By Joel Hess –
This past Sunday many of you watched an episode of Naked and Afraid, starring Jesus in the Judean wilderness fighting wild beasts and Satan with nothing but the skin on his back. For 40 days Jesus survives it all depending upon God alone! He is the first ‘Lone Survivor!’
Throughout the country, many Christians are participating in the ancient 40 day season of Lent. Like Jesus’s journey in the wilderness, Lent desires to take people away from their busy worldly centered lives and bring them into the wilderness for a time of repentance, recommitment, and rejuvenation for Christians. Just look at church websites and count how many “R” words are included in their Lenten slogans. This is all good and healthy for sure. Christians should regularly reflect on their beliefs and life in Christ. I suppose we should do this even daily as Luther explains regarding baptism in his small catechism. He writes, “the old Adam in us should, by daily contrition and repentance, be drowned and die with all sins and evil lusts, and, again, a new man daily come forth and arise “
In the Spirit of Jesus’s playing survivor in the desert, Lent has become a sort of basic training or bootcamp for Christians. For sure, many churches long ago would use this time to instruct new members. This instruction would culminate with baptism on the Feast of the Resurrection or the great Vigil. Keeping with this God pleasing tradition, I too am leading my church through the 6 chief parts of the Christian faith this Lent. Along with fasting/prayer and beginning new pious habits, I hope by the power of the Holy Spirit as it is attached to God’s Word my people grow stronger in the faith.
The readings for the first Sunday of Lent are perfect for the season. We watch Jesus go on a personal bootcamp in the wilderness fighting Satan! Like an episode of Naked and Afraid or the Hunger Games, Jesus must fight the rigors of the cruel terrain, let alone wrestle with the Devil. We marvel at his ability to go without food and water. We cheer him on as Satan tests His allegiance to His Father and His mission.
I’m sure many of you heard sermons about how you too can go through the wilderness of this world and fight the Devil! Just do what Jesus does. Like a sword, Jesus waves God’s Word at Satan with every temptation. We too must be strong as we survive in this cruel wasteland where Satan prowls like a lion waiting for someone to devour.
Lent is a time to learn how to be strong! Right?
Maybe Lent is a time to learn how to be weak. How to suffer. How to die.
This is a lesson learned by the 21 Christians who lost their heads, not because they were strong, but because they were fools marked with God’s name upon them. As the knife came to their throat they learned to completely fall back upon the one who is strong, who fasted 40 days. The one who defeated Satan, not only in the wilderness, but upon the cross. The cruel epitome of this violent chaotic terrain, where this one was indeed stripped naked and left to die. Even into the unforgiving grave He journeyed. Even Hell. Not one inch of the heavens and earth did He not walk. Only to rise again!
In Lent we learn that we are so weak. We cannot survive on bread alone, that is, our hard work, our perseverance, our good works and wise plans. We cannot survive upon our pious habits or good habits. In Lent we learn that if we depend upon ourselves, we will indeed be left naked and afraid like Adam and Eve who turned the garden into a wilderness.
In Lent we learn to be weak, like the Israelites learned at Sinai. We learn that we can only survive by depending completely upon the work of God in Jesus Christ. He alone will sustain us through our wilderness journey, not with mannah and quail, but the bread of life. He alone conquered the wilderness and paid the price for our sins and washed us in His blood. He alone will raise us up by the power of his word as He shouts our name, along with those 21 and all the dead in Christ, and lifts us up out of the grave on the last day!
I pray you learn this Lent how to be weak, to go limp, and to fall back into the arms of our mighty God.