Summary: LENT I, YEAR B - Christ tempts us to with the sweetness of the Good News to Repent and believe the Gospel.
So tell me, did you get the opportunity to listen to the president’s News Conference the other night? Or did you have the chance to watch the debate Friday of the UN security council? And have you followed the on-going News analysis that has been inundating the television channels 24/7? After weeks of this what are you tempted to do? overthrow Saddam Hussein or Impeach President Bush. Perhaps start your own war against stupid politicians? What I would like to do is to find a remote corner of the world where I can hide out from all the problems of humanity. That is my personal temptation.
Temptation, everyone in the world faces temptation. And as good Christians we should resist all temptation, Right?? That is what we pray for, isn’t it? “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from all evil.” Our expectation is that we should flee from temptation rather than endure it. Yet in todays scripture we see Jesus driven by God’s Spirit into the wilderness not to hide from temptation but to face it head on. To me is seems so odd Jesus has just gone to the river Jordan and once he is baptized the heavens open and God proclaims this is my beloved Son. But then, instead of throwing a party of acceptance God drives His son into the desert to be tempted.
Tempted? What’s that all about? In the gospel of Mark the term for temptation and the word for testing are one and the same. Here in Mark chapter one God drives His Son into the desert to be tested, to see if He is indeed ready to carry out the mission for which he has been sent. Tested, like a baker tests bread to see if it’s ready to eat. Tested, like a metal worker tests steel to see if it is tempered. And out of this 40 days of testing Jesus returns to declare “The time is fulfilled. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the gospel.” After receiving the blessing of God and facing the realities of his purpose Jesus senses the immediacy of the moment. The time is now, this is the moment. God is doing marvelous things. God is intervening in human history, stepping into the lives of men and women. God is bringing about something new, and it all has to do with temptation and repentance and blessing.
As Jesus begins his ministry, as He describes to us all that God is bringing about, he is, in some sense, enticing us to believe, tempting us to taste the wonder of eternal life. Like the Jewish practice of putting honey on the scriptures that the children might taste it and learn of the sweetness of God’s Word. Jesus is enticing us with the sweet taste of the good news, He is tempting us with the blessings of repentance and redemption. Many of you probably think of repentance as a dour, hair-shirt, kind of Lenten experience where we beat our breasts where we confess our sins and pray to God that we will be spared the fiery torments of hell. But repentance, as it is used in the Bible, is less this kind of hair shirt exercise and more an invitation to change, grow, and develop into the full human beings God intends us to be. Repentance is the opportunity to see our false ways and poor choices, and foolish decisions and to allow our lives to be turned around. For lack of a better word, repentance is a “second chance. An opportunity to turn away from all the self - destructive, life - draining, soul - consuming directions of our lives.
Repentance is the opportunity to discover a new way, the way of eternal life. Repentance, at its deepest level is the opportunity to accept the grace of God - to believe the good news that God wants to restore and renew our lives. The call to “Repent and believe the Gospel” is our opportunity to entrust ourselves to a God who wants to bring into our lives his kingdom of mercy and love and compassion. He wants to give us a life of hope and joy and peace. Repentance is not just turning away from the bad and turning to the good, it is turning to someone - it is turning to the God of love, and receiving his love for us. Often it is hard for us who seem to be living the good life to take seriously the call to repentence. We have not done any great harm We have not committed any great crime. There is no international government organization fighting over what to do with us. To pharaphrase Rev. Charles Smith,
“It is true that not many of us are spectacular sinners.