Saturday, February 21, 2015

Temptation - Mark 1:9-15

Mark 1:9-15 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

12 And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13 He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

A young boy was told by his mother to come straight home after school and not to go to the swimming pool because he had been sick and swimming, which was his favorite after school activity, might not be good for him for a few days.

That afternoon, he came home from school carrying in his bag a wet bathing suit.

“Did you go swimming,” his mother asked.

The young boy admitted that he did.

“I told you not to – and yet you went swimming anyway, and you even took your bathing suit – why did you take your bathing suit? You were planning to disobey me.”
“Oh, no,” said the boy, “I wanted to obey you – but I had to take my bathing suit, just in case I was tempted.”

Temptation – I think it was Mae West who once said that she could resist anything, except temptation.

In the musical play, My Fair Lady, there is a song that one of the characters sings,

The Lord above made liquor for temptation,
To see if man could turn away from sin.
The Lord above made liquor for temptation, BUT –
With a little bit of luck, with a little bit of luck,
When temptation comes you’ll give right in.

We tell jokes about temptation, we laugh about it, we trivialize it – but all of us agree temptation is serious business.

And most of us would say that temptation is not a good thing at all.

But – to be tempted is to be human.  To be tempted is to be alive and breathing and engaged with life and other people.  To resist temptation is a noble enterprise.  To give into temptation is to be fully human.

This story of Jesus being tempted is one of those events in the life of Christ that one finds in three of the Gospels – Matthew and Luke go to great lengths to give lots of information about each temptation and how Jesus dealt with each one.

Mark keeps it short, sweet and to the point – no details at all.

For Mark, what seems to be important is not how the temptations happen or how they are resisted.  For Mark what is important is that they are part of the Christian journey.

In Mark, John the Baptist preached, Jesus was baptized and immediately there is the temptation experience.

In Mark the beginning of the ministry of Jesus cannot happen until there is a temptation experience.

Now let’s think about this – was this the first time Jesus had EVER been tempted?  He is 30 or so years old.  I doubt seriously that temptations in general had never ever been part of Christ’s life until this moment.

Jesus had been living life before this moment, and life is not lived in the wilderness, but in the public.  It is lived in the reality of day-to-day existence -- the workplace, in the school, on the street, at home, in relationships. 

This is where all of us meet our temptations. The wilderness, however, contains the ultimate temptation, but hold that thought.

In the years between birth at the manger and his baptism at the age of 30, Jesus was out there in the world.  He experienced life.  He lived it as all of us live our lives – he tempted by everything from jumbo-double- decadent chocolate chip cookies to sexuality.  He was tempted by the economics of reality – greed verses generosity, wealth and poverty, compassion and power.

Some temptations spice up life, some are minor and trivial.  Between the chocolate chip cookies and the sexual pressures of youth, some are not very relevant while others are major and harmful ones move people to such prayers as Psalm 51, which David may have written after Nathan confronted him with a sin that involved adultery and murder and political scandals that dramatically changed his life and the lives of those around him.  (II Samuel 12:1-23)

When Jesus comes to the Jordan for baptism, he has already been tempted.  The New Testament book of Hebrews says he was “one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin.”

As he emerged from the water the heavens opened, a dove descended, and the voice said, "You are my beloved child; with you I am well pleased." But after the baptism, he is led into the wilderness for a temptation experience that is somehow unique. Notice that the one who leads Jesus into this wilderness is not Satan, but the very Spirit of God.  This is no ordinary temptation.

The temptation experience for Jesus is to choose or deny his identity as a beloved child of God, to accept or reject his chosen-ness and God's call to be fully human and fully divine.

All of us, once we become Christians, are driven into the wilderness experiences of life in which we have to face the ultimate questions:
who did I become,
who shall I become,
who am I,
and to whom do I belong?

God leads Jesus into this experience of the wilderness, but it is not God who does the tempting.  Once in the wilderness Jesus finds that he is not alone with God – with him are Satan and wild beasts.

These are not the lions and tigers and bears, Oh my!  These beasts are any spiritual dangers we may face that would destroy our spiritual lives. 

For us, these beasts are the urges to drink after weeks or years of sobriety.

For us, these beasts are the urges to forget your wedding vows for a single night.

For us, these beasts are the urgse to hurt someone who has hurt you.

These beasts are there to tempt us to turn away from our baptism vows and to stop being the new creatures in Christ, and to forget who we are and to whom we belong – and to forsake our Christianity.

These are no mere temptations to go swimming after school when our mother told us to come straight home.  These are the temptations that call us to forget who we are – beloved children of God.

In the wilderness, Jesus transformed his life.  Having been baptized it was in this wilderness of temptation that he faced the temptation to forget who he was.  It was in this wilderness that he made the choice to be who God called him to be. 

At Christ’s Baptism, God had declared, "You are my beloved child, with you I am well pleased."

At Christ’s wilderness of temptation, Jesus accepted his true being, his divinely human identity, and God's call.

Every day life delivers up some temptations for us.

Some are great.  Some are minor and trivial.

Some are irresistible and some not.

But from time to time, there are moments when we transcend routine temptations to embrace the seductive questions from the wilderness.  There are times when we are tempted to forget who we are and to whom we will belong.

When I was a teenager my mother would often send me off into the world with her favorite benediction – “Now don’t forget who you are.”  To which I would always love to reply, “Aw Mom, how could I forget a name like Maynard Pittendreigh?”

Of course, she was not afraid that I would forget the name, but rather that while I was out there at school, or in the ball park, or with a crowd, or alone on a date, that I would forget my values.

“Don’t forget who you are” – that is the great temptation of all.

After God proclaims to Jesus at the baptism that he is his beloved child, it is in the wilderness that Jesus is tempted to forget who he is.  But he resists, and he goes out and begins to proclaim the Good News.

In our wilderness places of temptations, let us not forget who we are.  We are also beloved children of God.  Let us, like Christ, remain focused on remembering to whom we belong.

Copyright 2015. 
Dr. W. Maynard Pittendreigh
All rights reserved

Ministers may feel free to use some or all of this sermon in their own ministries as long as they do not publish in print or on the Internet without ascribing credit to the author.