Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, baptized and tempted for us, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Most of us have seen or heard the famous “Who’s on First?” routine by Abbott and Costello. Their sense of comic timing—the pauses and interruptions and quick responses—has made that to be one of the funniest routines in American entertainment. If you haven’t seen it, make a note to yourself to track it down and view it sometime.
Timing is important. The right timing affects the outcome of an event. Timing dictates the order in which things happen, and it also sets the pace.
In Mark’s Gospel, we hear that Jesus begins his ministry “at the right time.” He didn’t arbitrarily find himself in the role of Savior. He arrived at God’s perfect time. As they say, “Timing is everything.” We see this is especially true in Jesus’ life: At the right time, He came to the right place, and He came for the right task.
The stage was set. According to the Father’s perfect will, the time was right according to the world’s history. And so God sent his Son. Throughout the Savior’s life, we see that He was sent to the right places. From His birth in Bethlehem, to His ministry in Galilee, Samaria, and Judea, to His crucifixion and resurrection in Jerusalem, and finally at His appearances and ascension, Jesus was always in the right place.
St. Mark tells us that Jesus deliberately sought out John the Baptist and entered with him into the Jordan River. At the right time, Christ was baptized. As Jesus walked from the river, He entered into the work He was sent and ordained to accomplish: The redemption of all humanity from our sins.
Timing is indeed everything. It is true of us as well. Unfortunately, our timing usually brings about everything that is bad for us. We have a horrible sense of timing. We sinful beings have a knack to find ourselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. If it doesn’t happen by chance, we find a way to create bad timing and bad situations. We even enter this world in a bad place. We are born in sin. From the moment we are conceived, the Bible tells us, it is in sin.
The time we spend in this life is filled with sin, too. We commit terrible sins. And we find ourselves in the wrong place, continually. We find ourselves in the wilderness every day, no matter how populated and built-up our neighborhoods and our workplaces. Our sinful acts lead us into the barren wastelands of depression, guilt, sorrow, anger, and pain, moment by moment, day after day.
In that wilderness, we often find ourselves alone and hopeless. We find that we are harassed and helpless. Temptations to fall into sin are great. The temptation is there for us to take counsel from the devil, the father of lies, rather than from Jesus, who speaks only truth. Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” (John 14:6)
Consider the consequences of taking the advice of the father of lies, rather than the well-spring of truth! Each of us has to admit there is the temptation to conform to this world. There is the temptation to listen to the devil as he urges us to grab glory and success for ourselves in this life.
Our own hearts constantly deceive us, too, and insist we give in to selfish gratification. And we’re always convinced that we are headed towards a safe, pleasant oasis. We see fleshly desires lounging enticingly under the shade tree of promiscuity and perversion. We have an unquenchable fascination to sip the sweet waters of instant satisfaction. We demand constant, cheap and easy entertainment, we must line our pockets with expendable cash, and we spend untold hours and immeasurable effort on catering to our every whim and fancy.
Soon our paradise becomes a wasteland, our oasis a desert. Instead of finding cool comfort in the shade of our pleasures and perversions, we find that the heat of guilt and shame bear down on us. The sweet water of materialism sours into a cesspool as we realize that we can’t quench our greedy thirst for more. We never have enough to be satisfied!
We often find ourselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. And, yet: “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.” Jesus went to the wilderness for us.
We are familiar with the temptations Christ endured. Mark doesn’t record them for us as do Matthew and Luke, but we’ve learned them nevertheless. The devil challenged Jesus. God’s intention was that Jesus prove Himself to be stronger than temptation, so that He might remain the perfect Lamb of God, the suitable sacrifice provided at the suitable time.
But Satan wanted Jesus to fail, to succumb to the temptations so that there would be no Redeemer, and therefore no redemption. And so the challenges came. Change stones into bread, Jesus: The temptation to use power for the wrong purposes. Jump from the temple, Jesus: The temptation to elevate one’s own sense of importance by testing God. Bow down to Satan, Jesus: The temptation to idolatry, to making anything but the Creator supreme in one’s life.
Christ was tempted in every way we are, yet He remained without sin. Satan’s purpose—just like the world’s purpose and our own evil nature’s purpose—is to lead us away from God, and to trust in ourselves or in anything else except God. Satan wanted Jesus to sin, so he would turn away from his heavenly Father, turn away from the work of redemption, and turn inwardly, towards His own needs and desires. If the devil could have gotten Christ to fail, then he would surely have us all.
Make no mistake, though. These words are written for our comfort, and to increase our confidence in Jesus! It was necessary for Jesus to be cast out into the wilderness. He had to encounter Satan, the one responsible for bringing sin upon the entire human race. Jesus entered the wilderness of temptation for us, so that He could grapple with Satan in our place. He endured every one of our temptations, so He could overcome our weaknesses and prove to be the Faithful One in place of our continual faithlessness. Timing is everything. Jesus proves He is our Savior by allowing Himself to be in the right place at the right time. He faced Satan on our behalf.
Jesus endured temptation in this life, but it wasn’t easy. As we pray in one of the beautiful litanies of the Church:
By Your baptism, fasting, and temptation;
By Your agony and bloody sweat;
By Your cross and passion;
By Your precious death and burial;
As a human being, Jesus suffered hunger and thirst; He saw and appreciated wealth and power; as fully human, He felt the pressures of temptation. But he willingly faced it all for you and me, at exactly the right time, in exactly the right place.
Jesus also came for just the right task; the task we needed Him to complete in our place. It’s been said that Jesus beat the devil with a big, ugly stick. His life and work found their climax; their culmination, on the cross. That rough, rugged, despicable instrument of torture was the big, ugly stick Jesus used. But it was all done in accordance with God’s Word. Jesus overcame the devil’s temptation and powers the same way we must—with the Word of God.
The Word—that’s what the almighty Son of God used to ward off Satan’s attacks. God’s Word works. It has the power to perform and accomplish things that our own idle musings and our clever, witty statements cannot. Jesus demonstrates a complete trust and reliance in the Word. He not only used it in the midst of temptation, but He went out and preached it: “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!’”
Talk about perfect timing! “The time has come!” Jesus proclaimed. He was referring to the time of healing, redemption, refreshment, and salvation that the Word of God had long promised through the prophets. Jesus heralded the very word that He came to fulfill. His message of repentance led people back to the Scriptures, in order to see that He came to accomplish every promise of God.
Reading and listening with an open heart and open mind, we see that Jesus is the one who came to obtain redemption for all people. This is line with the words of Jeremiah, “‘The days are coming’, declares the Lord, ‘when I will raise up to David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land.’”
Christ Jesus came at the right time to accomplish the right task. He came to offer the forgiveness of sins and to secure our salvation for eternity. Jesus did not come as some social or political leader, a revolutionary to encourage an overthrow of earthly oppression. He came as God of God; the Holy One sent from the Holy One, the Son who would turn sinful hearts back to the heavenly Father. The only way to forgiveness and salvation, Christ points out, is to “repent and believe the good news.”
Our young people can inform you that the Greek word for repentance is metanoia; literally, a turning of the mind. Repentance means to have a change of mind and heart as far as sin is concerned; to turn from sin and to trust in the only One who can save us. Our hearts only find this turning point in the good news of forgiveness in Christ alone.
Jesus is all we need for our soul’s protection. He lived perfectly in our place, He died innocently in our place, and He proudly proclaims his Word of reassurance to us. Who else but Christians are given such protection? Even the most powerful man on earth—the President of the United States—doesn’t have such assurance and comfort. The President has the entire Secret Service at his disposal, and their mission is to keep the President safe at all costs—even if it means taking a bullet for him.
Unfortunately, all it takes is one bullet. And there have been enough presidential assassinations and attempts to prove that even our best and most willing, selfless efforts to offer protection fail miserably. All it takes is one person in the wrong place at the wrong time. That is why God has given us his Word. Far better than a legion of Secret Service officers are the sure promises of God. More faithful than the power of all our military capabilities is the faultless Word of truth.
Jesus came to “take the bullet for us” so to speak. He was willing to endure temptation on our behalf, to be the perfectly obedient child of God in our stead. He was willing to suffer in this life. He was willing to give his very life for us, so that we might have a new life of joy and peace in this life, and the hope of a perfect life to come in eternity.
God’s Word proves without a doubt that Jesus came at the right time—according to the Father’s decrees; He went to the right place and he accomplished the right task. And because of Jesus’ saving work our sins are forgiven and we are now God’s beloved children. We are tempted and we fail, time after time, it’s true—but God is never unfaithful to us as we often are to Him. We will never be cast away from His presence, nor have His blessed Holy Spirit taken from us.
It’s all about timing. The time is now for us to hear this good news again. We need to hear it regularly; as we heard in the Ash Wednesday Epistle: “Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” (2 Corinthians 6:2). Every day is our day of salvation, when we are to repent and be restored. The only thing that can lead us away from senseless temptation and turn us back towards God is the Gospel—the wonderful news that Jesus has done everything to cancel out our sins.
Let’s not forsake this word of truth, then. Remember every moment that any time God offers His word of comfort to us, it’s the right thing, in the right place, in the right time.
In the holy (X) name of Jesus, Amen.