First Sunday in Lent – 18 February 2018

A Sermon on Mark 1:9-15 by Samuel Zumwalt

 Mark 1:9-15 English Standard Version, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers]

 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” 12 The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13 And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him. 14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”


Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

The wilderness is a dangerous place filled with wild beasts. The wilderness is a lonely place bereft of many comforts. The wilderness is a challenging place in which Satan openly offers empty promises to our fears, our doubts, and our basic hungers.

You will remember what happened to Israel, God’s firstborn son, out in the wilderness. Let’s remember the flow of their rescue. Awestruck by the panoramic view of all of Egypt’s dead firstborn and their own survival when the angel of death saw the blood of the lamb on their doorposts and passed over Israel’s homes. Giddy to be leaving slavery behind loaded down with the treasure of their former Egyptian slave masters. Terrified as they saw Pharaoh’s chariots and horses chasing them to the sea. Dumb-founded by the opening of the waters and their hasty march to safety. Amazed by the spectacle when the same wall of water came crushing down on the mighty army of Pharaoh. Then, they rejoiced in the wilderness, because the LORD God was with them, a pillar of cloud by day and pillar of fire by night.

Do you remember Miriam’s song: “I will sing unto the LORD for He has triumphed gloriously the horse and rider thrown into the sea” (Exodus 15)?

But then it changed out in the wilderness. They had to rely in the wilderness on the LORD to provide manna and water. Then, when they demanded it, He gave them quail to eat until it came out their nostrils. They had what they needed, but, in the wilderness, they began to do revisionist history: “So, OK, we were slaves in Egypt, but we ate well! We had all kinds of vegetables. It was so much better back in Egypt.”

When Moses was gone from them up onto Mount Sinai, they became like Lot’s wife, looking back to what lay behind and all that was lost, more whining about Moses and about God. Perhaps Moses and the LORD had abandoned them to die out in the wilderness. They asked Aaron, Moses’ brother, to make for them a golden calf. They had become pagans in Egypt. They had become idolaters in Egypt. And when Moses came down to see their apostasy, he threw down the tablets of the Law. The Lord sent snakes among them, and many died. Ultimately only Joshua and Caleb went to the Promised Land forty years later.

The wilderness is a dangerous place filled with wild beasts. The wilderness is a lonely place bereft of many comforts. The wilderness is a challenging place in which Satan openly offers empty promises to our fears, our doubts, and our basic hungers. Israel, God’s firstborn son, fell prey to Satan’s empty promises when they fell prey to their loneliness, their fears, their doubts, and their basic hungers out in the wilderness.

How has the wilderness closed in on you?  Have you loved and lost? Has your health failed? Have your bills grown larger than your income? Have you broken a promise to God and to your beloved?  Do you wonder if your life matters? Does it seem the past is as broad as the ocean but the future as narrow as the tip of a sharp pencil? Has the one you treasured been taken and you left behind? Do you doubt God cares or, even, that He is there? Do you fear you are all alone in the wilderness surrounded by enemies?

Israel was never alone in the wilderness, and neither are you. God sent His Son Jesus into the world to reclaim all that God made and owns even you and me. At His Baptism in the Jordan, Jesus was baptized, not because He needed it, but in order to declare Himself the Friend of sinners even you and me. At the Jordan, the Holy Spirit tore open the skies and descended on Jesus to possess Him completely, to empower God in human flesh to be faithful to His Father’s good and gracious will even in the wilderness tempted by Satan and even unto death on the cross. All this He did for our salvation. For you. For me. For everyone. “That we might be His own, live under Him in His kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead and lives and rules eternally. This is most certainly true” (Martin Luther, Explanation of the 2nd article of the Apostles’ Creed, Small Catechism).

The wilderness is a lovely place filled with guardian angels. The wilderness is an intimate place filled with the grace and mercy of God. The wilderness is a faith-growing and trust-stretching place where you and I can tell the devil to go to hell, because we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us even though it seems we are caught between a fast-charging army and water so wide we cannot get over (Philippians 4:13).

The Holy Spirit possessed Jesus, the Son of God, Servant King and Lord and drove Him into the wilderness of this life and this world to rescue you and me and everyone. The wilderness isn’t our home. This world isn’t our home. Your driver’s license, your so-called real ID, and your passport give your temporary resting place, but on the day of your Baptism into Christ, your citizenship passed from this world of slavery to sin, death, and evil. Now you belong to God’s kingdom if you have been baptized into Jesus’ death and resurrection. You have been marked with the cross of Christ and sealed with the Holy Spirit. And every time you think the wilderness will overwhelm you, the Spirit of God drives you to this oasis in the midst of the wilderness.

You pass through these doors into an oasis of the Good, the True, and the Beautiful. You dip your fevered fingers into the cool waters of the baptismal font and mark yourself with the sign of the cross to remember who and Whose you are. You return to your Baptism when you confess your sins and hear the peace-filling words of the Lord’s absolution: “Upon this your confession, I, by virtue of my office, as a called and ordained servant of the Word, announce the grace of God unto all of you, and in the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

Then the Lord speaks His Word to you, Law and Gospel, No and Yes, judgment and mercy. He takes you out of the center where you do not belong and reorients your life according to the good and gracious will of the Father. You sing God’s praises. You confess the faith of the Church of every time and place. You offer prayers for the world, your dear ones, and yourself. You make a sacrificial offering to declare that you and all you have and all you are come from the Father’s gracious hand and have been placed in your hands to manage. But more than that, you give because He has withheld nothing from you not even the death of His Son for your salvation.

And if all that were not enough of an oasis of the Good, the True, and the Beautiful, the Lord Jesus calls you forward with empty uplifted hands to receive His own true Body and His most precious Blood given and shed for you for the forgiveness of all your sins – all the things done and left undone that have weighed you down with guilt and shame, with fears, and doubts, and your displaced, gnawing hunger for the Lord God!

Dear ones, the Holy Spirit drives us into the wilderness of Lent to be with Jesus, His Son, the only Savior of the world. Hear, again, Fr. Martin Luther’s pastoral counsel to Jerome Weller, his student who lived in their home and tutored the Luther children:

“So when the devil throws your sins in your face and declares that you deserve death and hell, tell him this: ‘I admit that I deserve death and hell, what of it? Does this mean I shall be sentenced to eternal damnation? By no means! For I know One who suffered and made satisfaction on my behalf. His name is Jesus Christ, Son of God, and where He is there I shall be also!’” [Martin Luther, Letters of Spiritual Counsel, trans. and ed. Theodore G. Tappert (Vancouver, British Columbia: Regent College, 2003), 86–87].

In the name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

©Samuel D. Zumwalt, STS

St. Matthew’s Evangelical Lutheran Church

Wilmington, North Carolina

Bulletin insert

For Our Salvation: Driven By The Spirit


O Lord, mercifully hear our prayers and by your Majestic Right Hand, reach out to defend us against all that endangers our faith that we may serve and worship you alone. Through the same Jesus Christ, your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.  (The Daily Prayer of the Church, 613).


Mark 1:10 “…immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending…like a dove.”

 St. Hippolytus of Rome [2nd century martyred priest and theologian]: “So it happened not only that the Lord was being baptized – he also was making new the old creation. He was bringing the alienated under the scepter of adoption…A reconciliation took place between the visible and invisible. The celestial orders were filled with joy, the diseases of earth were healed, secret things made known, those at enmity restored to amity…At the baptism of Christ the Bridegroom, it was fitting that the heavenly chamber should open its glorious gates”(Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Mark, 11).

Mark 1:12       “The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.”

St. John Chrysostom [late 4th – early 5th century Patriarch of Constantinople; Doctor of the Church]:  “You see how the Spirit led him, not into a city or public arena, but into a wilderness. In this desolate place, the Spirit extended the devil an occasion to test him, not only by hunger, but also by loneliness, for it is there most especially that the devil assails us, when he sees us left alone and by ourselves. In this…  did he also confront Eve in the beginning, having caught her alone and apart from her husband” (16).

Mark 1:13       “And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan.”

St. Gregory the Great [late 6th – early 7th century Bishop of Rome]: “‘Temptation is brought to fulfillment by three stages: suggestion, delight, consent. And we in temptation generally fall through delight, and then through consent; for being begotten of the sin of the flesh we bear within us that through which we suffer conflict. But God, incarnate in the womb of a virgin, came into the world without sin, and so suffers no conflict within himself. He could therefore be tempted by suggestion, but the delight of sin could never touch his mind…these temptations of the devil were from without, not from within Him” (17).

Mark 1:13       “And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan.”

 St. Bede the Venerable [8th century British monk and ecclesiastical historian]: “Let us be wary that we do not relight the fires of old obsessions which would wreck us on our new voyage. Whatever sort of flaming sword it is that guards the doorway of paradise has been already effectively extinguished for each of the faithful in the font of baptism. For the unfaithful, however, the gate remains always formidable, and also for those falsely called faithful though they have not been chosen, since they have no fear of entangling themselves in sins after baptism” (17).


  1. What is driving you through the wilderness of this world? The Holy Spirit or the unholy?


The Sacrament of Holy Baptism

 As the head of the family should teach it in a simple way to his household.


What benefits does Baptism give?

It works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.

Which are these words and promises of God?

Christ our Lord says in the last chapter of Mark: “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16) [Luther’s Small Catechism].


 1. Pray for every unbaptized child and adult you know and for the child’s parents, too.


  1. Pray for your unchurched loved ones and friends. Invite one or more of them to worship.


  1. As you walk past the baptismal font, dip your fingers into the water and make the sign of the cross in remembrance that God has graciously chosen you to be His child for Jesus’ sake.


  1. Be sure to worship on Wednesdays in Lent at noon or 7 p.m. Sign up for the Lenten Prayer Retreat to be held on Saturday, February 24, from 8:15 a.m. – 1:15 p.m.


  1. Memorize the second section on Holy Baptism and Martin Luther’s explanation of it. Give thanks for all of Christ’s benefits given to you in the washing of Holy Baptism.


  1. Pray daily using Scripture and the devotions. Use the daily worship resources on our website at . Use daily prayers, daily psalms, and daily lessons.


  1. If you have made a resolution to be a more faithful disciple in 2018, join a Sunday school class this Sunday at 9:45am and/or attend Crossways on Wednesday at 6pm or Thursday at 10am.

 For Husbands and Wives

Repeat daily: “I (name) take you (name) to be my wedded wife (husband), to have and to hold from this day forward; for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health; to love and to cherish until death do us part, according to God’s holy ordinance, and thereto I pledge you my faith.”