Summary: First Sunday in Lent, Series B

February 21, 2021

Hope Lutheran Church

Rev. Mary Erickson

Mark 1:9-15

Strength Tested

Friends, may grace and peace be yours in abundance in the knowledge of God and Christ Jesus our Lord.

The gospel of Mark is the shortest of all four gospels. Mark writes his stories very tersely. Mark practices an economy of words and gets right down to business. The effect leaves his gospel like a soup stock that’s been reduced. The flavors intensify.

That’s certainly true of his account of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. Matthew and Luke go into detail. They describe the interactions between Jesus and the devil. But Mark? He reduces the whole thing to just two verses!

“And the Spirit immediately drove Jesus 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.”

Jesus swiftly moves from his baptism by John, to his wilderness temptation, and from there straight into his mission. The three scenes are strung together like three firecrackers. Boom, boom, boom!

What’s puzzling is the Spirit. When Jesus rises from the water after his baptism, Mark says that the heavens are split open. They rupture. And down from this hole in the sky, the Holy Spirit descends on Jesus in the form of a dove.

And then that same Spirit DRIVES Jesus into the wilderness. Jesus is THRUST, SHOVED, PUSHED out there, by the Holy Spirit of God! The violent laceration that split open the heavens has now propelled Jesus into this desert realm so that he might be tempted.

The Spirit desires this period of temptation. Jesus needs to undergo a test. Christian writer Thomas A. Kempis explained it well: “Fire tries Iron, and temptation tries a just man.”

Before Jesus enters his ministry, he needs to be tested. The test will give Jesus assurance before he begins in ministry.

There’s a story about the construction of the Union Pacific Railroad. They came to a large canyon. It required the building of a very large trestle bridge.

After the enormous structure was completed, the construction engineer wanted to test the bridge. So he loaded a train with extra cars and equipment. Altogether it was double the normal payload. He then drove the train to the middle of the bridge. The heavy train stayed there for a full day.

One of the railroad workers asked the engineer, “Are you trying to destroy this bridge?” “No,” the engineer replied, “I want to make sure that the bridge won’t break.” *

Jesus spends forty days in the wilderness to test his resolve. This testing will strengthen him, just like fire strengthens iron. The trials he undergoes will sharpen his discerning spirit. He’ll better understand his purpose.

Jesus’ baptism. Jesus’s temptation. Jesus’ ministry. If these three actions have one thing in common, it’s this: Throughout, Jesus remains absolutely focused on obedience to God.

• He submits to John’s baptism, not because he needs to repent. But he aligns himself to God’s will.

• His period of temptation sharpens his understanding of what his purpose is and who he serves. These forty days in the wilderness help him to hardwire the movement from his baptism to his ministry.

• And throughout his earthly mission, he remains obedient to God. Even unto the cross, his purpose doesn’t waver.

We’ve entered this 40-day period of Lent. This annual season provides an opportunity for us to reflect on the state of our spiritual health. How is our obedience to the will of God? Lent’s wilderness wandering is indicative of our life. Like Jesus, we face choices. How do we connect God into our decision making? What influencers are leaning on us?

Like Jesus, our guidance comes from our baptismal identity. On that day we were claimed by God. We were declared a child of God. That identity is our North Star. As we negotiate wilderness landscape, we live among “our modern wild beasts” and other dangers threatening to our welfare. And our old Satanic foe presents us with choices, too.

Unlike Jesus, we err and stumble. Our hope wavers into despair. We make choices based on selfish fears and motivations. But baptism’s promise of grace is there for us. It reminds us that no one can snatch us from God’s hand.

We sang this morning Martin Luther’s hymn “A Mighty Fortress.” The words in verse four are an apt description of our hope:

“For God himself fights by our side

with weapons of the Spirit.

Were they to take our house,

goods, honor, child, spouse,

though life be wrenched away,

they cannot win the day.

The kingdom’s ours forever!”

The baptismal promise of God’s steadfast love is our shelter in the wilderness. May the trials placed before us strengthen our faith. Day after day, we are born anew in the waters of baptism. Our new self arises, tried in adversity, strengthened by faith.

*Story from

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