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"Facing Temptation"

Genesis 22:1-18,Mark 1:9-15

Rev. Alan Taylor

Lent 1, series B
St. John Lutheran Church  
Galveston, Texas

Sun, Feb 26, 2012 

+ In Nomine Jesu +

Grace to you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.

The similarities between the Old Testament and Gospel lessons for this morning are pretty evident.  Two figures are tempted to do the unimaginable.  Abraham, to demonstrate his faithfulness to God, is tempted to slay Isaac, his only son.  God, in faithfulness to His promise to redeem His creation, offers up His only-Son to suffer temptation and eventually death at the hands of the devil. 

There are parallels too in the unimaginable sacrifice that each of the two figures offers.  Isaac, knowing that a Lamb was required for the sacrifice, asked his father, "Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?" Abraham said, "God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son."  While Mark only briefly mentions Jesus' baptism, wherein Jesus is identified as God's Lamb, John gives us a fuller view of the event.  As Jesus stepped into the water of the Jordan River to be baptized, John the Baptist, in the spirit of the prophets of old, pointed to Him and said, "behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world."  God had indeed provided the Lamb. 

In Abraham's offspring "all the nations of the earth would be blessed because he obeyed the Father's voice."  Much later, Matthew, in writing his gospel, connects Jesus to Abraham.  In fact, being the writer of the Gospel to the Jews, Matthew knew how his Gospel would have to begin.  Thus, his story is "the book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham." 

Jesus, having defeated sin, death and the devil, is the fulfillment of God's promise to Abraham and ultimately to the whole world.  By and through Him, God has blessed and will continue to bless the nations of the earth, whether Jew or Gentile, slave or free, man, woman or child, for we are all one in Christ, sinners redeemed by the blood of God's Lamb, the One, as it were, who was caught in the thicket of our sin and offered up by His Father to the altar of His Father. 

Again, the similarities between Abraham and Jesus' temptations are strikingly evident.  Still, while the temptation that Jesus endured draws us ever closer to Him, as He stands in our stead, fending off the fiery darts of the old evil foe, Abraham's temptation likely leaves us shuttering, perhaps even repulsed by the mere thought of what he was willing to do in order to demonstrate his faithfulness to God.  Even more, while Jesus was tempted by the devil, in Abraham's case the apparent heinous act he was asked to commit was set before Him by God!  The whole scenario seems to draw into question God's supreme view of the sanctity of life and of the obligation of parents to love and nurture their children.  Still, God's word to Abraham was clear.  Abraham, "take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you." We are left shuttering at the prospect of what Abraham was asked to do!

Fortunately for us, since, in the fullness of time, God provided the Lamb, since He committed His Son to the cross, we will never have to wrestle with the frightening choice that God put before Abraham.  Our faithfulness to God is not in what we are willing to give up, nor is it in what we are willing to do as God's servant.  Rather, our faithfulness is in our clinging to His Son, His cross and resurrection, knowing that nothing we could give or do could ever exceed what God has already done for us in giving us His Son. 

That said, on a deeper level, the temptations endured by Abraham and Jesus speak to us of the sacrifice of our will and our desire, as we turn, by God's grace, in obedience to the One True God, who shares His throne with no one.  Indeed, God the very first of God's commandments is that "(we) shall have no other gods before (Him)." Jesus, as He often did, expounded on the full meaning and import of that command.  Mind you, He didn't expand it, He simply stated what it meant.  Thus, as His disciples gathered around Him, He said, "whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.  And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.  Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it." 

Perhaps in a manner greater than our actions, or, the lack thereof, our unworthiness before God is revealed in our stubborn resistance to His Word.  Unable to fathom how God could ask Abraham to sacrifice his son, seeing such a temptation as unimaginable, even repugnant, we then wonder how we can love this God that we haven't seen with greater fervor and devotion than we love those we have seen, especially those who fill up the days of our lives, those who nurtured us and cared for us, or, someone we have nurtured and cared for, someone we have cried over and with, those whose lives are part and parcel of our own. 

It is in hearing the very first of God's commandments and in understanding what it really means to "fear, love and trust in Him above all things," that we are left uttering the sinners plea for grace…"Lord, have mercy.  Christ, have mercy.  Lord, have mercy."  The point is, this whole business of facing temptation, particularly the temptation to place ourselves, or, someone else in our lives over and above God is really pretty nasty business!  The reality is, too often what we think is good God holds in contempt.  Conversely, what we think is evil, He holds in the highest esteem.  To our eyes, both Abraham and Jesus' temptations appear evil.  But, Jesus wasn't drawn out into the wilderness by the devil's hand, rather, as Mark says, "the Spirit (that is, the Holy Spirit), drove Him into the wildernesss."  Even as God committed His servant Job into the hands of the devil, so He put His only-begotten Son into his hands as well that the devil might be defeated, that he might be rendered powerless, left impotent before the power and the grandeur of God's Almighty Word. 

Mark doesn't give us the details of the temptations that the devil hurled at Jesus.  The other Gospel writers, however, tell us that, in tempting Jesus, the devil resorted to his old play book.  Even as Adam and Eve were tempted to elevate themselves above God, so the devil tempted Jesus to exalt Himself over His Father.  As the Scriptures say, "In times past God spoke in many and various ways through the prophets."  While the Word of God is, in all of their parts, absolute and true, Jesus was tempted to deny the very heart of His Father revealed to the world in what He spoke. 

Jesus, of course, would reject the devil's accusations, standing, as it were, behind the heart of His Father, which is to say, standing behind what His Father had said, what He had promised in His Word.  Jesus could have filled His churning stomach by turning some rocks into bread, but, as His Father had said, "man does not live on bread alone, but, on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God."

Luther picked up and expounded the Christian's defense in the face of temptation so beautifully in one of his great reformation hymns…

"Though devils all the world should fill,

All eager to devour us,

We tremble not, we fear no ill;

They shall not overpow'r us.

This world's prince may still

Scowl fierce as he will,

He can harm us none.

He's judged; the deed is done;

One little word can fell him."

The Word that knocks the devil from his throne, of course, is Christ, who met him in battle and who emerged victorious.  He is the source of our hope and comfort, even our guarantee of victory as we face the various temptations that confront us day in and day out, all of which are intended to persuade us to deny the very heart of God, His word spoken and finally revealed in the flesh of Christ, His Son. 

"For us fights the Valiant One,

Whom God Himself elected. 

Ask ye, who is this?

Jesus Christ, it is,

Of Sabbaoth Lord,

And there's none other God;

He holds the field forever."

In Jesus' name.  Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting.  Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

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