9 At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”
12 At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, 13 and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted[a] by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.
14 After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15 “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”
From Temptation to Repentance
A sermon based on Mark 1:9-15
By Pastor Scott
A minister parked his car in a no-parking zone in a large city because he was short of time and couldn’t find a space with a meter.
Then he put a note under the windshield wiper that read: “I have circled the block 10 times. If I don’t park here, I’ll miss my appointment. Forgive us our trespasses.”
When he returned, he found a citation from a police officer along with this note:
“I’ve circled this block for 10 years. If I don’t give you a ticket I’ll lose my job. Lead us not into temptation.”
Lent is the season during which we prepare our hearts to receive the sacrifice Jesus made on Good Friday. It is a time to reflect on our sins and the wondrous forgiveness offered because of Jesus sacrifice. It is a time to name those sins and relent from committing them. It is a time for focusing on how we can strengthen our resolve to not succumb to temptations.
So on this first Sunday in Lent, we take a step back in time to Jesus’ baptism and his exile to the wilderness. John the Baptist is baptizing people in the Jordan River. Jesus gets in line to be baptized. When John sees him, he is resistant to baptizing Jesus, saying that he should be baptized by Jesus. In turn, Jesus says he needs to be baptized, so John baptizes him. Afterwards, the sky opens and a dove descends onto Jesus. A voice says, “This is my son, with whom I am well pleased.”
There is no time for celebrating his baptism.The Spirit sends him into the wilderness, where for 40 days he will be tempted by Satan. The intent is for him to be tested and thereby strengthened. Because Jesus is God, we wonder why he would have to be strengthened. He should be strong enough. But he is also human and that is the part of him that needs to be strengthened.
I remember being in Jericho and looking toward the site where tradition says that Jesus was tempted. Seeing it was a barren site with only rocks and sand, I thought about how lonely and miserable Jesus must have been. One day would have been long enough for me to spend there. Jesus spent 40 days there. And to make matters worse, Satan arrived to tempt him. And to make matters even worse, he was there with the wild animals. Certainly, it was not a hospitable place to be.
Having endured such harsh conditions for such a long time, Jesus was weakened and therefore more susceptible to succumbing to temptation. There to take advantage of him, Satan did his best to get Jesus to accept one of his three temptations. But Jesus resisted each of them.
An important goal in the Christian life is to be like Jesus and resist giving in to temptations. Of course, we don’t always achieve that goal. So it is good Jesus suffered the same temptations that we are facing. He understands our weaknesses and invites us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most. Want proof? Here it is: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4:15-16)
Not every temptation leads to sin. You can be on a diet and be tempted to have a brownie and give in to it and not sin. But some temptations lead to sin. It is best to resist succumbing to them. Of course, you can rationalize that the things you are tempted to do are not sinful. And this is what society teaches us to do.
Instead of being sinful, society says we have problems with too much drinking, too much sex, too much gambling, too much spending, etc. But labeling our shortcomings as problems instead of sins does not change the horrible influence which living contrary to God’s will has on our lives. Unfortunately instead of facing up to this harmful influence, many of us run away from it. We shop till we drop. We numb our minds with drugs and alcohol. We keep perpetually busy so we don’t have time to think. We blame others for our problems.
“When we make excuses for sin and call it an illness or a crime, we let ourselves off the hook. We feel no need to repent because our society has given us a pass on personal responsibility. Only when we take sin seriously do we understand our need of Christ and turn to him for our salvation. It’s important to remember that sin doesn’t define us because it is defeated through the power of the cross. When I cry out, ‘God save me,’ I am forgiven and my sins forgotten, and that is great news.”
It is far better to deal with the sins we call problems. Now, of course, there are many things that cause us to sin and in the space of a Sunday morning sermon, there is no way to address each one. But in one of his sermons, Billy Graham did a good job of summing up the root cause of sin. He said, “We’re suffering from only one disease in the world. Our basic problem is not a race problem. Our basic problem is not a poverty problem. Our basic problem is not a war problem. Our basic problem is a heart problem. We need to get the heart changed, the heart transformed.” The primary cause of sin is a disease of the heart and the best way to cure the heart of this disease is to pay attention to Jesus and repent.
To repent is to be sorry enough to quit doing what is wrong. That’s what a thief did when he was caught by an elderly woman who had just returned to her home from an evening church service. “As she caught the man in the act of robbing her home of its valuables, she yelled, stop! Acts 2:38! (Repent, and be baptized... in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven.)
The thief stopped in his tracks. The woman calmly called the police and explained what she had done.
As the officer cuffed the man to take him in, he asked the thief, “Why did you just stand there? All the old lady did was yell a Scripture to you.”
“Scripture?” replied the thief, “She said she had an axe and two 38s!”
Repentance can happen when you are confronted by love, which is completely unexpected. In the movie Le Miserablles, we meet Jean Valjean, who had been unfairly imprisoned for 19 years of hard labor for stealing food to feed his starving family. When he is released, he is treated like an outcast. The only person who is willing to give him a bed for a night and food for his empty stomach is a small town Bishop. But Valjean hates God for what he thinks God has done to him. So, at night when the Bishop and his assistant have gone to bed, he proceeds to steal the Bishop’s silverware. Hearing the noise Valjean is making, the Bishop awakens and finds Valjean in the act of stealing. So that he can get away with the silverware, he punches the Bishop in the head. The Bishop falls and appears to be unconscious.
Later, Valjean is caught by the authorities and is brought back to the Bishop. The Bishop says that he gave the silverware to him and chides him for not taking the silver candlesticks. After telling the authorities to go inside to have some wine, the Bishop tells Valjean, ”Don't forget, don't ever forget, you have promised to become a new man. Jean Valjean, my brother, you no longer belong to evil. With this silver I have bought your soul. I've ransomed you from fear and hatred, and now I give you back to God." This was radical and extravagant love. Because of it, Valjean repented, never again to commit a crime.
In the Parable of the Prodigal Son, we find a story of repentance. You recall the story. The youngest son asks his father for his share of the inheritance. He goes to live a life of sin and runs out of money. He is forced to work for a pig farmer. He is paid chicken feed and has no money to buy food. Soon he is starving and is about to eat what the pigs are eating. Before he does, he decides to return to his father and become a servant. It appears he repented then, but as they say appearances are deceiving.
He returns home. His father sees him and runs to meet him. He hugs his son. This is where he repents. It happens in the arms of the father.
“Imagine yourself in those arms. You may have been sorry before, but now you loathe yourself—yet you can’t escape his love. You had thought you stank in the sty, now you feel your stench to the core—yet you are held close. You had composed a repentance speech, now your awareness of sin overwhelms—but you’re enfolded in grace.
"True repentance occurs in the Father’s embrace. And this is where our ongoing repentance happens. To repent is to return to God, who says, ‘Return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping and with mourning’ (v. 12). To return to God is to repent -- to turn around and go in a new and opposite direction. When we repent, we turn to the path that God has laid out for us, so that we live a life that is different from the one we lived before.”
I love the hymn "Grace Greater Than Our Sin." It reminds me that despite the sins I might commit, God's grace can pardon me.
Grace, grace, God's grace,
grace that will pardon and cleanse within;
grace, grace, God's grace,
grace that is greater than all our sin!
God's grace invites each one of us to unburden ourselves of the guilt that sins inflict on us. We can do so by confessing and repenting. God's grace also invites each one of us to offer grace to others. In Galatians 6:1-2, we find these words of instruction: "Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ." Is anyone too sinful to be restored? I have not found a ranking of sins to indicate which sins are the worst. Sin is sin. Of course, there are sins that society deems more serious than others. But in God's eyes, each sin is as bad as the other. Without God's grace, any sin would merit everlasting punishment. But due to God's grace, we can be pardoned and cleansed within.
Our calling, as members of the Body of Christ, is to be like Jesus….to have compassion on those who succumb to temptation….to listen to them….to help them do better next time.