First Sunday in Lent – B 2021

Water, Wilderness, Kingdom

Mark 1: 9-15

In Lent, we tend to focus on Jesus’ work and suffering during Holy Week. But our lessons this morning remind us to consider more broadly what it meant for Jesus to enter human flesh and walk through this world of ours. Jesus would walk a familiar path through the temptations of this world, but in doing so without falling into sin, has truly paved a new way for us as his people.

If you were looking forward to hearing more about Abraham and Isaac, I regret that I won’t be addressing that lesson today. But a week from his coming Wednesday, Abraham and Isaac will be a major focus for our midweek service, and I encourage you to attend then or watch online.

Our Gospel reading from Mark, in typical form for Mark, is very short, brief, to the point. We heard how Jesus was baptized, was blessed by the Father from heaven, and then immediately was thrown out into the wilderness for 40 days to be tempted by Satan. But we didn’t hear the familiar dialogue from Satan, how he tested Jesus by telling him to turn stones into bread, or to cast himself down off the temple mound. That’s all from Matthew and Luke’s Gospels.

In Mark, it just briefly mentions Jesus was tempted. Then it moves on, telling how Jesus went about declaring that the kingdom of God was at hand.

Now while Mark’s lack of detail may be disappointing, it does benefit us in allowing us to easily see the big picture of Jesus’ story. In a few short verses, we heard about Jesus at the waters of baptism, in the wilderness for temptation, and then preaching of a new kingdom. Water, wilderness, kingdom. Water, wilderness, kingdom. This is not an unfamiliar chain of events for God’s people.

Think back to the greatest story of salvation in the Old Testament: The Exodus. Through his servant Moses, God led his people through water, and reaffirmed that they were his chosen people on all the earth, by allowing them to walk on dry land, but drowning hardhearted pharoah and his chariots. Then they were in the wilderness, wandering not just for 40 days, but for 40 years. And then after the wilderness, they entered the Promised Land, a kingdom that God had prepared for them. Water, wilderness, kingdom.

God worked amazing things for his people through this water, wilderness, and kingdom. But the people were not always so amazing in their response. It wasn’t long after crossing the Red Sea waters that many were wanting to go straight back to Egypt. They missed having a full belly, and would gladly take back their status as slaves to sit around the meat pots of Egypt again. If Satan had appeared to tempt them to turn stones into bread, not one rock would have been left in the wilderness uneaten! 

Speaking of the wilderness, though the people had God’s very presence there with them, it wasn’t the most faithful time for them. They constantly were questioning his plan for them. They weren’t supposed to be there for 40 years, but when they would not trust God to grant them victory over the people occupying the promised land, he rightly punished their unbelief with more time in the wilderness.

And even after the 40 years, when they finally did enter the promised kingdom God provided them, the glory did not last long at all. Even David, their great king, fell into a most grievous and public sin. The kings that followed after him  only deteriorated further into sin and unbelief, so that the great earthly kingdom God granted them fell apart, was invaded, and his people were exiled like slaves once again.

God worked amazing things for his people through the water, wilderness, and kingdom. But we, his people, did not respond so amazingly, or faithfully. And we continue today not to be as faithful to our amazing God as we ought.

On this 1st Sunday in Lent, then we give thanks not just that Jesus died and rose for us, but more specifically that he came and walked God’s path for us rightly, even as all of humanity before him has failed. 

Jesus entered the waters of his baptism. He humbled himself there, telling John it was necessary that John baptize him, so that he might prepare a way for us all to be baptized and have God the Father call us his children.

Jesus then entered the wilderness and faced temptation. Not for 40 years as the Israelites endured because of their lack of faith, but still the 40 days he endured was no small thing, with Satan himself present to tempt him. He did not fall for the serpent’s lies as Adam and Eve did. He fasted and filled himself not with Satan’s tempting fruit or bread, but he filled himself with the Word of God his Father.

And after enduring Satan’s assault, he began his work to bring about the kingdom of God. After all, he’s the King. His kingdom follows him, it is at hand wherever he is. Repent, he said, and believe this gospel, this good news, that he is bringing about his kingdom. Truly, the reality of his coming kingdom became apparent in his preaching and his miracles undoing sin, curing ailments and even raising the dead. It will all culminate in Holy Week, when he gives himself up, but rises again.

We’ll get to holy week soon enough. For now, consider Jesus’ work in the water, wilderness, and bringing of his kingdom. 

Jesus’ path is the path for all of us Christians today. We begin in the waters of baptism, where we are reborn as God’s people, whether we’re an infant or an adult. Because of Jesus’ work, God the Father can look down at us and be pleased to call us his children too. 

Then we’re subjected to the wilderness of this life. Satan is constantly throwing temptation at us. This world is often not a pleasant place. There are times we will want to go back to the slavery of our sin to satisfy the hunger of our needs. 

But we endure this as God’s children, trusting that he sends his Holy Spirit to be the comforter over us. St. James encouraged in his epistle earlier: 

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. 

God does not tempt us to fall away; that is only the work of Satan. Rather, God has clearly laid out his will for us, how we are to live and love him as our God and how we are to love one another. 

We do not live by bread alone, which can only sustain us for a temporal and earthly life, but by the Word of God, which are the words of eternal life. So we prayed in our Psalm accordingly: 

Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long.

And while we endure this wilderness, we are looking to the coming kingdom of eternal life. A kingdom that we already have a free ticket to, we need only endure until that day we enter it. Until then, Jesus has brought a glimpse of his kingdom into even this sinful world. He brings his grace through his word, he brings a small bit of his kingdom to us. As the sacrifice for all sin, he gives himself to us in his Holy Supper, a foretaste of the feast to come in his eternal kingdom and the salvation he won for us. 

Water, Wilderness, Kingdom. On this 1st Sunday of Lent, we give thanks, that Jesus walked the path his people failed, providing us a path to walk as well, that through his coming passion, we might enter his kingdom forever. 

In Jesus’ Name, Amen.