February 18th, 2024 Mark 1:12-13  “What Forty Days Can Teach Us”

The late Rev. Ken Klaus, former speaker of the Lutheran Hour shared this illustration in 2009. He stated, about 2,500 years ago, a fellow by the name of Aesop told a tale. This fable of Aesop begins with a sad, sorrowful female eagle sitting on the branch of a tree. Next to her sat a kite, a carrion-eating raptor. Noting the eagle’s dejection, the kite asked, “Why does the most majestic of birds wear such a mournful look?”

The eagle sadly replied. “I need a mate and I have been unable to find one.” After a moment, the kite sympathetically suggested, “Why not marry me?” The eagle turned and asked, “And could you take care of me?” This was in the days before female eagles were liberated. Wounded by the question, the kite boasted: “Why, I have often carried away ostriches in these talons.”

With no other offers forthcoming, the eagle agreed to be married to the kite. Soon after the ceremony, she said to her husband, “I wonder if you would bring back an ostrich for supper. I’ve never eaten an ostrich and I think one would be wonderfully delicious for our evening meal.” In a second the kite was gone. In two seconds he was back and placed before her not an ostrich, but a mouse. A pitiful, pathetic and from the smell of things… a long dead mouse. Insulted, the eagle cried: “And is this how you fulfill your promise?” to which the kite confessed “I said what was necessary to get you to do as I wished.”

This is a story about us describing the all successful temptation techniques used by Satan since the beginning of time. Our old evil foe has shown his readiness, his eagerness to say anything, everything necessary to get us to do what He wants.

Satan’s greatest triumph may be in causing people not to take him seriously. If people don’t believe you exist, if they believe you are just a cartoon character with red horns and a tail they won’t try to stop you. And if a person no longer has a conscience….then selfish greed will be the mode of operation, Satan’s work is done.

Most of our failure when temptations come our way… and they will….can be traced to a foolish self-confidence that overestimates our own abilities and underestimates the power of our spiritual enemies.

Satan does not observe the traditional rules of warfare. He uses anything and everything that he can to bring us down. This is what Paul meant when he spoke about the “schemes of the devil” in Ephesians 6:11. The word “schemes” might also be translated as “traps” or “tricks” or “tactics.”

Satan doesn’t fight fair. He is a liar, a deceiver, a diabolical “angel of light” who comes to you in a thousand guises, tempting you to disobey the Lord. He knows your weak points better than you do. And he can attack you any time of the day or night. Satan does not fight fair.

In the Garden of Eden He slides up to Adam and Eve and slyly, sneakily suggested that they should just take a look at the forbidden fruit… “What can it hurt?” He asked. Implying that God was holding out on them. Like the kite, Satan will say whatever is necessary to get you to do as He wishes.

I need not tell you what happened. They ate, and since that day all of us have been eating the forbidden fruit of temptation.

If you read through the Bible, you will come across stories of men and women who are called heroes of faith. Noah built an ark, without the knowledge of rain. Moses parted the Red Sea; Elijah raised a boy from the dead, and David brought down a giant with a slingshot.

These heroes, also did some pretty stupid, amazingly sinful stuff. Noah got himself seriously tipsy. Abraham’s lying got him into trouble. David messing around with a servant girl had serious consequences. Moses began as a murderer and he did deliberately disobey God. David was the murdering adulterer. Elijah also hid out in caves and complained about how he was all alone.

Zacharias, the father of John the Baptizer, was an experienced temple priest, but he couldn’t find it in his heart to believe God, even when the Lord sent an angel with a special message. He doubted. Peter was a great apostle, but almost every action of faith he performed was counterbalanced by doubt or denial. Like the kite, Satan will say whatever is necessary to get you to do as He wishes and save your own skin.

These accounts are in the bible to remind us that Satan is skillful in tricking believers into following our internal selfish desires. Satan, like the kite, will say anything to get us to do what He wishes. This is why Jesus came. He came to break the power of Satan, who makes people so afraid of death that they will say foolish things like: “All people will go to heaven… there are just different pathways to follow…so be tolerant”. Or… “Life is short. This is all there is, go for the gusto, now, do what you want.” Every person is a sinner. We all have fallen short of holiness of character. God expects holiness because He is holy. (I Peter 1:15)

The entrance of God the Creator into the world by His birth in Bethlehem was following His plan that He set in motion in the Garden of Eden. He promised that Satan would be crushed. God promised that with the death of His Son, Jesus on the cross, all our broken commandments would be erased. (Colossians 2:14) With His resurrection from death and the grave He promises that the glory of eternity is secure for all who believe in His Son, Jesus.

In our Gospel lesson today, Mark only writes two short verses. They are both critical to our understanding of how Satan’s temptations can be overcome.

At the baptism of Jesus, the Holy Spirit, descended from heaven and dwelt in Jesus. The Holy Spirit empowered Jesus to live a life without sin. The Holy Spirit empowered Jesus to drive out demons, heal people and raise them from the dead, because the Holy Spirit is God’s invisible presence. Jesus was the visible face of God.               

Question: How can we like Jesus overcome temptation? What did Jesus do when tempted by Satan in the 40 days in the wilderness?

First: Jesus quoted the Bible. When temptation comes our way …we too can tell Satan to get behind us. The Holy Spirit will use Gods’ Words to send temptation away. It is a promise. (John 14:26)

Second, Jesus quoted the first of the Ten Commandments. The 10 Commandments become a curb, that keeps us on the straight and narrow path and safe. It is the Holy Spirit that reminds our conscience of God’s commandments. Then it is our responsibility to “keep in step with the Holy Spirit.” (Galatians 5:25)

Third: During the Passover meal Jesus told His disciples that He would give each believer His Holy Spirit. He said: “it is better for you that I go away…for when I go away, the Holy Spirit will come to you.” (John 16:7) The physical presence of Jesus would be replaced by the Holy Spirit a truth that was only actualized on Pentecost.

Jesus who had been physically present with the disciples was going to be “inside” them by the power of the Holy Spirit. The same Holy Spirit that dwelt in Jesus during His temptation in the wilderness, dwells in each believer. The Holy Spirit would now be His voice in each disciple’s heart for generations to come.

The Apostle Paul also gives advice to us on how we can dismantle the temptations before they take root in our mind and life. (Ephesians 6)

1. We have always encouraged you to read “Just a little more in 2024” in the Bible this year than you did last year. For when you know God’s Word…. The Holy Spirit will use God’s word to resist the temptations when they come. God’s Word is the “belt of truth”.

2. Know God’s commandments for the Holy Spirit will remind your conscience to keep them and thus you be able to keep walking on the narrow path of holiness. The commandments can be the breast plate to protect you from Satan’s suggestions.

3. Trust the voice of the Holy Spirit when He speaks to your heart. Listen and obey.