First Sunday in Lent (C)
February 14, 2016
Trinity Lutheran Church—Sheboygan, WI
Higher Things Retreat: Branded in Baptism
In the name of + Jesus.
The Jordan River had not even dried from Jesus’ head when the same Spirit who descended upon Him in bodily form like a dove drove Him into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. But Jesus returned from the Jordan full of the Holy Spirit, and He was led in the Spirit in the wildness and He was tempted for forty days by the devil. And He did not eat anything during those days and at the end of them, He was hungry (vv 1-2). In a moment everything changes from glory and majesty to a barren wasteland. Jesus finds Himself among the thorns and the thistles and Adam’s curse. It’s as if someone said, “Depart you Holy Spirit, and make room for an unclean spirit.”
It’s really quite the contrast. As He stood in the Jordan River, the Father spoke from heaven, You are My beloved Son, in You I am well pleased (Lk 3:22). But the devil’s not so sure: If You are the Son of God, tell this rock to become bread (v 3). You look pretty hungry, after all. The Holy Spirit anoints Jesus as a King whose kingdom is not of this world, but the devil presents what looks to be by all measures a better kingdom. I will give You all of this authority and its glory, because it has been handed over to me, and I can give it to whomever I desire; if You worship before me, all of it is Yours (vv 6-7). Jesus earns His Father’s good pleasure by taking a stand with sinners in the water, and He accepts the sinner’s punishment. But the devil has other plans. If You are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here (v 9). Call the angels to catch You. Save Yourself from this most unpleasant mission.
It’s a twisted irony that the Holy Spirit is baptism’s gift, but the Spirit drives you right into the waiting arms of the devil. In his little baptism booklet, Martin Luther writes, Remember, therefore, that it is no joke to take sides against the devil and not only to drive him away from the little child, but to burden the child with such a mighty and lifelong enemy. You are branded in baptism with the cross of Christ, but when the devil sees it, he sees a big crosshairs to focus his fiercest attacks. Just as he did with Jesus, he centers his temptation on the promises of your baptism. God’s own child? Hardly. Look at the way you act. You’re no child of God. You really want to be a citizen in the kingdom of God? Take a look around—the world has so much more to offer. And how foolish can you be to let someone put a cross on you—don’t you know that the cross means suffering?!
Some think that Christianity is a magic pill to prevent suffering and trials. But it’s just the opposite. Baptism doesn’t dilute suffering, it doesn’t water it down; it distills it, it intensifies it. But it does so in order that you would be able to identify what is of God and what is of the devil. The devil speaks sweet sounding words, but are designed for your destruction. He invites you to indulge the desires of your flesh, he urges you to look for glory in power, he is constantly tempting you to deny the cross given to you at your baptism. But the words of Christ sound out in the midst of Satan’s lies: If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me (Lk 9:23). Though they may taste bitter when they speak of the cross and of suffering, His words are finally for your greatest good.
The wilderness in Scripture is a place of trial and temptation. It’s a waterless place, a place fit for evil spirits. But even there in the desert, in the middle of His temptations, the Holy Spirit has not departed from our Lord Jesus Christ. And when He finished all the temptations, the devil left Him until an opportune time (v 13), but the very next verse says, And Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit (Lk 4:14a). It’s as if someone said, “Depart you unclean spirit, and make room for the Holy Spirit.” Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled: For waters break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water; in the haunt of jackals, where they lie down, the grass shall become reeds and rushes (Is 35:6b-7). Jesus goes out into the wilderness to show Satan the power of Baptism.
The Spirit is your gift in Holy Baptism. He is the answer the petition, Lead us not into temptation. It’s not that you will never see temptation, that the devil, the world, and your own sinful flesh will not try to deceive you or mislead you. Athough we are attacked by these things, we pray that we may finally overcome them and win the victory. The Spirit may lead you to temptation, but it’s always to lead you through temptation.
The devil was not done with Jesus after the third temptation. He left Him until an opportune time, until the time was right. It’s at the moment of the cross, the moment of His suffering, that the devil’s first temptations come echoing back to Jesus. He saved others, let Him save Himself—if He is the Christ of God! (Lk 23:35). “Deny the cross and take up yourself, and follow me,” says Satan.
But our Lord is not so soon enticed. It’s the cross that caused the Father’s good pleasure in the first place. When Jesus took His place with sinners and was baptized in the Jordan, the Father smiled and spoke and sent the Spirit to sustain Him on His mission. And finally, after all the temptation, all of the suffering was completed, Jesus said, “It is finished,” and He bowed His head and gave up His Spirit (Jn 19:30). And he who once overcame by a tree was likewise by a tree overcome.
But the Spirit would not leave Him for long. After a Sabbath rest in the tomb, the Lord and giver of life returns to Jesus and He breaths again. And on His first visit with the disciples He reminds them of His cross by showing them the marks on His hands and side, marks that show that He is the only person who has ever died and lived to tell about it. And then He breathes on them. Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness, it is withheld (Jn 20:22-23).
Forgiveness. Absolution. It’s Spirit’s seal, the down payment for the inheritance that is to be received. St. Paul writes, In Him also, by hearing the Word of truth, the Gospel of your salvation, and believing in Him, you were sealed by the promised Holy Spirit, who is the down payment on our inheritance, for the redemption of our possession, for the praise of His glory (Eph 1:13-14).
The Spirit’s seal is the stamp on your debt of sin that says, “Paid in full.” At your Baptism, when you first received the Spirit, you received the down payment. And every time the Absolution is spoken over you, your debt is cancelled. Paid in full all over again.
And, dear baptized brothers and sisters, the full redemption of that first promise will come into your own possession on the day when Christ returns. You will trade in every Absolution you ever received for your own resurrection.
There is nothing worth comparing
to this lifelong comfort sure!
Open-eyed my grave is staring:
Even there I’ll sleep secure.
Though my flesh awaits its raising,
still my soul continues praising:
I am baptized into Christ;
I’m a child of paradise!
You are branded in Baptism, sealed with the Spirit against the temptations of the devil until that day when Christ comes again. You are God’s own child now now, but what will be has yet to appear. Until that day when our Lord Jesus returns,
The Spirit is Your Baptismal Seal
In the name of + Jesus.
Rev. Jacob Ehrhard