This is the First Sunday of Lent. Every year the Gospel for today is an account of Our Lord’s forty day fast in the desert. Last year we had Luke’s account. Next year it will be Matthew’s. This year it is Mark’s.
Matthew and Luke give us full accounts of Satan’s three attempts at tempting Jesus, but Mark gives us only a bare-bone account. Yet even Mark’s brief account is enough to reveal two mysteries embedded in the scene.
The first mystery has to do with Jesus coming from the water, then passing through forty days in the desert. By this sequence Jesus repeats, in miniature, the Israelites’ coming out of the Red Sea to spend forty years in the desert. This seemingly accidental similarity alerts us to the deep truth alluded to in Ephesians. There, Paul spoke of the great mystery of God’s plan “to sum up all things in Christ.” After here identifying himself with his people’s history, Jesus would then go on as one of them to offer his life for their salvation.
The second mystery here has to do with Jesus being tempted to the full. In Romans, Chapter Six, Paul described how by going down into, then rising up from, the water of baptism, we symbolically share in the death and resurrection of Jesus. In Romans 6:10, Paul, speaking of the death by which Christ saved us, said, “His death was a death to sin,” and our baptisms are a symbolic death and resurrection.
There is deep meaning in the statement that “His death was a death to sin.” It is saying that we are saved not so much by the death by crucifixion (which Jesus shared with two criminals) but by his conquering all temptations to sin.His facing down Satan’s forty days of temptations was the kickoff of a long campaign against temptations. His final victory over them would come the night before his death. After sweating blood he would say, “Father, not as I will, but as you will.”
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