about what you are going through. It must not mean what you are so all fired sure it does.
"Repent," Jesus went out preaching. "Repent," Jesus sent me here to preach. Repent of thinking that you can somehow, someway overcome Satan's temptation. This sin usually comes up when the First Sunday in Lent is the reading from Matthew or Luke where Jesus defeats Satan by quoting 3 Bible passages. Please don't misunderstand. The Bible teaches, "Resist the Devil and he will flee from you;" and, "Greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world." But when you make the temptation of Jesus a How to Manuel for overcoming Satan, you must repent.
Jesus is on the battlefield doing what you can't do; what even perfect Adam and Eve couldn't do. In a lush garden, surrounded by food, perfect Adam and Eve quickly fell to Satan. Eve tried quoting God's Word against Satan and he took the sword of the Word she wielded and stabbed her with it. Repent of thinking that you can overcome Satan's temptation by dialoging with them. Repent of thinking that if you tried harder you would do better, and repent of promising you will do better next time.
One of the Lutheran reformers said that after falling to temptation he had ceased to promise he would do better for that only made two sins instead of one since he always fell again. I most often see this when I confront people with their unfaithful church attendance. Always they promise to do better, when all I want them to do is repent. The word repent means literally a change of mind. To have one's mind changed takes an act of God, the power of the Spirit, a miracle. Actions will follow, but you don't change your mind by changing your actions. In fact, everyone knows you can change actions without changing your mind. That's called hypocrisy.
Repent I say in this season of repentance. Repent of thinking God has cast you out, that you can overcome Satan's temptation, and repent of thinking you can build the kingdom of God. This is another sin that feels pious when you're committing it. But look at our text. Jesus didn't preach, "Build the kingdom of God." He preached, "The kingdom of God is here (not near as in "almost here"). "Near" in this verse is a verb. And its particular tense means the kingdom of God has now come and is forever here.
Lutherans ought to be led easily to repent of thinking they can build the kingdom. In our catechism we say of the Lord's Prayer petition "Thy Kingdom come," "The kingdom of God indeed comes without our prayer." The kingdom is a done deal. The kingdom is where the king is. Jesus is the King. Where He is there is the kingdom whole and complete. Repent of thinking He is waiting on you to build it or that you can build it.
"Repent," Jesus preached after His baptism, but that's not all He preached. He also preached, "Believe." Believe that God did indeed cast Jesus out. Mark didn't write, "The Spirit sent Jesus out into the wilderness." Mark wrote, "And immediately the Spirit cast (or "threw") Him out." At His baptism, which immediately precedes our text, Jesus with burdened with all your sin and guilt. Covered with your sins, those you blush to remember, and those you can't forget, Jesus deserved to be cast out of God's sight. Believe that God threw out His only beloved Son, so that He might never, ever have to throw you sons and daughters out.
Believe that laden with the sin and guilt of all Jesus entered the fight with Satan. Believe that Jesus took on Satan as a Man without using any of His divine powers. Believe that Jesus held fast to the true faith through every temptation. Never did He give into misbelief, unbelief, or other great shame and vice. Believe that while Satan is able to find all manner of sins in you, he could fine none in Jesus. And believe that in Jesus as you are by Baptism, by Absolution, by Communion, God can no longer find sins in you. O Satan can find them; your conscience can sure find them, and others can too. But you are to believe that God can't; God won't.
Don't let Jesus overcoming Satan in the wilderness be wasted. He didn't withstand Satan's tempting for His sake but for yours. When you believe your salvation depends on your overcoming temptation, you are wasting what Jesus endured in the desert. Don't think you have to endure loneliness and hunger; don't think you have to "trample the lion and the serpent"; rather believe that Jesus did these things for you.
While Jesus was abandoned to the wild animals and Satan's tempting, you won't be. While Jesus, as Matthew makes clear, was not ministered to by the angels till after He overcame Satan, you are to believe you are never without their ministry. You are to believe that whether you face trouble, hardship, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, or sword, the angels can't, won't leave your side. Because our sins did separate Jesus from the love of God, you are to believe that nothing in all creation is able to separate you from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus your Lord.
You are to believe what Jesus says. What Jesus says is real. What we feel, what we think, what we see may or may not be real. When Jesus says, as He does to you today, "The kingdom of God has arrived for good," you are to believe this with all your heart, soul, body, and mind. And what does St. Paul say in Romans 14 the kingdom of God is? Righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Sprit.
Now don't put asterisks in this. The kingdom of God is righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit if everything is going right in my life; if I have perfect health; if my conscience doesn't bother me; if I believe hard enough. No, the kingdom is here and it is these things because of what Jesus did. As I said, the kingdom comes with the King.
Jesus was able to bring the kingdom to sinners like you because He dealt with the laws of God and the sins of men both of which closed the kingdom. The laws of God had to be kept before the doors of the kingdom could open. They had to be kept perfectly in thought, in word, and in deed. Jesus did that, and Jesus did it as a Man. That's what He was doing in the wilderness, and that's what He had done in the home of Mary and Joseph, and did throughout His day to day life.
The perfection God's laws require is found in Jesus, and so is the payment for the laws we break. Sins had to be paid for in full. God isn't some cosmic Santa Claus that just chuckles sins away. No, His wrath had to be satisfied. Only God can satisfy the wrath of God, but God wasn't angry at God but Man. So it took a God who is Man to get the job done. Jesus suffered as the sins of men deserve bleeding, sweating, and crying human blood, sweat, and tears, but because these were also that of God, God was satisfied and you are to be too.
In a few moments we will sing that ancient hymn of praise The Te Deum. We'll sing, "When Thou hadst overcome the sharpness of death, Thou didst open the kingdom of heaven to all believers." The Father showed His anger against all mankind was appeased by Jesus' perfect keeping of the law and by His innocent suffering and death by raising Him from the dead. This opened the doors of the kingdom to those who believe they've been cleansed by the waters of Baptism, forgiven by the words of Absolution, and joined to the Body and Blood of the King through eating and drinking them. Washed, absolved, and fed, righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit are yours.
Repent and believe are not two themes but the theme of the Christian life. They belong together. We won't be through with either till sinfulness gives way to sinlessness and faith gives way to sight. Now let us sing the Te Deum like we've never sang it before. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
The First Sunday in Lent (20090301); Mark 1: 12-15