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LSB Lent 1B Sermon – Mark 1,9-15

February 22, 2015

February 22, 2015 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“The Spirit immediately drove [Jesus] out into the wilderness. And He was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And He was with the wild animals, an the angels were ministering to Him.”

As always, the First Sunday in Lent is marked by hearing about the Temptation of Jesus. Hearing it from Mark’s Gospel doesn’t provide as many details as found in Matthew and Luke. There is a bit of immediacy about the events in Jesus’ early ministry in Mark’s Gospel. You may have sensed that as you heard them ticked off one-by-one: Jesus is baptized; He is immediately driven into the wilderness; He faces temptation from Satan; He returns preaching repentance and the impending kingdom of God. There’s a bit of staccato rhythm to the matter.

But Jesus’ sonship is clear from Mark’s Gospel: “And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are My beloved Son; with You I am well pleased.” So is Jesus’ being anointed with the Spirit: “When He came up out of the water, immediately He saw the heavens opening and the Spirit descending on Him like a dove.” And so is the reason why Jesus was in the wilderness for His temptation: “The Spirit immediately drove Him out into the wilderness.” This is to be known by all who hear Mark’s account of Jesus’ works and words.

Those details begin to make clear what is happening in the events of Jesus. He is present there because His Father has sent Him. What Jesus undergoes is well pleasing to His Father. It is a way that the LORD shows Himself to be greater than Abraham. Remember the Old Testament Reading that you heard. Abraham is directed to offer up his beloved son Isaac. But when he is about to carry out that sacrifice, the LORD stops Abraham. A substitute is given: the ram caught in the thicket. And you were told: “Abraham called the name of that place, ‘The LORD will provide;’ as it is said to this day, ‘On the mount of the LORD it shall be provided.’”

But when the LORD does provide, He doesn’t withhold anything. He doesn’t offer up a substitute. No, He actually does offer up His beloved Son. That is why Jesus is in the world. Jesus is not substituted for, for He is the substitute for all humanity. He carries out the Father’s will of bringing salvation. You sang about that work which Jesus performed in the medieval hymn “O Love, How Deep”. Thomas à Kempis’ lyrics spoke about all the works that Jesus did. Over and over again, you sang the words “for us,” noting that Jesus’ actions were done on your behalf. That included the actions commemorated on this day: “For us baptized, for us He bore / His holy fast and hungered sore; / For us temptation sharp He knew; / For us the tempter overthrew.”

This identity of Jesus as someone provided by the LORD is crucial to your understanding of redemption. Jesus and His work done for you is a gift bestowed by the LORD. It is how the LORD provides for you. On the mountain—including Mount Calvary where the Church’s annual Lenten pilgrimage is taking us—is where the LORD provides salvation through the substitutionary work of Jesus. All the “for us” statements that you sang about Jesus confessed your recognition of Him as your Redeemer. That culminated in the stanza: “For us by wickedness betrayed, / For us, in crown of thorns arrayed, / He bore the shameful cross and death; / For us He gave His dying breath.”

Jesus’ substitutionary work for you and all humanity is also what our Lord’s brother James writes of in his letter. You heard James’ statements about temptation, including the true statement: “God cannot be tempted with evil, and He Himself tempts no one.” But I want to highlight another one of his statements: “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” That statement can be rightly applied to the earthly gifts that you receive—and you will hear about that in a moment. But it first and foremost applies to Jesus Himself. The good and perfect gift that came from above is Jesus—the Father’s beloved Son, with whom He is well pleased—who has been provided by the LORD as your Redeemer.

But redemption is not just atonement. That substitutionary work of Jesus is essential to redemption. Without atonement, there is no redemption. But the work of Jesus is not just to make some sort of cosmic payment for your sins. There is a deliverance aspect to it. You are freed from bondage. You are no longer under the dominion of sin, death, and Satan. A new life is granted to you. That includes the opening of Paradise to you and the establishing of everlasting life through Jesus’ resurrection.

But the new life that you receive through Jesus’ work is not just something that awaits you in the future. There is a reality of it now. Jesus’ work includes bestowing His Spirit to you, so that you also are anointed as “little Christs” and become the Father’s children who are pleasing to Him. That was partially alluded to in the hymn lyrics: “For us He rose from death again; / For us He went on high to reign; / For us He sent His Spirit here / To guide, to strengthen, and to cheer.” Even more so, it is found in James’ statement that followed his description about the gifts that the Father bestows from above: “Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.”

James’ description is about your origin in the LORD’s will. He desired to give birth to you through the word that testified about Jesus’ substitutionary work for your salvation. Through that word, the Spirit created new life in you. Again, that is not just an inheritance of resurrection and everlasting life at the Last Day. No, it is new life that is lived now. That new life includes having a holy will in harmony with the LORD’s. This is what you prayed for in the Psalm: “Make me to know Your ways, O LORD; teach me Your paths. Lead me in Your truth and teach me, for You are the God of my salvation; for You I wait all the day long.” This is a prayer for holy living that is offered by those who have been consecrated and set apart through the LORD’s work done for them. That new life is another of the good and perfect gifts that the LORD provides to you from above.

As you have been informed through letters, newsletter articles, posters, and announcements prior to Divine Service, our congregation is participating in the Consecrated Stewards program. When speaking about what this program is, a good summary was developed: Consecrated Stewards is a 4-week emphasis when Calvary will learn more about stewardship through Bible studies, sermons, and other activities that involve the entire congregation. We will celebrate the gifts that God has given to us and the joy that can come from giving of ourselves to serve Him and others.

The essential foundation for any talk about stewardship is that you have been recipients of those good and perfect gifts that came from above from the Father, as James mentioned. That is paramount to know and believe. You are first a beneficiary of divine giving. It was all that “for us” work that Jesus performed and you sang about.

Then there is the result of the LORD’s work: “that we should be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.” That is deep-meaning language for the LORD’s people, because the “firstfruits” in the Scriptures carries with it the connotation of what is offered to the LORD in thanksgiving and becomes part of His special possession. This hearkens back to Moses’ words in Deuteronomy that you hear read at Harvest & Thanksgiving Festivals: “When you come into the land that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance and have taken possession of it and live in it, you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from your land that the LORD your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket, and you shall go to the place that the LORD your God will choose, to make His name to dwell there.”

But that concept is heightened in James’ words. James isn’t talking about harvest from fields that the LORD has caused to grow when He sent His rain and sunshine. No, James is speaking about what the LORD has brought forth by His word of truth. That you have been born of the LORD. That you are the harvest that the LORD has raised. That you are consecrated and set apart by the LORD. That you are the product of the good and perfect gift, Jesus Christ, that was sent down from above by the Father in heaven.

That is a statement of your identity. Going through the Consecrated Stewards program doesn’t consecrate you or set you apart. No, that has already been done. That is already an established fact. That is an already accomplished act. Such consecration started when you were baptized and marked as the LORD’s own people, when Spirit brought forth new life in you through the word of truth combined with water, when you were connected to the death and resurrection of Jesus that brought you salvation. Then you were set apart. Then you were made holy. Then you were given a new identity and way of life.

During Lent, there is a heightened awareness of this reality in the Church. It will culminate in the renewal of baptismal vows at the Vigil of Easter. This year, it is coupled with the Consecrated Stewards activities. You are the LORD’s beloved children, with whom He is well pleased. You have the Spirit placed on you. You are in the wilderness, tempted by all sorts of ways to live that are contrary to the LORD’s will. But you also have the LORD’s angels (messengers) ministering to you, bringing you the LORD’s power and service. And you are part of the kingdom of God, since you have repented and believed in the gospel.

Part of the kingdom life, the way of discipleship, that you are already consecrated to includes acts that you perform. But these acts are not “for you”. No, they take on the same direction as what Jesus did: “for them”. It is service in accordance with God’s will for the benefit of the neighbor. That service can include the speaking of what Jesus did “for them,” as you participate in our congregation’s Education ministries. It can be sponsoring the mission work of the Church-at-large, as you do through your offering contributions. It also includes your vocational life, as you demonstrate to the world what it means to be a human being who lives as the LORD intended them to live and become His instruments to care for humanity and the rest of creation.

All of this is the “giving of ourselves to serve Him and others” that was mentioned in the description of the Consecrated Stewards program. It happens because this is what Jesus’ work done on your behalf made you. This is what you’ve been set apart to do. Your identity is being a beneficiary of those “for us” acts that Jesus performed. But being a beneficiary of Jesus’ “for us” acts establishes you to be active benefactors of your neighbor with what you have received. That Divine Will becomes your own.

James’ words are true: “Every good gift and every perfect is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” You have those good and perfect gifts—from the salvation that came from the Father’s beloved Son Jesus to the worldly possessions that the Father has bestowed to you. But while it is true that the Father does not change, you do because of His work: “Of His own will He bought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.” That divine “for us” work made you His consecrated people. That divine “for us” work made you the Consecrated Stewards of the Father’s goods, so that you may act “for them”.

+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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