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First Sunday in Lent – Series B

Text: Mark 1:9-15

Title: God's Son Under Pressure”

Date: Sunday, February 18, 2018

Pastor Steve Bocklage

Do you ever feel that facing the realities of life is like being in a pressure cooker? There is plenty of evidence that the pressures of life squeezes in on people. The voice of a college student is filled with exasperation as she cries out: "I wish that I could escape the pressure of life for just one long weekend!" A bumper sticker on a passing car invites motorists to "Honk, if you can cope." A book written expressly for Christians poses the troubling question: Why Do Christians Break Down?

         The pressures of life are real and they do crowd in on people who live in a broken world where sin wreaks its persistent havoc. Life, even for Christians, is not lived on some easy street, far from pressure. In the face of this reality, St. Mark says something that you and I must hear. He offers help, hope, and direction as we make our way through life because he ushers us into the presence of God's Son, who is under pressure, and where the struggle of life takes on different dimensions. Doesn’t it seem strange to suggest that Christ lived under pressure? Doesn’t it seem odd to you that Jesus, who is sinless, faced the harsh realities of life?

         Listen to these words from the Gospel reading: "The Spirit immediately drove [Jesus] out into the wilderness. And He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and He was with the wild beasts." (vv. 12-13) St. Mark had just reported the baptism of our Lord: “And when [Jesus] came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens opening and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” (vv.10-11) Our Lord is holy, absolutely perfect, the possessor of all power and authority, "very God of very God." But He is, as the Scriptures make plain, also a real man, "born in the likeness of men," (Phil. 2:7) flesh of our flesh and bone of our bone. He is bound up in the fabric of life as a man, enduring what you and I endure…tempted as we are tempted…and under the real pressures of life in a real world.

         In describing the temptation of our Lord, St. Mark is not rehearsing some staged drama, nor is he talking about a fictitious, horned and hooved, Satan. This is real drama and pressure for the God-man. Here is the excruciating battle of a Savior who, in body and soul, is struggling for His life! All the harsh realities of life close in on Him during the 40 long days and nights in the wilderness or desert. This is a hostile environment where no person can stay and have a home. This is the place of the curse where loneliness is a burden…where thirst and hunger are constant companions…and where animals once called into being by the Lord’s voice seek to make Him their prey. Vivid details are provided by both St. Matthew and St. Luke of Satan's cunning attempts to entrap our Savior. There’s the taunt to turn stones into bread…the challenge to leap from the temple wall to test God's ability to care for His own…and the offer of the world's power and glory in return for fleeting moments of worship.

         The wilderness experience was not the only test and pressure He faced. Our Lord's whole life and ministry were burdened by the pressures of loneliness, heartache, disappointment, and temptation. "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests," He said, "but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head." (Mt.8:20) Forty days in the wilderness are only the prelude to a struggle with Satan that dogged Jesus Christ every step of the way, and finally ended nailed on a rough cross with the cry: "It is finished." (Jn. 19:30)

         First-century Christians knew something about life under pressure. For them, it sometimes involved martyrdom. They remembered well the brutal beheading of John the Baptist because he called people to faith in Christ, the Lamb of God, who had come to rescue and save the lost. The pressure was truly on those early Christians. Heavy taxation was the rule. They faced the boiling hatred of others because they stood up for what they believed and refused to participate in pagan feasts where idolatry and immorality were practiced.

         Then there’s 64 A.D. when fire swept throughout Rome. The historian Tacitus records that many people believed that Emperor Nero was responsible for the blaze that caused widespread destruction and loss of life. To divert their attention away from himself, Nero blamed the Christians for the fire. They were the ones who felt the pressure. Many were arrested, unjustly judged, and condemned to death. Some were clothed in the skins of wild animals and then tom to pieces by enraged dogs. Others were covered with pitch, ignited, and used as torches to provide light for Nero's darkened courtyards and gardens.

         Now you might be thinking to yourself: "What does all this have to do with me?" Just this: We Christians don’t escape the tough battle with Satan and the harsh realities of life. Jesus never offered life without pain or suffering. He never encouraged a rose-colored-glasses approach to living. His theology is a theology of the cross and He held up His life as the reflection of our own.

         What about your life? Are the pressures pushing you beyond the limits of your endurance? Are temptations getting the upper hand? Are you convinced that you cannot go another day or another step? Is the cry of your heart: "O God, where are You when I need You most?" Do you identify with the Psalmist who cries out: "Hear my cry, O God, listen to my prayer; from the end of the earth I call to Thee, when my heart is faint." (Ps. 61:1-2)

         We all need help and strength for life's daily struggles so that we can face the pressure and keep going. What we desperately need only Jesus, the risen Lord, can and does provide. Look to Him since He withstood the pressure. Our Savior sets the pattern that makes it possible to overcome and prevail, whatever the pressure. He didn’t crumble or wilt when the going got tough. The Lord Jesus Christ refused to compromise with temptation and fought the devil with firm resolve and all His strength. He prevailed as He used the power that is also available to each of us…the power of the Word of God. The battle in the wilderness was not the entire campaign, but it was a sweeping victory in behalf of you and me. And at the conclusion of this fierce struggle, St. Mark reports: "The angels ministered to Him." (v. 13)

         Our Lord Jesus never compromised with evil. He stood strong before it and prevailed even when the struggle was fierce, painful, and long. The Son of God moved forward because there was work to be done…work that only He could do. Work like forgiving those who have been tricked by Satan and picking up those who had crumbled under the heavy load of their sins. Work like encouraging those who doubt His word and promises and lifting those who are weary and desperate for help.

         Whatever your circumstances may be, His assurance rings out in the words of Paul that "in everything God works for good with those who love Him." (Rom. 8:28) Take heart from the fact that Christ is the "Seed of the woman," who crushed Satan's power. Boldly proclaim with St Paul: "We are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. Nothing in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom. 8:37, 39)

That’s because the Son of God doesn’t simply speak from a distance to people facing the real pressures of life. Because He loves you so very much, the Lord comes down into this sinful world to be with you in Word and Sacrament. Where you are trapped, He reaches out to hold you tightly in His everlasting, loving arms. St. James declares: “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.” (v. 12)

So have faith in God like Abraham did. Believe and trust that in the ordeal of life's most severe pressures, Jesus makes it possible for you to keep going because, through His death and resurrection, Christ won the battle with Satan on your behalf! Amen

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