The Reality of Redemption
Reality TV is popular right now. Every week it seems the networks announce yet another program to show us real life...as if we don't have enough of our own. Apparently we don't, since millions tune in to watch people voluntarily humiliate, expose, and embarrass themselves. The only one of these shows I've watched in it's entirety is "American Idol," but I can tell you a lot about the others based on their ads. However, the sermon isn't about reality TV but about the reality of redemption.
What we have in our text this morning is "Survivor," "The Mole" and "Fear Factor" all rolled into one. "Survivor" is that show where they put people in some desolate place and have them compete against each other and the harsh environment. The people on the show are all volunteers. Many are movie star wannabes.
Our text takes place right after Jesus is baptized, right after the Father has declared from heaven that Jesus is His beloved Son, right after all the fullness of the Holy Spirit descended from heaven and landed on the flesh and blood Jesus. At once the Spirit of the holy, loving God sends Jesus into a Survivor type situation. Into the desert, into the wilderness, into a desolate place where people don't normally live because the environment is so inhospitable, so harsh, so brutal.
When the cast of Survivor goes into their wilderness, you can bet they are taken in style. Not so Jesus. The insert translates "sent," but it really is the word for "throw," "cast," "drive out." St. Mark uses this verb 17 times. 11 times he uses it for Jesus casting out demons. It should be translated here with like force, "drove" or "impelled." What you should see is Jesus coming up from the Jordan river, newly baptized, newly approved by heaven itself only to be driven harshly, piteously into the desert. Jesus was no more use to sleeping, living, or surviving in the desert than the cast of Survivor is use to the Amazon rainforest.
What we have before us is the harsh reality of what it took to redeem us. It took God the Son being thrown out into the brutal desert in a Survivor-like way. While Jesus is in this difficult place, He is tempted by Satan. Here the reality of the text looks like the reality show "The Mole." In that show a group tries to accomplish things while one of them is secretly working against them. The things the people on The Mole try to accomplish are meaningless. What Jesus seeks to accomplish is not. Our redemption is eternally significant. And while people on The Mole have to deal with a person secretly working against them, Jesus has to deal with the Prince of Darkness, Satan himself, working openly against Him.
Jesus is out here in the desert to face the test Adam failed. Perfect Adam was placed in a real paradise by His loving heavenly Father. He was surrounded by food and delightful animals, but he couldn't withstand the temptations of the devil working under the disguise of a friendly snake. Jesus is cast out by His Father into a desert with no food. He is surrounded by wild beasts, and He goes to war with the most viscous, powerful demon there is who comes to Him without disguise in all of his wicked, sulphuric, Satanism. Like The Mole, Satan does everything to undermine the mission of Jesus. If Satan can get Jesus to sin just once in deed, word, or even thought, the mission fails. Jesus cannot redeem sinners if He Himself becomes one.
So the reality of redemption we see going on in our text is like the reality TV shows Survivor, The Mole, and Fear Factor all rolled into one. In Fear Factor people have to face their worst fears in an attempt to win $50,000. Many of their fears have to do with animals. They get covered with snakes. They have boxes of live scorpions poured over them. They have to stick their head into a barrel of rats. In all of this, you can be sure the network has all sorts of safety devices. The contestants always have goggles on. There are always people standing by to help at a moments notice. And most importantly, the fear the contestants face is always made up, controlled, no more than a stunt.
Not so what Jesus faced in the desert. These were wild animals. The word "animals" is used in Scripture not just for mammals but snakes too. The phrase "with the wild animals" can be used to refer to fighting with them. The Introit showed us the reality of this. Jesus in the desert "tread upon the lion and the cobra" and trampled "the great lion and the serpent." Think of the snakes slithering around Jesus at night. Think of the lion's roar startling Him out of sleep. Think of the very real danger Jesus was in. Don't think that because our text says the angels were ministering to Him that means He had angelic help with the beasts. Matthew makes it clear that the angels didn't help until the struggle was over.
The reality of Jesus redeeming us from our sins and Satan is shown in this struggle in the desert which has all the characteristics of reality TV shows like Survivor, The Mole, and Fear Factor. But Jesus' hardships, His enemy undermining His mission, and His fighting with beasts was real. The TV show's reality is really pretend. Jesus is the real Survivor, the real defeater of the Mole, and the real overcomer of Fear, yet you and I are the American Idol. We are the ones who win. Jesus has all the talent; we get all the awards. Jesus won all the contests; we get all the credit.
So what happens in our Baptism is not what happened in Jesus'. Jesus' Baptism led to the Spirit driving Him into the desert. When I baptized Zain this morning, the Holy Spirit through the Word and the Water brought him into God's kingdom, into God's presence. When Zain was baptized, when you and I were baptized, every single sin, every single reason God had for not welcoming us into His kingdom was totally washed away.
We are treated like the winner of the American Idol talent search. While Jesus was tempted literally "under" Satan, we are over Satan. Isn't that what the Bible says? Doesn't 1 John say the Holy Spirit given to us in our Baptism is greater than the devil Himself? Doesn't James say that we can resist the devil and he will flee from us? Imagine that; the most powerful, wicked, beastly demon of all time must turn tale and run from us. Imagine that; the Holy Spirit we have in these frail, weak, fallen bodies is greater than the unholy spirit who rules all of hell. Just as the winner of the American Idol show has millions of adoring fans placed beneath his/her feet, those of us in Christ through Baptism have Satan and all his demons placed under our feet.
Not only is the spiritual realm placed under our feet, so is the physical realm of animals, even wild ones. In this respect, we're more like the Crocodile Hunter than we are the winner of American Idol. The Crocodile Hunter uses wild animals to make a nice living. Where Jesus had to fight with wild animals in the desert, they must serve us. Think that's too far fetched? Well, the Lord had wild ravens bring bread and meat to feed a hungry Elijah in the wilderness, and He used a whale to deliver the prophet Jonah to where He wanted him to go. Baptism not only puts us into God's kingdom and Satan under our feet, it puts the wild animals at our service.
How come our Baptism does so very much? Because we are not like Joe Millionaire. In that reality series, an ordinary construction worker earning $19,000 a year was passed off as having inherited $50 million although he hadn't. We in Christ really did inherit not just millions of dollars but "all things" says St. Paul. He says in 1 Corinthians 3, "For all things belong to you, whether.. the world or life or death or things present or things to come; all things belong to you." So when we baptized Zain, we gave him not just forgiveness, not just deliverance from death and the devil, not just eternal salvation, but we gave him the whole cotton picken world.
How can this be? Because all the punishment that Zain or we as fallen children of Adam deserve, Jesus bore in our place. Jesus was cast out by God the Father into the desert, so that God the Father might pick Zain and you up in Holy Baptism. Jesus suffered all of His days under our sins and sinfulness. He was cold, hungry, worse off than even wild animals all because He bore our guilt, our shame, our punishment. He bore all of this all the way to Calvary's mournful mountain where He was nailed to the cross for our sins and sinfulness. There He cried, "It is finished." Done was the payment for my sins; finished was the payment for Zain's sins; paid in full was the payment for your many sins. Baptism, through the Word of God connected to the Water, delivers that full payment to the individual.
Ah but Zain's going to leave here still a sinner. That's right. Till we die we carry around these fallen natures. Won't then the heavy weight of God's holy Law crush us? Who can live with the constant "do this" and "do that" of God's commandment shouting in their ears? Neither Zain nor you or I have to. What you see Jesus doing in the desert is keeping God's Commandments. He didn't break any of them in thinking, speaking, or doing. Though Satan tempted Him sorely, Jesus didn't sin at all. Jesus being God in flesh and blood didn't need to do this for Himself. He was already holy. He did this for us.
Baptism not only delivers the payment for Zain's sins, but it delivers the fulfillment of the Law to Zain too. That goes for all of you baptized Christians. In your Baptism, through the Water and the Word, the Holy Trinity gives you a fulfilled 10 Commandments. You don't have to live your life thinking "I gotta do this," "I gotta do that," you can live your life with the sweet knowledge that Jesus did it all. In other words, rather than Zain wondering and agonizing all of his life over what would Jesus do, Zain in Baptism can focus on all that Jesus did and will do for him.
So in this text we have Jesus in a real struggle to survive in the desert; in a real battle with a mole named Satan, and in a real confrontation with wild beasts. All this He does so Zain, you and I, and all those baptized may be real American Idols and real Joe Millionaires. As real as the desert Jesus was cast into, that's how real the heaven Baptism brings you into is. As real as Jesus' temptation under Satan was, that's how real your victory and power over Satan is. As real as Jesus fighting with the wild animals was, that's how real their serving you at God's command is. As real as your sins are to you, that's how real the forgiveness found in your Baptism is. As real as the condemnation we feel as sinners is, more real is the redemption Jesus won for us on the cross and gives to us in Baptism. That's why in Baptism we say to the child, "Receive the sign of the holy cross both upon the forehead and upon the heart as an indication that you have been redeemed by Christ the crucified." Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
First Sunday in Lent (3-9-03), Mark 1:12-15