I know for some of you the longer the winter and especially the deeper the snow the better, but for the rest of you, are you about ready for winter to be over? I assume it’s safe to say that no matter how much we love or don’t love snow and cold, we will all agree that that was an awful lot of snow and cold we have gone through in the past few weeks. Hopefully the worst of the weather will soon be behind us, but can you imagine if those ten or fifteen days of frigid cold and many inches of snow like that – and even much worse — went on for forty consecutive days without any let-up whatsoever? And not only that it went on for forty days, but that you were so snowed in you couldn’t get out of your house for those forty days to go out to buy any food, meaning you would obviously get dangerously hungry? And not only that you couldn’t get out of your house for those forty days to buy any food, but that Satan the devil himself decided to make it his personal mission to be attacking you every single minute of every single one of those forty days, trying to get you to fall from God and follow him, because, as Satan might say, how could any so-called loving God expect to live like this, when, he, the devil, understands you so much better, and when he, the devil, could give you so much more?
Brothers and sisters in Christ, How long would it take you to fall?
What’s wrong, however, with what I just said in that make-believe weather example? Part of it is not make-believe at all. For one thing, while we may not think about this as often as we should, the Bible makes it clear that the devil does have as his personal mission the desire to have every single one us fall from God and follow him. The apostle Peter, for example, once described the devil as “a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.” And besides that, another thing is – which we also may not think about as often as we should – that from the very moment we are born we have already fallen to Satan, because we are born apart from God in what we often refer to as “original sin.” As we say in our Baptism liturgy, “From our parents we have inherited a sinful nature,” which the Bible tells us means we are “hostile to God” — born physically alive, but spiritually dead in our transgressions and sins. No wonder we maybe don’t think about these things as much as we should. It seems so negative and pessimistic and downright depressing. And, to tell the truth, it is…
Yet, using opportunities like this – especially as we are just beginning our Lenten season worship – to remember again why God has no reason to remember us, will help us understand all the more what happened at the beginning of our Savior’s ministry when we are told in our opening words from Mark’s Gospel, “At once the Spirit sent him out into the desert, and he was in the desert forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.”
I imagine we could debate what would be harder – enduring forty days of frigid weather or suffering through forty days in the wilderness with dangerous, wild animals like serpents and scorpions and maybe even lions and bears at that time in the land of Israel – the very kinds of animals God had himself created long before to live in peace with men and women on the earth, now causing danger for the Lord of heaven and earth — but the point is not the geographical location but the spiritual situation that would necessitate the Son of God to be attended by angels. Angels, who thirty years earlier had enlightened the darkness with “Glory to God in the Highest” at the arrival of the Light of the World, were now with Jesus in one of his darkest hours, all of which was the result of your and my dark sin.
Do you remember another time when angels ministered to Jesus? It was three years later when Jesus was not in the wilderness, but in the garden called Gethsemane, praying to his heavenly Father with such intensity just hours before the evening of his suffering would begin that his sweat was like drops of blood flowing from that head which would soon be crowned with thorns and from that face that would soon be spit upon and then the object of abject ridicule as he hung suspended on a cross. In that garden “an angel appeared to him from heaven,” we are told, “and strengthened him,” all of which led him to be able to say to his three disciples sleeping a stone’s throw away, “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.”
Is there anyone else who can relate to what you or I go through any better than the Son of God, who went through temptations like this at the beginning of his ministry and at the end of his ministry and all the time inbetween? Jesus knows what it’s like to have the devil whispering in your ear when Satan tries to get you not to worry about the type of language you use or the type of gossip you pass on or the type of anger you express. That’s why we can cry out, “God, please help me for Jesus’ sake, since I am your child. I don’t want to live that way.” Jesus knows what it’s like to have the devil whispering in your ear when Satan tries to get you to think you are more important than someone else and that someone else better think they are less important than you. “God, please help me for Jesus’ sake, since I am your child. I don’t want to think that way.” Jesus knows what it’s like to have the devil whispering in your ear to try to get you think that what’s going on my life right now today is what I need to worry about more than what will happen to my life after I die. “God, please help me for Jesus’ sake, since I am your child. I don’t want to worry that way.”
And what does our Lord God do? He helps us for Jesus’ sake, because we are his dear children. That’s the way he works!
Verses 14-15 tell us how he does so. In verse 14 we are told that John the Baptist had been put into prison. John had been thrown into prison for telling the king of the land that he was sinning by taking someone else’s wife as his own. What is interesting is what Jesus does not do. Jesus does not set up a team of commandos to raid the prison and get John out of there, since he had been so unfairly treated, which he certainly had been – and which Jesus just as certainly could have done by just opening the gates miraculously and letting him out, as he did do two other times later on when Peter the other apostles had been placed into prison for preaching the good news. What Jesus does do is go around Galilee proclaiming only thing that can ultimately help people — the good news. “The kingdom of God is near,” Jesus said, “Repent and believe the good news!”
You and I are in far worse than a Galilean prison. What we cannot escape until the day we die is Satan trying to get us to give up on God before we die. But God’s good news is that because of Jesus Christ who came for us to live and die, God has not – and will never – give up on us. The very thing Jesus did in defeating every temptation of Satan during those forty days and throughout all his ministry on earth is the very thing God our Father says you and I have done, because everything Jesus did, he did not do for himself, because he was already perfect, but he did for us. Everything Jesus did he did for us as our replacement, as our substitute. Because of everything Jesus did for us, God looks at us from heaven and says, “I love you, my son, my daughter. I love you with all my heart, and I know how hard it is to stay faithful to me. Just keep remembering that my love for you, dear child, is not just an encouragement. It is a reality. You are perfect and holy in my sight. I consider you to have defeated the devil. I consider you to be a conqueror of Satan for the sake of Jesus my Son – my one and only Son who can understand everything you are going through because he went through so much more – and, yes, my one and only Son who defeated everything he went through so that you can sing and say with confidence, “God, have mercy on me a sinner,” because you know God has had mercy on you through the work of Christ, his sinless Son.
How long would it take you to fall? How long does it take you to fall? When you fall, look up. When you fall, look up and see the face of Jesus, the sinless Son who died for sin. When you fall, look up and see the face of Jesus shining on you and being gracious to you – and repent and believe the good news: Your sin – not held against you; A place in heaven – right now waiting for you – no more cold, no more desert – the place where you will never fall again, the place where you will join the angels in serving your Savior for far, far more than forty days, days which you pray will never end – and they never will! Amen.