Mark's account of the Great Temptation of Christ doesn't seem long enough, does it? The 40 day ordeal is recorded in just two sentences of our text. More than that our text isn't just covering 40 days of temptation, but the second two sentences cover the entire first year of Jesus' ministry. But still it's not enough to you.
The text is not sour enough to you. This is partly due to translation. The text doesn't say the Spirit "sent" Jesus into the desert. It says the Spirit "cast Jesus out" or "threw Jesus out." The very same word to describe Jesus casting out demons is used of God the Holy Spirit casting God the Son into the desert. Matthew's 11 verse account and Luke's 13 says Jesus was "led" by the Spirit. But Mark wants you to feel all the sourness. As soon as Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist, as soon as the Father declared the Man Jesus to be His beloved Son in whom He was pleased: BAM! The Holy Spirit threw Him out of the house.
Why? You know why. At His baptism, Jesus got sins put on Him not taken away from Him. John only baptized those who confessed sins; Jesus had none of His own, but you have plenty. And Jesus confessed them all. That's why John could say after baptizing Jesus, "There is the Lamb of God that is carrying away the sins of the world." What happened to the goat on the Day of Atonement on which the high priest placed his hands and confessed the sins of Israel? He was cast out into wilderness. "Get away from Me," the Father said. "Get out of here," the Spirit declared. That's what you deserve for your sins of just this morning; that's what Jesus got.
But He got more than that. Again the insert helps mask the sourness. Jesus wasn't in the desert 40 days being tempted "by" Satan. Greek prepositions are specific and graphic. This is the one for "under." Jesus was tempted for 40 days under Satan. The other Gospels show the sourness better. They show the Devil leading Jesus about by the nose. To a high mountain Jesus is led; to a wing of the temple He's led. But while both Matthew and Luke say the devil did this, only Mark calls him by name: Satan, the adversary; Satan, the one who dares to go to heaven to accuse Job of being a hypocrite; Satan, the one who inhabits Peter when he denies the cross and enters into Judas when he betrays Jesus is here in person to weigh Jesus down with sins.
Do you understand the stakes? If Jesus sins but once, if Jesus gives into the tiniest of temptations, He can't bear your sins away from you or be punished for them. No, if Jesus sins, He has His own sins to carry, His own sins to be punished for. You know there is a spirit of jealously, a spirit of sadness, a spirit of unbelief, a spirit of worry, a spirit of despair, and of doubt; you've felt them come over you and they sit on your heart like a lead weight. Well, Satan is the prince of all these spirits. Imagine the weight of being under him for 40 long days and longer nights.
It's even sourer than that. Mark is the only one to show you this aspect. Mark tells us that "Jesus was with the wild animals." Don't think Dr. Doolittle here; don't think walk with the animals; talk with the animals. We know that Jesus didn't resist the temptations of Satan by using His Divine powers. We know that in order to redeem us Jesus didn't fully use His Divine powers as a Man. Had He done so, the wild animals would have been like Balaam's donkey and talked to Him to keep Him company. The ravens would have fed Him bread and meat like they did Elijah. The quail would have piled up at His feet like they did for Israel in the wilderness.
But Jesus didn't use His Divine power here, so He experienced the wild animals like sinners like us do. In the new heavens and earth lions will lie down with lambs, and children will play by snake holes without fear. But in this fallen world, it's unnerving to be with wild animals especially at night. Coyotes always seem to be howling right next to you. Movement noises seem closer still. Think you could take 40 days and nights of that? Do you think you could do that without having had anything to eat? Jesus did, and though He was tempted in all ways as we are, still He did not sin.
Your father is mad at you for something you didn't do, so he throws you out of his house. He casts you into the neighborhood of the worst bad guy there is, and so you're under him. But you maintain your principles; you don't give in though the crime boss tempts you with power, riches, and earthly pleasures. But that's not all you have to contend with; you're with the wild animals. They howl, and screech, and roar, and threaten all through the night. And on top of this there is no help.
Our text gives the impression that the angels attended Jesus at the same time the wild animals were an issue. Matthew clears that up telling us it was after Satan left Jesus that "angles came and ministered to Him." The Father is no help to Him; the Spirit is no help to Him; animals are no help to Him, and angels are no help to Him. Every time you feel, think, say, or act as if you are without the help of God, without the help of angels, at the mercy of Satan in a world that is hostile to you, you are denying this text. You are saying that you have to add something to Jesus' perfect obedience and His sour suffering. Jesus' suffering wasn't enough. O yes it was; it was more than enough. It's just not sour enough to you.
If this text isn't sour enough to you, then it won't be sweet enough either. Once more the translation gets in the way. As it took away from the sourness, so it takes away from the sweetness. Jesus says more than the "time has come" for fallen man to enter the kingdom of God. Jesus says, "Tis the season." And it hasn't just come, but the season has forever been fulfilled. There is a figure here. It's that of a vessel into which the days are poured until the vessel is filled to the top. The season is here for people to enter into the sweet, sweet kingdom of God.
Go ahead. Step in. The kingdom is yours. How so? What keeps a person outside of God's kingdom is their sins and God's laws. Jesus just came from the desert where He kept God's laws perfectly despite all the temptations of hell, and where He suffered as if He had broken every one of them. Jesus did this for you, in your place. Now if you defend your sins, excuse your sins, then you still have them, and they do and will keep you from entering into God's kingdom, and you answer for them today and will for all the tomorrows of eternity.
But that's not you, is it? No you say, "I don't want my sins of thought, word, or deed. I want God to have them. I don't give God my excuses, my reasons, or even my promises to do better. I give Him my sins. Jesus went into the desert carrying them. Jesus went into the desert to keep the laws that make me guilty. Jesus went to open the kingdom of God to me."
How sweet, but not sweet enough. Jesus doesn't come out from the wilderness saying the kingdom is near but here. He says it with a perfect. In the same way as the season has been forever fulfilled to open the kingdom of God, so has it forever arrived. The idea is not that the kingdom is still a little way off, but that it so close to those who hear Jesus that they may enter at this very moment. Are you hearing these words of Jesus? Stop standing there. Come on in.
But where's the door? The church that hosted the ACELC conference was designed in such a way that you couldn't miss the doors. There were three things in white marble. The top of the baptismal font, the top of the pulpit, and the altar. These were the only things in white marble; they stood out like beacons. The architecture was good theology. What Jesus accomplished in the desert, His keeping of the law; what Jesus paid for by His suffering under Satan almost 2,000 years ago, your sins, is distributed today in Baptismal waters, forgiving words, and His Body we eat as Bread and His Blood we drink as Wine. These 3 are the doors into the kingdom of God.
These doors are opened to the repentant and the believing. They are not open to those who are not repentant, and that's you if you are excusing, defending, or accepting your sins. And they aren't open to the unbelieving. That's you if you think God needs some obedience or some suffering from you. If you think Jesus didn't open the kingdom all the way, if you think you need however little to pry it open yourself, you can't come in. Only those who believe Jesus did it all, Jesus suffered all, Jesus opened it all the way can enter.
Does that sound sweet to you? It will once you hear what Jesus actually says. You could translate Jesus saying, "Repent and believe the good news." You could also translate Jesus saying, "Repent and believe the Gospel." But best of all would be, "Repent and believe the good news of a victory." That's what that Greek word really means. It's not just any good news, but it's specifically good news of a victory.
Jesus calls us today at the beginning of Lent to let go of our sins and grab on to His victory over not only those sins but over Satan himself and Death too. It's not sweet enough unless you see that Jesus has flung open the door to everlasting life at the font; it's not sweet enough unless you see that Jesus has propped open the door to heaven at this pulpit; it's not sweet enough unless you see that the kingdom of God comes through the door on this altar in Jesus' Body and Blood.
Don't let the sourness Jesus went through in the savage wilderness be for naught; don't let His perfect obedience in the face of grave temptation be for nothing; don't let His enduring wild animals, alienation from God, heaven, and angels too be meaningless to you. Jesus drank all of the sour cup of guilt, judgment, and punishment, so you might have all of the sweet cup of forgiveness, freedom, and blessing. There was more than enough in the sour cup to produce more than enough in the sweet. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
First Sunday in Lent (20120226); Mark 1: 12-15