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First Sunday in Lent

Mark 1:9–15

James T. Batchelor

Lent 1, series B
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church  
Hoopeston, IL

view DOC file

Sun, Feb 22, 2015 

Todays reading from Marks account of the Gospel covers a lot of ground in a few verses.  The Gospel according to Matthew records the baptism and temptation of Jesus in 16 verses.  Luke records the baptism and temptation in 14 verses.  Mark covers both events in 5 verses.  The compact writing style of Mark is the reason that Marks Gospel is the shortest of the four.  In spite of Marks compact writing style, there are some details of Jesus ministry that we can find only in Mark.

One of the advantages of Marks brevity is that it is practical to include more than one event in the Gospel of the day.  Generally speaking, we hear the account of Jesus baptism on the First Sunday after the Epiphany, and we hear the account of the temptation on the First Sunday in Lent.  This means that several weeks go by between the reading of these two accounts and we dont always see the connection between them.  Marks compact writing style doesnt let us do that.  This morning we heard about both events and we understand that one moment the Holy Spirit was descending on Jesus and the next moment that same Holy Spirit was driving Jesus out into the desert in order to confront he devil.  This was before He did any teaching or miracles.  It was before He called any disciples.

We read, The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. The Greek could also be translated as, The Spirit immediately threw him out into the wilderness. Mark almost gives us the impression that Jesus was still wet from His baptism when He entered the desert.  It is as if the moment the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus as a dove and said, Move out!  Lets go to the desert and do battle with the devil. Jesus was in perfect agreement with the Holy Spirit and readily journeyed into the desert.

The idea is that this was an intentional confrontation with the devil.  We should not think that the devil noticed Jesus fasting in the desert and thought to himself, Now that He is hungry, He will be weaker.  He will be easier to tempt.  This will be a good time to tempt Him. Instead we should think of Jesus eager to do battle for us and the Holy Spirit encouraging Him into that battle.  The leading of the Holy Spirit teaches us that this was not some random encounter between enemies.  Instead, the temptation was part of the intentional plan of God at the beginning of Jesus public ministry.

Mark does not record many details of the actual temptation.  He does tell us that it was forty days long.  He also tells us that Jesus was with the wild animals.

Jesus in the desert with the wild animals reminded me of an Old Testament figure that also went out into the desert with the wild animals.  We commonly refer to this figure as the scape goat.

The scape goat is a part of the ceremony for the Day of Atonement.  The regulations for the Day of Atonement say this about the scape goat:

[Leviticus 16:2122] Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins. And he shall put them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who is in readiness. 22 The goat shall bear all their iniquities on itself to a remote area, and he shall let the goat go free in the wilderness.

The idea was that the goat was basically an innocent animal.  It did not take on the role of scape goat for itself, but for others.  It did not suffer or bear the burden of its own sins.  Instead, it bore the iniquities, transgressions, and sins of the people of Israel.  Aaron, the high priest, confessed the sins of the nation over the goat.  In this way, he transferred the sins of the people onto the goat.  After that a special shepherd led the scape goat out into the wilderness to be with the wild animals.  The goat with all the sins of Israel went out into the wilderness never to be seen again.  The sins are gone.

There are many similarities between the scape goat and Jesus.  Jesus did not just appear innocent; He actually was the innocent Son of God.  He did not take on the role of sin bearer for His own sins.  Instead, He bore the iniquities of the entire world.  God Himself placed the sins of the world on Jesus as Isaiah wrote, [Isaiah 53:6b] The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. The Holy Spirit drove Jesus out into the wilderness to be with the wild animals.  Jesus carried our sins away so that no one will ever see them again.  The sins are gone.

Of course, once the special shepherd set the scape goat free, no one really knew what happened to that goat.  The most likely outcome is that wild animals ate the scape goat.  It is also possible that a shepherd from another country who knew nothing about the scape goat would find it and take it home to his own flocks.  No one really knew.  The point is this: although the symbolism of the scape goat was that the sins of Israel were gone never to be seen or heard from again, no one really knew for sure what happened.  No one could really, absolutely know that the goat couldnt sneak back from the wilderness into someones flock.

Fortunately, the scape goat is only a shadow as we hear from the writer to the Hebrews: [Hebrews 10:14] For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. 2 Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? 3 But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. 4 For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.  The scape goat is only a shadow that points forward to the real thing, Jesus Christ.

Our Lord Jesus Christ is the Lamb of God who carries away the sin of the world.  Even though He carried the sin of the entire world into the desert, He Himself never sinned.  He endured and triumphed over every temptation of the devil. [Hebrews 4:15] We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.  Jesus endured the temptations of the devil and triumphed.  He not only endured the temptation in the wilderness, but he also endured all the other temptations that the devil threw at Him as He journeyed to the cross.

You see, if the devil could have gotten Jesus to sin just once, He would no longer be able to carry our sins.  He would have sins of His own to carry.  Never the less, Jesus did not sin.  He continued to carry our sin.  He carried it all the way to the cross.

With Jesus, we do not have to worry that our sin might accidently come back to find us again.  Jesus took our sin to the cross.  There He did battle for us and conquered sin, death, and the power of the devil.  Our sin is not just gone, but it is powerless.  In fact, Jesus took our sin to the grave and left it there when He rose from the dead.  The resurrection of Jesus Christ assures us that our sin is not just gone, but it is dead and gone.

The Holy Spirit made His presence known when Jesus stepped up out of the water from His baptism.  That same Holy Spirit drove Jesus into the desert to confront the devil and his temptations.  This teaches us that all these things were part of the plan.

It is important for us to know that Jesus endured all the hardships that we endure.  He is our substitute.  He doesnt just know our lives academically, but He has experienced life as we know it.  He was tempted just as we are tempted.  He also experienced our pain, our sorrow, our frustrations He experienced it all except that He never sinned.

In spite of the fact that He never sinned, He was full of sin. [2 Corinthians 5:21] For our sake God made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.  Just as the High Priest placed the sin of Israel on the scape goat, God has placed the sin of the world on Jesus.  He became full of our sin your sin, my sin, the sin of the entire world.  Jesus has carried that sin to the cross.  As we remember the cross, we will remember that our sin filled Him as He suffered and died to pay the penalty that Gods justice demanded a payment that freed us from our slavery to sin.  We will remember that God saw Him as a sinner so that He can see us as righteous.

After Jesus endured the temptations of the devil in the desert, He began proclaiming the Gospel.  Because Jesus endured temptation without sin, His Gospel proclamation is just as valid for you today as it was at the time of todays reading from the Gospel.  The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel. Amen

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