Lent 1, February 26th, 2012
Lent begins. Our 40 day time of preparation and prayer, penitence and fasting. A time of testing and probing, that leads us, with Jesus, to the cross.
The New Testament tells us of a 40 day sojourn in the life of our Lord. Mark tells us that after Jesus is baptized the Spirit drives him, or more literally “casts him out” into the wilderness.
It reminds us of another time, long ago, when another man was cast out. Adam, and his wife Eve, fresh with the stain of sin, and death, the fruit of their sin, they are cast out of the Garden of Eden. No longer to have access to the tree of life, for in his mercy, God didn't want them to eat of it and live forever in sin. So what seemed like exile was really also an act of love. God placed an angel with a fiery sword to block the way back. And now Adam would bring food to the table only with great trouble. Work had become labor. The ground produces thorns. Life is tough.
Jesus is the Second Adam. He comes to repair the damage. Fresh with the baptismal water of his anointing with the Spirit - a baptism not for his own sins, but which identified him with us sinners.... and fresh with the declaration of the Father, “This is my Son, whom I love” ringing in his ears, Jesus is driven out to the wilderness. His public ministry begins with a fast. A time of testing, probing...fasting. Satan gets a chance to have at him. And Satan fails. We know from Matthew's Gospel many of those details. But Mark doesn't fill us in. It's enough, here, to know that he was tempted. But unlike the first Adam, Jesus does not fall for it.
The first Adam named the animals. God brought them to Adam, and whatever he called them, that was their name. But with Adam's fall, all creation fell, and even the animals now have become wild. Paul says all of creation groans in expectation, like a woman in labor, waiting for the end, the renewal of all things. All that happens in Christ. Even the wild animals in the wilderness, with him in his temptation, seem to bear witness that this Jesus is about to bring blessing to all creation. The Second Adam, the Son of Man, the Savior of all. And the angels minister to him.
This stuff matters to you and me, too. We are the children of Adam. We are the heirs to his fallen nature, and we live in this fallen creation. In sin did our mothers conceive us, and we are born in iniquity. Life for us is a wilderness, filled with thorns and pains and dangerous beasts both literal and figurative. Satan, too, would tempt us, and rule over us. And always hovering over us is the curse of death that Adam's sin and our own sin have brought.
Every day your Old Adam rebels against God, shakes his fist in anger at the law, and blames everyone and everything but himself. Every day the Old Adam seeks to deceive and deny and destroy your very faith. But every day the same Spirit that drove Jesus into the wilderness drives you back to the waters of your baptism, where that Old Adam is drowned and dies. By repentance and faith. By sorrow for sin and believing in Christ's forgiveness.
Jesus defeats Satan, conquers sin, and destroys death – beginning in the wilderness, until “it is finished” on the cross. There he is finally cast off from God, who forsakes him. There your sins are finished, and Satan's head is crushed. There the Second Adam deals death to death and by a tree restores us who were defeated at the tree.
In this wilderness temptation, Jesus prepares for all this. He prays, and he fasts. During the season of Lent, many of us will do the same. Martin Luther says. “Fasting and bodily preparation are certainly fine outward training.” And it is true. But the best preparation is the inward training of faith, and that faith in the word of God.
Jesus doesn't just stay off by himself. He comes back and preaches: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” Those words are still in effect. They are still training us for righteousness. They are still convicting us of sin – yes, repent of your sins, even this day! And they are still calling us to faith – to believe in his Good News.
What's more, there is no fasting from his table. There's no reason to refrain from eating and drinking the gifts of his body and blood. But there is great reason to take and eat, take and drink! Jesus gives you himself – here – for your forgiveness. To starve to death the Old Adam and feed the New Adam with his own life. To sustain you for your wilderness wanderings in this world, until he brings you safe at last to the promised land.
40 days of Lent – they lead us to the cross. Where Jesus deals with sin, decisively. 40 days of preparation – so prepare. Hear his word. Receive his gifts. Repent of your sins. Believe his Good News. It is for you. In Christ, Amen.