Based on Mark 1:9-15 (James 1:12-18) for the First Sunday in Lent
Dear tempted saints: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
Immediately after Jesus’ Baptism, He was driven by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness. After God the Father had proclaimed from heaven “You are my beloved Son; with You I am well pleased,” the Holy Spirit casts Him into the desert for forty days.
When the Israelites were wandering in the desert for forty years God miraculously provided them with food and drink: manna from heaven in the morning, quail in the evening, and water from a rock. Yet Jesus had no such miraculous provisions. He goes without food for forty days. Physically weak and exhausted, He was harassed in the wilderness by wild animals. Starving and weak, Jesus was tempted by the tempter, the prince of darkness who is the master of twisting the Word of God to suit his purposes.
Jesus was out in the desert to undo what Adam had done in the garden. Adam failed when tested by the devil. He wasn’t starving – He had all the produce of the Garden of Eden to eat at his pleasure. He had all the food he could eat at his fingertips. Jesus was without food of any sort. Adam was in the perfection and comfort of the Garden of Eden. Jesus was in the wastelands of the wilderness. Adam was in the midst of the tame animals he had named. Jesus was surrounded by wild beasts seeking a meal of their own. Adam was tempted by his beautiful wife. Jesus was tempted by the hideous prince of darkness in his vileness and wickedness.
Despite all the advantages Adam had been given by God, he fell into sin. Through this one man, sin came into the world, and death through sin (Rom. 5:12). This had to be undone. Sin and death had to be undone. Jesus faced the devil’s strongest attacks and temptations while He was physically weak and starving. Despite all the disadvantages He faced in His temptation, Jesus never sinned.
We, however, have followed Adam. Despite all the advantages God has given us, we have fallen into temptation. As we heard in James, every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming from God (Jas 1:17). Everything good comes from God. He doesn’t give us anything bad. Yet in return for His blessings we have despised His Word and done the exact opposite of what He commands.
It is not God who tempts us to sin. James writes, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” (Jas 1:13-15)
It is not God who tempts us to sin. Our own sinful nature has desires that are evil. Our own desires tempt us to sin. When we have followed our own sinful desires instead of God’s Word, we have given birth to sin. When we have not fought our desires but have given in to them, we have given birth to sin. When we have excused our sin as something natural and good because it is accepted by society we have given sin the opportunity to fully grow and bring forth death. “The wages of sin is death.” (Rom. 6:23) We have earned for ourselves death both from this life and eternally in hell.
Mark doesn’t record for us the specific temptations of the devil, but Matthew and Luke record some of the temptations and dialogue between the devil and Jesus. Just as the devil had used God’s Word to tempt Eve into sin, so he also used God’s Word to tempt Jesus to sin. So he still uses God’s Word to tempt us to sin. He is the master at twisting God’s own Word to say something that God did not say.
Think about how ingenious that is. The devil knows what our weaknesses are. He then takes a passage from God’s Word and twists it to exploit our weakness. He is successful if we do not hold Scripture as a whole. He lifts a passage out of context and twists it to say something that it does not say. When we hear this twisted message, it stokes our sinful desires as the devil knows and intends. The devil wants us to think that our freedom in Christ is freedom to sin, and thus he seeks to destroy us through our own desires as they give birth to sin and bring forth death.
It’s not just sinful actions that deserve eternal death, but words, and even thoughts. The desires of the flesh are already enough to condemn us to hell even before we say or do anything. The evil desires of jealousy, coveting, and lust. Sinful thoughts of despair, worry, and doubt. You know the weight of the thoughts alone, not to speak of the sinful words and actions that are given birth by such thoughts. Such thoughts, words, and deeds deserve eternal death.
Yet God would not have it so. God does not want us to spend eternity in the death of hell. Thus, He cast Jesus into the wilderness to face the tempter. The temptations and desires that we have not been able to withstand, Jesus withstood. The desires that have given birth to sin in us never even took shape in Jesus. The sin that we have committed that has earned us the wages of death was never committed by Jesus. He faced the devil’s temptations and never even for a split second desired to do what He was tempted with.
And it was necessary that Jesus never sin even in the face of the greatest temptations. If Jesus would have sinned even once then He could not have died for your sin or been punished for your sin. Then He would have died for His own sins and received punishment for His own sins. Yet Jesus never sinned. Tempted in every way by the devil for forty days while being parched and hungry, Jesus never sinned.
Following Jesus’ temptation, He proclaims, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the Gospel.” The time isn’t near, but it is now. The time is fulfilled. The kingdom of God is here. Jesus has just come victorious from the desert. Despite fierce temptation, Jesus never sinned. Jesus fulfilled the Law for you. For every time you have fallen into temptation, Jesus did not fall into temptation. He took all of your sins onto Himself. He carried the burden and guilt of your sins all the way to the cross where He took the punishment you deserve, dying in your place. That’s why the kingdom of God is here. That’s why the time is fulfilled.
What Jesus accomplished in the wilderness by keeping the Law perfectly for you; what Jesus accomplished on the cross by His death for you; this He gives to you freely. Thus He preaches, “Repent and believe the Gospel.” Repent, that is turn away from your sin. Why would you cling to your sins? Don’t cling to your sinful desires. Jesus died for them. Give them to Him, they are His. Don’t allow sinful desires to bring forth death in you. The death you have deserved for your sins has already taken place. Jesus died your death. So believe the Gospel. Believe the good news that Jesus has won the victory for you. Jesus conquered sin, death, and the devil for you. Everything has been done for you to bring you into the kingdom of God. You were baptized into this kingdom. You are kept in that kingdom through the Gospel. You are kept in that kingdom through the Lord’s Supper which gives you the forgiveness of your sins and strengthens your faith.
Know that the time is fulfilled. The Law is accomplished for you. Temptation is conquered for you. Your punishment has been taken for you. Jesus has undone what Adam and we have done, and has brought us into His kingdom. So repent and believe the Gospel. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.