Thursday, March 1, 2018

Forty Days in the Wilderness

During the season of Lent we sojourn with Jesus in the Wilderness. Our Gospel lesson today tells us that immediately after his baptism, the Spirit drove Jesus out into the wilderness for a time of testing and temptation. In keeping with the Bible’s description, Lent is also forty days.

You might notice a parallel here between Jesus’ own experience and various stories in the Old Testament. Our Old Testament lesson today reminds us of the story of Noah and his Ark. It rained forty days and forty nights. The whole world was flooded and all the evil swept from the earth, but Noah and his family were kept safe in the Ark. In our Epistle Saint Peter makes a connection between the story of Noah and baptism. Just as God cleansed the world in the days of the flood, so he cleanses us through baptism. The forty days of lent are similarly meant to be a time of purification, and an appeal to God for a good conscience.  It represents to us the Christian life, life after baptism, in which God works in us to make us holy.

Do you recall the story of Israel’s Exodus from Egypt? The people were enslaved and cruelly oppressed by Pharaoh, but God sent them a savior. His name was Moses and he led the people out of Egypt into freedom by parting the red sea.
The people crossed through on dry ground but their enemies were swept away in the crashing waves. In some ways it is similar to the story of Noah isn’t it? Like the flood story, the parting of the Red Sea is a type of baptism. Just as God led his people out of slavery through the Red Sea, so he leads us out of bondage through baptism. He claims us as his own children and promises to bring us to the Promised Land.

After leading his people out of Egypt, however, God did not bring them immediately into the Promised Land. They wandered in the wilderness for forty years. During that time, God provided for them in miraculous way, but he also tested them with trials and tribulations. The people were tempted in the wilderness and often failed. Lent is meant to remind us of our own time of wilderness wandering. We have been purchased and redeemed by God in Baptism, but we are not yet in the Promised Land. We are in the in-between time, the wilderness time. During Lent we look to God to provide for us and give us strength to stand up against temptation.

Just as God lead the people through the Red Sea into the wilderness, so he led Jesus into the wilderness after his baptism. His forty days in the wilderness parallels the forty years that Israel spent in the wilderness. Just as Israel was tried and tempted in the wilderness, so was Jesus. Our Gospel lesson tells us of how he was tempted by Satan but does not give us the details that some of the other gospels do.

Jesus’ time of temptation in the wilderness  should remind us of another well known Old Testament story, the story of Adam in the Garden of Eden. God created Adam out of the dust of the ground, breathed the spirit into him, and placed him in the Garden. He gave him dominion over all living creatures. God brought each of the animals to Adam and Adam gave names to them all.

Jesus is sometimes called the New Adam and Baptism is sometimes called a new creation. When Jesus was baptized, God sent his Spirit in the form of a dove. Although Adam fell from God’s grace through sin, God speaks from Heaven to say that Jesus is his Son in whom he is well pleased. God, however, does not send Jesus to a Garden but to a wilderness.
The world that God made beautiful, good, and orderly had become dangerous, barren, and unpredictable.

Just as Adam was with the animals in the Garden, so is Jesus with the animals in the wilderness. There is two ways to read this. One would be to say that Jesus was surrounded by friendly woodland creatures like Snow White when she fled to the wilderness. I don’t think this is likely. The text says that they were wild beasts. It seems that just as the garden had become a wilderness, so the animals had changed from friendly companions to threatening predators. Jesus is stalked and tormented by the wild beasts, but just as God provided for the children of Israel in the wilderness, so he provides for Jesus. He sends his angels to minister to him.

Perhaps you have taken upon yourself some special fasts this season of Lent. Perhaps you set some goal for spiritual growth. During your Lenten journey you will no doubt struggle to maintain this commitment. You will be tempted to give up. Perhaps as you take a hard look at yourself through self-examination, the devil will accuse you and cause you to doubt God’s love for you.
 God may allow you to be tested in these ways, but he will also send you his help from heaven. He will minister to you through his angels just as he did for Jesus.

Adam and Eve were tempted by Satan in the Garden. They were tempted to eat from the tree that God told them not to eat from. They failed that test. Jesus too was tempted in the wilderness by Satan. Unlike Adam and Eve who fell to temptation, Jesus proved victorious.  Likewise he will help us to stand also when we are tempted. When we are weak he is strong. Through his obedience, he undid the damage brought about by Adam’s disobedience. Because we are joined with him by faith and Holy Baptism, we share in his victory. We should hear Gods words as spoken to us, “This is my son—my child—in whom I am well pleased.”

These are the words, this is the promise, that will sustain us through our wilderness wanderings. Take courage. Christ cleanses us from sin, he delivers us from bondage, and he helps us to stand under temptation.

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