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Adam 2 in the Wilderness

Sermon 339 St. Martin’s 95 (Riverway) 2/18/24

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

Mark 1:9-15

The Temptation

We have now entered the strange and sobering season of Lent. The crosses are now covered, the alleluias have been buried, and we had an extended litany at the beginning of the service reminding us of all the things we need to be forgiven for. Good Lord, deliver us indeed!

And this morning we are greeted with Mark’s jam-packed account of Jesus’ baptism, temptation, and the beginning of his ministry (all in a matter of six verses). Today we’re going to focus on only the two short verses of Jesus’ encounter with Satan.

Unlike Matthew and Luke who give us vivid descriptions of Satan’s “personal tour of how to acquire worldly power,” and Jesus’ very biblical response to each temptation, Mark only gives us this:

“At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.”

That’s it. It’s almost a blip on the screen. Blink and you would’ve missed it all together. But believe it or not, there’s a lot there. Mark assumed these scant details would keep his original listeners busy for a long time.

Remember, most people were illiterate, so they would’ve heard the gospel instead of having read it for themselves, but that didn’t mean they were dummies. These two verses would’ve intrigued them quite a lot.

And so, let’s consider a few of those details.

The Wilderness The first thing that would’ve caught their attention was the mention of the wilderness. I’m curious what you’re picturing when we talk about the wilderness. For some reason, I always pictured the Minnesota wilderness, though I’ve never been there. Lots of evergreens or something, but that couldn’t have been further from the wilderness that Mark was describing.

The Judean wilderness was a hot and barren place, the exact opposite of a forest. It was an environment that you didn’t want to stay for very long. High cliffs, deep valleys, and little water or human activity made it a wasteland where only vultures and robbers thrived.

But this idea of the wilderness was not new. Inhospitable terrain was where the Israelites found themselves wandering for 40 years before entering the Promised Land. The Prophet Elijah spent 40 days in the wilderness after his showdown with the prophets of Baal (1 Kings 19). The wilderness had always been a place of testing in the biblical story.

Like so many great ancient and modern stories, the protagonist must leave the comfort of home and venture into the unknown and see what they are made of before returning home. That’s true whether we’re talking about Homer’s The Iliad and the Odyssey or any Disney movie.

But Jesus’ temptations do not neatly fit into that category. In the Bible, the Israelites and even Elijah have remarkable encounters with God because they have to rely on him alone. In movies and books, the protagonists go out and find themselves and who they really are, and return to heroically save the day. The former finds strength from without while the latter finds strength from within. 

But in our gospel this morning, Jesus is not there to find himself or to even find God—the Spirit has torn him from his baptismal waters to struggle with a foe that is all too familiar, one that goes as far back as Genesis 3. They know each other, for the one waiting for Jesus had been an angel who loyally served in God’s court until he thought he could run things better than the Holy One on the throne.

Though Mark leaves out all the juicy details of their encounter, there is no denying that the image of a snake in a garden has been transformed into a Satan (a deceiver) in a wilderness.

It is important here to note what we mean by Satan, or even the forces of evil that he represents.       

The author Jeffery Russell wrote three volumes on the historical and theological background of the devil. In it, he traces the earliest places the devil is mentioned in the Bible all the way to modern times explaining how different cultures have talked about the devil.

At the very end of this long work, Russell concludes with his final, personal thoughts on the matter, and this is what he says, A real force is actively present in the [world], urging to evil. This evil force has a purposive center that actively hates good, the [world], and every individual in the [world].”

He continues, "It urges us to hate good, the [world], other individuals, and [even] ourselves. It has terrible and immense effects, but it is ultimately futile; every individual can defeat it in himself or herself by drawing on the loving power of God. For Christians, then, the person of the Devil may be a metaphor, but it is a metaphor for something that is real, that really brings horror to the world every day and [that] threatens to lay the entire world waste” (Bruner 121).

I talked about this with our Christian Life Study group this past Thursday. The Devil is a part of the cosmic forces of evil that also include Sin and Death. This unholy triumvirate is a malignant force that works to unravel the very fabric of God’s created order. Everything that God looked over and called good in the beginning, the Powers of Evil want to corrupt, including us.

When we look at the world and ask why are things so bad, so broken, the Christian answer is that there is an evil force that is bent on sowing seeds of dissension and hate. By ourselves we cannot triumph over these forces of wickedness, we are Adam and we are Eve. We can easily be persuaded away from the good.

What continues to be our problem, in my opinion, is that we have an underdeveloped view of sin. It’s a miracle for us to call something a sin—it’s just not a part of our typical vocabulary or worldview. And if we do we have used it as a weapon.

Typically, what happens now is that we’ll say: “You have your truth and I have mine. There are no common rules that govern all of us except that we are all independent beings with our own beliefs. You respect mine and I’ll respect yours, until yours then offend mine and then I’ll come after you with a holy, righteous anger that assumes I’m the sole judge and jury and you are condemned in a prison that I have personally made for you with no chance of forgiveness.”

My favorite preacher, Fleming Rutledge puts it this way: if we get to the point where we will consider an idea like sin then we believe that “we can resist it (though we wouldn’t call it that) by making good choices” (202). If we just try a little harder then we can get over these issues and move on.

How has that worked out for us?

An example comes to my mind. After the murder of George Floyd, Megan and I, and many folks from the church I was serving at the time went through a racial reconciliation program that was connected with the diocese and a local university.

Over six or more classes we learned about the origins of slavery, the North American slave trade, how propaganda had been used throughout the years to heighten racial prejudice and such. And the last class we were going to talk about theology and how this connected to our faith as followers of Jesus.

Two Ph.D. students had facilitated all of these classes. I was looking forward to the last class to see how we could incorporate what we learned and reflect on it theologically and how we could then go out and be better Christians because of it.

But not once in that final class, or over the entire six weeks together, did the word “sin” ever come up. We had covered so much, and yet we had not gone far enough.

As the confession in the Prayer Book says, “We have erred, and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against thy holy laws…there is no health in us.”

Why is there racism, oppression, degradation? Because there is no health in us. We are a part of a fallen world where the cosmic forces of Sin, Death, and the Devil have set up camp. We cannot get ourselves out of this mess because we are part of the problem, we are Adam and we are Eve.

The Second Adam One of the descriptions that Jesus is given is that he is the Second Adam. If it is by the first Adam that we all sin, it is through this Second Adam that all are made alive. Adam 2 was obedient while Adam 1 was not. Adam 2 was exalted by submitting to the will of God whereas Adam 1 was humiliated in seeking his own exaltation.

The way that this Second Adam overcomes the wiles of the devil in the wilderness is not by “trying harder” but by living faithfully the way that Adam 1 was supposed to in the Garden.

As our Psalm said this morning. “In you, LORD my God, I put my trust. I trust in you; do not let me be put to shame” (Ps 25:1-2a).

What emotion do Adam and Eve feel after they have eaten the fruit? Shame.

When we put our full allegiance in God, and trust that he’s got us, that his plan for us is better than anything we could plan for ourselves, then we are given the opposite of shame. We are given hope.

As the psalmist said in verse 3, “No one who hopes in you will ever be put to shame.”

But friends, we cannot get to that place unless we reckon with the seriousness of sin. Otherwise, we’ll continue to try harder and get nowhere. As the saying goes, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

We need more than good intentions; we need a Savior who can stand up against the Powers of Evil and win.

Our Temptation Let’s go back to the wilderness for one final thought.

There is a lot of great symbolism connected to the location of Jesus’ temptation. You see, the Judean wilderness is placed in between two important locations. To the east, just a few miles away is the Jordan River Valley. On a clear day in the wilderness, you can see the river.

While Jesus was being tempted by Satan, he could see his cousin continuing to baptize people into the kingdom movement; being reminded that he had just been in those baptismal waters himself.

And from that same spot, if you looked west, a little further up, you’d see the mountain on which Jerusalem sat. The smoke of the Temple sacrifices making its way down the valley, along with the buzz of the Holy City.

Jesus was sandwiched seemingly between two worlds. The old world of Jerusalem and the new world of the Kingdom he was bringing about.

Faced with the devil, Jesus chose faithfulness. Faithfulness to his call, his mission for himself and the world he loved; faithfulness that was rooted in the Trinitarian love of the Father and the Spirit.  

And when we are tempted may we have the bravery to not rely on ourselves, our false sense of strength, of grit, and personal determination, but rather to hold onto Jesus as Jesus held onto the Father.

In temptation’s hour, let go of yourself and hold onto Jesus, our rock and redeemer.

1st Sunday of Lent. Year B. Psalm 25:1-9. Mark 1:9-15. Dale Bruner Matthew vol. 1. Fleming Rutledge The Crucifixion. Pictures are mine.


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