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“Fast, Pray, Give!”

February 18, 2024 Preacher: Minister Thomas Houston

Scripture: Mark 1:9–15


February 18, 2024 First Sunday in Lent The text is Mark 1:9-15.


9In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10And 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. 11And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
12And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him. 14Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”


May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to You, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.

Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God the Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

We read this morning for the second time in just a few weeks that Jesus has been baptized by John the Baptist in the river Jordan.  And this gospel reading is repeated with good reason, considering the earth-shattering consequence of this event.  And we will revisit the several incidents that took place after Jesus’ baptism as we journey with him over the upcoming weeks of Lent.  Jesus will rebuke Peter for his argument when Jesus proclaims that he will journey to Jerusalem and be killed.  Jesus will enter the temple and overturn the money-changers tables.  He will ask God to spare him from the suffering he knows he must endure.  He will publicly glorify the name of God and ultimately be arrested and made to stand before Pilate for judgement.

We will encounter all these events over the next several Sundays as we prepare to enter into Holy Week and Easter.  These next chapters in Mark’s gospel will move rather quickly in recounting these events, but we mustn’t lose sight of the fact that in this sort of “mini-series” telling of the mission of Jesus, that it all begins with this morning’s retelling of his baptism.  What follows are the highs and lows, as it were of all that Jesus teaches and preaches as he makes his way toward Jerusalem and the inevitable cross that awaits him. 

But first, again we hear Mark’s account of what happened as Jesus came up from the waters of the Jordan as he is baptized by his cousin John.  Mark writes that the heavens were “torn apart” and that the voice of God is heard, proclaiming Jesus as God’s beloved Son.  And if this isn’t apocalyptic enough, what follows is the appearance of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove, descending upon the newly baptized Jesus, the Son of God.  So, it’s important that we don’t skim over these few verses, considering the magnitude of what Mark is telling us.  And this explains why the story of Jesus’ baptism is selected as the gospel reading this year on the first Sunday in Lent.  This incredibly significant event sets the stage for everything that happened from that point on.  The Son of God will begin his mission and ministry and we are invited to participate in what is to happen between now and Easter.  Once we acknowledge the magnitude of Jesus’ baptismal event and bear it in mind as we proceed through Lent, the importance of everything else that happens takes on new meaning for us.

Note that immediately after the torn open heavens, God’s voice, and the dove descending, this same Holy Spirit compels Jesus to spend 40 days in the desert tempted by Satan.  It seems that as soon as the Spirit descends upon Jesus as a dove, that right away Jesus’ newly proclaimed identity as God’s Son requires a 40-day wilderness test.  It seems a bit over the top, no?  God proclaims that Jesus is God’s beloved Son and he is pleased with Jesus now embarking on his ministry, and immediately the Spirit drives Jesus out to contend with Satan’s temptations.  “You have just been anointed as the Christ, the Son of God and all power in heaven and earth has been entrusted to you.  Now, go prove that you are worthy of it”.  Obviously, Jesus resists all that he is tempted with and he emerges from the desert, still sinless and ready to complete his mission.


And now that we are keeping in mind the enormous impact of Jesus’ baptism and temptation, how might we conduct ourselves as we struggle with our need for repentance and forgiveness?  Jesus had nothing to repent of and being sinless, no forgiveness was necessary.  But we certainly must acknowledge our sin, turn away from it, act differently, and ask God to forgive us.  No holy dove descending on us, no heavens torn open, no audible voice of God proclaiming us as divine.  Yet we too have been baptized and we also face temptation, we are constantly being tested.  And the manner in which we respond to that which tests us defines how we should approach our lives every day, even more so during our Lenten journey.   

This  morning we enter into the first Sunday in Lent, and we are called to the reflective and repentant practices that Christians observe as a reminder of our baptism and response to temptation.  We are to implement a time of self-reflection, fasting from that which draws us away from God, acceptance of our mortality, and acknowledgement of the redemptive work of Christ.  It’s during this time of self-discovery that we discern what tests us, what we are tempted by.  And more importantly, we are to recall our baptism, the act of the Holy Spirit that makes us part of God’s family.  And through the remembrance of our baptism and the importance of Jesus’ we are invited to reflect on his response to the temptation he faced.  Recognizing that we are not divine as Jesus is and that our human nature causes to be always in sin, our awareness of this dictates that our resistance to temptation is strengthened when we rigorously adhere to the practices that have been part of the Lenten season for millennia. 

Jesus spoke to these in the Sermon on the Mount; they are alms-giving, fasting, and prayer.  Alms-giving is simple enough; we are called to practice charity, to provide for the needs of others.  And Jesus reminds us to do this without great fanfare, and not so that our charity becomes an act for which we seek public acclaim.  On Ash Wednesday we addressed the need to fast, to refrain from those things that separate us from God; these include anything that diminishes us and our relationship with God and those around us.  Things like fear, anxiety, our bad temper, selfish ambition, disregard for those in need.

Let’s be honest, if we were to make a list of all the things that would separate us from God, the list would be endless, and we would find it quite impossible to fast from all of them.  Nonetheless, making a sincere attempt to refrain from these destructive behaviors, that is repenting of them, is the first step toward becoming free of them.  Perhaps, though the practice that is most beneficial as we strive to be repentant and resistant to temptation is prayer.  We may not always be in a position to provide for the needs of our neighbors and those behaviors that draw us from God are often difficult to overcome, but engaging in prayer, well that’s the easy one.  For God is always eager to hear us when we reach out.  When we approach our Father with willing hearts and a sincere desire to repent of that which we know diminishes us, God is ready to engage with us.  After all our baptism, although without torn heavens and a holy dove, still confirms that we are God’s children; accepted, forgiven, and promised salvation.

So, as we journey toward the darkness of Good Friday and ultimately the joy of Easter, let us do so with intention.  As baptized followers of Jesus Christ, constantly facing temptation, Lent affords us the opportunity to accompany Jesus as he travels to Jerusalem.  Our experience along the way is made more impactful, more meaningful if we acknowledge our need for repentance, attempt to fast from that which tempts us, care for our neighbors, and remain in prayerful relationship with God.  It will be challenging and perhaps more difficult than we might like, but it will be worth it.  For every minute we spend in a close walk with Jesus is rewarded by gaining a deeper knowledge of our place alongside him, as baptized members of the family of God.

Will you pray with me?  Good, and gracious, and Holy God, remind us that as we are baptized into Jesus’ baptism, we are also baptized into his death and resurrection.  Guide us as we journey this Lent along with Jesus and strengthen our resolve to walk his path.  And we pray these things in the name of Jesus Christ, the One whose baptism tore open the heavens to welcome us to everlasting life.                               

God is Good, all the time.  All the time, God is Good.  Amen.