Posted by: St. Mark Lutheran Church | February 26, 2012

Sermon on Mark 1:12-15

Jesus shows the devil who’s the boss

  • Order of service:  Common Service, CW p15
  • Lessons:  Genesis 22:1-18, Romans 8:31-39, Mark 1:12-15
  • Hymns: 714, 125:1-2, 37:2-4, 419, 124, 200

In the name of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh. 

Lent begins with a fast.  Not us fasting, but Jesus fasting.  Many imitate Jesus’ fast by fasting themselves during Lent.  Not all imitate Jesus’ fast exactly, for He ate nothing for forty days.  But many give up something:  a luxury item, a particularly tempting sweet, pop, alcohol, meat on Fridays.

The Roman Church commands the Lenten fast, thus adding it to those works which will assure entrance into heaven.  Other Christians recognize the value of fasting, even Lutherans.  Many choose to remember Christ’s suffering by voluntarily suffering themselves.  Scripture itself recognizes the value of fasting.  Jesus points to it in the Sermon on the Mount as one of those things Christians do – alongside charity and prayer – in secret, to be seen by the Father and by no one else.  Jesus says, When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting, I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.  But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you (Matthew 6:16-18, NIV84).

Fasting then, alongside prayer and acts of charity, characterize the Christian life.  John said, Produce fruits in keeping with repentance (Luke 3:8, NIV84); Luther’s first thesis said, When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent,’ he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.  Among these fruits, then, we see fasting, giving up something, withholding something from yourself for a greater purpose.  To cleanse.  To purify.  To focus.  To eliminate the unnecessary so that you might focus on the most necessary.  Maybe it’s time that we as Lutherans reassess our views on fasting, which seems mostly to be, “You don’t have to do it.”  Maybe we ought to listen to our Lord’s own sermons, maybe we ought to see, as Luther saw, that Scripture tells us what the Christian life looks like – charity, prayer, fasting, hearing and honoring the Word, loving God and neighbor – and we have enough to do living that life without inventing our own holy acts and deeds.

Yet at the same time, we hear Luther teach us about the Sacrament in the Catechism, saying:  Fasting and other outward preparations may serve a good purpose, but he is properly prepared who believes these words, ‘Given and poured out for you for the forgiveness of sins’ (Small Catechism, Sacrament of the Altar, IV).  The fast is not commanded.  Jesus may assume it, but just as He didn’t command a certain number of times you must receive the Sacrament, so He hasn’t commanded a certain time or way for you to fast.  Or to pray.  Or to give charity.  About the Sacrament He says, “As often as you do this.”  About fasting He says “When…”

And this is because the fruits – necessary as they are – aren’t the beginning of the end.  They are proofs of the end – the end of Satan, the end of sin, the end of death, the end of hell.  Jesus didn’t win by fasting.  Christians don’t win by fasting.  Fasting, though, declared Jesus Satan’s boss.

Mark gives us an abbreviated account of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness.  He just says Satan tempted Jesus for 40 days and nights.  Matthew and Luke give us the details about the temptations – and about the fasting.  And Satan first tempted with food, assaulting Jesus’ hunger.  “You’re the Son of God – make yourself some food!”  Jesus says, “No.  That food alone will not keep me alive.  My food is my Father’s Word.”  Jesus repeats that advice later in His ministry when people flock to Him because He fed a crowd of 5,000.  Then He says, Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you (John 6:27, NIV84).  Yes, our bodies need food and drink.  But more than that we need the Bread of life.  And fasting can turn our minds to that.  We don’t fast to lose weight.  We don’t even fast only by giving up some foodstuff.  We don’t fast for pride of place among other Christians.  We don’t fast to prove a point:  “Look what I did!”  We fast for the same reason some husbands and wives might refrain from sex for a time:  so that you may devote yourselves to prayer (1 Corinthians 7:5, NIV84).

By fasting and continuing to fast in the face of the Devil’s temptation Jesus devoted Himself to the one thing needful – to His Father and His Father’s Word.  There’s the most appropriate fast, a fast that can be done anytime and anywhere:  giving up for a moment, or for a longer time, or forever, those things which may, in and of themselves be okay, but which also may become your treasure, and thus your heart, and in that way compete with God and become some sort of bread you are convinced you need.  Needless to say, if they’re sinful things and you aren’t abandoning them, they’re already your treasure and heart.

Jesus did not break His fast, and in this way He demonstrated to the Devil who was the boss.  He was.  He let nothing get in the way of devotion to His Father and His Father’s Word.  And Jesus didn’t just fast from food.  He fasted from calling anything else “God”:  Worship the Lord your God and serve Him only (Luke 4:8, NIV84).  He fasted from tempting God, Do not put the Lord your God to the test (Matthew 4:7, NIV84).  Jesus was tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin (Hebrews 4:15, NIV84).  He never broke His fast.

Eventually, of course, He ate again.  But that doesn’t mean His fast ended.  He came out of the desert victorious, with the devil crushed, and He crushed him some more:  The time has come.  The kingdom of God is near.  Repent and believe the good news (Mark 1:15, NIV84).  These words exorcised the devil from hearts just as effectively as when Jesus literally said to the demons possessing human bodies, Come out of him (Mark 1:25, NIV84)!  The Boss kept bossing the devil around.  And winning.

And this victory means something to us.  He tells us the time has come.  He tells us the kingdom of God is near.  He tells us to repent.  He tells us to believe the good news.  Jesus widens the scope of His mastery and the size of His victory by preaching this, the first of His sermons.  A sermon we hear.  A sermon we listen to.  A sermon that begins, and becomes the basis of, our fast.

“The time has come!”  Don’t miss it, don’t look somewhere else.  The Temptation-Conqueror, the perfect Faster says, “It’s here!  Put all else aside!”  What’s here?  “The kingdom of God has drawn near!”  God’s reign is near, more visible, more obvious, and we see it in Christ.  We see Christ conquer the devil in hand-to-hand combat.  We see Him conquer the devil in hearts by His preaching.  We see Him conquer the effects of sin by His miracles.  We hear Him say, I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven!  The prince of this world will be driven out.  The prince of this world now stands condemned.  The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work (Luke 10:18, John 12:31, John 16:11, 1 John 3:8, NIV84).  Closer and closer comes God’s kingdom, because the King is here.  He told Pilate, “You’re right to call me a king.”  Over His head read the words, “Jesus of Nazareth, the king of the Jews.”  And then He says, “Repent.”  Which we could read as “Fast.”  Get rid of.  Turn away from.  Change.  Throw away.  Fear what your sin is and does and makes you.  Tremble at what it causes God to think, “I hate you, you gluttonous pig!”  Realize that the nearness of the kingdom shortens the time, it brings Judgment Day all that closer.  With Christ in the flesh there isn’t anything left holding back the end of all time.  So give it all up now and “Believe the good news!”, that good news from and about God:  the time has come; the kingdom of God draws near; Jesus came to fulfill all righteousness, to be our righteousness, to fast for us and in our place; Jesus takes away the sins of the world; Jesus rules over the devil; Jesus crushes the devil as God forsakes Him on the cross; Jesus destroys death by returning to life; Jesus gives us the Word that makes us rulers over the ruler of the air, so that we might say to the Devil what Christ Himself said, so that we might fast in the ways that God calls us to.  So that, in Christ, through Christ, and because of Christ, we can show the Devil who’s boss as well, because Jesus came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who are near (Ephesians 2:17, NIV84).

Lent begins with a fast.  Jesus’ fast.  Lent begins with a victory.  Jesus’ victory.  Your Lord Jesus conquered the devil and conquered sin.  And He emerged from the desert to tell you that, to tell you that through faith in Him, God is on your side.  And because of Christ, the Son the Father refused to spare, you are more than a conqueror.  So fast without fear.  Fast filled with joy, because you have the Bread of life, the Devil’s boss, Heaven’s King.  You can give up all things, because in Christ you have everything:  the forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation.  That’s God’s good news.  And Jesus says, “Believe it.”  Amen.

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