Christ Lutheran Church
February 21, 2021
by: Rev. Dean Kavouras
Tested And Tempted
Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under temptation for, having been thus approved, he will obtain the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love him.
Only let no one say: "I am tempted by God." For God is neither subject to temptation, nor does he tempt anyone. Instead, a person is tempted when his own passion lures and entices him. Later, when passion is conceived, it gives birth to sin and sin, when it reaches full term, gives birth to death.
Make no mistake! My Beloved Brothers! Every good gift, and every pure endowment is from above, coming down from the Father of Lights with whom there is no variation, nor trace of change. By his own will he gave us birth by the Word of Truth so that we might be, as it were, the first fruits of his New Creation. James 1:12-18 (DKV)
Today’s gospel is not simply an historical report but was written under the Spirit’s guidance for the church; so that the Body would follow Jesus its Head, and do what he did.
No, we are not merely hearing a news report here, but obtaining our Lord’s own power by the public reading, and faithful hearing of these words. Gaining power to do what Abraham did, what Isaac did, what Jesus did, and what St. James exhorts all Christians to do in today’s epistle: to remain steadfast under both trial and temptation.
In New Testament Greek the word for “testing” or “temptation” is the same word; and we, as the baptized, are subject to both.
Abraham was not tempted, but tested. God wanted to see what he was made of! To test his mettle. To see how far would his faith take him? Remember the back-story.
God had promised Abraham that he would be the Father of many nations. That his descendants would be as numerous as the stars of the sky, and the sands of the sea shore. But with Sarah his wife at 90 years of age, and Abraham at 100 - and as good as dead, they were still childless.
But with God nothing shall be impossible.
And so one hot day 3 men, the Blessed Trinity in visible form, came to visit the Old Man; to tell him that at “this time next year Sarah would bear him a Son,” and it happened!
And so what did God now mean by asking Abraham to take his one, only and Beloved Son and offer him to God in the form of a sacrifice.
God was not tempting Abraham to sin here, rather testing him, and it is good for us to learn what it means to be tested by God. And to remain faithful and steadfast under the most contrary circumstances because we know that God has called us to do it.
But we dare not ignore Isaac in this scenario either. In Jewish theology Isaac is glorified even above Abraham because we went along willingly. Isaac is a type of Jesus!
Like our Lord, from whom the knife of death was not held back, Isaac obeyed his Father; trusted his Father and without hesitation allowed the sacrificial wood to be loaded onto his back which he then carried up the mountain. He asked a question: where is the Lamb? But the only answer he received was: God will provide the Lamb! And so he did.
Our Lord, however, did not receive an answer when he prayed: “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” The only answer was silence. But still Jesus trusted his Heavenly Father, prayed for his tormenters, absolved a convicted criminal, and commended his body, soul and all things to his heavenly Father. And so should we.
Scripture encapsulates all that here occurs in a single liturgical refrain which is also our Gradual for the day:
O come, let us fix our eyes on Jesus,
the founder and perfecter of our faith,
who for the joy that was set before him
endured the cross, despising the shame,
and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
Yes, Abraham, and Isaac were tested, but Jesus was tempted! Tempted by the chief Tempter himself. The one in whose hands humanity is but “silly putty.”
Satan was at the top of his game. He was batting .1000. He thought he could do the same with our Lord. After all, if Adam fell in paradise on day one, with every pleasure and need provided for him; how easy would it be to take down Jesus who fasted for 40 days in the wilderness.
St. Mark, unlike Matthew and Luke, doesn’t mention what the temptations were. The details are not important for his purposes. But what is important is this.
Immediately exiting the baptismal waters of the Jordan, still dripping wet, the Holy Spirit shot Jesus into the wilderness like a bullet. The word Scripture uses, in fact, is the same word from which we get our English word bullet, or ballistics. He drove him directly from baptism, into the heat of battle at top speed.
Now while Mark doesn’t give us the details of the temptations we do know, and can be sure, that Jesus never gave in. Not only: never gave in, but never even thought of giving in. Unfaithfulness was not on his radar; not in his make up; he was not wired that way; he is God. He no more thought of disobeying his Father than a jellyfish thinks about peanut butter.
There are a couple of points, however, that we should explore about what St. Mark gives the church in today’s gospel. He says that our Lord was: with the wild animals, and that could mean one of two things. Either that he persevered even in the face of danger and hostility; or that when our Lord is present, even the wilderness which is unfit for human habitation, is once again made tame by holiness.
And, too, that the angels ministered to him. Does this mean that they strengthened him the whole time, or that when the ordeal was over they came to him, to restore him?
We don’t know, but we do know this, that our Lord sends his holy angels to us to strengthen us during both testing and temptation; and to restore us and make us whole again when the storm passes; which it always does. Open your eyes and you will see legions of angels sent to you from God to help you! Christ be glorified!
But there is one more matter before we finish with today’s readings and that is the epistle. St. James assures us that as God himself is unaffected by temptation, even so he tempts no man to sin.
If you are tantalized and aroused by sin God is not behind it. Indeed St. James teaches us that it may not even be the devil behind it, but sinful flesh which is very, very weak; and accustomed to crossing the line: till we forget where the line is. Till sin becomes part of our muscle memory.
And so when you are tempted to transgress, or to throw in the towel during times of severe testing, remember our Lord who, for THE JOY that was set before him endured the cross.
You are that joy! You are his New Baptismal Creation. It is your life and salvation that was the focus of his dying love then; and of his interceding love today.
Know, too, Beloved Brothers, that the Father of Lights gives only good, and pure gifts – even testing so that we, like Abraham and Isaac can learn what we are made of. So that we can gain godly confidence, experience in spiritual warfare, and victory over the world; and the grave; and live with God unto the ages of ages;
Having heard this word let us now come and receive "the crown of life," "the good gift and pure endowment" of our God: given and shed for you for the remission of sins.