Rethinking Religion: Trials, Tests and Temptations

February 18, 2024

Pastor John Hering

Mark 1:12-15

Mark 1:12-15

12 The Spirit immediately sent Jesus out into the wilderness. 13 He was in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels were serving him.

14 After John was put in prison, Jesus went to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God. 15 “The time is fulfilled,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near! Repent, and believe in the gospel.”

Go ahead and try to write a story that is more thrilling than a Superhero Movie!  That’s what the Holy Spirit inspired John Mark to do.  Mark was a companion of St. Paul on his missionary journeys and they were running into people who believe in the Greek mythology gods like Zeus and Mercury.  Mark was inspired to write his gospel account with punch and power for Gentile people.  You get a sense of this today.  We are not going to review the birth of Jesus, but with Mark we get right into the core of the matter.  What is Religion All About?  We want to “Rethink Religion” today as it relates to trials, tests and temptations.

Can you see Mark writing down the account with St Paul leaning over his shoulder saying, “Write down what Jesus did next!” Jesus was tempted in the desert for 40 days by the devil and then he headed out to preach the gospel of the kingdom of God! “Boom!” in just a couple of words Mark seems to be breathless, as if to say, “Sit up! Open your ears! Pay attentionto the greatest story ever told! God himself burst into our time and space to grasp us by the hand and yank us from the edge of the pit of hell. Here’s how it happened!”

This is Lent, and we’ve got no time to lose. This is the time for us to consider our trials, tests, and temptations and come clean with God!   During this time do not be surprised to hear the devil whisper in your ear, “Your sins aren’t all that bad.  You’ve got lots of time.  You need to worry about your job, or fix your love life, or make sure your kids succeed.”  No! Mark’s short, punchy Gospel account hollers out, “Don’t put this off.  Rethink your Religion and

Pay Attention To What Really Counts!

Jesus’ victory in your place

How are you doing when trials, tests, and temptation sneak up on you?  Maybe it’s insecurity – Does it go so far as to say, “God, do you really know what’s happening in my life?”  Maybe it’s not being content – “I sure wish I had it an nice as my neighbor does!”  Maybe it’s that person at work and you’re tempted to say, “If that person looks at me funny one more time…..!!”   Are you secretly feeding lustful passion with thoughts and behaviors which would embarrass you to death if anyone found out?  Have you messed up your life with substance abuse and you know you have to stop, but you think, “One more drink doesn’t matter.”  What about your spiritual growth for you or your family – Are you tempted to let God be knocked out of first place in your life to sports that eat up your time?  Are you wasting money on fun things with no thought of firstfruits, generous, proportionate gifts for the Lord’s work?  And then comes the thought, “I can overcome those temptations! I can get myself back on track with God.” How often have I tried that and fallen when faced with trials, tests, and temptation. I bet you have, too.

It took Mark just twenty-one words to sketch Jesus’ momentous battle with the devil.  “12 The Spirit immediately sent Jesus out into the wilderness. 13 He was in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by Satan.” Remember, this was the same Spirit that had just descended on to Jesus as a dove at his baptism into his ministry.  Immediately the Son of God begins a one-on-one duel with the devil.  But, think of it. That’s exactly why the Son of God took on human flesh. The whole point of God sending his Son into our world was for him to go into combat against the accuser because no human warrior could do the job of freeing humans from Satan’s chokehold on our hearts.  From the moment of our birth, we are trapped in the devil’s clutches with no way out. That news shocks some people, but it’s true!  The Bible says, “Certainly, I was guilty when I was born. I was sinful when my mother conceived me” (Ps 51:5).  We are born children of the devil and I would argue he isn’t so much interested in possessing our bodies as he is possessing our souls.  Pay Attention To What Really Counts!  The devil wants to control our hearts with trials, tests and temptations so he can convince people that what really counts most is our wants and desires and our being in control.

When Adam and Eve broke their relationship with God, the Lord God had every right to shake his finger in their face, “You want to hang with your new buddy, Satan? Fine! I’ll leave you stuck there.” But he didn’t do that. Instead, the Lord God turned to the devil and said, “I will put hostility between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed. He will crush your head, and you will crush his heel” (Gen 3:15).  That must have driven the devil crazy, “Which baby born will be the one? Which one is going to destroy me?” Then, we see this Jesus of Nazareth standing knee deep in the Jordan River. A voice from heaven proclaims, “This is my Son!” (Matthew 3:17).  Don’t you think the devil was listening?  If he could get Jesus off track, then he’d have the whole human race in his control forever!  And that takes us to what really counts in this battle in the wilderness.

12 The Spirit immediately….” Mark wrote.  No internship. No waiting around. The time had come to begin the battle with Satan, a constant series of temptations over forty days. “13 He was in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by Satan.”  We can sense the isolation when Mark tells us, “He was with the wild animals,”  These temptations were real and intense. The devil must have thought, “Jesus, you know that you are the Son of God. So do I. You have all authority and power over heaven and earth. Just snap your mighty fingers and eat, jump of the temple and be protected, and make everyone bow down to you. Why go through all the pain, all the torture? Why suffer when you can have the glory now?”

Without added details Mark states Jesus’ triumph in the simplest way, “and angels were serving him.”  And who do messengers of God serve?  God’s people!  This Victory of Jesus over Satan was impressive!  But this wasn’t the end of his Trials, Tests and Temptations.  We don’t read of direct temptations of Satan again until the Garden of Gethsemane and while Jesus was hanging on the cross.  But, Satan was always there to tempt Jesus in more subtle ways.  Satan was behind the crowd when they tried to make Jesus their earthly king. He was behind the crowds when they tried to kill him by throwing him off the cliff because he didn’t do what they wanted.  Satan was there at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, he was there in the middle, and he was there at the end in Peter’s suggestion to forego suffering, in Pilate’s sneers, and in the mob’s taunts. Pay Attention To What Really Counts! Through it all Jesus stood the test, battled Satan, and Won The Victory In Your Place! When we understand this great victory of Jesus in our place, then we’re ready for the best news.

Jesus’ Victory For Your Benefit!

Everything Jesus did was to bless you, his own dear people.  If someone asks, “What’s Lent all about?” tell them, “It’s not really about denying ourselves banana splits or beef or bourbon. Lent is all about focusing on what really counts. God has credited Jesus’ victory to be ours! I’m not stuck in Satan’s camp. I’m in God’s, and trusting in Jesus, you will be, too.”  We follow a Church Year in order to cover the basic benefits of Jesus’ work for our salvation.  His work means the difference for you and me whether we spend an eternity in hell or heaven.  How important is that!

But, Satan has not given up.  He still wants to bring trials, tests and temptations in order to attack our faith.  We know what this looks like because we are students of God’s Word.  We know Jesus has won the war but we still fight the battles against a roaring lion looking to devour us.  We know Jesus has saved us from the flames of hell, so the temptation might look like this: “I’m saved.  There’s nothing more I can do.”  And you’re almost right.  There is nothing more you can do to save your soul, but there is plenty you can choose to do to avoid losing what God has graciously given to you.  To make this point Mark jumps from Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness to Jesus’ ministry in and around a fishing town on the Sea of Galilee.  “14 After John was put in prison, Jesus went to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God. 15 “The time is fulfilled,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near! Repent, and believe in the gospel.

Pay Attention to What Really Matters!  Yes, Jesus has Won the Victory In Our Place but he also wants to pay attention to the Benefits of Faith, Eternal Life and Deliverance from the devil.  What is “the gospel“?  That spring is just around the corner?  That soon you won’t have to worry about dripping your faucets to avoid freezing?  That COVID and RSV cases are on the decline?  Well, this is “Good News” but this isn’t the “Gospel!” No! The good news is “The time is fulfilled.” Jesus is announcing that nothing is going to stop him from winning your eternal benefits.  No religious enemies.  No confused disciples.  Not even Satan! Jesus was on his way to the cross. He went there. He died there. He empowered the kingdom of God there.  There at the cross Jesus gives us the formula.  Mark wrote down the formula for you!  “Repent, and believe in the gospel.” There at the cross we repent that it was our sins who nailed Jesus there.  There at the cross we rejoice that Jesus was nailed to the cross to pay the penalty of all our sins.  That is the gospel!  You are forgiven!  Pay Attention To What Really Counts!  Jesus’ Victory Was For Your Benefit!

Go ahead and try to write a story that is more thrilling than a Superhero Movie!  That’s what the Holy Spirit inspired John Mark to do.  Yes, we know God has many things to say to us in his Holy Word on how we are to live for him and for others. Keep God #1.  Cherish his Holy Name.  Love my Word.  Respect those over you. Take care of physical well-being.  Cherish God’s gift of marriage. Take care of property, yours and others. Watch your tongue. Control your desires.  However, today Mark nailed it!  We Get to Pay Attention To What Really Matters!  Jesus’ Victory for Us and For Our Benefit.   And now you’re ready if someone asks you what Lent is all about.  You can tell them that it’s a time for me to recall how much Jesus loves me.  It’s a time to Pay Attention To What Really Matters!  Amen!

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