A Savior Who Serves: Temptation
Topic: Biblical Verse: Mark 1:9–1:15
The First Sunday in Lent
St. John's Lutheran Church, Alexandria, VA
“A Savior Who Serves: Temptation”
A new movie opens this weekend, and I’m kind of curious about it. It’s titled “Act of Valor.” The marketing I’ve seen emphasizes that the movie’s cast features active-duty Navy SEALs, offering a fictionalized story of real SEAL operations. The characters in the film are deployed to locations all around the globe in an effort to put an end to a terrorist plot, but it seems like this movie seeks to be more realistic in telling its tale than many other Hollywood productions. They don’t have superpowers to help them win the battle. They have families waiting for them at home. Some even give up their lives to protect others. These SEALs go where they need to go and do what they need to do at sea, in the air, and over land to stop forces that seek to do evil to others, to dominate, to kill. These men of action go into enemy’s territory – into the wilderness – in service to the people that they have pledged to protect.
Here in our country, we are privileged to have men and women who serve to protect others. In addition to Navy SEALs and elite special-ops teams, our nation’s armed forces, policemen, firefighters, paramedics, and other first-responders jump into action to safeguard the lives and well-being of people who might be complete strangers. They battle the forces of chaos and evil in our world that would hurt and harm, dominate, and even kill us. These people might even give up their lives in the line of duty, showing concern for others above themselves. There’s an Enemy from whom first-responders and special agents can’t defend us, though, and that’s why we’re here today.
The season of Lent began this past week with Ash Wednesday. If you were here for the imposition of ashes during one of our worship services that day, you heard words like these spoken to you: “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” People die. That’s not the way it’s supposed to be, but that’s how it’s been since we first fell to the Enemy’s most powerful weapon, temptation. It’s a dangerous device, a snare that seeks to trip up its victim and drag them down into death. If you think about it, it’s a pretty simple thing, merely presenting a choice between two paths. Reduced to its core, that’s what temptation is. Sure, there might seem to be hundreds of options available when temptation comes upon you, there are only two real outcomes: will you be following God’s plan, or someone else’s? And if you’re not following your Creator’s will, then you’re playing right into the Enemy’s hands. Now it’s not that the enemy wants to see you dead, necessarily; rather, he wants to see you imprisoned and ineffective, ensnared by your own self-interest and shortsightedness. He wants you on his side, rebelling against God and lifting up your own priorities over and against God’s design for life. That’s what sin is. And because God is the source of life, turning away from Him, choosing sin, leads to death.
Temptation doesn’t always seem like that, though, does it? Sure, there are times when it can be pretty clear that you’ve got a choice between the right thing and the wrong thing. But do those times seem few and far between? It’s not like you get to sit down at a conference table to deliberate on the outcomes of all your actions. Life comes at you quickly! Which path will you choose when the pressure is on and the incentive to make the wrong decision is right there in front of you? Here’s the thing: left on your own, you’re going to choose poorly. The Enemy has infiltrated your life. He’s laid the traps to trip you up. He’s programmed his propaganda into your heart and mind. You don’t stand a chance. Barring an act of divine intervention, you’re doomed to be lost out in the wilderness forever.
And that’s where Jesus comes to you and me today. After his baptism by John in the wilderness, Jesus is driven farther out those wild and desolate lands by the Holy Spirit. Mark starts his Gospel account out there for a reason, showing us that Jesus has come to do battle against the Enemy and all the powers of darkness. The forty days of Lent are a reminder of Jesus’ time in the wilderness. He was tempted by Satan, who wanted to trip him up, just like you and me. The devil wanted Jesus to choose self over the needs of others. Satan continued to assail him, trying to prevail over the One who came to rescue us. But Jesus remained faithful to his Father’s plan, overcoming temptation after temptation. He kept on overcoming temptation, following the path that would take him to a cross where he would lay down his life as a servant in the ultimate act of valor. Jesus gives himself up to save all people, even those who have no idea who he is. Throughout Mark’s Gospel, we see that Jesus is the ultimate man of action.
More than any special-ops operative, Jesus stepped up to take care of the threat of the Enemy once and for all. He is the Messiah, God’s ultimate answer to the problem of sin. Jesus doesn’t just overcome Satan’s temptation in the wilderness to be an example for you and me; he does that because he’s the only one who could. God the Father deployed His Son into our world to break sin’s power over us. In Jesus, we have God standing with us against temptation and against all the forces of death and the devil. He has defeated them all. And he is here for you.
Jesus began his public ministry by proclaiming, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” Jesus’ words are for you and for me, people who have fallen to the Enemy’s trap of temptation. Each of us has turned away from God and given in to our own self-centered desires. As James points out in our Epistle lesson for this day, it is our desires that give birth to sin and then, in turn, to death. Jesus is calling us to repent, to turn from our selfish desires so that we can know life. He has brought the reigning of God to us; he makes it possible for us to know a restored relationship with his Father, our Creator. He is God’s pledge of faithfulness, the fulfillment of God’s promise to deliver His people from Satan and the powers of darkness. Through Jesus, you and I have forgiveness and a new beginning. That is the gospel, the good news that Jesus brings.
As people who repent and believe the gospel message, you can now prepare to face temptation. Navy SEALs don’t just sit around idle, waiting for trouble to strike. They train. They get ready to respond to the enemy’s threat. They practice as they operate in the field, even using live ammunition for training exercises. Lives are on the line. So it is for us as people who live under the gospel. Temptation doesn’t usually advertise itself. No, it tends to sneak up to try and take you unawares, in the heat of the moment. We human beings often just act on our desires without giving it a second thought. Be alert to your desires, rather than letting them be so much background noise in your life. Be aware of those seeds of sin that the devil would plant around you. Train with God’s Word, through which He equips you to fight temptation. Dive into it each day, not just on the weekend, not just at church. Call on Jesus to get you through temptation without falling into the Enemy’s traps. He will be there for you.
Lent is a time of renewal, not a time of giving things up before “getting back to normal.” In Lent, we have a time of preparation and making ready, being made new in Christ. We look ahead to his Passion and death and resurrection, when he won the ultimate victory over the Enemy and broke the devil’s power over us. This Lent, we remember that we have a Savior who serves. As we continue through these forty days, we will see time and again in Mark’s Gospel how Jesus is at work to battle the powers of darkness. He is continually the one who stands against the Enemy when all others would fall. He is the only one who could go where we needed to go and do what we needed to do. He serves to deliver you and me back to the God who loves us.
Jesus is the ultimate man of action, the victor over the Enemy. Through times of trial, even in the wilderness of temptation, Your Lord, the Savior who serves, is here for you.