Lent 1, (February 22, 2015)
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Rev. Todd A. Peperkorn
TITLE: “Baptized Into Temptation with Christ”
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen. Our text for today is the Gospel just read from St. Mark chapter one, as well as the sacrifice of Isaac from Genesis chapter 22.
The episode of Abraham and Isaac is one of the strangest and hardest for us to understand in the Old Testament. God had called Abraham to a new land, had made him the Father of many nations. He had attached His promises to Abraham and had given him land, a beautiful wife, and more than he could ever want or need. And after many, many years, God had also given Abraham a son. His only son, Isaac, whose name means something like laughter or God laughs. Isaac, whom Abraham had as a son when he was a hundred years old, and Sarah was ninety. Isaac, who brought laughter and joy to Abraham in his old age.
And now here is God, asking Abraham to sacrifice his son on Mt. Moriah. Unthinkable! Impossible! First of all, is it murder? Secondly, how can God keep all of his promises if Abraham kills his only son, Isaac, whom he loves. Would God be able to care for them after asking such an impossible thing of Abraham?
Sometimes when it comes to God’s demands, we cannot see past them and believe God will take care of things. Give to the church! How will I feed my family? Be honest on my taxes? Protect my neighbor even when he’s a jerk? Speak well of my co-workers? How can I even keep from desiring what isn’t mine? God’s Law at times appears impossible to keep, and what makes it worse, we may not even see how it is helpful or good at all.
This is where the relationship between faith and the Law comes into place. Adam and Eve understood the perfect will of God. They knew and recognized that God’s will for them was good, always good. God never desired their harm, but only wanted life for them, and for them to have it abundantly. And so, when God asked something of them, they knew and understood that it was for their good, and for the good of the whole world. But that is what was robbed from them by the Fall into sin. Now they could no longer see God as good, and because they cannot see God as good, they cannot see His Law as good, either.
This is why when it comes to the Law, there is always one part of us that questions the basic point of it. Why must I do what God commands? Does He really have my best interests at heart? How many of you have questioned whether this or that Law of God really applies to you or really matters? Would you have done as well as Abraham, far less our Lord in His temptation in the wilderness?
So Abraham goes up the mountain with his son carrying the fire and the knife. There is no way that this command of God made sense, and yet Abraham trusted that God would do what He promised, even though it was folly to his human eyes. We read the following in the book of Hebrews about Abraham:
“By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.” (Hebrews 11:17–19 ESV)
Fast forward now to our Lord’s temptation in the wilderness. He is driven by the Spirit into the wilderness. And so He goes, a stranger in the desert, like the scape goats of old tossed out with the sins of the people on His back. We heard on Ash Wednesday from 2 Corinthians 5 that “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV) He became sin for us, took on the burden of our iniquity, because we could not bear it ourselves.
And like Abraham, His father, Jesus does not shirk from the temptations. He does not turn aside from God’s promises, no matter where they may lead. Where you fail, Jesus succeeds. He succeeds in keeping God’s Law, but He also succeeds in bearing your sins and failures with Him into the wilderness.
The Spirit drives Him into the wilderness, because you cannot bear the wilderness yourself. Left to your own devices, you will fail, every single time. But He trusts in God’s promises, and so does what God commands.
So what does this mean for you today and now, beloved? It means this. It means that Jesus recognizes your failures, the lure of sin that calls out to you every day. He knows the passions that drive you, the callousness of your heart and the slothfulness of your spirit. He knows. He is tempted by the same things that you are. The devil, the world, your own fearful nature. He knows all of these weaknesses, because He has taken on your very humanity. And He loves you more than life itself.
For Abraham, God provided a ram so that he did not have to sacrifice his son. But God Himself did sacrifice His only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ, so that you might live even though He dies.
The lure of temptation continues, but the strength of God’s Spirit dwells within you by Holy Baptism. You were baptized into Christ, so that when He goes into the wilderness, you go with Him. And because He resists the temptations of the devil, you, too, will have victory by the blood of Jesus Christ, His Son.
So come this day to the feast of God in His Supper. Be strengthened in your struggles against sin and the devil and your own sinful nature. Recognize that in Christ you have a champion who will not fail. Even if it costs Him His very life. Live in the grace of Jesus Christ, the true son of Abraham, and trust in His mercy all the days of your life. You are blessed, because you are in Him.
Believe it for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
And now the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in true faith to life everlasting. Amen.