Look at and listen to Jesus
Dear Friends in Christ,
Judy and I enjoyed our five day vacation in Colorado . It was so good to see our daughter and son-in-law and our two grandkids. Sarah and Catie couldn’t be more different. Sarah, who has all kinds of health problems since she was born, is getting them resolved. She is so easy going, so thoughtful and kind. She has been given the green light to stop rehabilitation from the operation she had on her legs this past summer. She is a great student who loves to read and read and read.
Catie is the energizer bunny. She keeps going and going and going. Sarah took a long time to walk. Catie walked before she was one; at twenty months she is mostly running. She bounces from one thing to another. She is so entertaining just to watch. As I was watching her, I was wondering what was going on inside the brain of that twenty month old. What makes her go from the sofa, to the book, to the dining room table, to her doll, to JUJU’s lap, to her shoes to unlace them and lace them all in the matter of a minute and a half?
Needless to say, at twenty months she is thinking about all the urgent business that needs to be done that day, but she doesn’t get out her planner and prioritize the things that must be done, could get done or that would be nice to get done if there is time. She doesn’t think about being proactive to get a jump on things for the future. Those are things we do.
Yet none of the things that she does or that we do compare to the importance of what Jesus needed to get done when he came to the world to save. This Word of God would exhort us to “Look at and Listen to Jesus.” 1) Look at his mission of substitution; 2) Listen to his message of Good News.
The Gospels of Matthew and Luke go back to the beginning of Jesus’ life. Each traces the astounding announcement of the angel who announced that a Savior would be born to the Virgin Mary. John’s Gospel begins at the beginning. He calls Jesus by a most unusual name – the Word! “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” The Gospel penned by John Mark begins at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. It cuts quickly to Jesus’ baptism when the Holy Spirit was poured down on Jesus and filled Jesus; it goes quickly to the temptation of Jesus of Jesus in the wilderness. “At once the Spirit sent him out into the desert, and he was in the desert forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.”
It is interesting to compare the different accounts of the face to face showdown between Jesus and Satan in the desert in the different Gospels. When Mark says the Spirit “sent him to the desert,” the Greek word means “to cast him” into the desert. Mark makes it clear that when Jesus went into the desert to face Satan, this was very urgent. There were battles that needed to be fought and a war to be won. The salvation of mankind was at stake.
Matthew’s word for Satan is “diabolos.” It means ‘accuser.’ Mark uses the word ‘Satan.’ It means ‘enemy.’ Either way, the names are very apropos. He is the accuser; he is the enemy!
There Jesus was for forty days. Forty - this isn’t the only place ‘forty’ is used. There were the forty years that the children of Israel were out in the wilderness before the LORD led them to the Promised Land. Prior to that, the rains from the heavens and the water that came from the fountains of the deep at the time of Noah lasted forty days and forty nights. Moses’ life could be divided into three forty year periods – 1) 40 years was the time he lived in Pharaoh’s house after being pulled out of the waterproof box he had been placed into because Pharaoh decreed that Hebrew children were to die at birth; 2) 40 years was the time Moses spent in the desert after he fled Egypt when he avenged the beating of the Hebrew slave by killing the Egyptian and buried him in an unmarked grave. He spent forty years working for his father-in- law Jethro and got married to his wife Keturah; 3) 40 years is the time he spent after God called him lead God’s people from Egypt and endure the forty years of testing in the wilderness.
The number forty is associated with testing. That’s certainly what was going on here. Satan was giving Jesus his best licks. Jesus, the Son of God but in every way flesh and blood, emptied himself of the full use of his power he had as God and set it aside. He subjected himself to human weakness so he could be obedient unto death. He also allowed himself to be tempted. In every sense of the word he knows what it means to walk in our shoes when it comes to temptation.
When Mark says that “the Spirit sent him out into the desert", Jesus was certainly subject to his humanness. Think about what had happened just prior to this. He was baptized. At his Baptism, the Father and the Spirit were present. God the Father gave him divine approval – “This is my Son whom I love!” Now alone in the desert! From the peak to the valley!
He knows what it is like to have those days when everything falls into place followed by the next day when life seems like the pits – when circumstances seem like they sock you in the stomach! Jesus understands.
And Jesus was there alone. It is easier to fight the battles when you have company. There is good reason God says, “Let us not give up meeting together as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another, all the more as you see the day approaching.” When you are alone, you are an easier target for the devil. For single people to go to church alone is hard to do. It is so much easier when someone is with you. It is so much easier to fend off Satan when another is giving encouragement rather than to get locked into one on one combat with him. Jesus was alone. He knows that feeling.
Then it says “he was with the wild animals.” Years ago I went camping with my brother in Canada . We were in a National Park near Ottawa . My brother was a pastor and he vicarred in Ottawa . To prepare he went deep into the city to get some sausage. It smelled awful. When we camped that’s all I could smell. I thought it would attract every bear for forty miles around. Fortunately we camped out on a very small island in the middle of a lake. The bears would have to swim a good distance to the middle of the lake to get to it. I prayed it smelled as awful to the bears as it did to me. Was I afraid? Yeah, I was afraid!
Was Jesus tempted to be afraid? Was he being tempted that his Heavenly Father forgot about him? I think so. But look how he handled it. I would compare what Jesus might have been tempted to what David was tempted when he faced the Philistines who had Goliath. David knew God would be with him. David was anointed to be the next king. David knew the people of Israel wouldn’t be wiped out. God had promised Messiah would come from them. That promise needed to be kept. God promised salvation would be won by Christ. Jesus knew the promise of his Father’s angels to protect and minister to him. Jesus had a mission that needed to be done.
Jesus was tempted, but didn’t give into temptation. There is a difference. It is not a sin to be tempted; it is sin to give into temptation. Luther said it like this in a way that he only could, “You can’t stop the birds from flying over your head but you can keep them from nesting in your hair.” Not once did Jesus let sin nest in his hair. Jesus lived perfectly for us. Jesus was our perfect Substitute.
We call this the active obedience of Jesus. So necessary and so completely done! He lived out the command that God gave to us, “Be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy.” While expected of you and me, it was done by Jesus - perfectly!
Every now and then you see beggars with shopping carts filling them up with trash. Sometimes it might be aluminum cans! Whatever! They take it to the recycling center for a few bucks. Imagine us taking our trash to Jesus and dumping it all on him. We do exactly that. In fact, we are invited to exactly that. “The Lord laid upon him the iniquities of us all.” But he doesn’t allow us to go away with an empty shopping cart. He fills it with all his good deeds, his righteousness, his holiness. Be holy! We are because Jesus doesn’t just loan it to us, he gives his holiness to us. Look at and Listen to Jesus. Look at his mission of substitution. Embrace it by faith!
Listen to his message of Good News. “After John (remember that is John the Baptist) was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee , proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” John the Baptist was put into prison. He spoke out publicly against Herod committing and flaunting his adulterous relationship with his sister-in-law. When persecutors of God’s people see that God doesn’t always strike them down immediately but actually by grace gives them the opportunity to repent, they often get bold to do more bad things to God’s people. That compelled Jesus to move out of Jerusalem and head north to Galilee . Jesus did that for another reason too. It fulfilled the Scripture. According to Isaiah, when Messiah would come “there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the Gentiles, by the way of the sea, along the Jordan— The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.”
To the people of Galilee Jesus would minister. He came to fulfill the Scriptures and bring good news. They needed it. All people need it.
My oldest brother is very ill. A few years ago he had valve replacement on his heart. It hasn’t been as effective as they had hoped. He took a certain medicine for six years that seems to have done some irreparable damage to his arteries. It causes him to bleed internally. He gets about a pint or two of blood almost daily. He has been in the hospital about four or five times in the last couple of weeks. Now I know that God can do anything he wants and I ask you to pray that God would give him a few more years. Humanly speaking, it won’t be surprising that we might be making a trip up there soon to lay him to rest. The news isn’t good. It seems like his condition is terminal.
When Jesus preached to the land of Zebulon and Naphtali, he exhorted people to “repent!” You are sinners! Your condition is terminal. The wages of sin is death. The day is coming when your soul and body will separate. Once the soul leaves the body, the body becomes a mass of dead cells that will meld into the dust of the earth. It is not a pretty sight! It is not a pretty thought!
But what happens to the body is not in the same ball park with what can happen to the soul. Without forgiveness of sins, listen to what Isaiah says, “And they will go out and look upon the dead bodies of those who rebelled against me; their worm will not die, nor will their fire be quenched, and they will be loathsome to all mankind.” Without the forgiveness of sins life is like wanting to die but impossible to do so. That’s a description of hell. No love to be experienced – from God or from hellmates!
So is that our destiny? It would be if we didn’t have the good news, the Good news that Jesus came to preach and to give good news because of the mission he came to carry out!
That’s the good news? It is God’s will to love and forgive! He gives evidence of it. He sent Jesus, His Son to be the Savior. He sent Jesus to live the righteous life we can’t. He sent Jesus to die the death we deserved. He sent Jesus to be our substitute.
You know what? I know my brother, by God’s grace knows that! I know that another part of Scripture describes where he is going. “Therefore, they (all who die in Christ) are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them. Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
All because Jesus was our substitute! Amen