In The Wilderness With Jesus
February 17, 2018
Verse: James 1:12
Christ Lutheran Church
February 18, 2019
by: Rev. Dean Kavouras
In The Wilderness With Jesus
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. James 1:12
In today’s Collect the church prays that she might follow her Savior through: the wilderness of this world towards the glory of the world to come. It is a good prayer because St. James teaches us today that the person who does this is Blessed! And we all want that! And also that by our patient continuance under trial, we will receive “the crown of life!” And there is nothing better than that.
James tells us this precisely because it isn’t something that comes naturally to us. We all want to be kings, win the big lottery, and dance with the stars – then we will be blessed, and wear the crown of life – or so we think.
Satan tried that ploy with our Lord, but Jesus wasn’t interested. There was a string attached (there always is). “All this I will give you if you will fall down and worship me!” To which the Lord answered, “Go away Satan! For it is written, ‘you shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.’” And then, St. Matthew reports, “the devil left him, and angels came, and ministered to him.” (Mt. 4:10-11) The devil will leave you as well, as often as you quote these words of Jesus to him! “Get out Satan! And your God will send his angels to strengthen you! He is doing it now.
St. Mark, whose account of the Temptation we hear in today’s Gospel, doesn’t give us all those details like St. Matthew does; but simply reports that our Lord was, “in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him.”
But let us be sure to remember that the dazzling Gospel lessons that wash over us each Sunday, and that enter our ears and finally the core of our being –are not simply “reports.” But they are the Living Voice of our Lord among us.
That’s the reason we “stand” to hear them! It is a liturgical and incarnational gesture that demonstrates, that these glorious words lift us up to heaven – to the heaven of the heavens! (Deuteronomy 10:14)
And in case there is any confusion on the matter there is a reason that we chant them. Because chant is not, properly speaking, song as people think. But chant is “elevated speech” – and there is nothing more elevated than the Word of the four Evangelists.
The Gospels are not simply a report, biography of Jesus, or narrative of what once happened long ago. But they are living, liturgical documents that are to be enacted by the church of every generation. And so we don’t simply admire the Word we hear in God’s House this day, and say, “isn’t that nice.” But we make the Lord’s Word our Word, the Lord’s life, our life, and we become imitators of Jesus!
Jesus was born, we are born!
Jesus was baptized, we are baptized!
Jesus was resurrected from the water, and heaven was opened to him. The same is true of us. When we enter the water of baptism we die! The sinful nature, the Old Man, or Old Adam that comes as standard equipment at birth is drowned and dies! And a New Man emerges who lives before God in righteousness and purity forever.
Heaven was opened to Jesus, and it is open to you! “Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinner reconciled.”
The Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life, the Lord and Giver of Light and Liberty, descended on Jesus and anointed this Man Christ Jesus with all power and endurance to do battle with the forces of evil and chaos. And it is this same Spirit, who “proceeds from the Father AND the Son,” that is given to you, from the cross, in your baptism!
And as Jesus immediately enters the fray against Satan and all the forces of chaos and wickedness, we must do the same!
As the Spirit “drove” Jesus into the wilderness – it is a very strong word St. Mark uses here “ekballo” from which we get our English word “bullet”! And it means something like: to be shot out of a canon! To be propelled like a projectile. The same is said about you!
And where was our Lord “shot out” to? To the wilderness. The place of ultimate danger that is not only incapable of supporting human life, but hostile to it. There the Lord of Life has his showdown with the one who was a murderer from the beginning. (John 8:44) St. Mark tells us that Jesus was tested there for 40 days. That he prevailed, and angels ministered to him! Even as they minister to you today at the Lord’s altar.
We likewise hear in today’s Old Testament lesson that Abraham was also tested! The LORD asked him to sacrifice his Only Begotten Son, the Son whom he loved more than life itself. And Abraham set out to do it! He, too, prevailed, received back his son, and the angels ministered to him.
And in today’s Epistle St. James says to you, “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.”
What does James mean by this? As a minister of the Gospel he recognizes that Christians are tested all the time. If you so desire you can set up your own tests as many Christians do during Lent. You can give up eating, drinking, smoking, or engage in some other form of self-denial, if you like.
But even if you don’t be certain that the life of a Christian is a life of testing. The ordinary circumstances of life, trying to keep your head above water, and keep your sanity at the same time, can be daunting!
But there are also the extraordinary circumstances of life: lingering illness, weakness, sorrow, regret, fear, family feuds, financial troubles, danger, anxiety and so much more.
God is not punishing you, but he is testing you, teaching you, blessing you, and preparing you for “the crown of life”. St. James gives us a golden word today when he teaches us that to remain steadfast and patient under trial marks us, not as pathetic losers, but as Blessed children! Beloved sons of the Father, awash in the Holy Spirit. He will strengthen you. He will give you victory. He will give you calm. He will send his angels to minister to you, and he will give you the “crown of life.”
And so endure with patience! Be humble. Trust God. Bless his name. Don’t rely on your own strength, and certainly not on your own understanding. What seems inexplicable now, will be revealed. What seems endless now, will come to a conclusion. Jesus is with you in the wilderness, and God will give you “the crown of life.”