The Beginning of Jesus Ministry: A Sermon

James Tissot, Jesus Tempted in the Wilderness

James Tissot, Jesus Tempted in the Wilderness

Years ago, when I was going through Airborne School at Ft. Benning, GA, I remember one of the black hats there that would continually shout at us, “This ain’t Burger King, Airborne, you can’t have it your way.” When Jesus came down to dwell among us, the world changed- the Word became flesh and lived among us. The very force that gives creation its shape and form took on our form and was born of Mary and Joseph, two ordinary people with a big problem in the lower story became the parents of God’s Son, the bearers of the Word. And God come down and the very people who should have been able to see and recognize him, did not and there was no room for the Son of God.

Now we see Jesus beginning his ministry, God has come down, dwells with us. The hopes expressed by Isaiah have come to light:

Oh, that you would burst from the heavens and come down! How the mountains would quake in your presence! 2 As fire causes wood to burn and water to boil, your coming would make the nations tremble. Then your enemies would learn the reason for your fame! 3 When you came down long ago, you did awesome deeds beyond our highest expectations. And oh, how the mountains quaked! 4 For since the world began, no ear has heard and no eye has seen a God like you, who works for those who wait for him!(Isaiah 64: 1-4)

The people have longed for the barriers that separated God from them to be taken down, for God to be present and active. It is so easy to look out at the world and see all that is wrong, and to want God to come and fix it and the good news, the gospel is that God does…but not on our terms. God was not going to act like in the stories of the Exodus with the same type of mighty works. The mountains were not going to tremble, forests were not going to spontaneously combust and the nations around them were not trembling in their boots. Many seemed to hope that God coming down would mean that the nations around Israel would become their captives and they would come and bring their wealth and serve them, but the God we encounter in Jesus is much different.

Mark’s gospel echoes the language of Isaiah’s bursting from the heavens when Mark discusses the beginning of Jesus’ ministry:

9 One day Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee, and John baptized him in the Jordan River. 10 As Jesus came up out of the water, he saw the heavens splitting apart and the Holy Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice from heaven said, “You are my dearly loved Son, and you bring me great joy.” (Mark 1: 9-11)

The heavens, that place where God dwells which seems so distant now are split apart, ripped open and God is on the loose in the world. No longer content to stay in a temple or up in heaven, God has come down and everything has changed. We see in Jesus the goal of our own lives, where we are also dearly loved ones who bring God great joy, people in whom God’s Spirit wants to descend upon, people’s whose very identities are made and claimed in the waters of baptism, for it is there that our lives are joined to Christ’s life and we are his brothers and sisters, and yet, this ain’t Burger King, Airborne, you don’t get to have it your way, your isn’t your own. And God will not be God in the way that we think God should be God.

You see we tend to think that being set apart should make us special, and on the one hand it does, but we follow a God who came to serve and not to be served. We are set apart for the sake of others and not for our own sake. We were never set aside to place ourselves higher than others, but that we might serve. Paul talks about sharing the mind of Christ in this way:

5 You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.

6 Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. 7 Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, 8 he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. (Philippians 2: 5-8)

Jesus’ ministry begins, but it is about service not being served. It will involve hardship and suffering. Jesus’ identity and our identity do not preserve us from suffering or guarantee us an easy life. Jesus’ is not Superman, he is not going to fight the battle on those terms-unable to feel pain, unable to suffer and able to shoot laser beams out of his eyes and pulverize his enemies with fists of steel, instead he will enter into the weakness of the world in the confidence of who he is.

All the gospels go directly from the baptism to the temptation, they went together in Jesus life and the go together in ours as well. Mark continues:

12 The Spirit then compelled Jesus to go into the wilderness, 13 where he was tempted by Satan for forty days. He was out among the wild animals, and angels took care of him. (Mark 1: 12-13)

Martin Luther talks about in his Large Catechism that baptism is not to be taken lightly lest we hang a life-long enemy around the neck of a child, for in declaring a child for God it is also declaring the child against the devil and the ways of the world. Just because we are baptized does not save us from temptation, instead it might lead us directly into it.

Luke expands Mark’s brief temptation narrative like this:

Then Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan River. He was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, 2 where he was tempted by the devil for forty days. Jesus ate nothing all that time and became very hungry.

3 Then the devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become a loaf of bread.”

4 But Jesus told him, “No! The Scriptures say, ‘People do not live by bread alone.'”

5 Then the devil took him up and revealed to him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. 6 “I will give you the glory of these kingdoms and authority over them,” the devil said, “because they are mine to give to anyone I please. 7 I will give it all to you if you will worship me.”

8 Jesus replied, “The Scriptures say, ‘You must worship the LORD your God and serve only him.'”

9 Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, to the highest point of the Temple, and said, “If you are the Son of God, jump off! 10 For the Scriptures say, ‘He will order his angels to protect and guard you. 11 And they will hold you up with their hands so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.'”

12 Jesus responded, “The Scriptures also say, ‘You must not test the LORD your God.'”

13 When the devil had finished tempting Jesus, he left him until the next opportunity came. (Luke 4: 1-13)

The temptations come from the temptation to be the son of God in the world’s terms, to be the Messiah everyone else thinks he should be. The son of God shouldn’t be hungry, the son of God should wield power and rule over the nations as a king, the son of God should be invincible and strong and be impervious to danger, shielded by the angels from any harm.  If you are really God’s son feed yourself and everyone else along with it , if you really are about God’s kingdom then rule in God’s place, put Caesar and the kings of this earth under your feet, show people how powerful you are and they will follow you. And yet Jesus will not be the Son of God on Satan or our terms, and if we follow him we too may find ourselves walking into some of the same temptations that he faced and be confronted in our own weakness. Yet in our weakness we are not alone, nor are we abandoned, we are beloved by God. Beloved so much that God came down, ripped open the heavens to be on the loose in our world to be among us, to claim us and name us and in the waters of baptism to join us to Christ.

Pastor Erik has mentioned several times in the time I have been here that we need to remember that there is a God and it isn’t us. We don’t get to have it our way, we don’t get to cast God in our own image, when God acts in a way that is different than the way we would choose we don’t get to go out and choose a new god that better suits our liking. And yet the same tempter whispers in our ears: ‘if you are a child of God, you shouldn’t have to struggle’ ‘if you were really the child of God, you would be powerful, or rich, or famous’’or if you are really a child of God you would be a superhero’

Christ’s journey led him from his identity in baptism, into temptation and then to proclamation-pointing to the ways in which God was already on the loose in the world. That God’s kingdom was at hand and calling people to turn their ways back to God. As we continue in our journey may we also come to the point where we can see and say:

14 Later on, after John was arrested, Jesus went into Galilee, where he preached God’s Good News. 15 “The time promised by God has come at last!” he announced. “The Kingdom of God is near! Repent of your sins and believe the Good News!” (Mark 1: 14-15)

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