Baptismal Life in the Wilderness

Baptismal Life in the Wilderness

From this assurance of God’s favor, Jesus goes to the
wilderness, there to endure a time of testing that readied Him to teach and
bless, so we, by water and the Spirit, baptized into Christ’s ministry, are
often led to paths of service through mazes of adversity.

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

Brothers and sisters in Christ, the text for this morning
comes from the Gospel reading, as well as the Epistle.

So, what did you give up for Lent? Chocolate maybe? Or wine
or beer? Maybe you were one of the braver ones and gave up broccoli or
asparagus or brussels sprouts. Well, isn’t it interesting that we do such a
wonderful tradition, not because it’s biblically mandated, but because it gives
us an opportunity to focus on the great giving up of things, obviously, that
our Lord did. But let’s turn it around. Why don’t we use the time of Lent,
rather than giving up chocolate or something, to call people that you haven’t
telephoned in a while, and write a card to someone whom you haven’t
corresponded with in a while. Invite someone to church that you haven’t
invited, or you have but it’s been awhile. Put regularly in the offering plate
a larger check. Teach Sunday school, hint, hint. We need some teachers. Take
the opportunity of this time as we focus upon what God has done for us to do
and serve somebody else. But, as we know, to do such service and to extend or
stretch ourselves, places us in a time of testing or tribulation. And usually,
we spend most of our opportunities in life adjusting fire and posturing so that
we can avoid such service and extra responsibilities, sometimes wisely and
sometimes…well, let’s face it… lazily.

God has placed you from the moment of your baptism into His
service. We are in a full-court press, run-and-gun kind of offense and defense
for the entire length of the game of our life. Some of us get the moment of
timeout and we’re on the bench to rest. And some of us right now are in the
midst of the game and are dealing with a 300-pound Shaq who is on our back all
the time. God’s testing and tribulation are exactly that. They are His. He is
in control of your testing. He is the One who has allowed those things to come
upon you. He has not orchestrated your decisions on what you have done, but He
has allowed those things to happen to you, not for the sake of crushing you,
though it feels at times overwhelming, but for the sake of building you up and
strengthening you, just as a wise coach pushes you in practice so that you
excel in the game. There is no practice in this life. God thrusts us in the
game whether we think we’re ready or not. But our responses are just that.
They’re our responses. God does not puppeteer us, as James said so well. Let no
one say when he is tempted, “I’m being tempted by God.” For God cannot be
tempted with evil, and He Himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted
when he is lured and enticed by his own desire, and then desire, when it is
conceived, gives birth to sin. And sin, when it is fully grown, brings death.

The children of Israel when they were being led from Egypt
at where they were in bondage to the Promised Land of Palestine, at each point
where they got themselves into the pickle was when they wanted to rebel against
the direction and the road down which God was leading them. He was setting them
up for success by bringing them and providing for them all along life’s way to
the Promised Land. And they would at times say, “Okay, well, it’s not as big of
a struggle now. Let’s just plant ourselves here. We’re away from our struggles
in Egypt. The Promised Land is too abstract for us, so let’s just set up shop
here.” And that’s when they would get themselves into trouble. But that’s when
you and I get ourselves into trouble. When we begin to make this place known as
the wilderness in which you and I live and in which you and I are in service to
God to be a second home rather than merely a campout. It’s not a third home or
a fourth home. It is a campout. It is a temporary dwelling, like the
tabernacle, moving toward the permanent dwelling of Heaven, the New Jerusalem. And
what God has done is continually remind you with various events in your life
that this world is not all that there is. This life is not all that there is. And
He has done that through the testing in your life.

You could regale me with insight and story of God’s work in
your life through these various trials and tribulations, as I could to you, but
isn’t it interesting… we forget after we have gone through. Like a mother, the
pain of childbirth, forgets after she has born children and says, “You know, I
would sure love to have another one.” Okay, but at least some… some of y’all do

You don’t forget those things, do you? I know I do though. Having
gone through it and you go, “Whew, I made it.” That’s your time on the bench.
That’s your time to rest and recuperate, which God gives you at times before He
thrusts you back in the game. He may even thrust you before you think you’re
ready back into that game, back to that run-and-gun offense, back to the
full-court press, back to when your tongue is hanging out of your mouth and
you’re wondering with your heart pounding and your lungs burning, “Lord, call
the time.” And He just looks at you from the bench and says, “Keep going, my
son and my daughter. The game’s not over.”

When Christ was thrust out into the wilderness by the Holy
Spirit, Christ did not trip and yield so that He could cover up and pay for all
of the times when you and I did trip and yield to the flesh, and it’s roaring
and raging within us. For our laziness, He never was lazy. For our
undesirability to see the glass half full, He always saw it half full, because
we always are complaining about it being half empty. Jesus endured all things
in that wilderness for you and for me to show and to fulfill. He is the
fulfillment of what you and I are incapable of doing. And just as we sang in
that hymn, it is our life in the wilderness. That’s the baptismal life. And in
that life, He can take us all the way to the knife above the neck for the
slaughter of the one and only Son, and He stays us before we thrust it down.
But He didn’t stay His arm for you, did He? He finished and went down and
thrust it into His one and only Son out of which flowed blood and water
covering you, and all of the times when you and I have complained, have
bemoaned what God is asking of us, have been judgmental of what God thinks and
His desire and will for us, because it is our flesh and Satan’s desire to
firmly lock us into this world and not see it merely as a campout, a passing
through to the real home that awaits us.

When Jesus fulfilled those 40 days in the wilderness, it
wasn’t a magical 40. It was the time allotted. It was the completion. It was
that time for you and my time. Some of us are pulled out of this game early, at
a young age; some of us are pulled at a later age chronologically, but either
way, this is not our home. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from
above, coming down from the Father of Lights with whom there is no variation of
shadow due to change. The good and every perfect gift that James speaks is not
an earthly blessing. That would be to completely narrowly and myopically view
God as merely a dispenser of material goods. Every good and perfect gift is
that which you and I have none; His strength to endure; His balm to heal our
failures; His bandages to bind up; His repair of that which we have broken;
that He does promise and does give and always shall and always will. And He
does it here.

When you look around and you see other believers here among
you, you know they’re not perfect, just as I know you’re not perfect, and you
know I’m not. But we’re encouraged by one another because we know it’s here
that we receive every good and perfect gift and are bound up so that we may go
out and step back into that game again. It is here where we will saddle up to
that altar to be strengthened by one another for both of us come as beggars and
both of us leave as inheritors of eternal life so that we can be thrust back
out into that game again. Here is where God dispenses such every good and
perfect gift to His children who live the baptized life in this wilderness and
will be brought home with, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Enter into the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation
of the world. In the name of Him who speaks and gives Himself to you, Jesus.

May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep
your hearts and your minds on Christ Jesus to life everlasting.