The Sermon for Sunday, February 18th, 2024, the First Sunday in Lent

The Lessons: Genesis 9:8-17; Psalm 25:3-9; 1 Peter 3:18-22; Mark 1:9-13

The Text: Mark 1:9-13


Our short Gospel Lesson today puts together two apparently contrasting but highly significant events in the life of the Lord Jesus Christ. The first is his Baptism, and the second, his temptation in the wilderness. After John the Baptist had baptized him in the River Jordan, as he comes out of the water in which he had been submerged, Jesus sees the heavens opened and the Holy Spirit descending on him in the form of a dove. Then he hears a voice from heaven saying, “Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11b, KJV). This was God’s testimony that Jesus Christ is His Beloved Son, a testimony given by voice and the descent of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove upon him. Jesus’ submission to St. john the Baptist’s baptism of repentance was a sign that, though wholly righteous, he was identifying himself with sinful mankind, and his Baptism became a symbol of a death to sin and a resurrection to righteousness, which God would bring about through Jesus.

St. Mark is concerned to emphasize that immediately after that Baptism, the Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness, the lonely uninhabited desert. What a great contrast to the uplifting affirmation of His divine sonship this was! It was a plunge into a world of silence, a place believed to be the home of demons. There, according to St. Mark’s Gospel account, the Lord Jesus Christ spent forty days being tempted by the Devil, and angels were ministering to him (Mark 1:13). St. Mark also adds the detail that he was with the wild beasts. The word used for “wild beast” can also mean “snake.” Though St. Mark does not specifically mention the fact that Jesus fasted forty days, as St. Matthew (Matthew 4:2) and St. Luke do (Luke 4:2), he does give the information that angels ministered to him (Mark 1:13c). This reminds us of how an angel provided bread and water miraculously to the prophet Elijah when he was fasting on his journey to Mt. Horeb (1 Kings 19:6-8).

What is the significance of the Holy Spirit leading or driving the Lord Jesus into the wilderness? Because He is God’s Only Begotten Son, Jesus had to do God’s perfect will and face temptation and trial from Satan before He could even begin his ministry. He had to endure trials and temptations, and overcome them by the power of God’s Spirit at work through his word.


Since God required fasting, prayer, and a wilderness experience for Jesus, will he not require something similar of all Jesus’ followers? Some people would answer, “No, God wouldn’t want that! Jesus endured forty days of fasting and prayer, so that we could have it easier.” However, the Collect for the Second Sunday after Easter in our 1928 Prayer Book contains these wise words:

ALMIGHTY God, who hast given thine only Son to be unto us both a sacrifice for sin, and also an ensample of godly life; Give us grace that we may always most thankfully receive that his inestimable benefit, and also daily endeavour ourselves to follow the blessed steps of his most holy life; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord.

Included among “these blessed steps of his most holy life” were the Lord’s steps into the wilderness. Imagine what many people today would think if they came to a gate which had a notice, “The wilderness begins here. Kindly turn in your cell phones to the angel on guard here. You will have no use of them for forty days.” Even the thought of an eight-day silent retreat is too much for some people to bear. But God has his own means of leading us into some kind of wilderness in which we have to depend on him and face various temptations. In the presence of God, even fear may be overcome, and often people do not realize how they are protected from the things they fear, as this story illustrates:

A tribe of Native Americans had a unique practice for training young braves. On the night of a boy’s thirteenth birthday, he was blindfolded and taken miles away. When he took off the blindfold, he was in the midst of thick woods. He had to stay there all night by himself.

Every time a twig snapped, he probably visualized a wild animal ready to pounce. Every time an animal howled, he imagined a wolf leaping out of the darkness. Every time the wind blew, he wondered what more sinister sound it masked.

After what seemed like an eternity, the first rays of sunlight lit the interior of the forest. Looking around, the boy saw flowers, trees, and the outline of the path. Then, to his utter amazement, he saw the figure of a man standing just a few feet away, armed with a bow and arrow. It was the boy’s father, who had been there all night long.

Likewise, God is always present with us in our trials. His presence is unseen, but it is more real than life itself.

– Leonard Sweet, SoulSalsa. Zondervan, 2000[1]

All of us should meditate on the value of silence alone with God. For many, silence is a terrifying experience because they are confronted by their fears and loneliness. If we are Christians, though God may bring us to face all sorts of thoughts and temptations we might not ordinarily face because the noise and business of life keep them away, we find the Lord there with us to speak to us and help us to overcome every evil thought that may assault our minds. In the Daily Office of Morning Prayer, we have the Collect for Peace, in which we ask God to defend us “in all assaults of our enemies; that we, surely trusting in they defence, may not fear the power of any adversaries, through the might of Jesus Christ our Lord” (p.17, The Book of Common Prayer, 1928). Our enemies, we are taught in Ephesians 6, are not human, but demonic:

For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.

(Ephesians 6:12, KJV)


Refusing to follow the Lord Jesus’ example by entering the wilderness of being alone with God, makes us more likely to not recognize temptations when they come, and dulls our spiritual discernment. We live in a world that is full of many temptations to do evil things and to refrain from doing many good things. Alone with God in whatever kind of wilderness he leads us into, with the help of the Holy Spirit, we can sharpen our discernment both of God’s will for our lives and of the sins that are our particular temptations. In the process of doing this, we will be strengthened by God’s Spirit to face and overcome evil in ourselves and in the world around us. Then indeed, angels will minister to us as well.

[1] Quoted on p.439, Craig Brian Larson & Phyllis Ten Elshof (General Editors): 1001 Illustrations that Connect. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, Christianity Today International, 2008.

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