If you happened to live in the Haakenson household you would know that Pastor Haakenson (Dad) is on a low carb, no sugar diet. You would know that because he is always talking about it—some might say moaning about it. (One person’s diet does tend to affect the entire family.) But I have lost weight, and although it is a struggle to limit both the kind of food I eat as well as the intake, I’m happy that the scale is going in the right direction.
But it is a struggle.
There is not a single person in this world who does not struggle. And when I think of other people’s struggles that I am privy to, or just the general nature of struggle, the struggle of my diet seems almost laughable. Is that really even a struggle?
Of course, I do struggle with other things. The diet was just an introduction to put into our minds the concept of struggling. What do you struggle with? What do your loved ones struggle with?
The theme of today is the struggle of Lent. What we’re going to hear about in our midweek Lenten services as well as the Sunday services is that Lent is all about struggling. It’s not that the rest of the year contains no struggle or that it is not worth talking about apart from the 6 weeks of Lent, but rather during Lent we focus our attention on Jesus’ struggles as he fights for us against the devil so as to free us from the bondage of sin.
So, first Lent is about Jesus’ struggling as the God-appointed representative for mankind. And today his struggle against the devil begins. Mark writes that “Immediately the Spirit drove him into the wilderness” (v. 12).
So, Jesus in the wilderness. There is no one around. He cannot walk to a gas station. There is no cell phone or cell service with which he can call a friend. He is completely by himself. Actually, Mark does mention that the wild animals were with him (v. 13). Why he deems it necessary to add that detail, I am not sure. Probably to underscore the hostility of the environment. These were not domesticated animals, but wild animals. There was no friendly face to cheer him. Just the devil and ferocious beasts to threaten him.
They threatened him for forty days. Sometimes we get the impression that Jesus was only tempted three times by the devil during these forty days. But Mark says, “He was in the wilderness forty days being tempted by Satan” (v. 13). Luke also agrees that Jesus endured the temptation of Satan during the entire forty days, but the only attacks we know about are mentioned in Matthew and Luke (i.e., the turning the stones into bread, the jumping off the temple, and the bowing down to Satan in exchange for a worldly kingdom). But Mark doesn’t mention any specifics. He only says that for forty days Jesus was with the wild animals, and that Satan alone was the source of the temptations.
You see, Jesus had no sinful nature. That means that the temptations he faced always came from outside of him. That is different, by the way for you and me. We have a sinful nature. And so, sometimes temptations come from outside of us, but other times they come from inside of us. Sinful thoughts, sinful feelings, sinful doubt. The point of this text is to show that Jesus has overcome the devil’s temptations as our Substitute. That means he did it for us. He did in our place because we are not always victorious in our battle against Satan. Even on our best days we fall into temptation. The question I want to put into your mind this morning is “Do you struggle with it?” Do you struggle against temptation? Do you struggle against your sin?
I ask that because as I thought more about this idea of human struggle, the examples that came to mind had to do with life’s hardships and life’s events. Perhaps we struggle with a particular relationship or with aspects of ourselves. But that is not the struggle of Lent. Nor are these types of struggles, as real as they are, the most difficult ones God asks us to face. The real struggle of the Christian is with his or her sin! And that’s the scary part—do we even struggle all that much with our sin? Or is that struggle too far in the background of every-day life to be bothered with it.
A couple of points here: 1) If Satan tempted Jesus, don’t be so naïve to think that he doesn’t spend every hour actively trying to tempt you. Compared to Jesus or the apostles you and I are low-hanging fruit. Secondly, if you’re not struggling in life, you’re dead! Dead people don’t struggle. Spiritually dead people don’t struggle either against their sin. It’s not an issue for them. It’s not something they actively think about on any given day. And the truth of the matter, loved ones, is that Christians today (and that includes us) are much less spiritually healthy than we think we are. I wonder if the stuff that bothers you so much is really the stuff that bothers God. And I wonder if the stuff that bothers God so much is the stuff that bothers you? I speak first to myself.
Of course, churches also struggle with their own temptations and sins. They struggle with putting the worst construct on rumors or things they hear rather than taking it in the best possible context as God says in the Eighth Commandment. They struggle with a lack of courage when it comes to speaking directly to someone whom they have a problem with rather than talking about them behind their back. They struggle with the comfort of complacency rather than working hard while it is still day for the cause of Christ. They struggle with a defeatist attitude rather than remembering that in Christ the victory is already won.
You see, what a beautiful reality God communicates to us in these verses when he says that at the end of his forty days of temptation Jesus won, for Mark writes that the angels were serving Jesus. You would think it would be the other way around. Jesus is God, so he should be serving the angels, but no! The angels are serving him! Why?
Because this text emphasizes, first of all, Jesus’ humanity. God became one of us. Why? To do for us what we are incapable of doing. Struggling against all temptation and beating it. Adam and Eve didn’t even do it, and they were created holy! And all the way down the line of Adam’s descendants, Abraham’s lineage, and Kind David’s royal house, we see failure after failure in the battle against the devil. Indeed, things got so bad, that God’s people simply gave up fighting against the devil. They just gave in to his temptations.
We are not going to give in as a congregation. We are going to continue the struggle against Satan. But we are going to do with Christ’s power, you see. Because we have no power on our own to fight against the devil. But Jesus does. His words send the devil running. His answers demolish the devil’s arguments. His truth exposes the devil’s lie.
What do you think the greatest of those lies is? That you are not forgiven. It is very easy to be susceptible to it, because every single day life proves to you that you are a sinner. That temptation is stronger than you. And that is why many a Christian gives up struggling because they say “It’s too hard! I can’t do it!”
Well, no you cannot. But Christ can, and Christ did! That is what we need to remember. The whole reason God came to earth in the person of Jesus was to destroy the works of the devil, to fight against the devil and win! And that is what Jesus is doing here at the very outset of his ministry. The devil tempts Jesus. Another way to translate the word “tempt” is to “test”, “to try”, “to put to the proof”. “If you are the Son of God” he says, “then prove it.” The attack is very sinister. Jesus is the Son of God, and the devil knows it. He doesn’t have to prove it. What the devil says to him has no bearing.
But Jesus didn’t come to this world to prove that he was the Son of God to the devil. He came to take on our human sin in his human flesh. In other words, to be our substitute. He came to obey his Heavenly Father because no other human ever did and ever has. We are God’s creation. God deserves his obedience. So, Jesus says, “Father I will obey you. I will be your true son. I will give you the honor and obedience that you rightly deserve. There will finally be a human who obeys.”
Do you see how he saves you? What you aren’t, Jesus is. And the power you don’t have, Jesus has. Which is why we worship him as our Savior! The Good News that he came to preach and fulfill is that he has now destroyed the works of the devil. Jesus has declared you not guilty! The devil cannot credibly accuse us as guilty before God. He tries. The Christian knows it doesn’t work. We’re already forgiven. So, how can you accuse someone, if they’ve already been forgiven?
That is how we need to treat the devil. That is how we need to talk to the devil. We need to take Jesus’ own words, “It is finished!” and then throw them back in the devil’s face. And we need to keep on proclaiming this Good News both to ourselves and to the world. Christians are not defeatists. We are victorious.
Verses 14 & 15: “After John was arrested, Jesus went to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the Good News!”
And all of God’s people said, “Amen!”