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2024-02-18 Lent 1

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen!

When I was a kid, one of my favourite books was called “Where the Wild Things Are” by Maurice Sendak. It’s about a mouthy kid named Max who gets sent to his room without his supper. Somehow I could relate to Max. A lot. But then when he is in his room, a forest grows and Max travels to the land where the wild things are. And when he gets there, the wild things roared their terrible roars and gnashed their terrible teeth and rolled their terrible eyes and showed their terrible claws! But Max was able to become their king and rule over all the wild things.

This story came to mind as I was reading the exceedingly short Gospel of Mark for this first Sunday in Lent: “12 The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13 And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him” (1:12-13). Jesus our Lord goes where the wild things are. He is out in the wilderness. The barren wasteland. It is an inhospitable place. It’s hot. There’s no shade. The sun reflects of the sand giving you sunburn under your chin! Scorpions. Snakes. Spiders. The whole gambit of poisonous creepy crawlies live there. But these don’t even come close to the other wild creatures that haunt the wilderness. Demons. Fallen angels lurk in those waterless places. And one in particular. Satan. The adversary, the prince of lies, he is there too. And he comes to do what he does best: to tempt. He comes to tempt Jesus in the wilderness, the place where the wild things are.

This worked great for him in the past. And as the old saying goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Adam and Eve, our first parents, they were the first ones to fall victim to the temptation. But they weren’t in a desert wilderness. Rather, they were in paradise. A beautiful garden, lush with rivers and food and shade. Everything they could have ever wanted was there. God and His people, living together, side by side. Total perfection. But then comes the tempter. Not content with God or His plan, the tempter makes his own. He tries to lure God’s creation to leave the beautiful perfection, to walk down the path to the place where the Wild Things are: sin, death, destruction, despair, depression, misery. The place where the oppressive heat saps away every last ounce of power and ability. This is where the Spirit drives our Lord Jesus to go, still wet behind the ears from His baptism in the Jordan river.

In the wilderness He is, for 40 long days. St. Mark doesn’t tell us as many details as the other Gospel writers do. But suffice it to say, it is nothing less than a battle royale! Good vs. Evil. Jesus the God-Man vs Satan the deceiver. Will He fall to the same temptations that lead Adam and Eve astray? In the other Gospels, we learn that Jesus is in the wilderness and He is fasting. Mark emphasizes the surroundings, the ravenous wild animals. The demons. The high-stakes spiritual warfare that is taking place. The “wild beasts” that Mark mentions, it's the same word that shows up in the book of Revelation, the terrible beast that arises from the water to terrorize the world. This was a connection to the Roman Empire where the Christians were executed in the Colosseum by being thrown to the ferocious beasts. The Emperor himself was known as a wild beast in his own right and no doubt Mark is making that connection.

Mark doesn’t fill in the details about how Satan tempts Jesus. We have no extra paragraphs about the high mountain and the kingdoms of the world. There is no pinnacle of the Temple that Jesus is asked to jump down from. In some ways, perhaps Mark’s version is more relatable for us when we face temptation. When we are tempted there is no guy in a red suit with horns and a pitchfork showing up and letting us know that he’s there to pull us away from God. No, instead he comes much like Mark tells us. He comes to tempt us. More often than not he comes in common and subtle ways. Trust in our success and our money and our power and our prestige or our luxuries. ‘You don’t need God when you have all this!’ he whispers.

The key to overcoming temptation is to know that Jesus has already won the victory for us over Satan. Our Lord was victorious where Adam and Eve failed. And because our Lord wins, “we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Rom 8:37). The battle may rage on but the war is already over. And to this end, the scriptures warn us to be on our guard when it comes to temptation. Look at Genesis. Look at the garden and what happened there. Satan came to Eve and Adam with 1) suggestion, 2) delight and finally, 3) consent. This is the anatomy of all temptation. ‘Eat this fruit, you’ll be like God. It’ll be a swell time, trust me! Oh, that fruit does look good. Pleasing to the eye in fact. OK, let’s go for it!’ This same exact pattern is replicated when the devil comes to you. So the key is to not give him an inch. Not one iota. Not one foothold. Don’t even entertain the suggestion. “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).

The problem is, we are poor, miserable sinners. No matter how hard we strive against the demons, we fail. But Christ has conquered. He beat Satan in the wilderness. He has beaten down death by death. We become victorious by uniting ourselves to our victorious Savior. We believe that Jesus has done what we in our weakness could not do. And as the Lamb of God takes away the sin of the world, He gives us His strength to continue to fight temptation and sin. He bids us to come and follow Him, picking up our own cross. He calls us by His mercy to confess our sins when we blow it and let ourselves succumb to temptation. He washes us clean, dusts us off and sends us back out into the world to continue to fight the good fight with all our might.

The season of Lent calls us to renew ourselves in the spiritual fight. It invites us to walk the road of repentance. It welcomes us to pursue virtues and righteousness rather than sin and iniquity. By our own power, we will fail every time. But in Christ our Lord we can endure all things and conquer through Him. The world around us is ever trying to convince us to nurture our sins and passions but we must not yield! For it will lead us down the path that leads to destruction. Rather, we turn our hearts to Christ in prayer and meditation. We open our Bibles and read, learn, mark and inwardly digest the Word of God that it may fill our hearts and minds with all that is right and good. We open our hands and mouths to receive the life giving body and blood of our Savior, given and shed for us to forgive us when we’ve done wrong and to strengthen us in our fight against temptation. To God be the glory now and forever more. Amen!

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