“For Us Fights the Valiant One”

(Mark 1:12-15 – Lent 1 – February 21, 2021)

Mark 1:12-15 – 12Immediately the Spirit drove Him into the wilderness. 13And He was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan, and was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered to Him. 14Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, 15and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.”

Dear Redeemed in the name of Jesus Christ:

Some time after creation, Satan and a number of angels became proud in the position God had given them in heaven, and they rebelled against God’s authority. So God cast them out of heaven. 2 Peter 2:4 says: “God did not spare the angels who sinned, but cast them down to hell and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved for judgment.” (Cf. 1 Timothy 3:6; Jude 1:6). Seeing his doom, there was only one way for Satan to get back at God. It was to drag down into hell with himself those whom God had made in His image and loves dearly – mankind.

Satan knew what it would take. He must get Adam and Eve to rebel with him against God. There was only one way. For God had forbidden only one thing to Adam and Eve – the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Satan must tempt them to go against God’s Word, to eat the forbidden fruit and die.

When Adam and Eve abandoned the true Word of God and fell for the words of the father of lies, it must have filled Satan with a wicked sense of glee. As Adam and Eve felt death and decay set in to their bodies, Satan laughed. As Adam and Eve felt the despair of separation from God overtake them, Satan laughed. Who among fallen mankind could resist the serpent now, as his deadly venom of sin coursed through our veins, producing in us deceitful desires and death? Satan felt like the valiant one against God; for now, all the descendents of Adam and Eve must perish forever in the death that would bring us down to hell’s gloomy dungeons with Satan.

But it was not to be so, for God would not have the sinner die. In love, God promised that He would send the Savior for fallen sinners. He would come in the form of a Man, the offspring of Eve. He would crush Satan’s head, even as His heel was bruised by Satan (Genesis 3:15). In this Son of Man, fallen humans would be restored to fellowship and eternal life with God.

In our text, Satan meets that Son of Man, who is God in our flesh. Here, you and I are given our only hope as sinners. For “With might of ours can naught be done” against Satan; but “For Us Fights the Valiant One” … “Jesus Christ it is!” (Hymn: “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”).

The time is immediately after Jesus’ baptism. God the Father had just publicly pronounced Jesus His beloved Son, in whom He was well pleased. The Holy Spirit had just descended upon Jesus, anointing Him as Savior. Now it says: “Immediately the Spirit drove Him into the wilderness. And He was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan” (vs. 12-13).

Immediately after Jesus was revealed as God’s Son in the flesh, that archenemy of God began to assault Him with temptation. Yet even this was part of God’s plan in saving sinners. For from the days of Adam and Eve, all who have inherited the sinful nature have fallen to Satan’s temptations. But God’s plan called for His Son to stand in our place and be tempted and triumph over Satan for us. Jesus alone, as the perfect Son of God and Son of Man, could present before His Father the righteous life of obedience we owed God, so that His life would count for us.

But this meant that Jesus must not once give in to temptation, even in the harshest conditions. In Matthew’s and Luke’s accounts, we are told that Jesus fasted 40 days and nights. He was hungry during these temptations (Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13). In His human nature, He felt weak. Our text says Jesus was surrounded only by wilderness and wild animals (vs. 13). In His human nature, He felt lonely. The temptation was continuous, unrelenting for six weeks. Hell’s prince dangled before heaven’s King the easy path of relief for His human need, apart from trusting His heavenly Father to provide. Hell’s prince urged Jesus to take an easy path of glory, apart from the path of suffering and the cross marked out for Him by His Father.

To Jesus’ human nature, the temptation for immediate relief was strong. As God, His sinless will was united with that of His Father and the Holy Spirit from eternity. Therefore, such false relief held no appeal. He knew this cup Satan held out was poisoned. To drink it would be the disowning of God Himself, and the handing of you and me over to Satan forever. Yet as Man, Jesus truly felt the strength of these temptations in every way, just as we do (Hebrews 4:15). His suffering in temptation was just as real as His suffering and death on the cross would be. It took all of His strength and His perfect will to endure it. And He did.

Satan, the strong one, brought forth all the power of temptation he could muster. Yet Jesus, the Stronger One, stood unmoved (Matthew 12:29). The perfect Son trusted His Father to provide every need, and Jesus responded to every single temptation with the Word of God. When He told Satan to get lost, the archenemy had to flee in terror, beaten. 1 John 3:8 tells us: “For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil.” Satan had met the Valiant One. Satan had met his doom.

After these 40 days in the wilderness, Jesus’ temptation would continue. At opportune times, the Adversary would tempt Jesus through the opposition of His enemies – and even through His own disciples’ opposition to the way of the cross. Yet, Jesus would go on showing His power over Satan’s kingdom, by casting out demons. Even when the cup of suffering caused Him bloody sweat and tears in the garden of Gethsemane, God’s perfect Son would not give up.  In every temptation He prayed: “O My Father… Your will be done” (Matthew 26:42; Luke 22:43). So “For Us Fights the Valiant One.” God’s own Son fulfilled all righteousness for us by His perfect obedience – even unto His death on the cross, by which He has taken away all our sins.

Now you and I, in our baptism into Christ, have also been anointed by God’s Spirit. As the Father now sees us in Christ, He declares us His beloved children in whom He is well pleased. And as Jesus after His baptism was targeted by the archenemy, now that we have renounced the devil in baptism, we are targeted by him too. 1 Peter 5:8 warns : Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.”

As with Jesus, our temptation can be strong in times of weakness. As lions will target any weakness in their prey, Satan and his demons study our weaknesses in hope of a kill. From camouflaged hiding spots behind the scenes of our daily life, they are ready to pounce.

In our weakness as sinners, we feel the temptation to satisfy desires apart from God’s will. It is especially true if we feel discontent in life – as if our harsh, desert-like conditions justify our choices to satisfy ourselves however we please. At different times in life, temptations may feel stronger in different ways. There are lusts of the flesh that tempt us to treat our body and that of another in secret and shameful ways, if even just by looking in the wrong places. There is self-flattering pride and vanity that looks in the mirror and says, “Look at you! Aren’t you the envy of everyone! Aren’t you the success story!” There are addictions and greed by which we grab for more and more of what we do not need. There is the temper that makes us lash out and hurt; or the slow burning anger that makes us act coldly toward others, as if we knew nothing about Jesus’ forgiveness and love.

How often what we think of as our strengths – the very things by which we flatter ourselves and believe we satisfy ourselves – Satan knows to be our weaknesses. He knows they put a wedge between us and God.

As with Jesus, temptation can also be strong for us in times of loneliness. As lions seek to separate an animal from the flock, Satan and his demons seek to separate us from fellowship with God and encouragement of fellow believers. How strong the temptation can be to try and soothe our loneliness with bad company that corrupts good character (1 Corinthians 15:33). How strong temptation can be when we are all alone with the kind of company often provided on TV, internet, books, or magazines – the kinds of influences we normally would not surround ourselves with. The more we do so, the easier it can get to put up with ideas we once resisted with such indignation. The more we become unequally yoked with worldly company, desiring to fit in, the less we desire to be united with fellow believers in the truth of God’s Word.

How often, just when we feel the most popular and surrounded by praise of the world, Satan knows we are the loneliest. He knows we are being cut off from fellowship with God and the encouragement of fellow believers in His Word.

How easily we deceive ourselves by what does not satisfy. Perhaps at first we valiantly resist in the wilderness of temptation. But with ongoing power of suggestion and growing discontent, at last we give in. We drink that false cup of relief held out to us, but it is poisonous. Despite how attractive it looks, sin leaves us empty, broken, and despairing under judgment.

As the Accuser, the devil loves to keep records on us. He cares nothing about justice; indeed, he dreads God’s justice. Yet he hopes to bring us down by the justice of God’s court, where the holy Law declares that even one sin damns. Satan hopes to bring us down in despair with charges of guilt, to single us out, to make us feel as if, of all people, we could never be saved.

All alone against Satan in a battle of temptation and willpower, we would fall every time. But thanks be to God! “For us fights the Valiant One” – Jesus Christ! By His perfect willpower and by God’s Word, Jesus turned Satan away every time – for you and me. Jesus’ victory against temptation in the wilderness prefigured His final victory at the cross – for you and me. To the very end, Jesus endured all temptation and bitter suffering, and gave His life to redeem you and me from sin, Satan, and hell. On the cross when Jesus cried out “It is finished!” (John 19:30), the divine Judge’s gavel pounded once and for all, declaring you and me forgiven, acquitted of all guilt. Jesus’ resurrection proves that He has paid for our sins and crushed Satan under His heel.

Now as those united with Jesus in baptism and faith, we too shall prevail. For “Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us” (Romans 8:33-34). Jesus Christ, the Righteous One, speaks to His Father in our defense. He who gave His life as the sacrifice to take away our sins (1 John 2:1-2), says: “Father, forgive them” (Luke 23:34). And the Father, who is well pleased with His Son, forgives us; and for Jesus’ sake, He is well pleased with us.

In verses 14-15 we hear the Valiant One, who came to redeem a world of sinners, preaching: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” As we see the great cost He paid to redeem us, are we not led to confess our sins and lay them on Jesus in repentance? Are we not led to rejoice in the Gospel, in which He declares us forgiven, reinstated in His kingdom as God’s children, and heirs of eternal life? Do we not desire to keep quenching our spiritual thirst in the true water of life He gives, having our faith strengthened by His Gospel in Word and Sacrament, sharing His encouragement in Christian fellowship? Are we not moved to watch and pray in every need as Jesus promises to deliver us (Hebrews 2:18)?

As any salesman knows, the toughest customer to gain is the one who is already satisfied with the product he is getting elsewhere. When Satan comes trying to sell his wares, our satisfaction in God’s gift of eternal life in Christ, our contentment in His promise of daily love and provision, empower us to tell Satan to get lost. We know the difference between the real thing and that which is false, between that which truly quenches our thirst and that which poisons.

On our own, we could not stand; but “For Us Fights the Valiant One.” When Satan comes tempting, “One little Word can fell him” – the Word of Christ our Savior. Empowered by His Gospel, we say: Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:37-39).

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. Amen.