Sunday  21st February – 1st Sunday of Lent 


The service is now live-streamed and can be found on the church Facebook page.

Collect

Almighty God,
whose Son Jesus Christ fasted forty days in the wilderness,
and was tempted as we are, yet without sin:
give us grace to discipline ourselves in obedience to your Spirit;
and, as you know our weakness,
so may we know your power to save;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

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First Reading

1 Peter 3.18-22

Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God.  He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit. in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water.  And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you – not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.

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 Gospel

Mark 1.9-15

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.  And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.  And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’  And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.  He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.  Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’

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 Post Communion Prayer

Lord God,
you have renewed us with the living bread from heaven;
by it you nourish our faith,
increase our hope,
and strengthen our love:
teach us always to hunger for him who is the true and living bread,
and enable us to live by every word
that proceeds from out of your mouth;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

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Sermon – Temptation in the Wilderness 

 

May the words that I speak, bring us all closer to God.   In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

I am delighted to be able to join you this morning on this first Sunday of Lent, and I bring you very warm greetings from St James’ Church in Exeter.

 

Today’s Gospel reading is a very exciting one.  It has all the brevity and immediacy that we expect from Mark, who so often writes that this happened, and immediately that happened, in short bursts of narrative, almost breathless with excitement.

First, we have the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist.  Well, I know you heard all about that from Matthew a few weeks ago, on 10th January, but this is clearly such a pivotal moment for Jesus.   As he was growing up, Jesus must have grown into more and more of an understanding of who he was.  He would have had the testimony of his parents, and Mary of course had pondered in her heart all those things that happened around the time of his birth.  Already, by the age of 12, he was able to say to his parents, when they found him in the temple, “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”  Since then, he would have studied the scriptures, and in both this study and as he prayed to his Father God, he would no doubt have heard God speaking to him.  But the years passed, and he knew that the time still had not come.

But here by the Jordan river, as Jesus was coming up out of the water, the Holy Spirit descends upon him like a dove, and he hears his Father’s voice, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased”.  And now he knows that his time has come at last.  The time has finally come for God’s people Israel, after centuries of waiting for the Messiah.  It is time to begin his ministry; the kingdom is at hand!

And immediately, the Spirit drives him into the wilderness.  Yes, the Spirit drove him out into the wilderness; the very same Spirit who came down upon him with such a wonderful declaration of love and affirmation.  It’s all too easy to feel that a wilderness time in our lives, or a time of temptation, could surely not come from God, but it is the Holy Spirit who drives Jesus into the wilderness to face this time of temptation, knowing that he is going to emerge from this time stronger, and better equipped for his ministry. 

Mark tells us very little about this time of testing; he simply writes: “He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.”  So firstly, he tells us that it was 40 days.  40 days is often spoken of in the bible, and it may be literal, or it may be an expression that means that it was a long time. In the time of Noah and the great flood it rained for 40 days and nights, Moses was on Mount Sinai for 40 days and nights both times that he received the 10 commandments, Elijah went 40 days without food or water at Mount Horeb, and I could go on.  But in any case, it was a long time in the wilderness, and Jesus was tested by Satan.  Mark doesn’t elaborate on this, but Matthew and Luke tell us about three tests.  Satan urges Jesus to turn the stones into loaves of bread, to throw himself down from the pinnacle of the temple, and to worship him and thereby rule over all the kingdoms of the world.

At Jesus’ baptism, when the Holy Spirit descends upon him, he knows that his time has come.  It is time for the Messiah to proclaim the kingdom.  But the question is, what kind of Messiah will he be?  I think that this is what this testing, or temptation, is all about.  Satan knows full well that if Jesus comes as the powerful warrior king, to wrest the kingdom of Israel from Roman occupation, perhaps to destroy the Roman Empire and take over the whole world, then God’s plan for our salvation and redemption will be thwarted.  This is what many devout Jews were expecting, and I believe that Jesus could have done that!  He could have come as a glorious king, performing miracles for the sake of showing off his own glory.

But instead, he listens to that the Holy Spirit is saying; he relies on God’s word, and he chooses the harder path.  He chooses to come instead as the servant king.  In his final great testing in the Garden of Gethsemane, he will again make that some choice: He will choose to suffer for our redemption.

So our Gospel today is such an encouragement to us.  It shows us our Redeemer, at the start of his ministry, setting his face firmly in the direction of his task and ministry, sure in the knowledge of who he is: our Redeemer, coming to our rescue. 

Our Gospel also helps us to think about any temptation that comes our way, which is a good thing to ponder on, particularly in this precious time of Lent.  Not long after the start of his ministry, Jesus teaches his disciples how to pray: “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil”.  Certainly, we should ask that God will not need to lead us through a time of trial, but there are times when that will be the way that God allows, to enable us to grow.  In those time, we shall need to withstand the evil one, just as Jesus did, by relying on the Holy Spirit, whom God has sent to be with us and in us to deliver us, and by relying on the word of God.  We can trust that, as we read in 1 Corinthians 10:13, “God is faithful, and he will not let us be tested beyond our strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that we may be able to endure it.”

As Isaac Williams wrote in that lovely hymn “Be Thou my Guardian and My Guide”:

Still let me ever watch and pray
And feel that I am frail
That if the tempter cross my way
Yet he may not prevail

Amen.