Mark 1:13
Jesus “remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan.”
The temptations of Jesus were far worse than any temptations we face. The first time I heard this sentence, I did not understand it. But as I have prayed with it, it is… obvious! When we face temptations, sometimes we succeed in driving them off. Sometimes we yield to them. But this is the point: for Jesus, also for his mother Mary who never sinned, the temptations continued to hammer at them.
When we fail, give into temptation and sin, the temptation has done its work against us and leaves us alone for a while. Now, in another gospel, Jesus dismisses Satan by his battle. It says that Satan left him “for a later opportunity”. We do not hear what that opportunity is, but it is clear that Satan continued to fight against Jesus – all the way through the cross. For those of you who watched Mel Gibson’s version of the Passion, you remember Satan screaming at the moment of Jesus’ death, because he knew he had been defeated.
I think this is why Jesus makes the proclamation he does at the end of our reading today: “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” An example someone else told me would be the end of World War II in Europe. The beginning of the end was D-Day. The actual end happened nine months later when the German generals surrendered.
In a similar way, Satan knows he has already been defeated. But he is still fighting against the ground troops of the King of heaven, the captain of the Lord of hosts. This is why he fights even harder: he knows he has already been defeated.
Jesus went into the desert right after his baptism where he made the waters holy for all of us. I mentioned that on the feast of the Baptism of Jesus just a few weeks ago. Jesus’ baptism was the invasion of the kingdom of Satan by the King of the universe. Furthermore, the church reminds us in our reading from Saint Peter today of what baptism means.
Peter references Noah and the flood, another reference to our first reading, but then he says something that is a little astounding: “this prefigured baptism, which saves you now.” It is not just a simple physical washing but is a metaphysical washing – a washing of our soul.
We are made completely new creatures because of this baptism. We are made able to follow Jesus through temptation with success. I know, we do not always succeed. But that is what the mercy of God is for. To be baptized is to be washed in the blood of Jesus and be made able to stand with a clear conscience before the God of all creation. We are made to stand with the King in his glorious triumph over the powers of darkness.
As Lent begins around us this weekend, we need to prepare ourselves for what God has for us. The forty days of Lent are an annual call to conversion. They are a call to us to grow in holiness in such a way that temptation and sin have less and less of an effect on us every year, every day.
We can be like the people in Noah’s day, and drown in the flood of sin and temptation. Or we can get into the boat, the boat that is the church, sometimes called the barque of Peter, and allow ourselves to be carried by grace and mercy through the troubled waters of the world around us.
The disciples were troubled by the storm at sea when Jesus slept in the back of the boat. Jesus rose, rebuked the storm, then challenged his disciples not to live in fear. It is all too easy to look at the world around us and think how terrible it may be. But Jesus has declared it: the kingdom of God is at hand. In this season of Lent, repent and believe in the gospel.
Lord Jesus, you have overcome all temptations and have called us to live a holy life modeled after your own. Help us not to settle for less than the perfection that you have promised is available to us. You have told us not to live in fear, that the kingdom of your father and our father is ours.
Strengthen us especially in this season of grace that we may use this season to grow in holiness, to fight against temptation and sin, and to become living saints for the sake of your glory. Amen.